The business for the week commencing
The provisional business for the week commencing
I am pleased to announce the remaining recess dates for the rest of this year. Subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the conference recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday
We often talk of parliamentary democracy in sweeping and even grandiloquent terms, but its day-to-day success rests on the hard work of unseen officials. Yesterday the Prime Minister paid tribute, as you have, Mr Speaker, to Sir Roy Stone, the departing principal private secretary to the Chief Whip, who came to his current post at the start of the millennium, after serving Margaret Thatcher, Sir John Major and Tony Blair in Downing Street. While Sir Roy did not waste any time on my appointment in making it clear to me that the term “usual channels” was best kept away from the Floor of the House—in fact, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to use it—I intend to break the rule today, to make it clear that, when people mentioned the usual channels actually they meant Sir Roy. He was and has been the usual channels for the past 20 years. He is, as you pointed out, Mr Speaker, only the fourth person to have held this particular set of responsibilities since Sir Charles Harris’ appointment a century ago.
Over the last 21 years, Sir Roy has kept the parliamentary show on the road—not least in helping to smooth occasionally troubled waters in recent years, working phantasmagorical wonders behind the scenes and accomplishing feats of which Houdini would be proud, to ensure that the show went on. A predecessor of mine, Richard Crossman, described the job as
“a little round ball-bearing which makes the huge joint work that links the Opposition and Government Whips’ Offices.”
That does not quite do it justice. Sir Roy himself would say that he is an honest broker. This is nearer the mark, but underplays his significance. Instead, Sir Roy’s occasional declaration that this or that politician is offside is nearer the mark, because it invites comparison to a popular game known as association football, where referees may instinctively understand what is appropriate and what is not.
My own view is that Sir Roy has been a guardian of our constitution and its proprieties, the keeper of the democratic clocks, devoted to maintaining the position of and the balance between our constitution’s weights and counterweights: Executive and legislature; Front Bench and Back Bench; Opposition and Government. I cannot think of a more important or solemn duty, but Sir Roy has proved himself the sort of man who performs near miracles with considerable regularity. He has been an inspiration and a teacher who we will all miss enormously; and, to his great credit, he still has much more to give. I wish him and his family every possible blessing.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business. I know that the staff of the House who have been asking me about the recess dates will be very pleased to hear them, given the hard year that so many of them have been through.
Every day, we sit here under the protective shield of our loved friend, Jo Cox. We can hear her voice. We are inspired by her. She mattered then; she matters still. Her life made a difference to millions and we miss her very much. This week especially, we send our love to her family.
Mr Speaker, the Opposition—particularly the Whips Office—join you and the Leader of the House in saying a big thank you to Sir Roy Stone, who is retiring this week after 44 years of service. We want him to know how much we appreciate him.
In this Cervical Screening Awareness Week, I encourage all women to take up the screening when offered, and to encourage other women to do likewise.
The British people deserve to have a competent Government, but this Government, unfortunately, are anything but competent—hopeless, in fact. This is costing the country dearly. Four years on from the Grenfell tragedy, where on the business is the plan to make all homes safe from fire and the law reforms to give tenants true voice—something that the survivors and bereaved people were promised?
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced yesterday what he called an economic support package, but it consisted of just one single measure, which does not a package make. Failure to help businesses who have lost thousands of pounds because of the covid measures extension—itself needed only because of other Government incompetence—will cost many people’s jobs. Hopeless.
Similarly, the Prime Minister came back from a weekend with a few mates in Cornwall, describing something as a global vaccination programme that is anything but: 870 million doses of vaccine is a fraction of the 11 billion that the world actually needs, and his level of leadership at the G7 a fraction of what the country needs. The Government are not preparing the UK for the impacts of climate change, according to the Climate Change Committee; the Ministry of Justice is having to remove children from Rainsbrook secure training centre because it cannot keep them safe; there is little hope for young people who have lost months of education; social care is failing vulnerable children; trade deals are undermining farmers and fishers; and exports are down. Hopeless.
Will the Leader of the House please explain to people who own homes with fire defects, to the world’s poorest people, to businesses losing money, to care workers and people who need care, and to our children and young people why the Government could not get around to arranging the business to sort out problems that are predictable, predicted and fixable?
There is now a steady stream of Government announcements on major matters that Members have to find out about from journalists, instead of here in this Chamber: covid regulations, parliamentary rules on English votes for English laws, the publication of the review on rape prosecutions—and that’s just this week. Does the Leader of the House agree that this is, at best, not in the spirit of the ministerial code, and, at worst, treating our constituents with contempt?
The British steel industry supports tens of thousands of jobs, but the Trade Remedies Authority’s decision to withdraw steel safeguards plunges steelworkers, their families, and communities that rely on the industry into a deeply precarious situation. Will the Government bring forward emergency legislation so that Ministers can reject the Trade Remedies Authority’s recommendation, temporarily extend current safeguards and protect British jobs in steel?
When will the Leader of the House bring in the rule changes that he and I both know are urgently needed to allow constituents to petition to recall their MP when the independent complaints process finds them to be a bully or sexual harasser?
Finally, I did not need leaked texts from one hopeless person, about another hopeless person, moaning about a third one; I only needed to listen to the care workers in Bristol West to know that there is not, and never was, a ring of protection around them and the people they care for. Why did the Prime Minister keep on as Health Secretary someone he thought was hopeless in a global health crisis? Why?
The British people recognise incompetence and waste when they see it, they know what is right and what is not, and they know when a Minister is hopeless. The Leader of the House is always welcome to listen to the people of Bristol West, as I have been listening to the people of North East Somerset. My constituents and his share a strikingly similar view of his hopeless Government, and a shared belief that we all deserve better.
The hon. Lady has very kindly promoted me. Of course, the Government are not mine but Her Majesty’s, and that is not a role to which, I confess, I aspire.
As regards text messages, there is a great line from Dr Johnson:
“In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.”
I think the same applies to text messages, which are essentially the trivia, the flotsam and jetsam, the ephemera of life, and fundamentally unimportant. The fact that the hon. Lady finds them so exciting shows how little she has to go on.
As regards bringing in rules relating to recall, the hon. Lady is a member of the Commission. May I remind her that, as shadow Leader of the House, she has that role that goes with the job? The Commission will be meeting on Monday. It is up to the Commission to deal with Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme-related matters; it is not the responsibility of Her Majesty’s Government. Obviously, the Government have a view on this, but this House is not run by the Government, and it is really important that people understand that; it is run by the Commission, on behalf of all Members.
That ties in with the hon. Lady’s point about EVEL. There may always be discussions in Government about how the procedures of this House operate, but the procedures of this House are a matter for this House. In that, many Members may notice that EVEL has been suspended over the last year, without any great consequence or complaint—nobody seems to have minded very much—and it is therefore worth considering how it will operate in the future. We should always bear in mind the fundamental constitutional equality of every Member of this House, regardless of the size of their constituency, the location of their constituency or, indeed, whether they are a Minister or shadow Minister, Front-Bench or Back-Bench.
There is a fundamental equality of Members of this House, and that is an important constitutional principle—as is the one that announcements are made to this House. I would point out that over the course of the pandemic, I think we have had 40 announcements made at the Dispatch Box by the Department of Health and Social Care, many of them by the Secretary of State himself. There has been one most sitting weeks during the course of the pandemic. I think the record of the Government in keeping the House informed is actually extremely good.
The hon. Lady then makes a broad list of socialist complaints about how the Government are operating, but what would we expect? The left like to say these things, but they are an awful lot of nonsense. First of all, trade deals. Free trade makes every country in the world that adopts it better off. Our deal with Australia is fantastic. For those who like Australian wine, Australian wine will be cheaper. The deal is good for consumers, but it is good for farmers too, because we want farmers who can be competitive and can succeed. I know that there are not many farmers in Bristol—poor old Bristol—but farmers in North East Somerset are competitive. They are able to succeed. I know that the SNP is worried that the farmers it represents are not efficient enough. I do not believe that; I think Scottish farmers are very efficient too.
I am as proud of Scottish farmers as I am of Somerset farmers, and they can be world leaders, as the Prime Minister was a world leader at the G7, with an amazing list of successes to his name, including a billion doses of the vaccine next year for developing countries. The vaccine that will go out will mainly, of course, be the Oxford vaccine. Why? Because the Oxford vaccine is being done at cost price because of a deal so successfully done by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care—the brilliant, the one and only, successful genius who has been running Health over the last 15 months. He has done so much to make not only the country but the world safer.
There is going to be $2.75 billion for funding the Global Partnership for Education to help ensure that all children go to school around the world, and G7 leaders signed up to the UK’s target of getting 40 million more girls into school. That is just the beginning of the success that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister achieved at the G7.
Then we get carping about the support being given for people during the pandemic—some £407 billion of taxpayers’ money. A socialist thinks that money grows on trees, but the truth is that eventually they run out of spending other people’s money, and that is something that has to be remembered. The furlough scheme is going on until September. The cut in VAT continues. The reduction in rates continues. The support is there, and it is very considerable, but we believe on this side of the House in faintly living within one’s means. One day, this money will have to be paid back. There is not a bottomless pit. There is not a magic money tree.
The hon. Lady mentions the building safety Bill, but we have been getting on with it. An amazing amount has been done already. Some 95% of high-risk residential buildings have either been completed or have work under way—that is, the buildings over 59 feet high. Some £5.1 billion of taxpayers’ money—money that, as I said, is not growing on trees and has to be earned by people going out to work—will be found to fund the cost of remediating unsafe cladding for leaseholders, but as the Prime Minister said yesterday, not all high-rise buildings are dangerous. It is not axiomatic that a high-rise building is dangerous. It is important to bear that in mind.
May I finish on a much more consensual note? The hon. Lady is so right to remember Jo Cox, whose shield, as she pointed out, is behind her, and which we see from the Front Bench every day when we are in the Chamber. Eternal rest grant unto her, and all the faithful departed.
I am sorry to say that it came as no surprise to me when Labour voted against tougher sentences for rapists and child rapists this week. My constituency of Dudley North has been waiting for a new police station in the centre of Dudley for many years, as was promised by the Labour police and crime commissioner. Will my right hon. Friend agree to explore this issue with me, and perhaps with the Home Secretary, and agree to a debate on the effectiveness of police and crime commissioners more generally?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The socialists, as always, are weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime, and they have shown their true colours in the recent refusal to support tougher sentences for violent criminals. Unfortunately, socialist police and crime commissioners have been failing their constituents. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to hold his local PCC to account and at the highest level, because the Government are continuing to back the police and to support the public in fighting to bring down crime.
I am glad to see the Minister for Crime and Policing, my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse, just behind the Speaker’s Chair. We are taking the landmark Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill through Parliament at the moment, which will tackle serious violence throughout the country. We have hired nearly 9,000 additional police officers and are well on track to meet our target of 20,000 new officers this Parliament. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Marco Longhi for the important issue that he raises.
I echo the comments of the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the House on Jo Cox. It is important that we all continue to remember her and share our thoughts with her family in what will obviously be a very difficult week.
I join the tributes to Sir Roy Stone. In my time in office, he has been a great help and support. I know that view is shared by others who have held this post, including my hon. Friend Patrick Grady, in the Whips operation for our party. It was always great to have the ability to have that conversation and to get advice from Sir Roy over that time. I am sure he will be missed. I wish him very well in whatever he decides to go on to do next.
Tuesday saw the publication of a written statement from the Cabinet Office announcing new measures to update campaigning regulations in the upcoming elections Bill, including a crackdown on loopholes exploited by third-party campaigners and the introduction of digital imprints. I am glad to see that. The Government here are following in the footsteps of the Scottish Government in introducing digital imprints, but we need assurances that these measures will only be the beginning of the legislation, and that it will be continually updated in the light of ever-changing circumstances. Can we have a debate on these new measures in Government time to give Members a chance to feed in at this very early stage?
This week is Loneliness Awareness Week. Particularly given the year we have all had, will the Leader of the House join me in thanking organisations such as the Red Cross which have helped to reach out to people struggling alone during the pandemic? Will the Government set out how they plan to build a more connected community after covid, ensuring that those most at risk of loneliness are able to access the support they need?
This week I bring good news: the Perthshire One has been freed. My hon. Friend Pete Wishart shall be returning to his rightful place from next week. In my final effort, may I ask: there is a historic backlog of Opposition days that our party did not secure. Could consideration be given to that?
Finally, Mr Speaker, if I may, both our nations are independently represented at the Euros tomorrow evening. While I have a dream, I am sure that many would agree that neither the Leader of the House nor I are perhaps the best examples of who could boogie, but will he join me in wishing both teams all the very best—for a Scotland victory? [Laughter.]
I’m not sure about the last bit.
I may be willing to go further than the House would expect, because the corridor of the Chairman of Ways and Means has a sweepstake and in this sweepstake I have been fortunate enough to draw Scotland, so I shall have very divided loyalties tomorrow. But I am glad to say that it is very encouraging for the Union. I was pleased to see Wales do well yesterday—the Rees side of me was coming to the fore. I am looking forward to supporting whichever side does best, because I have an interest in all three of them doing well.
Loneliness Awareness Week is important. It is something that is very hard for Government to take control of, although we have a very distinguished Minister for loneliness. We have to try to work with civic society, with people such as the Red Cross and the Samaritans, to help people as we begin to get back to normal. As we do get life back to normal, that will help to reduce loneliness.
As we are on what is happening during the week, it is worth bearing in mind that
Finally, on digital imprints and so on, the Second Reading of the electoral integrity Bill will be an opportunity to debate what may go into it. I can confirm that when it comes forward there will be an opportunity to do that, but I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. I would say that it is always open to the Government to learn from what the devolved authorities do. We want to work collaboratively with the devolved authorities, even if we have an ultimately different vision for our nation.
May I also join the tributes to Sir Roy Stone?
May we have a debate in Government time on the imminent changes the Government are to make to the NHS integrated care system boundaries to make them co-terminus with upper-tier local authority boundaries? This is in fact a wholesale reorganisation of NHS commissioning in areas such as Essex, Waveney and the Frimley ICS, which covers parts of Berkshire, Surrey and Hampshire. Why is this being done before we have even seen the legislation that is necessary to make it effective? Who is advising Ministers to implement this major change, when they should be leaving things be while we catch up with the massive NHS waiting lists? Why has there been so little consultation with MPs about this until very late in the day? Why is NHS England withholding a consultants’ report which Ministers promised to us last week? It has still not been given to us and is apparently the basis on which the decisions are being made, but we are not allowed to see it. There is a real failure of scrutiny here.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this point. There are issues of scrutiny around arms-length bodies, which are of fundamental importance to this House and are rightly brought to the Floor of the House. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that NHS England is a quango and is not invariably under direction from Ministers. However, the point he makes is a very serious one and I will ensure it is taken up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I echo the sentiments expressed about our late colleague, Jo Cox, whom we commemorate this week. I also add my best wishes to Sir Roy Stone for a very long, happy and healthy retirement, which he fully deserves. He has been of great help and assistance to me during my time as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the Backbench Business debates on
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good plea for time on
I join others in paying tribute to Sir Roy and remembering the murder of one of our own, Jo Cox. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on erecting a permanent memorial to Dame Vera Lynn? Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of her death. At 11 am on the white cliffs of Dover, a public appeal will be launched to raise the memorial and a record will be released called “Unforgettable”. I would like to thank you, Mr Speaker, for your support for this project and the starring role that you will be taking.
As long as it is not singing.
We are looking forward to your karaoke efforts in due course. It seems to me, as my hon. Friend raises this question, that we could try to turn the white cliffs into Mount Rushmore and have a statue of Dame Vera Lynn there, but then I am worried that because they are made of chalk, it might not be as lasting as Mount Rushmore has proved for American Presidents. He is so right to raise this, and I know that he had an Adjournment debate on the subject on
Today is Clean Air Day, yet independent analysis has found that almost a quarter of schools across the country are located in areas with high levels of small particle pollution, exceeding the World Health Organisation limits. This means that an estimated 3.4 million children are learning in an unhealthy environment. Given that air pollution has already been linked to increased asthma, obesity and mental disorders in children, can we please have a debate in Government time about finally introducing ambitious legal limits on air pollution?
The hon. Lady is so right to raise this very important issue. It is worth reminding the House of the terrible scandal involving the Blair Government, the European Union and the German car manufacturers, which encouraged everybody to buy diesel cars, pumping out particulates and nitrous oxides and lowering the standard of our air quality. The Government are involved in a project to improve this. They are doing what they can to see that cleaner cars are in use and that there are general policies to remove noxious substances and, particularly, particulates from our air.
During the height of the pandemic the Government quite rightly introduced restrictions to protect the most vulnerable members of society in care homes, but I wish to raise with my right hon. Friend the experience of Frank Thompson and his wife of 57 years. Mrs Thompson is in residential care in Warrington. Prior to lockdown, Frank visited her every day, from 8 am in the morning until 8 pm in the evening. During the lockdown, he did not get to see her at all. As restrictions were eased in May and the road map moved forward, everybody in the care home was vaccinated, Mr Thompson was vaccinated and the care staff were vaccinated, and Mr Thompson was allowed to see his wife for 30 minutes once a week.
Owen Thompson mentioned that this week is Loneliness Awareness Week; even those in care homes suffer loneliness. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is now time for the Government to be clear with those who provide care that the rights of residents are crucial to ensure that they do not suffer loneliness and that their families can get reasonable access to see them?
My hon. Friend raises an important and sensitive point. Members from all parties will be concerned about this issue and will have heard from constituents suffering difficult circumstances in visiting family and friends in care homes. The liberalisation of care home visiting rules was announced in the latest covid regulations. Residents will be able to spend more time with family and friends, including overnight stays, as part of the easing of visiting restrictions announced today. From
This has been a really difficult time for people in care homes. As the Prime Minister himself said, we will soon reach the terminus day, and the terminus means the end. Some people have thought it means an interchange, but it is Paddington, not Crewe. When we reach the end, the restrictions will go.
The British Government are responsible for a grave injustice on the Chinese community in Liverpool. After the second world war, thousands of Chinese merchant seamen were forcibly deported back to China without the knowledge of their families, and it would be decades before they found out the real truth. In March, I asked the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to acknowledge this crime and provide an apology to the descendants of those families. I have not had a response, and that was more than three months ago, so will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate in Government time to discuss and debate this most important issue?
It is always important that the Government recognise mistakes that may have been made by predecessor Governments. I encourage the hon. Lady to seek an Adjournment debate in the first instance, but if there is correspondence awaiting a reply that she was expecting, I will of course take that up, via my office, to ensure that she gets a reply.
The Royal Oak Inn, just up the road from my home in Glossop, is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. It was built in 1818 and first opened its doors in 1821, serving thirsty travellers heading over the Snake Pass between Manchester and Sheffield. It is a lovely pub and I have enjoyed drinking in it on a number of occasions, and it used to be run by my good friends George and Jean Wharmby. Instead of people being able properly to celebrate the pub’s 200th anniversary, its future has been cast into doubt, as a planning application has just been submitted for the pub’s demolition. May we have a debate on how we can reform our planning laws to strengthen protections for historic pubs such as the Royal Oak?
I sympathise with my hon. Friend: we want planning applications to appreciate and understand local heritage and culture. A listing scheme is in place to try to protect buildings, and means of buying community assets have been in place for some years now, but we need new homes as well. It is about trying to get the right balance in the planning system to protect what needs to be protected but to develop where development is needed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has been doing an excellent job in engaging with Members of Parliament and listening to and understanding their concerns about planning, but we have this balance to achieve. I hope that, in the meantime, my hon. Friend will manage to get to the Royal Oak before any planning application is completed and drink a yard of ale. We look forward to seeing the picture on Instagram.
You have just missed a lovely exchange on a tribute to Dame Vera Lynn, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have to admit that I use her for my own purposes whenever people struggle to pronounce my name, as I say, “Just think of Dame Vera Lynn.”
Home Office delays in granting indefinite leave to remain mean that two of my constituents have been refused student finance. In one case, the deadline was missed by just three days. If they pay their fees for this year, the rules stipulate that they are privately financing their course and they will have to pay the student fees for the whole length of the course. That would put them into severe financial difficulties and this has already taken a huge toll on their mental health. May we have a statement from the Department for Education outlining how some discretion could be applied on student finance in situations where delays to granting indefinite leave to remain have been caused by the Home Office?
It is very concerning when one arm of the Government causes a cost to be created with another. The requirement for a student to hold the status on the first day of their first academic year is a condition defined in the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2011, and Student Finance England does not have any discretion in that. However, I would be very happy to help the hon. Lady, and any right hon. and hon. Members, in liaising with the Home Office if there are delays. I visited the Home Office parliamentary team in Croydon recently, and they do an excellent job, with very high demand put upon them. However, if there are cases that have urgent consequences, I would be more than happy to do anything I can to facilitate a speedier response.
I refer to the case of a brutal attack on my constituent Gwen Kaplan. Three years ago, her neighbour was attacked by her boyfriend outside their house. Mrs Kaplan opened her door and tried to help. The attacker then smashed her window, got into the house, smashed a hole in the bathroom door and proceeded to stab Mrs Kaplan on the scalp, face, neck, shoulder and hand. He was charged with attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years. Her application to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority was rejected. She appealed and was rejected again. The chief constable of Humberside, Lee Freeman, wrote to the authority in support of her, but to no avail. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the work of CICA, when we may consider the criteria by which it makes awards?
This is a deeply troubling case, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter and for holding the CICA to account. The criminal injuries compensation scheme’s rules are approved by Parliament and are independently administered. Under the current approach, strict eligibility criteria apply and awards under the scheme are determined in accordance with a detailed tariff of injuries. All applicants have the right to request that their initial decision is reviewed and, if dissatisfied, they have the right to appeal to the independent first-tier tribunal. I assume from what he said that Mrs Kaplan has already done that, so I will pass on his concerns to the Lord Chancellor.
My constituent Olivia Dickson is 13. Last year, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. What Olivia and her family do not understand is why, with five children in the UK diagnosed with cancer every day, there has been such a dearth of research into treatment; we are still using adult-focused treatments developed decades ago. So may we have an urgent debate or statement on what specifically the UK Government will do to make swift progress on this vital research and how they will support children’s cancer charities, which have been hard hit by covid, to make sure that the research is progressed as a matter of priority?
The hon. Lady is so right to raise this case. Cancer in children is such a worry for parents and so difficult to deal with. Carrying out research is fundamental. It is amazing what advances have been made in cancer treatment in recent years. I will pass on her comments to those at the Department of Health and Social Care, because I think it would be better if she had a full answer from them.
Terminally ill people and their families should not have to spend their final months grappling with the cruel benefits system. On
Once again, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue. The reason that it has taken so long is that it is not an easy one to determine. It is very hard to know with any certainty how long life will last, and that problem is difficult for a system to deal with. The uncertainty makes it problematic to find a good solution, whereas everybody wants a system that is sympathetic to those in their final weeks and months. I will take this up once again with the Department, but it is not torpor that means that there has been no full response; it is simply the complexity of the issue.
My right hon. Friend knows, as we all do, about the patience of King Alfred: he had to wait 25 years before the Danes stopped bothering us. I sincerely hope that Ministers will take less time to answer my questions about official consultation on local government reform in Somerset. Two months ago, I asked a series of parliamentary questions on how many responses were received and how many genuine Somerset residents took part in the Government’s consultation. Since then there has been silence. This is rather strange. The district council has just held a full and fair independent referendum. Two thirds of registered electors supported its plan. All the figures are public and were sent straight to the Secretary of State. Why do the Government’s own consultation results remain secret? King Alfred would not stand for it and neither should we. Can we have a debate in this House as to what on earth is going on in local government?
I understand that there were some problems with the district council’s website, which did not have entirely the desired effect, and it caused some considerable and understandable distress to people who were linked to a website of ill-repute. There are questions to be raised about that. However, with regard to hon. and right hon. Members not receiving responses to written parliamentary questions, it is part of my job to chase that up, and I will do so for my hon. Friend.
I find it astounding that we will not have a statement from the Chancellor today following the vote yesterday on extending the public health measures. In my constituency, I know that businesses, charities and my community are really, really struggling. York, as the Leader of the House will know, depends on 8 million people visiting it each year. It is a visitor economy and, with tourism down, people are really struggling, and yet the Chancellor seems invisible. Can the Leader of the House take a message back from my city to say that we expect the Chancellor to bring forward a statement on Monday, so that we can scrutinise what measures he will give to our communities to help them survive this next season? Otherwise, there may not be a future for them.
The shadow Leader of the House asked me on Tuesday for a statement by the Treasury and one was provided on Wednesday. I wish I could say that it was immediate cause and effect, but it was in the pipeline anyway. The push from the hon. Lady moved us in the right direction. That statement was in relation to the Treasury support around the pandemic. It is worth bearing in mind, as I have said already, the total amount—£407 billion—that has already been spent on supporting 14 million jobs and people through furlough and self-employed schemes. Furlough continues until September. There are retail grants of up to £18,000 for retail, hospitality, leisure and personal care businesses. The business rates holiday continues to the end of June, but then tapers for another nine months. The 5% VAT cut continues until the end of September. Of course, I share the concern of Rachael Maskell; it is a really difficult and uncertain time. The extension to the terminus date of
Could we have a debate on the subject of working from home? It has been reported that a consultation will soon be launched. What is being done to support those who wish to return to their place of work, but are prevented from doing so by their employers? Loneliness and isolation have become endemic during this pandemic, and people’s experiences of working from home have been very different. We must have a balanced debate about relying on assumptions, not least because of the implications for our public transport system and the prosperity of our towns and cities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this. The guidance is clear that if people need to go into work, they are allowed to go into work. If employers think that they need their employees to come into work, they are entitled to ask them to come into work. Even within the civil service, managers are advised to accommodate requests to work in the office when home working is not suitable for wellbeing reasons. These can be a whole variety of reasons—it could be loneliness, or it could be the unsuitability of the accommodation, in that particularly younger people who are part of the workforce do not necessarily have an excess of space in their flats in which to work.
It is really important that we get back to normal. We want to have vibrant towns and cities, we want people coming back into work, and we want commuting systems—trains, buses and so on—that are financially viable, and that means people coming back to work. The sooner we get back to normal the better, but in the meantime, anyone who wants to go into work should have a conversation with his or her employer and say, “I want to come back into work”, and employers should facilitate that.
I am increasingly concerned at the exploitation of vulnerable customers through energy suppliers and providers’ pricing strategies, such as the exclusion of existing customers from the cheapest available energy tariff on offer. Could we have a statement from Government or a debate about including exclusive tariffs in Ofgem’s cheapest tariff messaging rules? This is a scandalous loophole that we need to address.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this point, and I think it goes wider than electricity tariffs. I do not tend to tell personal anecdotes, but when my car insurance with Churchill came in at £2,800 earlier this year, I managed to get it from LV=, the people who sponsor the cricket, I am glad to say, for under £600. It is quite extraordinary how existing customers are taken for a ride. I would encourage hon. Members and all our constituents to shop around, but I am also glad to say that the Financial Conduct Authority has introduced rules on this recently that will help protect people from this type of rip-off. My example, I do feel, shows that just a little bit of going online to shop around can save a very significant amount of money.
I have been alarmed by reports this week that Sandwell Council’s cabinet was due to sign off a reduction in the number of SEND—special educational needs and disability—transport contracts awarded from 20 to just two. Following interventions in the media by Councillor David Fisher and others, this decision has been deferred. Both of these companies are owned by the same person, a former council employee and the son of a former Labour deputy leader of Sandwell Council, who is named in the damning Wragge report, in which both father and son are revealed to have been involved in land deals, among other interesting activities. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the way that Sandwell Council is continuing to let down residents of the borough with these very questionable dealings and misuse of public funds?
My hon. Friend raises something extraordinarily troubling. There are problems sometimes within councils, and I understand that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is monitoring the situation at Sandwell Council closely following a recent report. Councils have an absolute duty to manage taxpayers’ money responsibly, and must be held to account when they do not. I understand that the Wragge report highlights that hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money were misused by a cabal of councillors. I know that the Home Office was alerted to its findings at the time, but I will of course pass on my hon. Friend’s concerns to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. It may also be something that the police ought to be looking into. This sounds like a really serious prima facie case.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I know you will be pleased at last night’s result, and I know the Leader of the House is very proud of his Welsh roots and congratulated the Welsh team earlier. Can he pass on my commiserations to the Prime Minister, who I know is equally proud of his Turkish roots, on the 2-0 defeat of Turkey last night? It was a good reminder to him that Wales is in the tournament, which of course he did not realise last week.
I want to raise the serious issue of my constituent Luke Symons, who is still incarcerated in Yemen by the Houthis. I have asked on behalf of Bob Cummings, his grandfather, for a meeting in the near future with the Foreign Office Minister concerned. Do the Government have any plans for further debates or statements on the situation in Yemen, and in particular the plight of this young man, who has done nothing wrong other than hold a British passport?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point about the Prime Minister’s Ottoman antecedents, although as the Ottoman Empire has fallen away, I have a feeling that he was probably more behind Wales than Turkey yesterday.
With regard to Luke Symons and the issue in Yemen, the Government are working closely with our partners in the region to ensure that Mr Symons is released and reunited with his family as soon as possible, and that work continues. I view it as part of my role to try to facilitate meetings between hon. Members and Ministers when they request it, so if the hon. Gentleman has any difficulty in that regard, I hope he will contact my office.
In Rugby, we are providing new homes 25% faster than the rate in the country as a whole. The consequence of all those extra residents is that 83% of people now live more than 15 minutes’ drive of a major accident and emergency unit. The residents of Rugby have time after time expressed a firm wish for that service to be provided at our local Hospital of St Cross. NHS commissioning has already been raised this morning, so I wonder whether any debate could also consider how population changes should drive the provision of NHS services.
I will certainly raise that with Health Ministers on behalf of my hon. Friend, and there was a health Bill referred to in the Queen’s Speech, so there will be an opportunity to debate these issues at length in due course. The health infrastructure plan will deliver a long-term rolling programme of spending in health and infrastructure, including district hospitals. These hospitals have benefited from our £600 million critical infrastructure risk fund and our £450 million spending to upgrade A&Es. University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust has received £2.2 million from the critical infrastructure risk fund to address the maintenance backlog at St Cross and £3 million for an emergency department expansion, as part of the A&E upgrades investment, so there is a recognition that there are population pressures, and spending does seem to be following accordingly.
I can understand why the Leader of the House would want to dismiss the text messages published by the Prime Minister’s former adviser, but if he were a member of a family who had lost someone in a care home in the last year, I do not think he would dismiss them so lightly. These messages expose the fact that the Government knew that there was not a protective ring round our care homes and that testing of people being discharged from hospital to care homes was not taking place. If we are to be subjected to this public spat between the Prime Minister and his former adviser continuously, should we not, in the interests of those who lost someone, be calling the public inquiry now, or at least have the Prime Minister here to answer questions on this?
The Prime Minister is regularly here to answer questions. He was here yesterday at considerable length, both with Prime Minister’s questions and then with a statement, so there are many opportunities to raise these points directly. For some reason the Leader of the Opposition either had not noticed or did not want to discuss these text messages.
It is right to have the inquiry at the point at which the pandemic has ended and a considered view can be taken. There is some difficulty with the Opposition’s position. On the one hand, they complain that there was not enough equipment and on the other hand they complain that procurement was not done according to the most bureaucratic systems. They cannot really have it both ways.
On Sunday, we commemorate World Refugee Day, when we commemorate the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits, who were forced out by jihadists and are still refugees in their own country. But on Monday, we celebrate International Day of Yoga, which is India’s gift to the world. Can we arrange for statements to be made to the House next week on these two vital subjects, which the House should attend to and, indeed, could celebrate by using Monday for some yoga exercises before the House meets?
I am not sure I shall be joining in with the yogic flying exercises, which I think were the policy of the National Law party, which stood in previous elections. World Refugee Day, however, is very important. This country has a proud and long record of providing a place of safety for refugees. One of the really important things about the changes that are going to be made to our immigration system is that they will protect those who are in genuine fear and who come here as refugees, and will make this country continue to be a safe place for them to come.
Emerging from the pandemic as a healthier country is one of the Government’s key priorities for this Parliament, but communities that already face some of the country’s worst health inequalities, such as West Denton in my constituency, have, sadly, seen their local fitness facilities close for good during the pandemic. Reducing health inequalities is essential to delivering on the commitment to level up the poorest parts of the country, and access to modern local fitness facilities is a key part of that. That is why the Government should back Newcastle City Council’s levelling-up fund bid to develop a new, state-of-the-art, net zero carbon leisure development in the Outer West of Newcastle. Could we please have a debate on using the levelling-up fund to manage the recovery in a way that helps people to lead healthier lives?
I am delighted that the hon. Lady is so supportive of the levelling-up fund. It is a great opportunity to help communities across the country have additional resources so that they can improve their local communities. Engagement from MPs is greatly to be encouraged, so I thank the hon. Lady for her enthusiasm for Government policy.
Learner drivers in Kettering who are currently awaiting a test date are being offered November as the earliest available time, if they are lucky. If we are going to get our economy moving again and give people their lives back, particularly young people, that is simply not good enough and urgent action is required. Could we have a statement from the Department for Transport and urgent action from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to increase the number of driving tests being made available in Kettering and across the country, so that the huge backlog caused by the covid restrictions can be reduced far faster than currently planned?
I notice that the use of private cars has increased post pandemic, as people are very keen on driving, as I must confess am I. I assure my hon. Friend that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has in place a number of measures to increase the number of practical driving tests. After lockdown, it went to six rather than seven tests a day, but since
I thank the Leader of the House for his kind words for Scotland tomorrow evening, as we will be playing a country that Conservative Members regularly remind us is aspiring to achieve its own independence.
On a more serious point, cancelled flights mean that individuals such as my constituent Mohammad Gohar find themselves stuck abroad after having visited dying relatives. They are now struggling to get back because the Department for Work and Pensions has, in its wisdom, decided to stop their universal credit because they have been abroad for three weeks. That seems a very-heavy handed approach. Could we have a debate or a statement on people who find themselves stuck abroad after having visited dying relatives, to ensure that they do not have their universal credit stopped and can have the money to find themselves the way back home?
The hon. Gentleman raises a difficult point. There are very sensible rules in place for normal times, but these are abnormal times. Therefore, when, because of a reduction in flights and the complexities of international travel at the moment, people are delayed, through no fault of their own, there is certainly an argument for sympathy. What I do not know is whether the system that Parliament has passed into law allows for any discretion. However, if the hon. Gentleman gives me the details, I will take the case up directly with the Department for Work and Pensions on his behalf.
Many of my constituents who live in Silsden and Steeton have been waiting years for a pedestrian bridge to be built over the extremely busy A629 dual carriageway so that they can safely get from one side to the other. In fact, five years ago, £700,000 was secured by my predecessor, Kris Hopkins, for Bradford Council to carry out a feasibility study into this project, which has only recently been completed. We need to get this bridge built, so will my right hon. Friend permit Government time for a debate so that I can continue to raise this, so that we can get the funding we desperately need to secure this bridge once and for all?
My hon. Friend has successfully raised it on this occasion. I think a debate on a bridge is probably more of an Adjournment debate; justifying a day’s debate in Government time might upset other hon. and right hon. Members. However, I can tell him that £51.3 billion of taxpayers’ money will go to local government next year—a 4.6% increase, the biggest year-on-year increase in core spending power in a decade—so I encourage him to lobby his local council. There is a further £45 billion to help local authorities support their communities and local businesses, including £4.5 billion for Yorkshire and the Humber. I understand that the socialist council of Bradford has not been working very fast, but sometimes the tortoise comes through, so may I suggest he give the tortoise a prod?
The Leader of the House will be very aware of deep concerns in Northern Ireland that this Parliament and this Government have on a number of occasions gone over the heads of the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives and imposed legislation on marriage, abortion and the Northern Ireland protocol without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. Now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland proposes to do the same on legislation related to sensitive matters on the Irish language and other cultural issues. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland comes to the House to make a statement on this at the earliest opportunity? This goes against all that is democratic. The Northern Ireland Assembly is the correct place for legislation. Again, unfortunately and disgracefully, this place rides roughshod over regional Administrations and the democratic process.
The hon. Gentleman and I normally see eye to eye on most issues, but on this I must diverge from him. The New Decade, New Approach deal was an historic achievement that brought to an end the three-year political impasse in Northern Ireland. Commitments in that deal were negotiated and agreed by all parties in the Executive, but there has now been a delay, a problem, in bringing forward some fulfilment of those commitments. That is why the Government have now committed to delivering these important commitments through the United Kingdom Parliament. I say to him, as a Unionist, that ultimately it is this Parliament—and we rejoice in it being this Parliament—that is the uniting focus of our nation, so when something is agreed at a political level and then not implemented, it is absolutely right that it should be implemented through this Parliament. I happen to think that the other changes, which were done when there was no clear majority in this Parliament, were done for more political, rather than constitutional, reasons.
On Monday at 3 o’clock, the media were given an embargoed statement on covid road map changes. At six o’clock, there was a glitzy press conference featuring the Prime Minister. It was not until 8.30 pm that evening that the Secretary of State came to this House to make a statement. Mr Speaker has already said that that is unacceptable, and he is meeting the Prime Minister. I will not ask the Leader of the House to comment on that, because the Speaker has ruled, but I would guess privately that he was making similar noises within Government. However, I ask my right hon. Friend whether he would like the Government to adopt my private Member’s Bill, which will be presented on Monday and which would increase his authority? He is an extraordinary parliamentarian and a great Leader of the House, but if this House in the future was to elect the Leader of the House—from the governing party—he would have further authority and could not at any time be put under pressure or removed. Will the Government adopt my private Member’s Bill, and then I will not need to present it on Monday?
Flattery may get you everywhere, but not on this occasion, because I think the question misunderstands the role of the Leader of the House. Up until Lloyd George, who handed the post over to Bonar Law, the Leader of the House was the leader of the governing party in the House of Commons—the Prime Minister when the Prime Minister was in the House of Commons and somebody like Stafford Northcote when Disraeli was in the House of Lords. The role of the Leader of the House is to ensure that Government business passes through the House, and that cannot be done by somebody who is not an integral part of Her Majesty’s Government. It could not be done in the way that a Chairman of a Select Committee does their job and has a mandate from the House of Commons, or indeed the Speaker does his job and has a mandate from the House of Commons.
So I fear that constitutionally my hon. Friend’s proposal does not work, although I can reassure him that the Leader of the House has a dual-facing role and also has to make representations to Government on behalf of the House of Commons. Members may have noticed that when it comes to issues relating to written questions not getting a reply or correspondence not being replied to in an efficient way, I do my best to ensure that the Commons’ views are represented.
I thank the Leader of the House for his business statement and responding to questions for over one hour. We will now suspend for a few minutes for covid protection measures.