All 23 Parliamentary debates in the Commons on 16th Nov 2023

Thu 16th Nov 2023
Thu 16th Nov 2023
Thu 16th Nov 2023
Thu 16th Nov 2023
Thu 16th Nov 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 16th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thursday 16 November 2023
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

Thursday 16th November 2023

(3 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]
Business before Questions
Sessional Returns
Ordered,
That there be laid before the House Returns for Session 2022-23 of information and statistics relating to:
(1) Business of the House
(2) Closure of Debate, Proposal of Question, Allocation of Time and Programming of Bills
(3) Sittings of the House
(4) Private Bills and Private Business
(5) Public Bills
(6) Delegated Legislation and Legislative Reform Orders
(7) European Legislation, etc
(8) Grand Committees and the Regional Affairs Committee
(9) Panel of Chairs
(10) Select Committees.—(The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Thursday 16th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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1. What recent assessment she has made of the potential impact of AI on the creative sector.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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4. What assessment she has made of the potential impact of AI on under-represented groups in the creative industries.

John Whittingdale Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Sir John Whittingdale)
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I will endeavour to be succinct. AI offers huge benefits and opportunities to the creative sector, but it also brings challenges. The Government have engaged extensively with the creative industries and others about it and will continue to do so.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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I thank the Minister for his succinct response, but, as he knows, the Select Committee has called for the Government to abandon the proposed copyright exemptions for text and data mining, which the chief executive officer of UK Music succinctly described as a

“green light to music laundering”.

Can the Minister confirm that the Government will not undermine artists and musicians by exempting AI data mining from copyright restrictions?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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As the hon. Gentleman is probably aware, there are ongoing discussions between creative rights owners and the platforms and others through the Intellectual Property Office, but it has made clear that, unless permitted under licence or on exception, making copies under text and data mining will constitute copyright infringement.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
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Does the Minister agree that the nature of AI systems is such that, when they are trained on creative works, both conscious and unconscious biases in music, films and art against certain groups in our society will be reinforced in generative outputs? The Government are seeking a code of conduct on copyright and AI; will they use this opportunity to address that issue and ensure that AI companies take responsibility for protecting against that type of harm? Is he considering an AI Bill, even though it was not announced in the King’s Speech?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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There is a great deal of work going on around AI to develop a framework of regulation, as was originally set out in the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman’s point about algorithmic bias is a serious one; it is being studied by the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, and obviously we will look very carefully at that.

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

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
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People working in the creative industries have been completely let down by the Tories, including on real concerns about the impact of AI. The Government have not responded to the consultation on their own AI White Paper or the report on AI and the creative industries. They have not got to grips with the issue at all. Creative people need to know whether they will be properly rewarded for their incredible talents, now and in the future. When will the Government set out a proper plan to protect creators?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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The hon. Lady is new to her role and so may have missed the creative sector vision, which was published about six months ago and set out an investment totalling some £50 billion going into the creative industries over the next five years. A great deal of work is taking place on the impact of AI on creative industries, and we are hoping to say more about that before the end of the year.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
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That is just not good enough. Thanks to the resilience and hard work of those in the creative industries, they are growing faster than many others, but it is people who make the best joy and the best culture, not AI. We are all better off when we draw on everyone’s talents. That is how we grow the creative industries—with people from more diverse backgrounds in more jobs. Tackling AI is a fundamental part of that. To pick an example for the Minister, talent in the north represents just 15% of employment in the creative industries under the Tories, so what are the Government doing to protect and increase that in the age of AI?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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With the Secretary of State, I was able to spend Monday in Manchester for the creative industries conference, where we met representatives from right across the sectors, including those from the AI sector. AI is already benefiting the creative industries to a considerable amount and represents real opportunities for them.

Louie French Portrait Mr Louie French (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con)
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2. What steps her Department is taking to support the horseracing sector.

Stuart Andrew Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Stuart Andrew)
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Horseracing is an integral part of British sporting culture, and we recognise the significant contribution the sport makes to the economy. We have commenced the review of the horserace betting levy, to commit to a sustainable future for racing, and the British Horseracing Authority’s 2024 fixture list for racing shows an estimated £90 million improvement to British racing’s finances until 2028.

Louie French Portrait Mr French
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My right hon. Friend will be aware that many racegoers and people who work in a variety of jobs across the sector are concerned that increased affordability checks could have a detrimental impact on British horseracing. What assurances can he provide that affordability checks will not be intrusive and that millions of hard-working Brits will still be free to safely enjoy the great British tradition of a day at the races?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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I know that my hon. Friend has a keen interest in this area. We absolutely recognise the relationship between betting and racing, and have no intention of over-regulating. In fact, it is the current system that is inconsistent, and we want to bring some uniformity to it. We have had several meetings with racing stakeholders, the gambling industry and the Gambling Commission this week. We have been very clear that we will not mandate checks until we are confident that they are frictionless and that the majority of those who enjoy gambling safely can continue to do so, while protecting those who may enter gambling harm.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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A safe bet—Jim Shannon.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister for his response. The terrible weather conditions in the last three or four weeks has had an impact on the horse- racing sector. The races at Down Royal, on the edge of my constituency, were cancelled because the flooding was of biblical proportions. Horseracing is very important to my constituents, and many people are involved in it. That had an impact on their ability to attend. Has the Minister had discussions with other Departments to ensure that any help that can be given to the horseracing sector for those races that were lost is given?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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First, may I say what a pleasure it was to visit the hon. Gentleman’s constituency a few weeks ago? He is asking if I can do something about the weather; I wish I could. I understand the impact it might have. I would be happy to discuss any specific issues relating to the racecourse he mentioned, and to see whether I can talk to colleagues in other Departments about that.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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3. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on Government support for the tourism industry in Devon and Cornwall.

John Whittingdale Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Sir John Whittingdale)
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I was pleased to visit south Devon in August and to meet members of the Great South West tourism partnership. I am also pleased that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have recently been accredited as a local visitor economy partnership and that Devon is working with VisitEngland towards potential accreditation.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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As the Minister knows, the tourism sector in our region is iconic, but any rises in business rate bills that local hospitality businesses are required to pay could see many struggle. While it is for the Chancellor to set out tax changes, can he outline what representations he is making to the Chancellor to freeze the business rate multiplier and extend the 75% relief for hospitality for a further year?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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I discussed a range of issues affecting tourism in Devon with the Great South West tourism partnership. We covered a lot of ground, and I know that those issues are of great importance to the tourism sector. Of course, we are in regular dialogue with the Treasury, but it is a matter for the Chancellor, as my hon. Friend says.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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5. Whether she has had recent discussions with the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs on support for journalists working in conflict zones.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Lucy Frazer)
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Journalists in conflict zones are putting their lives on the line to enable us to benefit from their accurate reporting. My thoughts are with all of them, and with the families and friends of those who have unfortunately lost their lives. I have raised support for journalists in conflict zones with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer and for her understanding of the issue. As so many news outlets are cutting budgets, the reliance on freelancers reporting from conflict zones grows. Such reporters do not have a big corporate behind them to pay for their training, their personal protective equipment and then their support and counselling when they come back. A lot of good work is done here by the Rory Peck Trust, but it is desperately short of resources. Will she speak to her colleagues in Government to see what more can be done to support freelancers through better funding for the Rory Peck Trust?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I am happy to speak to my colleagues in Government to understand how we can further support journalists. We have led a great deal of action recently and over a number of years to support journalists both here and abroad, and we have set up a number of funds and taskforces to support them.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)
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6. When she plans to appoint an independent football regulator.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Lab)
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9. What her planned timetable is for establishing an independent regulator for English football.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Lucy Frazer)
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The Government remain committed to putting fans at the heart of football and to ensuring that the game has a sustainable financial future. The football governance Bill was included in the King’s Speech, and we intend to work closely with the Football Association, the leagues and fan associations to build the best independent regulator possible.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Robertson
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I thank the Secretary of State for that response. My understanding is that while negotiations are taking place between the Premier League and the English Football League, there has not yet been agreement on redistribution of money. Is there anything she can do to bring the two sides together so that progress can be made on that very important issue?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. It is really important that football comes to a deal in relation to distributions. I support him in encouraging the football associations to do so, and I continue to urge them to reach an agreement in that area. Although our preference is a football-led solution, given the importance of distributions to financial sustainability, the independent football regulator will have targeted statutory powers to intervene on financial distributions as a last resort, if necessary. If football fails to deliver a solution, the regulator will deliver one.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford
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Like many people across the House, I love football—I always have done. It is more than just a game; it is the social fabric that runs through communities, and it can make our weekends or break them—but enough about United’s current form. The England manager, Gareth Southgate, has warned that the regulator is

“another VAR waiting to happen”,

with the Government possibly looking to solve complicated questions with simple answers. Will the Secretary of State explain how we will get this right, and will she ensure that the regulator is implemented swiftly, so that more clubs do not go the way of Bury in the meantime?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I understand the hon. Member’s concerns: Bury has suffered in the past, as have many other clubs across the country. That is why we are bringing in a regulator. I have had a number of conversations with the leagues, my parliamentary colleagues and fans to make sure that we get the regulation right. We committed in our manifesto to bring forward a fan-led review White Paper. We have done so, and we are at a very advanced stage, having announced the football governance Bill in the King’s Speech. I note that Labour did nothing in its 13 years in office.

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

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)
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The inclusion of football governance in the King’s Speech is very welcome. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm what discussions she has had with the FA on whether the independent regulator will include women’s football, and when the Government intend to publish their response to the Carney review?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I have regular discussions with the FA—indeed, I met its chair yesterday. At the moment, the regulator will cover the men’s game, but I also met Karen Carney a week or so ago. Her review is extremely important to women’s football and women’s sport, and I very much look forward to publishing our response to that report, which we will do very shortly.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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There was concern that the Premier League made very late representations and tried to water down the powers of the regulator. Will the Secretary of State say what the Government’s response to that intervention by the Premier League was?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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We want to ensure that we get the regulator right. It is essential that we protect fans and bring forward the legislation that the Labour party failed to bring forward. The legislation will strike absolutely the right balance between protecting fans and ensuring that our premier league and our football remain a competitive, world-class sport across the globe.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the shadow Minister.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
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Football clubs are more than businesses; they are at the heart of communities up and down the country, but too many clubs are being pushed to the brink, leaving fans from Scunthorpe to Reading worried that their club might be damaged beyond repair by the time a regulator is brought in. Will the Secretary of State update us on what immediate action and interim measures the Department is taking to ensure that an independent regulator for football is ready to go as soon as new legislation is passed?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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We are taking absolutely those measures: we are putting in place a shadow regulator, and we have advertised for the appointment of the regulator’s chief operating officer. We want to ensure that as soon as the legislation is on the books, everything is ready so that it can come into force as soon as possible.

I notice that the Football Task Force was set up in 1997 by the incoming Labour Government to look at systemic issues in football and make recommendations to Ministers on how to address them. However, despite a number of reports identifying significant failings in the sport, a member of that taskforce’s working group reported that the Labour Government made it clear that they could not, and would not, deliver a statutory regulator. This Government are bringing that regulator in.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
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7. What steps her Department is taking to support commercial radio and television in the context of the development of new transmission platforms.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Lucy Frazer)
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I note that my hon. Friend has in the past been a big star on the airwaves himself. Last week, the Government introduced the Media Bill into Parliament. The Bill will ensure that our world-leading TV and radio sectors are able to compete in the new digital world, so that they can continue to produce great content for the audiences of the future.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant
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If I were to say, “Hey, Siri, can I have GB News radio?” or “Alexa, play GB News radio”—[Interruption.] Of course I would say GB News radio. It is the most successful news channel now, pulling in a bigger audience at most times of the day than either the BBC News channel or Sky—TalkTV cannot even be measured. Anyway, I am going off the subject.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I am trying to help you, because if you do not get to the question, you will not be asking it. Come on!

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant
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My question is: what provisions are in place, if any, to ensure that if I do say those things, I get GB News radio, not another channel, and I am not charged for it?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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He’ll be asking for Radio Caroline next. [Laughter.]

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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The measures in the Media Bill will protect the position of radio in relation to voice-activated smart speakers, ensuring that listeners can find their favourite radio stations on request. In particular, when a listener requests a specific station, they should receive that station.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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8. What steps she is taking with the Secretary of State for Education to increase the uptake of music among children.

John Whittingdale Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Sir John Whittingdale)
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In June 2022, we published the new national plan for music education, which aims to level up music opportunities for all children and young people regardless of circumstance, needs or geography. Since publication, we have worked with the Department for Education to progress delivery of the music hub investment programme and the music progression fund.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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I recently welcomed Bath young carers from the Bath Philharmonia to perform music in Parliament, and it was a wonderful evening. Sadly, too few young people have the opportunity to learn an instrument, or to perform or enjoy music, and the number of GCSE music entrants has fallen by 12.5%. The Minister mentioned the new national plan for music education. Will he update us on how many schools have implemented that plan, and will we get regular updates about any increase in the number of GCSE music entrants?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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I am sorry that I was unable to hear the visiting group from the hon. Lady’s constituency, but I am delighted that it came. As I have said, we are investing £25 million in the provision of musical instruments through music hubs. I can tell her that the proportion of pupils studying for a music qualification at key stage 4 over the past years has remained stable at about 7% to 8%.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
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I have to say that the Bath young carers played wonderfully, and I really enjoyed listening to them.

Ofsted recently stated that there remains a

“divide between children and young people whose families can afford to pay for music tuition and those who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds.”

I share the concern just expressed about the impact this is having. The money promised for musical instruments in June 2022, which the Minister has just mentioned, has still not been distributed to schools, and it now sounds as though that money is not going to arrive until autumn 2024. Will that delay not just mean that more children are not able to learn to play an instrument? What action can the Minister take to speed it up?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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I can tell the hon. Lady that the Government remain committed to investment through the music hub investment programme, and I am happy to give her a specific answer to the question she raises about the allocation of that money in writing. The Government are working very closely with the DFE on this, and we also look forward to producing a cultural education plan in early 2024.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con)
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10. What steps she is taking to help support preparations for UEFA Euro 2028.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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13. What steps she is taking to help support preparations for UEFA Euro 2028.

Stuart Andrew Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Stuart Andrew)
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The Government are delighted that the UK and Ireland have secured the right to host Euro 2028. This will be the biggest joint event our islands have ever hosted, building on our world- leading track record of delivering major sporting events and leaving a lasting legacy for communities right across the United Kingdom.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
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I am delighted to have to declare an interest, because my cousin, Ray Reidy, has just been appointed interim chief financial officer at Aston Villa. As an Aston Villa fan myself, I know how difficult it is to get away from a game using Witton train station. Will the Minister join me, Andy Street and the combined authority, in working to develop the capacity of Witton train station in advance of that stadium being used for the Euros in 2028?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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The Minister might want to pass that question on to a Transport Minister!

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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We in DCMS are always happy to try to deliver what our colleagues want, and I am delighted that Villa Park is a great venue and has exciting plans. Birmingham and the west midlands region has benefited from significant investment as part of the Commonwealth games, but my hon. Friend is right to say that we will be working with partners right across Government, and in other organisations, to ensure that Euro 2028 is one of the most exciting events we have seen in this country.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend has been to Villa Park, but some of us may differ on its condition. We will leave it to Gareth Southgate to prepare the team to go one step further and win the championship when it comes around, but will my right hon. Friend ensure that the security and travel arrangements, and most importantly the ticketing arrangements, maximise the capability of people to enjoy our beautiful game?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. In my role I get the great opportunity to go to many exciting events—

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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Which is your favourite?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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Well, Eurovision of course. I always make sure that I take the opportunity to meet fans and see the experience that they are having at these events, so that we learn from them and ensure that we are addressing any issues that come up. That is why we will be working with all operational partners to ensure that every match is a good one for people to enjoy.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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St James’ Park in the heart of Newcastle will be welcoming European football fans as part of Euro 2028, and we are very proud of that. Following the 2012 Olympics, sports participation did not increase. Will the Minister set out what the Government will do to ensure that the legacy of Euro 2028 is increased participation across Newcastle?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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The hon. Lady raises an important point. Legacy is incredibly important to me. That is why we have been giving hundreds of millions of pounds to improve on and build new grassroots sports facilities, so that there are plenty of opportunities for people to enjoy the things they want to do that are inspired by tournaments just like Euro 2028.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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This should be an opportunity for fans to celebrate and enjoy. I remember the 1996 Euros, when the Danish fans came to Sheffield and drank the city dry, without any problems or disorder whatsoever. Will the Minister give two commitments? First, will he engage with the Football Supporters’ Association in full planning for this? It needs to be involved because it has really good ideas and experience. Secondly, will he talk to the authorities about ticket pricing, so that those on low incomes, and particularly children, can get to the games and enjoy the events?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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I absolutely commit to engage with the Football Supporters’ Association. I also met fans ahead of the European championship finals in Istanbul this year. The hon. Gentleman is right, and there are lots of issues for us to discuss. We are in constant discussions with the likes of UEFA, for example, to which I will happily make those representations.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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11. Whether she has had recent discussions with representatives of the creative industries in Scotland on the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on those industries.

John Whittingdale Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Sir John Whittingdale)
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I and my officials regularly meet representatives of the creative industries in Scotland, and we were pleased to be joined by representatives from Creative Scotland, the Scottish Government and the Creative Industries Council earlier this week. We will continue to work closely with colleagues in Scotland to ensure that the UK’s creative industries remain world leading following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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Notwithstanding the Minister’s answer, polling by the Independent Society of Musicians has shown that almost half of musicians in the music industry have had less work in the EU post Brexit, and 40% have had to cancel work in the EU due to the increased cost of travelling and working in the EU. How can the Minister continue to pretend that Brexit has not harmed musicians, when the costs are so enormous and have been explained to this Government many, many times?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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We are continuing to work to make it easier for musicians from this country to tour in Europe, and we have managed to establish arrangements with 24 out of 27 member states that now allow visa and work permit-free routes for UK performers for short-term touring. We continue to engage in discussions with countries individually to make further improvements.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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The post-Brexit tightening of immigration rules and the Brexit-caused cost of living crisis are having a disproportionate impact on the creative sector, as the UK Government continue to squeeze public services. In advance of the autumn statement next week, what representations are the Secretary of State and the Department making to the Chancellor to ensure that the creative sector is adequately funded and protected, so that Scotland can receive the Barnett consequentials from that in order to continue to support our wonderful and, as the Minister says, world-leading creative industry?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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The Chancellor has been very generous to the creative industries and I hope that he will continue to be so. However, I would point out to the hon. Lady that Creative Scotland benefits from a grant in aid budget of around £63 million, and I would have thought that she might welcome the fact that in the last March Budget the UK Government announced £8.6 million in support for two of Edinburgh’s world-leading festivals.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Lucy Frazer)
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May I first welcome the new Secretary of State to her place—[Interruption.] I mean the shadow Secretary of State. I also welcome all the new Ministers: it is a pleasure to work with them and I look forward to doing so over the coming months.

Since we last met for questions, my Department has been busy delivering on the priorities of the Government. On Monday, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and I met more than 150 businesses in Manchester to ensure that we build the creative industries not just in London but across the north. We made an announcement to drive growth in our creative industries with more than £10 million to scale up hundreds of creative industry businesses.

We are protecting and upholding media freedom, with an updated national action plan for the safety of journalists, and a new taskforce to tackle the misuse of strategic lawsuits against public participation by individuals who want to muzzle the press. As well as that, we are creating opportunities across the UK—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I am sorry, but we have only eight minutes for topicals and I really am struggling to get everyone in. I call Gavin Newlands.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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Tonight, Scotland will play what amounts to a dead rubber because we have qualified for the Euros with two games to spare. It is an unusual feeling for us and we do not know quite what to do. Generations of young Scottish football fans, unlike their English and Welsh counterparts, are unable to see their national football team on free-to-air television. Scotland is one of only seven out of 55 UEFA countries where the national team is hidden behind a paywall. In these times when families are really struggling, does the Secretary of State think that is fair in principle?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I did not catch all of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I think he asked about broadcasting rights and Scottish teams. He needs to understand, because he raises this question from time to time, that there is a balance between audience numbers and commercial revenues for sport. As he knows, sport is devolved to the Scottish Government—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Dr Cameron.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Con)
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T2. Following the successful artificial intelligence summit, can my right hon. Friend update us on his conversations with the media industry to make sure that safeguards are in place while we also reap important jobs for the future?

John Whittingdale Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Sir John Whittingdale)
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Rapid development of AI poses major questions for many industries, including our vital press sector. We are hosting roundtables with broadcasters and news publishers to discuss the risks and opportunities of AI to journalism, and we intend to continue the conversation with the sector over the coming months.

Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
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T4. UK- inbound tourism has lost the equivalent of 15,000 jobs following the 83% fall in EU student groups visiting our country because of post-Brexit passport and visa requirements. I was heartened to read in the Financial Times about the proposed deal that the Prime Minister wants to strike with France following his summit with President Macron. Are any other deals like that in the pipeline?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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That is an excellent deal. Of course, we would like to replicate it if that is possible.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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T3. Swim Torquay provides a vital community facility in Plainmoor, yet it missed out on funding from the Government’s swimming pool support fund. Will the Minister agree to a meeting to discuss how it can still be supported to meet the essential costs that it faces?

Stuart Andrew Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Stuart Andrew)
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It is precisely because we recognise how important swimming pools are that we have this fund. We have allocated £140,000 to the Riviera International Centre in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I know that the local council is seeking funding from phase 2. I will happily arrange a meeting with colleagues and Sport England.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
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T5. A YMCA report last year found that £1.1 billion had been cut from youth services since 2010-11—a real-terms cut of 74%. While the Government’s national youth guarantee does provide a funding injection for youth services, it is nowhere near enough to reverse those cuts, and the funding is predominantly for capital investments. Will the Secretary of State commit to providing youth services with the sustainable revenue funding that they desperately need?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I invite the hon. Member to read a speech I gave on youth, which is a massive priority of mine. We are funding significantly through DCMS and through the National Citizen Service as well as through a number of Departments. There are Home Office funds, Justice funds, and funds through the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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T6. For me, as a massive Bath rugby fan, it is difficult to represent a seat in Leicestershire, what with the Tigers being there. With that said, the nice thing that brings all rugby fans together is the ability to watch the game. There is concern, though, about the governance of premiership rugby and how it is run. Could the Minister update us on where we are up to on that? I know that he has taken a special interest in trying to get that organised.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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I know that my hon. Friend has taken a keen interest in this, and he is absolutely right that we need to see improved governance. That is why we appointed two special advisers, who have been working with both the premier league and the Rugby Football Union to come up with solutions. We are having meetings with them constantly and will ensure that they progress.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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T7. Citizens across the EU now benefit from increased transparency in how big tech companies target them with adverts and propaganda thanks to the Digital Services Act. Of course, we have missed out because of Brexit. What will the Government do to provide increased transparency and tackle bad-faith actors using big tech to target our citizens?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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The online advertising taskforce has come forward with a number of measures, and we are looking both to legislate in this area in due course and to introduce non-statutory measures. We are committed to protecting vulnerable people from inappropriate advertising, and to tackling fraudulent advertising.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con)
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The inclusion of five additional sports in the Los Angeles Olympics programme could provide extra medal prospects for Team GB, especially as our women are current European flag champions, the England, Scotland and Wales women’s lacrosse teams are in the top 10, and we have two men and one woman in the top 10 for squash. However, to ensure success, funding for the 2028 Olympics needs to be secured before Paris next year, so what discussions is the Minister having with the new lottery provider and the Treasury to ensure that UK sport is adequately funded for those sports and others for LA28?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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I was interested to discover this morning that my hon. Friend has a horse named after her, called Commander Crouch—if anyone wants a good investment, there you go.

The UK sports investment process for Los Angeles is under way. I welcome the fact that there are these new sports, including flag football; I know that my hon. Friend is a big fan of American football. UK Sport will consider the funding for all those new sports, and I will soon have a meeting with its representatives to get an update.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
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Local newspapers are under threat. When the community news project was introduced in 2018 for newspapers such as the Cambridge News, it was widely welcomed. The project was supported by tech giant Meta, but it has now withdrawn funding. Will the Minister join me and others in calling for it to rethink its decision?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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I met representatives of Meta earlier in the week, and I did make clear to them the Government’s disappointment at the withdrawal of the community news project. We are looking to ensure that newspapers are properly compensated by the tech giants, and measures to ensure that are contained in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
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After the tremendous success of the Commonwealth games in Birmingham in 2021, I was delighted to hear last week that our fantastic mayor Andy Street has secured a £9 million legacy fund from the Commonwealth games for communities to participate in grassroots projects. Does my right hon. Friend agreed that this is a fantastic opportunity for organisations in constituencies such as mine and across the west midlands bid for the fund in order to promote physical and mental activities in local communities?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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My right hon. Friend is right. It is wonderful to see the legacy from the Commonwealth games. I join her in telling people to reach out and apply. That will be coupled with the significant investment that we are putting into grassroots sports so that communities can come together and enjoy the sports they like, and improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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1. What recent discussions the Committee has had with the Electoral Commission on party spending limits for elections.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood)
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The Committee has not had recent discussions with the Commission on the matters raised. The Electoral Commission supports political parties to comply with their legal obligations to adhere to spending limits during an election campaign, and publishes their spending. That provides voters with transparency over the money spent by political parties during elections and assurance that there is a level playing field for all political parties.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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Public confidence in the integrity of our democracy is only harmed by the idea that somehow it can be bought by the people with the deepest pockets. Can the hon. Member assure me that the Electoral Commission understands that in setting those limits, it is a question not simply of finance and arithmetic but of the integrity of the system and that level playing field?

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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The UK Government’s proposals to increase the spending limits and donation reporting thresholds represent a significant change to the UK’s political finance controls. The Commission’s research shows a long-term decline in public confidence in the political finance system. Any changes to spending or reporting thresholds must be supported by rigorous analysis, including on the likely impact on public confidence and transparency. The Commission has not seen any evidence to support these changes. It is concerned that the proposals risk damaging the transparency of political donations and give significantly more scope for higher-spending parties to campaign.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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2. What recent progress the Church of England has made on increasing engagement with children and young people.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous)
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My hon. Friend is right to focus on the importance of this issue. The Church of England is working hard to create a church that is younger and more diverse, doubling the number of children and young active disciples by 2030. More than £60 million has been awarded to five dioceses to achieve that.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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Recently, I had the opportunity to be at the patronal service where 12 young people from St Mary’s church in Kenton and St Lawrence’s church in Stanmore were confirmed in the Church of England. That demonstrates that young people are attracted to the church, but what more can my hon. Friend—and the Church—do to attract younger people to come into the church and fulfil their destiny?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am delighted to learn about the good work at St Mary’s Kenton and St Lawrence’s Stanmore, where 12 young people were recently confirmed. The good news is that the £60 million is being well spent, and is producing promising results across the Church of England. We need to see a lot more of it.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Whenever I was a child in the ’60s—it wasn’t yesterday—every child in Ballywalter attended Sunday school meetings. Today, it is a different generation. National Sunday attendance figures for under-16s have dropped below 100,000 for the first time. I understand that the Church is reaching out to young people, but perhaps we need to reach out a wee bit differently. What plans are there to do that?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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As always, the hon. Gentleman is on the money. I can tell him that the Church’s strategic mission and ministry investment board is doing exactly that: investing in a range of different organisations that are connecting really well with young people, often through community projects. Large numbers of them are coming to church and staying there, which is brilliant.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
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3. If the Church Commissioners will take steps to share good practice from the work of the Lichfield cathedral summer school.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I thank my hon. Friend and the cathedral chapter at Lichfield for their warm welcome on my recent visit, which I greatly enjoyed. The Lichfield cathedral summer school is indeed an inspiration to the wider Church in supporting children, many of whom are on free school meals, to socialise and learn before the new school year begins. It has expanded with county council support and the Government’s holiday activities and food programme, and it would like to operate throughout the school holidays. I warmly commend it.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant
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I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. It is the 20th anniversary of MusicShare, which started in Lichfield. Over 150 schools are engaged each year. I went to the anniversary concert in Lichfield cathedral last Saturday and saw “Noye’s Fludde”, which was written by Benjamin Britten. It was a spectacular occasion, with all the schoolchildren taking part. What more could Lichfield do to advise other cathedrals on how it ought to be done?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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As so often, where Lichfield leads others follow. My hon. Friend is right that the choral tradition in our cathedrals is one of the glories of our country. Lichfield’s MusicShare programme has, I understand, reached 25,000 children, with participants of all ages, including people up to their 90s. That is, no doubt, why it has won a national award from The Times Educational Supplement.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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4. What recent discussions the Committee has had with the Electoral Commission on the regulation of online political advertising before an election.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood)
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The Committee has not had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the matters raised. The Elections Act 2022 introduced a requirement for most online political campaign material to carry a digital imprint. The Commission has said that digital imprints will improve trust and confidence in digital campaigns at future elections and referendums in the UK. It has published statutory guidance to help parties and campaigners understand and comply with this new requirement.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
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Targeted online advertising can sometimes contain very misleading claims about Members and other politicians. Members might not even be aware that an advert has been sent out. Will the Commission look at some sort of process whereby there is a way for all adverts to be registered, so that people can check their transparency and veracity?

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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The Commission has previously recommended that social media libraries should be a legal requirement. That would provide voters with more information about who is being targeted online, but it would be for the Government to come forward with the legislation.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
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5. What recent progress has been made on implementing the decisions taken by the General Synod in February 2023 on blessing same-sex relationships and relating to clergy in same-sex relationships.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous)
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This week the General Synod agreed that the prayers of love and faith, and the pastoral guidance for their use, will be commended for use from mid-December, and also that special services of prayer and dedication using the prayers of love and faith can be authorised for a trial period before full synodical authorisation.

Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Bradshaw
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I am sure the vast majority of Members on both sides of the House will warmly welcome the outcome of Synod yesterday, and I thank the hon. Member for the role he played in conveying Parliament’s views to Synod. It was very clear during the debate that there are a small number who will never, ever accept LGBT people as equals in their churches. As he knows, some parishes have stopped paying their diocesan share—effectively going on strike. Why should they continue to enjoy the benefits and privileges of being Church of England parishes?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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The payments by parishes to dioceses, often known as common fund or parish share, are voluntary payments towards the cost of ministry in those parishes and in the wider Church. It is a matter for dioceses how they work with their parishes to encourage them to contribute, but I would certainly very strongly encourage every church to make a fair contribution to the costs of their ministry and, where they can, to help others in poorer areas.

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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I reinforce what the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said about the general welcome in the House for the movement towards equality and fairness. We have had it on ordination; we now have it on same-sex relationships up to a point. Through my hon. Friend, I ask those who are disappointed with this movement forward to think of the pain that they have caused by resisting the change for so many people, whether by sex or orientation, over the past decades.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am grateful, as always, to the Father of the House for his wise reflections on these matters. He is right that this has been a difficult and painful period across the Church. I very much regret that, as he does. I hope we can move forward together in love, truth and unity on these matters.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)
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6. Whether the Church of England has taken steps to raise awareness of recent attacks on churches and Christian communities in Manipur.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am extremely grateful to the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief for again bringing the situation in Manipur to the House’s attention. Archbishop Justin has spoken about it publicly, other bishops have contacted the Indian high commissioner, and I will shortly be visiting the high commissioner myself to talk about issues in Manipur with another hon. Member, both of us being great friends of India.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce
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There have been months of violence in Manipur, and that violence continues, with Christians of different ethnicities targeted—such as the mother crying after four family members were tortured, killed, mutilated and cut to pieces on 7 November. Hundreds of churches and homes have been burnt, women have been sexually abused and organised mobs attack with impunity, allegedly using looted Government weapons. International news media from abroad find access hard. Will the Church continue to do all that it can to draw the world’s attention to this situation so that those responsible can be brought to account, the violence does not spread further, and practical help can be provided in the form of security, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and compensation for those who have suffered so much?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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Reflecting on those awful remarks, I would suggest that it is pretty shocking to realise what our news media do not tell us much of the time. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that the Church of England is in regular contact with the Church of North India to offer all the support we can, and that we are supporting Anglicans here in the UK who have connections with Manipur. Those who suffer in Manipur are not alone, and we will continue to walk alongside them.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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7. Whether the Church of England is taking steps to support parishes experiencing antisocial behaviour and drug-related crime in and around church buildings.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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The Church of England is proud to have a presence in every part of the country, but sadly that means that our churches and clergy are sometimes targeted in unpleasant ways. Working with the police and local authorities, the Church recognises that it has a duty of care to all its staff, and it will always do everything it can to protect and assist them.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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It is right that parish churches offer a beacon of hope and light to those going through the dark tunnel of addiction, reaching out the hand of Christian fellowship, but that can result in both clergy and church buildings being targeted by darker forces who see that as a threat to their trade. What further steps does my hon. Friend believe dioceses could take to ensure the personal safety of all involved?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am extremely sorry to learn that clergy and church buildings are being targeted in this way in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I thank the leadership and all the members of Paignton parish church for the inspirational work that they are doing in supporting those who are sleeping rough, and in tackling drug and alcohol addiction. That is important and necessary work, and I commend my hon. Friend for doing it. I am sure that the diocese of Exeter and Devon and Cornwall police will be able to offer further help as they undertake that challenging work.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
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8. What steps the Church of England is taking to support asylum seekers and refugees.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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The Church of England is supporting asylum seekers and refugees across the country, and our chaplaincies in Europe are providing health kits, safe places to sleep, clothes, and messages to families who have become separated.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
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My hon. Friend will know that the diocese of Gloucester has recently acquired six modular homes from a local provider. Following the Gloucester housing summit that I convened not long ago, our diocese, city council and housing association are discussing how to make this model of modular housing work effectively for people in need of temporary accommodation, including those recently granted asylum. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the diocese on its good work so far, and encourage it to make progress and put this model into practice as soon as possible, recognising that it is a new approach that could perhaps be adopted elsewhere?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am very happy to congratulate those in the diocese of Gloucester and thank them for the pioneering work that they are doing on housing, and I also thank my hon. Friend for the important leadership role he plays locally in respect of that extremely important issue. He is right to suggest that what Gloucester is doing has a wider application for others in need of emergency housing, not just asylum seekers and refugees, vitally important though that provision is. I share his view that the need is urgent, and that we should get on with this and other similar excellent initiatives as quickly as possible.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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9. What steps the Church of England is taking to support its parish ministry.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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Parish ministry is at the very heart of the Church’s mission. The Church Commissioners are distributing £1.2 billion between 2023 and 2025 to support our mission and ministry. This is a 30% increase on the previous three-year period, and a significant share of that funding will be distributed through dioceses to strengthen our parishes.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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What can the Church hierarchy do to remove administrative burdens from the clergy, so they can spend more time in their community spreading the best message ever told: the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I think we all recognise that, in any position of public responsibility, there comes a need for some administrative work, but I very much agree with my hon. Friend that we should be freeing up our clergy and parish staff as much as possible to interact with their parishioners and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. As someone said, the gospel is good news only if it is not too late. I also note the tremendous work being done in his community by St John the Evangelist in Balby and, indeed, by many other churches in his local area.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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Last Saturday I was privileged to attend the enthronement of the new Bishop of Lincoln, at which there was a vast array of clergy in all their finery. It was a very grand occasion. Lincoln is a predominantly rural diocese and many of the clergy serve five, six or more parishes. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that the Church will focus on providing more clergy to rural areas?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am delighted that my hon. Friend was able to attend the consecration of the new Bishop of Lincoln. Consecrations are, indeed, very splendid affairs.

My hon. Friend is completely right that the beating heart of the Church of England is what goes on in the parishes. Rural areas really matter, as does every part of the country. I assure him that we will not forget rural areas, and I recognise the problems of large benefices.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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We also have rural churches in North Devon, and St Augustine’s church in Heanton Punchardon is without a rector. Will my hon. Friend join me in recognising and congratulating Sharon Newcombe of Pilton on the service she has provided to that church, where she has sung in the choir for over 51 years?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking Sharon Newcombe for her fantastic service to her local church and local community. Fifty-one years’ service to her local church is extremely impressive, and we are very grateful to her. I recognise that leading laypeople keep many of our churches going through these difficult times, and I thank her very much for what she does.

The hon. Member for Broxbourne, representing the Restoration and Renewal Client Board, was asked—
Natalie Elphicke Portrait Mrs Natalie Elphicke (Dover) (Con)
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10. If the Board will take steps to support the development of skills and creation of opportunities for women in construction through the restoration and renewal programme.

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con)
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Before I answer the question, Mr Speaker, can I say how nice it is to see the former Second Clerk of the Administration Committee by your side? Our loss is your gain. We always knew he would go far, and I am sure he has further to go.

The R&R programme is committed to embedding equality, diversity and inclusion so that people from all backgrounds working on the programme can thrive. Although the main construction works are still set to be some years away, the delivery authority is establishing or exploring relationships with skills and training providers across the whole UK that support initiatives to promote women in the construction industry. The programme also actively supports a number of awareness initiatives that encourage women into construction and engineering.

Natalie Elphicke Portrait Mrs Elphicke
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is welcome that, during the work on the Elizabeth Tower, it was a common sight to see women in hard hats working on the scaffolding and other parts of that important, high-profile work. As we move through the restoration and renewal work, it has been my observation that women in hard hats are more likely to be seen directing traffic around the estate than undertaking this crucial frontline construction work.

Will my hon. Friend meet me and Kath Moore, the excellent chief executive of Women into Construction, to make sure that women are at the heart of the high-profile construction work being undertaken on Parliament’s restoration and renewal programme?

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course I will meet my hon. Friend and Kath Moore, but before that my hon. Friend and I shall sit down to work up a list of other people for Kath Moore to meet so that she can have a really constructive engagement as Women into Construction’s representative across the House. I would also like to invite her to come to the Administration Committee to talk about the work of her organisation. [Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I am just watching the clock tick.

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I also want to say what an honour it is to be answering questions on behalf of the Restoration and Renewal Client Board in addition to the Commission—two fabulous bodies led by you, Mr Speaker.

Business of the House

Thursday 16th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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10:30
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 the week commencing 20 November will be:

Monday 20 November—Remaining stages of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

Tuesday 21 November—Second Reading of the Media Bill.

Wednesday 22 November—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make his autumn statement, which will be followed by a debate on the autumn statement.

Thursday 23 November—Continuation of a debate on the autumn statement.

Friday 24 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 27 November will include:

Monday 27 November—Conclusion of a debate on the autumn statement.

Tuesday 28 November—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Wednesday 29 November—Remaining stages of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

Thursday 30 November—General debate. Subject to be confirmed.

Friday 1 December—The House will not be sitting.

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell
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I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business.

I thank all those who ensured that Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday constituency events passed off safely.

I want to ask the Leader of the House about two issues. First, before the ink is even dry on the King’s Speech, the Prime Minister has announced emergency legislation—you could not make it up! The Supreme Court ruling against the Government was as damning as it was clear. It concluded that deep and institutional issues in Rwanda make it not a safe country. That should not have come as a surprise to the Government, because they had been warned for months. The Prime Minister bet the house that he would win and he lost. Before his new legislative programme has even got under way, we have more desperate wheezes to salvage his sinking plan: a new treaty, which could take weeks of parliamentary time to ratify; and new laws, which a former Supreme Court judge branded “discreditable”. Why did the Home Secretary not say anything about that to Parliament yesterday? It is yet another announcement to the media and not to this place.

Will the Leader of the House tell us more about how this is all going to work? What legal effect will this emergency legislation have? When will we see it? How much parliamentary time does she think this is all going to take? What will be dropped from the Government’s recently announced Bills to make way for this? If the Government are so confident that this is what it will take, why did they not do it months ago instead of sitting around waiting for this judgment, as though Parliament had not spent weeks and weeks considering these issues and legislating to deal with them? The Government could have amended the Illegal Migration Act 2023 instead, could they not? Or was the former Home Secretary right when she said that the Government

“failed to prepare any…credible plan B”?

Was the new Home Secretary right when he said yesterday that he did not see a case for coming out of international agreements? Or does the Leader of the House agree with the Prime Minister that we could do so? These are desperation tactics to try to make the Government look as though they are doing something, when the truth is that this is a failed, unworkable and costly plan that leaves their pledge to stop the boats stranded.

Secondly, the Prime Minister seemingly could not find a suitable candidate to be Foreign Secretary from among his own MPs and instead appointed David Cameron to the House of Lords. At a time of war in Europe, a horrifying conflict in Israel and Gaza, and threats from China, Iran and elsewhere, elected Members here are now unable to hold the Foreign Secretary to account. I agree entirely with you, Mr Speaker, that this House must be able to scrutinise his work effectively, because, let us be honest, there is a lot to hold him accountable for: his links with China, which the Intelligence and Security Committee said may have been “engineered” by the Chinese state; his policy towards China, famously drinking pints with President Xi and hailing a “golden era”; and his involvement with Greensill Capital, which was described by the Treasury Committee as a “significant lack of judgment”, but none the less made him personally millions of pounds richer. The Government proposal that the Minister for Development and Africa, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), will stand in is entirely insufficient.

The last time the House was in this situation, Conservative Members were furious and demanded that questions must be answered in this place. The then Labour Government were set to bring in the recommendations of the Procedure Committee at the time. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should immediately dust off that report and bring forward a motion to put its recommendations in place quickly? They include regular accountability sessions for the Foreign Secretary in Westminster Hall as a starter. Will she do that before we are next due to hear from the Foreign Secretary?

Finally, can the Leader of the House confirm whether the appointment of David Cameron has been approved by the independent adviser on ministerial interests? If not, when will that be done? Or is this another case of making the wrong call, such as when the Prime Minister appointed his first Deputy Prime Minister, his first Home Secretary and his first Minister without Portfolio, all of whom faced serious allegations that later led to their departures? This is another poor judgment from a weak Prime Minister, drifting to defeat.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I agree with the comments that the hon. Lady made about Armistice Day and Remembrance weekend. I thank all Members who took part in events around the country and overseas to commemorate and thank our servicemen and women, and to remember the fallen. I particularly thank the police, who had an incredibly difficult job on their hands in London at the weekend.

It is a gift that every one of us in this place can raise issues in debates via amendments and other devices. As a Member and as Leader of the House, I will always defend that right, but it does not absolve us from thinking through the consequences of one course of action over another. The debate last night showed the House, including its two main parties and the bulk of Members, united in its support for Israel’s duty to protect her people, an end to suffering for all civilians and a long-term peaceful solution.

Since the vote last night, I know some Members have come under increased stress. No matter which way people voted, it will have been a considered decision. No matter whether people agree with them or not, it is their duty to exercise their own judgment. Today, all Members should think about what they can do to defuse such threats made against our colleagues in this place.

I thank Mr Speaker for his care in ensuring we can go about our business and do our duties. I thank the families of those held hostage by Hamas for their time coming into Parliament this week to talk to parliamentarians. I know I speak for all here when I say that we will do all in our power to bring them home.

Turning to the questions raised by the shadow Leader of the House, her first point was about Rwanda. She will expect me to say that further business will be announced in the usual way, but as she will have heard from the Prime Minister, we want to introduce this legislation swiftly. It is part of a plan of action that he has set out and that has been worked on by the Home Office and other Departments, together with the largest ever small boats deal with France; a new agreement with Albania, which has already returned nearly 5,000 people in the last 10 months and cut Albanian small boat arrivals by more than 90%; an almost 70% increase in the number of illegal working raids; a tripling in the number of asylum decisions since the start of the year; a plan to close the first 50 asylum hotels; and the legislation that we have brought forward.

There are many points of difference, but one key difference is that we believe there must be a deterrent element to our response. The hon. Lady’s party voted 70 times against the legislation that we have brought forward and Opposition Members also supported blocking the deportation of foreign criminals. The people of this country want our borders to be protected and controlled. They want to ensure that we are free and able to help those we wish to and have the greatest obligation to. Under the last Labour Government, the mode of illegal travel here was largely haulage. We ended that. Brexit has also given us many more options to shape who comes here legally.

We must end the scourge of these appalling people-traffickers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), assisted by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) and others, have helped us thus far, and I thank them for all the work that they have been doing. It has been difficult work. There is more to do, but we are a step closer to the deterrent that we seek. I urge the shadow Leader of the House to support us in our efforts. We will introduce legislation; it is quite normal, as she knows, to do that even if it is not included in the King’s Speech. There are many potential situations for that to arise on a number of issues facing Parliament in this Session.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of the new Foreign Secretary, a person who has done a tremendous amount on the last topic that she raised—combating illegal migration —through his work with Professor Paul Collier and the work that he has done on conflict states. He was ahead of the curve on that issue, and I think that he will make an excellent Foreign Secretary. She is right that the House must be able to hold him to account. This is not an unusual situation; it has happened before with the noble Lords Mandelson, Adonis, Frost, Morgan and I think others.

The hon. Lady should be reassured that Mr Speaker has taken advice on the matter. My understanding is that the Procedure Committee will be consulted on the best way forward. She alluded to some of the options that may be required of the new Foreign Secretary, who I know will want to be accountable to this House. There are very important matters in front of us. Next year will be an unprecedented year for elections across the world, with significant consequences for this nation and an ever- increasing set of complex issues that I know all hon. Members will want to question the Foreign Secretary on. She has my assurance in that respect. Further business will be announced in the usual way.

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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The House and my right hon. Friend will know of my personal and political interest in residential leasehold reform. When might the leasehold and freehold reform Bill come to the House, and will she join me in giving more publicity to the consultation, “Modern leasehold: restricting rents on existing leases”, which started a week ago and will last for another five weeks? The ground rent issue affects up to 6 million households. Most people do not know that the Government are considering five alternatives for restricting it. Will she help to publicise that, and say when the Bill might be introduced so that the House can consider the issue?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My hon. Friend, who is very experienced, has already provided a solution to one part of his question by getting that on the record and advertising it to all hon. Members. I will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State has heard of his particular interest. He will not be surprised to hear me say that further business will be announced in the usual way, but I shall endeavour to ensure that he is kept informed by the Department of progress on the Bill.

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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People in Scotland learned something this week: however much we dislike and distrust this Tory Government, it is nothing compared with how much they utterly loathe each other. Those letters, emails and WhatsApp messages show that they spend their time attacking each other, leaving no time to help people struggling with the Tory mortgage and rent bombshell or with rocketing energy bills, and no time to reduce NHS waiting lists in England, now approaching 8 million, or to cap food inflation, which is still running at over 10%. They are way too busy fighting like rats in a sack. Even their squalid, unlawful Rwanda scheme has fallen apart.

However, I bring good news to the Leader of the House to cheer her up—news from a part of the UK where a Government are getting on with the job; where not a single day has been lost in the NHS to industrial disputes; where teachers are the best paid in the UK; where the Scottish child payment is taking tens of thousands out of poverty; where the railways have been taken into public ownership; where there are free school meals for all pupils, P1 to P5; where there are more GPs per head than anywhere in the UK; where those aged 60 and over get free bus travel, along with our under-22-year-olds; and where we offer free university tuition, free prescriptions, free eye tests, and free personal care to our older folk. That is in Scotland under the SNP-led Scottish Government, as the Leader of the House knows, but her Government have a cunning plan to make everything come good: a new Minister for common sense—a wokefinder general, to search out woke thinking and eliminate it. The job is in the safe hands of someone who is allowed to attend Cabinet, but is prohibited from speaking in meetings—and anyone who knows the new Minister knows that a period of silence may be her first and overwhelming challenge. For some light relief in this very bleak week for her Government, could the Leader of the House help many of her baffled colleagues and try to give us her definition of “woke”?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, would take a dim view of it if I refused to answer the hon. Lady’s question—if I just stood here in silence because I did not fancy doing it, or objected strongly to the content and tone of the question. Had I done that, you might ask why I showed up this morning if I was not prepared to do my duty in this House and to show respect to the House. It would be a bit like attending at the Cenotaph and not singing the national anthem.

The hon. Lady displays a distinct lack of self-awareness. I grow tired of reading out to her each week statistics on the performance of her own Government, but since she invites me to again, let me give her two statistics that address the issues she raises. In England, the NHS 18-month waiting lists are down by 94% since September 2021; and a doctor or a headteacher in Scotland pays approximately £2,000 more in tax. I will continue to do my duty to this House, and to remind the SNP of their appalling record in government, which is obvious to everyone except them.

Finally, on all sorts of issues that many would perhaps describe as “woke” this Government have a proud record, because we recognise that compassion and care for everyone in our society is very important. That is why we did the largest ever LGBT action plan, from which we wanted practical measures that would make a difference to people’s lives. Conservatism, to me, has always been about the practical impact that we have on people’s lives, and stepping up and taking responsibility, not just for ourselves but for other people. Given her background and life experiences, I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey), who will now sit at the Cabinet Table, will be very good in that role.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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Transitioning toward net zero and increasing renewable energy is critical, but we need a just transition. I am conscious that constituents in Suffolk Coastal feel that a lot of the onshore infrastructure is being put in an unsuitable place, when further down the coast, at Bradwell in Essex, there is an ideal brownfield site to accommodate it. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate—perhaps it could be the general debate next Thursday, which is yet to be announced—in which we could discuss the importance of rewiring the national grid?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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First, may I place on the record—on behalf of everyone in this place, I am sure—our thanks to my right hon. Friend for all the work she did in her former Department? I know she was incredibly passionate about that work, going right back to when she was a junior Minister in that Department, and she should be very proud of the many things she enabled to happen on her double watch. I thank her for raising this issue in her constituency, which I know she is very concerned about. The Secretary of State has made it a priority and is giving it a lot more attention and focus, and I shall make sure that she is aware of my right hon. Friend’s particular interest.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call and congratulate the unopposed Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, Ian Mearns.

Ian Mearns Portrait Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab)
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I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. I have had the privilege of being in that role since June 2015, although I have a funny feeling this will be my last term in it, for a whole range of different reasons—[Hon. Members: “No!”] Well, the holder has to be a member of the Opposition. As we speak, the Committee cannot yet meet, but I understand that all political parties have made or are making nominations to the Committee of Selection. As soon as it agrees the nominations, the Backbench Business Committee can get up and running again. I hope that the first meeting can take place as soon as Tuesday 28 November. If it can happen before then, we certainly will try to ensure that it does. I understand from the Clerks that there is already a queue of applications to be presented to the Committee; we will try to get that all together as soon as possible.

Bus drivers and other staff employed by Go North East are on indefinite strike in a pay dispute. They seek pay parity with their company colleagues in the north-west region. The strike leaves constituents almost totally stranded and unable to get to work, places of study, hospitals and shops. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport about his intentions to bring an end to this dire paralysis in my Gateshead constituency and across the wider north-east region? Go North East provides bus services to a large part of the north-east region, and I am afraid to say it is no go at the moment.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I add my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on remaining Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, and thank him for all the work he does in that respect. I come here every week to this Dispatch Box with reasons to vote Conservative, and he has furnished us with another one, because we do not want to lose him as Chairman of that Committee. He has my assurance that we are committed to the swift establishment of the Committee. If that cannot be done before the general debate, subject to be announced, that I announced in the business question, we will take a steer from the topics that his Committee has already looked at.

I am very sorry to hear about the disruption to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents’ ability to travel. He will know that that is a concern to this Government. It is one reason why we have brought forward legislation to guarantee minimum service levels in areas such as transport and emergency services. It is incredibly important that industrial action, particularly when it takes place over long periods of time, does not disrupt people’s lives and cause them, for example, to lose their jobs, as has been happening in other parts of the country. I urge him to reflect on whether he could support those measures, particularly for specific sectors, that we will bring forward in this Session.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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About 40 years ago I had an unlikely campaigning role that involved organising counter-demonstrations to certain mass marches, but one area we never had to worry about was the vicinity of Parliament, because no demonstrations were allowed in Parliament Square. The reason given for that was that Members must not be impeded in entering or leaving the Houses of Parliament. Even if demonstrations continue to be allowed in Parliament Square, it should be a common concern to those on both sides of the House that Members find themselves getting advice from their Whips on which exits they cannot use for fear of being mobbed by an unauthorised demonstration that comes right up to the gates of Parliament. This really has gone too far. Sooner or later there will be an incident, unless security on entering and leaving the Houses of Parliament is restored.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this important matter. It is quite right that Members of Parliament and their staff should be able to go about their business in safety and security, and should not be disrupted in doing so. Mr Speaker was particularly concerned about this even prior to yesterday’s incidents, and has been working with Palace security and other organisations to ensure the safety of Members of Parliament in particular. Since the Deputy Speaker is in the Chair, I shall make sure that Mr Speaker has heard my right hon. Friend’s concerns, and I will ask that my right hon. Friend be kept informed of progress on such matters.

Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
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I am sorry to ask the right hon. Lady about this again, because I know she is one of the angels on this matter, but when I asked her last summer about conversion therapy, she promised a draft Bill on the subject in the last Session. There was no draft Bill, and there is nothing in the King’s Speech. The Government say that is because this is very complicated. It is not complicated. Loads of countries have measures on this, and have had for years. Is the real reason, as I have been told, that the Minister for Women and Equalities herself is blocking this much-needed reform?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The right hon. Gentleman will know that bringing an end to these practices is a manifesto commitment. It remains a manifesto commitment. He will also know that this is a complex situation. A lot of work has already been done, particularly by faith groups, to enable ideas and solutions to be brought forward. I thank all Members who have engaged on this, particularly with the Minister who leads on the issue, to try to make progress. The Secretary of State is still looking at the policy on this, and she is very aware that the House will want her decision brought forward. I know that she is taking great care to ensure that we can protect people who might be vulnerable to these kinds of barbaric practices.

Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
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Later today, Councillor Garry Perry from my constituency will be attending the Local Government Information Unit and CCLA councillor awards. Garry has been shortlisted for a lifetime legend award, in recognition of his dedication to building a safer, stronger, greener and more resilient community. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing him all the best in the awards later today?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I do not know whether it was audible to those listening, but there were choruses of approval from around the House. I speak on behalf of all of us when I say to Councillor Garry Perry: thank you for your decades of service to your community. Our councillors are all unsung heroes. They do a tremendous amount of work and good in their communities, and I wish Garry and all other nominees who have been short- listed for these awards good luck; they have our thanks.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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Air pollution is an invisible killer. Over 40,000 people in the UK die each year as a consequence of dirty air. The clean air zone introduced in Bath by the Liberal Democrat-run council has reduced nitrogen dioxide by over a quarter, which is an impressive achievement, saving lives. Can we have a debate in Government time about the importance of clean air and what the Government can do to support local councils?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Lady raises a very important point. She will know that this has been a focus for the Government; they have identified zones around the country that need improvement and ensured that local authorities can put measures in place to address these matters. This is an area where we can benefit from sharing best practice across the country. It is important that we do these things while still enabling economic growth to flourish, as we know we can. I am sure that if she were to apply for a debate on the subject, it would be well attended.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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Can we have a debate on the failure of the Metropolitan police to investigate an openly terrorist-supporting Socialist Workers party pamphlet, which has been reported on in several newspapers, entitled “Palestine: Resistance, Revolution and the Struggle for Hamas”? It has been on sale during the protest marches every weekend in London, and it includes the line:

“we unconditionally support Hamas when it is engaged in military or non-military struggles against Israel.”

This poison has been on sale for weeks, including, I am told, right outside this House, in Parliament Square. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the police should act under section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for raising this important matter—it is extremely disturbing to hear that. He will know that the police chiefs have our total backing in using the full extent of the law to crack down on any criminality, and what he describes sounds like it falls into that category. The police have powers to arrest those who belong to or glorify terrorist groups such as Hamas under the Terrorism Act 2000 and anyone who incites racial hatred under the Public Order Act 1986, and we support them in using those powers. I am afraid that the Socialist Workers are rentagobs who show up to all kinds of protests, spouting all kinds of hate, and deserve a closer look.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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As the Leader of the House may be aware, I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for access to medical cannabis under prescription. Currently, young Teagan Appleby, who is a constituent of the hon. Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), is in hospital in London and very poorly. The former Minister made every effort in his role to break down the barriers for medicinal cannabis under prescription to children with epilepsy. Will the Leader of the House please urge the new Minister to call a roundtable of all the stakeholders, so that those children can get the medicine they deserve?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Dover for the work they have been doing on this issue. I will certainly make sure that the new Secretary of State has heard about the hon. Lady’s comments today and is aware of her interest in this matter.

William Wragg Portrait Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con)
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I bring some sad news to the House this morning: my Conservative predecessor, Sir Thomas Arnold, died on Tuesday. He is known to many on the Conservative Benches for his years of work—a decade or so—as chair of candidates. He was the godson of Ivor Novello, and as well as inheriting the rights to various of his musicals, he also inherited his piano. He was quite a character and was a great support to me, and gave me much wise advice; whether I always followed it is a different matter.

As chair of candidates, Sir Thomas oversaw the 1987 and 1992 elections, and is responsible—or, indeed, culpable—for a number of Members being in this House today. His guiding words were these:

“The Conservative Party…is looking for men and women who have a good working knowledge of contemporary politics and a proven track record of experience…who above all know their own minds.”

With those words in mind, might the Leader of the House be able to facilitate a debate so that we can all learn how parties across the House can attract such candidates to be elected to this place?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sure I speak for all Members present when I say how sorry we are at that sad news, and that our thoughts are with Sir Thomas’s friends and family. He achieved the only Conservative gain in the 1974 election, which was the second time he stood for Parliament. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Northern Ireland Office and later in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He was vice-chairman of the party under Peter Brooke in 1983, and I am told that the most enjoyable time he spent in Parliament was when he headed the Commons Treasury Select Committee, which included an investigation into the downfall of Barings bank. He achieved a great deal for this country, and we remember him and his service fondly. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Lab)
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On 26 October in a point of order, I named Zaher Birawi and Muhammad Qassem Sawalha as Hamas operatives living in London. Since then, further Hamas operatives such as Majed Khalil al-Zeer and Ziad El Aloul have come to light as British nationals with links to Hamas, a terrorist organisation. Given the national security implications, can we have an urgent statement in Government time on what the Home Office is doing about Hamas operatives here in Britain?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter, which I know is a concern for many Members across the House. We have given the police new and updated powers, and we will continue to look at what further support they can be given to tackle this appalling situation. There can be absolutely no tolerance for anyone who facilitates or supports terrorism—that is very clear, and I think that view is shared on all sides of this House, even if some Members sometimes find it hard to articulate it.

Natalie Elphicke Portrait Mrs Natalie Elphicke (Dover) (Con)
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As the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) has said, Teagan Appleby, my teenage constituent, is at the moment in intensive care across the road in the Evelina London Children’s Hospital. My right hon. Friend will know from my question and her answer in June, that it was an urgent matter for Teagan to have support from the Government to have funding for and access to her medicinal cannabis, which she needs to manage her epilepsy. That meeting—my right hon. Friend was kind in her support for it and her follow-up with the Department of Health—has still not happened.

Can I ask my right hon. Friend to pass another message to the Health Secretary to say, not that we need another the meeting on this issue, but that we need action and that we need the funding to be available to every single child who needs access to this medicine now? There needs to be, in the autumn statement, a special fund set aside to allow these children to have access to the medicine they need. Teagan’s mother, Emma, could not do any more, and she was heartbroken when she sent me a message overnight—at midnight—that Teagan is now intubated and that she has to be kept in that medical state to manage 19 days of constant seizures.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am extremely sorry to hear what my hon. Friend has said. I do appreciate that Members across this House will have had experiences in which we are very invested in the wellbeing of our constituents, and I know this will be a very difficult time not just for Teagan and her family, but for my hon. Friend and others who have campaigned on this issue.

I am very disappointed to hear that the Department of Health has not met my hon. Friend. I wish to make it clear, and I do make it clear to Departments, that my requests for meetings between officials or Ministers and Members of this House are not optional. This House can call people to meet it in Select Committees, and Government Departments are funded to provide services to this House, and I am really very disappointed that the Department of Health has not done that.

I know that immediately after this session, even though I will be in the Chamber, my officials will contact the Department of Health and, through my Parliamentary Private Secretary, will contact the Secretary of State for Health to make her aware of this situation. We appreciate that we cannot make clinical decisions on behalf of individual patients, but what we can ensure is that, if a drug or medical device could benefit a patient, the systems are in place to ensure that they get access to it. Even if it is not for a NICE-approved treatment, people in this country still have that right. We will facilitate an immediate meeting with the Department of Health, and I will be kept informed of progress on this matter.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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Scotland is energy rich—in the last two months alone, Scotland exported 3.2 million MWh of electricity through the grid to England—yet along with the people of north Wales, Scots pay the highest electricity costs in the UK. Londoners pay £246 a year in standing charges before a switch or a gas hob is turned on, but in the parts of the UK where lighting and heating are turned on far earlier and turned off far later, these standing charges are over one third higher, at £333 a year. Does the Leader of the House really think that is fair, and if not, will she facilitate a debate on these unjust standing charges?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this point. I think standing charges should get scrutiny from this House. I know that many hon. and right hon. Members will have concerns in all parts of the UK about fairness and how some charges are being applied. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am sure that, if he were to apply for a debate, it would be well attended.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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As we saw in yesterday’s King’s Speech debate, some views on the Gaza conflict are becoming dangerously oversimplified and binary—someone is either in favour of a ceasefire, or they are in favour of the war continuing. That is not just misleading, it is also provocative. Will the Government utilise a statement or hold a debate to confirm Britain’s position on supporting a humanitarian pause—a position that was adopted by United Nations Security Council resolution 2712 last night?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that issue. He has great experience in this area. He is right, and I think the view was expressed well last night that in calling for a ceasefire, what people have been asking is for Israel to deviate from its duty to protect its citizens and defend itself. If Israel puts down its arms, it ceases to exist. That is the situation now, and only the end of Hamas, or whatever might try to take their place, and a long-term solution that guarantees peace, will enable it to do that. That is very important. We have a proud track record of protecting international humanitarian law and protecting citizens. We monitor closely what goes on not just with this situation but with others, including the attention to detail and care that Israel is taking in ensuring that it is the right side of that line. My right hon. Friend will know that on recent operations, the Israeli Defence Forces will have had humanitarian and medical professionals embedded in its forces to ensure that that happens. I repeat what I said at the start of this question: whatever hon. Members decide to do in this place, based on their conscience, they should be allowed to do it. We can all take care of each other in this place when hon. Members, inevitably and sadly, come under threat for doing so.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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November marks Islamophobia Awareness Month, which is a time for everyone committed to equality and anti-racism to reiterate their position on Islamophobia, and their dedication to stamping out that hate. It has now been five years since the all-party group on British Muslims published its definition of Islamophobia, which was backed by community groups, academics, political parties, trade unions, and many councils. It is four years since the Government committed to developing an official definition, and one year since they decided that tackling hatred against Muslims is not important and abandoned that plan. Given that Islamophobia is up by 600% since October, will the Leader of the House urge the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to come to the House and give a statement on his work on tackling Islamophobia?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point. I will certainly write to the Secretary of State, and to other Secretaries of State who will have an interest, to ensure that they have heard what he said. I recently visited Birmingham to show support to the Jewish community there in the wake of some of the attacks that they were having to endure. I was struck by the fact that the local Muslim community had come over to the Hebrew centre to show support, to condemn Hamas, and to stand with the Jewish community in the wake of those attacks. When I inquired why they had done that, they told me that as well as being the right thing to do, in the wake of 9/11, when the Muslim community had come under attack and been associated— wrongly—with those terrorist atrocities, the Jewish community came and stood between them and an angry mob, to protect them. What is often lost in the recent scenes we have seen is the decades of quiet work between different faith communities who all believe in the same God.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
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May I ask for a debate in Government time on the scrutiny of financial services regulation? Since we left the European Union, that has been undertaken by a Sub-Committee of the Treasury Committee. We have appointed expert advisers, we regularly take evidence on new consultations from the regulators and we have published reports to keep the House informed about that scrutiny for well over a year now.

I was therefore a bit surprised yesterday to see that the Liaison Committee in the other place has published a recommendation that it set up a financial services regulation scrutiny committee. Paragraphs 10 and 15 of its report suggest that that committee would substantially duplicate and potentially contradict ours, and of course it would cost Parliament a significant sum to set up.

If the Leader of the House is not able to spare Government time to debate this important topic, would she be kind enough to write to her counterpart in the other place to express the concerns of our cross-party membership that the proposed committee would duplicate the work that we are already doing and have thoroughly established in this House?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Madam Deputy Speaker was smiling at me to remind me, I think, of my responsibilities. I cannot ask the other place to change its scrutiny arrangements: it is responsible for those. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point about economy of effort, and I will certainly be able to make sure that the Lords has heard what she has said today. I hope that a way forward can be found that is in the interests of both Chambers.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Reclaim)
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Despite there being seven constituencies in the great county of Leicestershire, more than half of all the illegal migrants in hotels in the county are located in just one of them. My constituents thank the Government immensely for that enrichment of our lives.

Following the Supreme Court ruling yesterday against the Government’s Rwanda policy, can we have a statement and a debate in Government time on how we can secure this country’s borders and dissuade illegal migrants from travelling to our country? Hopefully, one day, we may get some hotels back for the enjoyment of the local population.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important point. I am sure he has met the Home Secretary about his first point. If he has not to date, I would encourage him to do so. I am sure that if we were to hold a debate on this matter, it would be very well attended. I would like to use Government time to bring forward further legislation that enables us to get the Rwanda scheme working, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman would support that. He will know that the Minister for Immigration has announced the closure of the first wave of asylum hotels. I do not know if any of those are in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but he will know that that is the first tranche of several.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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Yesterday, more than 60 Members of this House and the other place met under the auspices of the all-party Britain-Israel parliamentary group and witnessed the video of the true atrocities committed by Hamas on 7 October. Rarely have I seen Members of this House and the other place so silent and so horrified.

In contrast, overnight the Israel Defence Forces have facilitated the media to enter the Al-Shifa Hospital, the Rantisi children’s hospital and the Nasser Hospital, all of which have been demonstrated to be command and control centres and weapons centres. At the children’s hospital, there is clear evidence that hostages were kept there by Hamas and have subsequently been moved. That is in direct contrast to what many people have seen in the media across the world from those people who support Hamas.

May we have a statement from the Government, probably from a Foreign Office Minister in this place, on exactly what is happening in terms of progress in liberating Gaza from Hamas and the attempts being made by the IDF to minimise civilian casualties as this terrible war continues?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important point. He is correct that it is now clear that hospitals and other civilian places have been used by Hamas. That is not news: a 2015 report by Amnesty International alleges that the Shifa Hospital has served as a Hamas interrogation and torture centre for some time. To reassure the House, Members will know that the Israel Defence Forces are doing a huge amount and taking great care with regard to civilian lives, as they do the very difficult job of clearing these areas out and trying to destroy Hamas and their network. The IDF transferred incubators, baby food and additional medical supplies to hospital compounds, and on Sunday they opened up additional humanitarian corridors from various hospitals for civilians and patients to evacuate—on foot if they could, or via ambulance—to the south.

The Israeli-operated humanitarian corridors have reportedly been used by approximately a quarter of a million Palestinians. Today, I understand that Israel is facilitating the provision of fuel to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to enable the delivery of aid into Gaza. Its job is made harder by the operations of Hamas—I think that, in terms of getting people out, a third of the names on the list provided by Hamas to Egypt and Israel were known Hamas terrorists, leading to delays in civilians getting the medical attention they require. This is an incredibly difficult situation, and I urge all hon. Members to be kept informed and up to date about what is happening on the ground.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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The Leader of the House may be aware that there is a sale in principle that will secure the future of Newport Wafer Fab in my constituency. I had just secured a meeting with the Minister, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), to discuss next steps when he sadly fell victim to the Prime Minister’s reshuffle this week. Can the Leader of the House tell me which Minister is now responsible for the semiconductor industry, and will she help me get a meeting in the diary as a matter of urgency?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am pleased to hear the good news in the hon. Lady’s constituency. My job is to ensure that batons are not dropped during reshuffles, and I shall be very happy to assist her in ensuring that it is not dropped in this case.

Ian Liddell-Grainger Portrait Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con)
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I rise yet again to bring to the Leader of the House another tale of woe, incompetence and financial stupidity from Mid Devon Liberal Democrats. The elected idiots have driven the council to bankruptcy, because they will not make savings, but their useless leaders have given themselves a bung of £50,000, which is obviously ridiculous. I also notice that the head of scrutiny—another incompetent, for God’s sake—is living near luxury houses in Bampton, which are for sale; they are meant to be low-cost housing. Can we please have a debate—again, I ask the Government for this—so that this ridiculous council can be held to account and stop costing the taxpayers of Mid Devon millions because of its absolute incompetence?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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This is a familiar refrain that we hear from my hon. Friend about the difficulties that his constituents are having to endure because of his local authority. He has provided his own answer by getting it on the record. I know that he will urge his constituents and others to make a different choice as soon as they can, at the next local elections, about who should be running their local authority.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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This is not about Mid Devon. A large amount of electricity is generated from wind power in my constituency in the north of Scotland, and more will be generated in the future. It is necessary to get that electricity to where it is needed—conurbations in England and Wales—and the proposal is to take it south by means of colossal pylons. Those pylons and their proposed route are causing much concern to the communities who will be nearest to them. Constituents and people living in other parts of Scotland—this affects right hon. and hon. Members all over Scotland—have suggested to me that the electricity should be moved by means of subsea cables. This is a strategic decision for the UK for many years to come. I have written to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero requesting a meeting to discuss the matter. May I ask the right hon. Lady what advice she has for me in taking it forward?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for all his work on behalf of his constituents. I thank him for early warning of the topic he would raise. That was very helpful, because I have heard from the Minister that a meeting will be facilitated, and I will ensure that that happens in good order.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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Farming communities and rural businesses in my constituency and across the country face many challenges. We have a new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in post, so could we have a debate in Government time so that he can outline how he intends to meet the challenges of the rural community?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter for the often unsung heroes of our country, who are doing a tremendous amount to feed us, build resilience and take care of our precious countryside. I will certainly make sure that the new Secretary of State has heard of his interest in this matter. He will know that the Secretary of State’s predecessor produced an action plan for rural communities, but the farming community will be a tremendous focus of the new Secretary of State. We must support farmers, as large enterprises, to do what we ask of them and to thrive.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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We know that Conservative leaders past and present are fond of travel on private jets. In respect of David Cameron, it is a matter of public record that the Treasury Committee referred the question of his travel on the Greensill Capital private jet to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for tax purposes. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the outcome of those inquiries was considered by the House of Lords Appointments Commission before he was made Foreign Secretary?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My understanding is that all the processes for scrutinising and approving appointments to the House of Lords and ministerial office have been followed. I think that all investigations into David Cameron—I think I can still refer to him as that—prior to his elevation to the Lords have closed. However, some things are still open. GFG’s relationship with Greensill Capital is still part of investigations being conducted by the Serious Fraud Office. The SNP gave GFG £586 million to guarantee jobs at a smelting plant that never materialised, and the group also happened to sponsor its 2018 party conference.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)
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Can we have a debate on local funding priorities and the importance of community consultations on them being fairly worded and accessible to all? Labour-led Cheshire East Council is considering imposing unwarranted car parking charges even in residential neighbourhoods, and is mooting closing Holmes Chapel and Middlewich leisure centres—community facilities that are vital to the wellbeing of all ages. The council is also considering stopping maintenance on 80 green sites, risking eyesores and tipping. Of those, 36 are on the lovely Grange Way estate in Sandbach in my constituency, where those amenity lands have been publicly maintained for over 50 years.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My hon. Friend will know that, under the Local Government Act 1999, a council must make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in the way that its functions are exercised, and have regard to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. It must consult local people about how it should fulfil that duty. There are mountains of good practice on the high street portal, which demonstrate that introducing parking charges where those core principles are not taken into account is often a disaster. I encourage my hon. Friend to look at that to help her in her valiant arguments against what the council is planning to do. The next questions to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are on 4 December, but I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard her concerns and ask Ministers to assist her in her important campaign.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), in this place I have repeatedly raised the scandal and injustice of standing charges on energy bills, which continue to rise. Finally, at long last, Ofgem is reviewing those charges and may get to a stage where it takes action to abolish them. Will the Leader of the House make a statement and lend her voice to calls for the abolition of these opaque charges, which hit the very poorest households hardest in my constituency and across the UK?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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That is not in my portfolio, but as a constituency MP I have long talked about standing charges and it is good that they are being looked at. The Secretary of State is also keen to ensure that where the charges exist they are fair. It is quite wrong that in some cases people could be paying £30 a month, even if they are not using any energy at all. We are not helping the poorest in our society unless we are focused on ensuring that such charges are fair. The hon. Lady is right to point out that this issue is being looked at. She is not the first Member to mention it today and I shall bring it to the Secretary of State’s attention that she has also raised it.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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The most powerful wind turbine in England went up recently in my constituency at Checkley Wood with local support. It can generate 4.1 MW, which is enough to power 2,500 homes. Will the Government ensure that local communities benefit from cheaper power, especially from single or very small cluster high-capacity turbines, which are so much less visually intrusive?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend and his constituents for what they are doing to make our nation resilient. The Government want to ensure that communities that participate in such facilities also benefit from them. We have published a consultation on how the current system of community benefits in England can be improved. That closed in July and the Government will shortly bring forward the results, and no doubt further policies. I thank him for raising this matter.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
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May we have a debate on the appalling service offered by the Home Office? I have been working for over a year with a constituent who has been trying to get a visa for his family, including a young baby, who are currently in Pakistan as refugees, having fled Afghanistan. Despite jumping through numerous hoops, my constituent’s family still do not have a visa and the Pakistan authorities are seeking to deport refugees back to Afghanistan. I emailed the Home Office urgent inquiries inbox— I emphasise “urgent”—on 25 October, but after three weeks I have had no response. It really does beg the question: what exactly is the Home Office doing?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am very sorry to hear that situation. If the hon. Gentleman would give my officials the details of that case, I will make sure it is raised immediately this afternoon. The Home Office offers, as I have advertised before, surgeries for colleagues with these sorts of cases, either online or in person in this place. If he has not made use of that to date I encourage him to do so, but given the urgency I shall make sure that the Home Office has heard what he has said this afternoon.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
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For far too many months now, constituents across Crawley have been subject to substandard services from Royal Mail, with some streets going undelivered for weeks at a time. Disabled constituents are having to go to their local post office to pick up their mail. In one road there was a dog attack at one house, so now the whole road is not being delivered. Unfortunately, the response from Royal Mail has been really inappropriate. If we are to continue with a universal service that people can rely on, we really do need to see improvements. May we please have a statement?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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This is not the first case of that service slipping that I have heard about recently. It is not just about people not receiving documents in a timely way; it can also be about people not receiving medicine and other important things, or missing hospital and doctors’ appointments because they are not informed about them. It is an important issue, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising it. I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard about the case that he has raised in connection with Crawley, but I will emphasise in my letter that I know the matter is of concern to many Members on both sides of the House, and will ask the Secretary of State to ensure that Royal Mail is being held to account for the service standards that it is required to deliver.

Andrew Western Portrait Andrew Western (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
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Yesterday the deputy chairman of the Conservative party advocated breaking the law in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Government’s inhumane and illegal proposals concerning Rwanda. May I ask the Leader of the House what steps are available to Members to hold senior members of the governing party to account when they make such damaging statements which undermine the rule of law? May I also ask her what she thinks this means for the self-proclaimed party of law and order?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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One of the reasons we are testing these matters in the courts and why we are having to proceed at this pace—we want to move faster—is that we want to ensure that what we are proposing is compliant with the law. If it is not compliant with the law, it will not work. That is why we are going through this process, and that is why, if necessary, we will do what we have done before and will continue to do, and make amendments to the statute book to enable us to do this. We are absolutely determined and united in our mission to ensure that we can control and protect the borders of this country. The criminal gangs who wish to bring people here illegally—people who are placed in tremendous jeopardy—will continue to adapt their model of business to try to get around the new measures that we introduce, but we are going to continue, and we are beating them. Boat crossings are down by a third in the last 12 months. We wish to end them completely: that is our mission, and that is what we will do.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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The biggest transport hub in my constituency, Barnstaple bus station, has not reopened since the pandemic, which has limited users’ access to shelter and toilets. The Liberal Democrat-run district council is not pursuing options to reopen the space to the public, such as by finding an operator for the café. This is putting users off taking the bus into town, which can have a knock-on effect on businesses in the high street, especially as we enter the crucial pre-Christmas period. Ahead of Small Business Saturday, may we have a debate on the role of councils in supporting our high streets by providing key facilities?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sorry to say that the performance of Liberal Democrat-run local authorities has been something of a theme in this session of business questions, and I am very sorry to hear about the situation in North Devon. As my hon. Friend will know, we have made available not only funding but advice and support to enable high streets to thrive, and also to enable community asset transfers to take place. I saw an example of that when I visited a local social enterprise in my hon. Friend’s constituency which is helping town centres and villages to continue as thriving communities. This is so important that any delay in ensuring that people can enjoy these facilities is inexcusable. I thank my hon. Friend for the campaign that she is running on behalf of her constituents, and I will ask the Secretary of State to see whether there is anything further he can advise about what she can do. I will advertise Small Business Saturday on 2 December to all Members, and I thank my hon. Friend again for the work she is doing for her constituency.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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May I begin by saying how encouraged I am, and we all are, by the fact that the Leader of the House comes here every week to answer our questions and our requests? It is, hopefully, appreciated by everyone— certainly by most of us. I think it important to put that on record.

In an October attack in Tunisia, a non-functioning synagogue was set on fire and seriously damaged during a protest. Police did not stop the attack. Various attacks in the Russian North Caucasus have left local Jewish communities afraid for their safety. There has been no word, or no response, from the Russian Government on those attacks. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning the rising tide of antisemitism resulting from the Israel-Hamas war, and will she ask the relevant Minister from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to call for proper governmental responses to antisemitism in the regions that I have mentioned?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. The feeling is entirely mutual, as we are all very grateful to him for raising particular cases of appalling things that have happened around the world. They may not be headline news, but they are devastating to those communities, and particularly to faith communities that are being persecuted.

I will make sure that the new Foreign Secretary has heard what the hon. Gentleman says and understands his keen interest in this area. It is incumbent on all of us to recognise and tackle antisemitism, which has been around for a long time but is now on the rise. We need to combat it, and we need to ensure that communities, wherever they are in the UK or around the world, feel able to go about their business in safety and security, and feel able to wear symbols of their faith without fear as they live their daily lives. It is our first duty to ensure that, particularly in the United Kingdom, and I thank him for reminding us of it each week.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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Can we have a debate in Government time on rural broadband and mobile connectivity? When I was elected in 2019, superfast broadband connectivity in Hinckley and Bosworth stood at only 0.2%; it is now over 67%. I urge anyone listening to contact my office to help increase that number. There are still hard and stubborn blackspots for mobile and broadband connectivity, so can we have a debate to make sure these vital services are there for my constituents?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter on behalf of his constituents. Basic 5G is now available in about 85% of UK premises and the surrounding areas, five years ahead of schedule, but of course we want people to benefit from this opportunity as soon as possible. We published the UK wireless infrastructure strategy in April, setting out a new ambition for a nationwide network of higher-quality, stand-alone 5G in all populated areas by 2030. It also set out new 6G strategies, alongside an investment of up to £100 million in future telecoms research. I will make sure the responsible Minister has heard that more needs to be done in my hon. Friend’s constituency. This is vital to ensure that we see the economic growth we want in all parts of the UK.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I thank the Leader of the House for answering business questions.

MPs Staff: Employment Conditions

Thursday 16th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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11:43
Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Leader of the House of Commons (Penny Mordaunt)
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I beg to move,

That this House welcomes the Second Report of the Speaker’s Conference on the employment conditions of Members’ staff (HC 1714 of Session 2022–23), endorses its recommendations, recognises Members’ responsibilities as employers and the need to improve the working lives of Members’ staff and accordingly calls on the House of Commons Commission, IPSA and the political parties to address and implement the recommendations from the Speaker’s Conference.

I move this motion on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker). He is at the funeral of Andrew Lee, who was a long-time Conservative party agent and activist. He was held in very high regard and had been an agent for many Members of this House. He was one of those characters we all know in our respective parties. He was the life and soul of our party, and our democracy is built on the shoulders of such people. They often do not get any focus or plaudits, but they do a huge amount to facilitate democracy in this country. My hon. Friend sends his apologies for not being here in person.

The second report of the Speaker’s Conference makes a series of recommendations designed to improve the working lives of Members’ staff and provide better support to Members as employers. The staff who work for us, as individual Members of Parliament, play a huge and valuable role not only in supporting our work here in Westminster but in working tirelessly for our constituents, often in very stressful situations.

The employment arrangements of Members’ staff are not a matter for the Government, but I welcome the conclusion that Members of this House should continue to employ their own staff directly. It is for each Member to determine how best to carry out their role, and the current employment model provides an important element of flexibility to Members to arrange their staff in the way that best suits each individual Member.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I am supportive of what the Leader of the House is bringing forward, but I must ask the following question. Many MPs do not have the training as employers to answer many questions and the staff development she is referring to is not natural to those of us who are not from that background. Does she agree that greater support to allow us to aid our staff development is imperative? That will allow staff to feel that there is a route to take to greater advancement. Does she agree that funding for that should be provided centrally, so that staff do not feel they are being scrutinised by the public for taking beneficial yet costly development courses?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point. He will know that the report makes reference to ensuring that proper support, training and services are provided to enable individual Members to be the best employers they can be. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne, whose name is also on this motion and who would be moving it were he here, has also done a huge amount of work to ensure that Members in future will be able to undertake training and get qualifications, which is tremendously important. It will help them in their work here and enable them to continue their career when they leave this place. It is a good use of budget, to enable us to be the best Members of Parliament that we can be.

I also welcome the recommendations on providing further help and support to Members and their staff in relation to employment matters. We need to ensure that all who work in Parliament are treated properly and fairly, and the package of measures announced in this report will deliver significant improvements. I particularly welcome the recommendations on improved mental health support for Members and their staff, and I know that colleagues in all parts of the House will do the same.

The report also makes a series of recommendations about the role of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. IPSA is rightly independent from both the Government and Parliament, but I note the constructive engagement that has taken place between the Speaker’s Conference and IPSA, and the formal response published by IPSA earlier this week, which sets out how it aims to address some of the challenges identified by the Conference that fall within its areas of responsibility. I am pleased to see progress on entitlements to sickness and parental leave for staff who move between Members, and I look forward to seeing proposals on greater support for Members and staff in relation to constituency offices in due course.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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I think the recommendations on continuity of service are important, having seen the injustice in that area in respect of one of my members of staff. Will the Leader of the House advise on whether those measures will apply retrospectively to existing staff?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am proposing this on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne, but I shall certainly make sure that I can get the precise details to the hon. Gentleman. Much would depend on what is in an individual’s contract, as those will vary substantially depending on how they had worked here. I will endeavour to get an answer to him on that.

Finally, I would like to endorse the report’s conclusions about the valuable work of the Members’ Services Team. It provides expert advice and support to colleagues on a range of matters, but in particular it is a vital source of support on employment issues. The report rightly recognises the value of that support and highlights the importance of colleagues’ engaging with the team on any staffing issues that arise. I encourage any colleague with concerns about an employment issue to contact the team at the earliest opportunity, and I welcome the report’s recommendations to create a system of account managers to provide more direct support to Members in this area.

I particularly wish to thank Chris Sear, the director of the Members’ Services Team, who is retiring at the end of this month, after a long career in the House. The work that Chris has done to expand the services that provide assistance to Members of this House has been hugely welcome. He was instrumental and very helpful in conducting the largest Members’ survey ever done, which took place this year and was about what kinds of services and support people needed. I want to place on record the gratitude that colleagues have for him and his team.

I hope these measures carry the support of Members and I commend the motion to the House.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call the shadow Deputy Leader of the House.

11:50
Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
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This is an important debate about the culture and working conditions in Parliament. As Members of this House and as employers of staff, we should ensure that all staff feel valued and respected, regardless of whether they are employed by Members directly or by the House authorities, in the Palace or in our constituency offices. Staff working across Parliament and the country are the backbone of our democracy and I give my personal thanks for their dedication. I am sure that sentiment is echoed across all Benches.

The issues of pay, recognition and ensuring a safe and respectful workplace are not new. They are long-standing issues on which we should always work hard, but it is important to recognise how much progress has been made. Thanks are due, in no small part, to the work of the parliamentary trade unions and the House authorities.

We support the recommendations outlined in the Speaker’s Conference report, which are a welcome step in the right direction. Crucially, there will be changes for Members’ staff concerning continuity of service that will mean improved maternity and paternity rights, enhanced rights regarding sick pay and better redundancy arrangements. Also, it is right that our HR functions, support and advice are available to our staff as well as to Members. That will enable staff to make informed choices about their employment.

On balance, the report concluded that MPs’ staff should remain under the direct employment of Members, complemented by the new HR service. It will also be good to reclassify staff training and costs to support the widest participation in career development. Together, these are good steps in the right direction and should help improve the working culture of our House.

The report’s primary purpose was not to focus on the conduct of Members and possible ways of redress, but that issue was partially covered. I welcome the role of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme in dealing with incidents of poor behaviour by Members. The process appears to be improving and timescales to complete cases are said to be coming down, but will the Leader of the House address the following questions: will recommendations concerning HR and continuity of service be finalised by the general election? Are there plans to look further at the role of the ICGS and its processes? Is a future assessment point planned to monitor progress of the report?

As I have set out, we welcome the recommendations of the report and thank the Speaker and the members of the Speaker’s Conference for their diligence. Working together, we need to stick with this important task. Finally, if approved by Members today, I hope the report’s recommendations will be implemented as soon as possible.

11:53
Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
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I had not planned to speak in the debate, but as a member of the Speaker’s Conference I thought, at the last minute, it was important to come to the House to recognise the work of everyone involved in putting together the report. As the Leader of the House of Commons, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), acknowledged, we relied on many of the Speaker’s staff and other staff in the House of Commons to put the report together.

The report is an important piece of work, which I welcome and hope will be approved today. While we are making progress, it is important that we continue to look at our organisation and ways in which we can improve. The relationship between staff and employers is at the heart of what this place is about in delivering democracy and legislating for the benefit of the country.

To change a culture takes time, and to implement that change takes time, but I think that this is an important and fundamental step forward. There has been progress, but there is always more to do. Let us continue to do it. This is the second report. I put on the record, as a member of the Conference, my thanks to the Members’ Services Team and to Chris Sear, who was stalwart in supporting us. I, like many others I am sure, wish him well in his retirement.

11:55
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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The SNP of course welcomes any proposals that aim to ensure best employment practice, and in this case to ensure that staff are part of an inclusive, respectful and fair working environment. I pay tribute to the work of the Speaker’s Conference and commend its recommendations. The high-profile incidents that in part sparked the report laid bare aspects of an inappropriate and unacceptable workplace culture that has run through this place, so with a renewed urgency the report undertook to ensure that current working practices and conditions of staff are fit for purpose, and that everyone who works in the parliamentary community feels supported and has uninhibited access to that support.

The contribution of MPs’ staff to this place is enormous—we all know that—and all too often it goes unseen. As part of its inquiry into culture, the report spoke of a “collective failure” of the House to recognise and reward hard-working staff. Constituency staff in particular were singled out as feeling neglected and detached from Westminster, going without much of the support and additional services made available to those working on the estate. That is unacceptable and must, and I hope will, change. We welcome the report’s recommendation to champion the work of MPs’ staff—that is, the work of those who enable everyone here to do their job. We wholeheartedly support the aims of the report to ensure parity of employment conditions and a more rewarding work culture across the wider parliamentary community.

We are also very much in favour of the proposed expansion of the Members’ Services Team, which over such a short time has already come to provide an invaluable and highly professional service. Having had to call on their help in the past, I know just how highly professional, helpful and sensitive to the issues they are. The recommendation of that team’s evolution to a Members and Members’ staff service is commendable. As small employers, MPs should of course have access to better human resources support, but staff should also have access to guidance and advice independent of their employing MP.

The report described Members’ staff as “uniquely vulnerable” and the current Members’ Services Team was found to be under-resourced. The report’s plan to incorporate a new restorative practice for workplace dispute resolution is a welcome recommendation that would help to create uniform procedures for MPs’ staff across this House. Inadequate provision of employee support, employer guidance and qualified HR experts directly impacts the experience of staff, so we are very supportive of the report’s recommendations to improve that, and to improve on the great work of the current team.

Since the Members’ expenses scandal that led to its creation, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has rightfully provided the public with much greater accountability and transparency on MPs’ spending; however, the report highlighted some key challenges arising from IPSA’s dual responsibilities as a service regulator and a service provider. We support the report’s recommendations for IPSA to make changes to the scheme of business costs and expenses, particularly on continuity of employment should staff move between Members’ offices. Statutory entitlements such as family leave and redundancy accrued while in the employ of one Member should not evaporate due to a change of Member. It is important that we recognise the previous service of staff, and ensure the continuance of their employment conditions.

Simply put, staff should not be treated as a cost moving between accounts. I note that the report also recommends that the role of staff should be classified as essential supporting work, not merely included on the expense tab of a Member. That alone would go a long way to shift the perception of Members’ staff and the hard work that they do supporting both constituents and their employing MP.

We also support the report’s recommendations for a working group to be set up in collaboration with IPSA to review the provision of accommodation and to improve the working environment of staff members.

The Speaker’s Conference proposals are a welcome set of recommendations that will undeniably improve the culture and working conditions of staff. Across constituency offices, research teams, House and Members’ employees, we must ensure that this somewhat atypical structure has typical employment conditions that are both predictable and fair. I certainly hope that Members across the House will support these recommendations.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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Having been a member of the Conference, I am delighted to be able to speak in this debate. The Conference has done some important work. We all know that this is a highly individual workplace, and that brings pressures, close and intense working, and a daily range of issues that are varied and challenging. We all know of personnel cases where things have gone wrong, so it was a very good idea to create the Speaker’s Conference, and all its members set off on our work knowing there was a problem to solve: that the working conditions of our teams, Members’ staff, could and must be improved.

We have had a very good process, and I thank the House staff for all that they did. In particular, I thank them for their research and for drawing interesting parallels between other Parliaments around the world. It is clear that some of these Parliaments have been on similar journeys to ourselves. It is hard enough to organise things on a national parliamentary basis, but to do so on an international parliamentary basis is particularly challenging.

I think back to a joint meeting with representatives from the Bundestag. The organisation was good: we had to fit in with multiple participants, co-ordinate between sittings and ensure good translation services. I know more about that meeting because I chaired it, but there were many other meetings as well. The way in which House Officers carried out their background research was particularly helpful. For example, there was a visit to my constituency office—among a number of other such visits—to see what happens in the more distant part of the parliamentary estate. We had a visit from the Director of Members’ Services, Mr Chris Sear. When he joined us in Harrogate, I made myself scarce by visiting some constituents, so he could talk to the team and find out what they were doing and all that they do to support people on a daily basis.

Throughout this process, I was aware that there had been some difficulty with gathering information. There was plenty of anecdotal information, but problems have been hard to quantify. That difficulty with information meant that, to keep perspective and proportionality in all that we did, we had to constantly remind those involved that the vast majority of MPs are good employers.

There was a focus on three areas: culture, community and behaviour. I will comment, if I may, on a couple of the more important decisions. The first was to keep MPs as employers of their teams and as the deciders of who is in their team. That is a very good thing. Any changes to that would have been difficult to implement and would, I am sure, have met significant resistance. It also became clear very quickly that the way that support is provided or accessed by Members’ staff is slightly haphazard, and that that could be improved.

Members’ staff can sometimes feel like second-class citizens—for example, when everyone else on the parliamentary estate are eligible for a flu jab, they are not. Listing Members’ staff as expenses is demeaning; they are not expenses, they do valuable work. Members’ staff could join parliamentary networks.

The transfer of employment rights for staff when they change from working for one MP to another is critical. Effectively, a member of staff has to start all over again when a Member retires or loses their seat, or when a constituency boundary is abolished. That member of staff may have worked here for many years, but they would not have any employment rights. Clearly, that is wrong. As a result of the Conference, that will change, and that transfer of rights was a very early decision.

A further point is the Member Services Team, with a recommendation for significantly greater HR support. Basically, this is about moving everything to a far more professional and standard working arrangement. One area where more is to be done concerns those who are working away from the estate. It is hard to see what is going on in constituency offices—there are 650 or so in diverse locations around our nation—and I was sure that further work was needed. The parliamentary authorities should work together, alongside the political parties, to identify early where risk may be developing—for example, staff turnover rates could be considered, or basic personnel admin, such as leave records.

During the Conference’s work, we spent some time discussing the structure of MPs’ offices—possibly because I spent a large amount of time ensuring that we did so. Some are better than others, but how a colleague sets up their office is their business, not mine.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Both he and I are pretty experienced in the private sector in managing people; not everyone has that experience, but I believe that the HR services available to Members are excellent. Will he consider in a future Conference making it a requirement that Members undertake an HR exercise before they are allowed to recruit staff, who will be paid for by the taxpayer?

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones
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My right hon. Friend makes an extremely interesting point. The challenge is that when a Member starts here, the work starts immediately, and the period between an election and the workload starting is very brief. What she suggests could be practically difficult, but she is quite correct about possible lack of experience and how standard practices, although they may be difficult to deliver, are clearly the right thing to do. My right hon. Friend makes a very valuable point, which should be considered, because I do not think that this is the end of the process.

Members structure their officers differently. All my team have always been based in Harrogate and Knaresborough; I have never had a team member based in Westminster. London MPs have different needs, probably basing their teams on the parliamentary estate. Most Members will split their teams. A result of our work will be the creation of a series of templates to show new Members what success might look like—not to impose, but to guide—and the provision of more training when they arrive and are setting up their offices.

The absence of imposition is important, because we are all individuals with different needs and different backgrounds, so the political parties have a role to play in the training of new MPs, some of whom as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) says, may have very limited experience, or even none, of being an employer. It is true that this is an individual workplace, but that has sometimes been used as an excuse for not looking hard enough at what happens here, or as a get-out-of-jail card for poor practice. That is not acceptable. We have a set of recommendations; we worked to make sure that they are practical, and there are many of them.

It was a great call by Mr Speaker to create the Conference. I again thank the House team for all their work to support us; they did a very good job. I can confirm to colleagues that, throughout, the Conference’s work was done in a constructive, collegiate, cross-party way. Our task now is to implement the findings of the Conference, but I do not think that this work, while positive, should be the only part of an initiative to improve standards in our public life and politics.

Since I became a Member of Parliament, eight current or former Labour MPs have been given custodial sentences, two Conservatives, one Liberal Democrat and one Scottish Nationalist. We have had by-elections caused by poor behaviour by colleagues from all parts of the House, and there have been cases of bad practice. A series of processes have been introduced in good faith to address problems, but I think it has become apparent that the House needs to do more work to both simplify and speed up the processes. Who is responsible for what? What happens when people are being investigated, and how does that work align with the Recall of MPs Act 2015? It is also for the political parties to recognise problems and act, though.

It is easy to say, “The other lot are corrupt.” We hear that all the time. My point is that the problems are wider and deeper. That is a broader issue than the Speaker’s Conference dealt with. I think our work in this Conference will improve a sizeable part of our political system. It should be supported and implemented as soon as possible.

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