– in the House of Commons at 11:41 am on 23rd September 2021.
Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing Monday
The provisional business for the week commencing
Mr Speaker, I wonder whether I might add a tribute to Mark Kelly. I am sure the House will want to join me in paying tribute to Mark for his 37-year service to the Government, which saw him spend 23 of those years providing outstanding service to the Government and this House as senior private secretary to the Government Chief Whip. He was really the man who made things happen in this place. Mark will shortly be moving away from London with his family. During his time in post he has been an exemplary provider of support and advice to successive Chief Whips, Leaders of the House, and countless Members from all parts of the House. As a loyal and skilful deputy to Sir Roy Stone, Mark’s parliamentary expertise and calm and friendly style has been an essential fixture of the parliamentary landscape. He will be greatly missed.
Mark has always been very proud of his Welsh heritage. He is a staunch Wrexham supporter and has been a mentor and guide to many civil servants, and others, who have had the privilege of working with him and learning from him. As he leaves his post we wish him and his family well, and send him the combined thanks of the House for his essential contribution to our constitution. I have a particular reason for regretting his departure, because he is being replaced by my outgoing private secretary and head of office, Robert Foot, who has been a terrific and steadfast worker and supporter of the business managers going back to 2007. We are very lucky to be surrounded by dedicated individuals such as Mark and Robert, who have dedicated their careers to supporting the work of this House in so many different ways. We are grateful to them all.
I would like to reiterate the loyal service that Mark Kelly has given to this House. I have to say that he will be missed. We thank him, we wish him well, and of course we wish Rob Foot well in his new place.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business, and I join him in his fulsome tributes to Mark Kelly and Robert Foot. Congratulations to both of them on the new stages in their lives. We thank them, of course, for their loyal and dedicated public service.
I am very pleased to see a debate on COP26 after the recess. I have asked for that at previous business questions, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for that.
Today marks the 2,000th day of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention in Iran. A demonstration is taking place outside to raise awareness of her case, that of Anoosheh Ashoori, and those of countless others imprisoned there. When will the Government bring them home?
This week, the Government showed us again just how out of touch they are. Last week, I raised the soaring cost of living and I was told to use an Opposition day to debate it, so that is what we did. We raised energy prices, childcare, rents, taxes, fuel, rail fares and food prices, all of which are going up, before we even get to the empty shelves. The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend Bridget Phillipson, questioned the Government on that and more, but still no answers.
Last week, the Leader of the House attempted to boast about his Government’s record on child poverty, but they are pushing 200,000 more children into poverty by cutting universal credit. It is not too late to cancel that cut, and it is certainly not something to boast about. The Prime Minister had no trouble being Scrooge last year, so it is no surprise that this cut comes 11 weeks before Christmas this year.
If the Leader of the House wishes to trade numbers, I can remind him that the last Labour Government took nearly 1 million children out of poverty. That is what good Governments do when they choose to prioritise what matters for our children. Instead, this Government are deliberately choosing to make working families bear the brunt of their failures.
The increase to the energy price cap means that from next month, half a million more families will be plunged into fuel poverty. I know that the Leader of the House will say that the current energy crisis is global. That is true, but it is also true that it has been made far worse by choices that this Government have made and continue to make. Ministers are not denying that people will face the impossible non-choice between heating and eating this winter. We already pay the highest energy bills in Europe—something the Prime Minister promised his Brexit deal would fix—but here we are, with bills set to get even bigger.
Just yesterday, over 800,000 customers saw their energy supplier go bust, but this morning the Business Secretary refused to admit the scale and severity of the crisis and the economic hardship facing working people. The shadow Chancellor, my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves, when she was Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee back in 2019, warned of the fuel crisis we are now in. A Minister replied that
“the UK’s gas system is secure and well placed to respond effectively to unexpected changes in supply and demand”.
Well goodness me, Mr Speaker. I am not sure what the Government consider to be a “secure and well placed” system, but what we have is the opposite.
Government decisions over the last decade have undermined our energy security and resilience, with domestic gas storage capacity eradicated, new nuclear stalling, the Swansea bay tidal lagoon rejected, renewables subsidies scrapped, and no long-term reform of the broken energy market, which Ofgem warned the Government about just months ago. So I ask the Leader of the House: why did the Government choose to ignore those warnings?
Carbon emissions from buildings are now higher than in 2015. Some 14% of carbon emissions come from poorly insulated homes that are too expensive to heat, yet the Government cut £1 billion from the green homes grant before scrapping it altogether, they have a missing heat and buildings strategy, which has been delayed month after month—year after year, actually—and people up and down the country are forced to choose between overpriced heating and overpriced eating. Will the Leader of the House ask the new Housing Secretary to come to the Commons with a proper retrofit plan?
I would like to place on the record my thanks to the Leader of the House and the members of his office, some of whom are in the Under-Gallery, for being incredibly helpful to me and my team over the past few weeks. They have helped us solve a problem that I cannot describe at the moment, but I just wish to place that on the official record, because we are very grateful to him and his team for the trouble they have taken.
Although the Home Secretary finally appeared in the House this week, quite rightly, to update us on the incident in Salisbury and the further charging to come, we still have no update on the delayed Afghanistan resettlement scheme. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could ask the Home Secretary to come back after the recess and explain why there has been such an unacceptable delay, but really to present the scheme and implement it in full as soon as possible.
Before I close, I would like to congratulate Anika Tahrim, who was on your Speaker’s intern scheme, Mr Speaker, and was based in the Leader of the Opposition’s office, and thank her for her hard work. Finally, I would like to thank all the staff in this place who have ensured our safe return after summer. I hope everyone gets to have a peaceful and productive conference season, and I look forward to seeing everyone in October.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady in giving thanks to the staff of the House, who have made sure our September return has gone so smoothly, as we head off for the conference recess. As I was saying about Mark Kelly, we are incredibly well served in this House by the teams who support us and make sure that we are able to get on with our key democratic responsibilities.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her thanks in relation to the work my office has done in helping her with a particularly knotty problem. I remind all Members of the House that if ever they are finding difficulties in getting answers from Departments, I view it as the role of the Leader of the House to try to facilitate answers as far as I possibly can. That applies to all Benches, Front and Back, and all parties.
On the Afghanistan resettlement scheme, the Government have committed to 5,000 this year and up to 20,000 in future years. The numbers that have been dealt with so far are very large—200,000 emails have come in—so this is, as everybody knows, a work in progress, but one that is very important.
As is seeking the release, on the 2000th day, of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I hope the hon. Lady is reassured to note that the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my right hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss, raised the issue and said that it was quite inexcusable for Nazanin to still be detained by the Iranian authorities, as one of the first things she said as Foreign Secretary. I think it is extremely reassuring that the Government are publicly saying that this must happen, but there are limits to the power of the Government in enforcing rogue regimes into doing what we want. That has been the case for too long, but it is inexcusable that Nazanin is still held. The Government will push the Iranian authorities as far as we can.
Coming on to the litany of complaints about what the Government have been doing, I notice there was indeed an Opposition day. I am glad that my suggestions for Opposition days are being taken up by the Opposition. We could make this a formalised system and perhaps I could always choose Opposition day topics of debate. However, I noticed there was not an enormous number of speakers. There was more in length than there was in number, which is interesting in showing the enthusiasm that the Opposition had for debating this money, but let us go through the Government’s record.
There are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty than in 2010. In total, there are 700,000 fewer in absolute poverty than in 2010. In 2019-20, there was a 3% chance of children being in absolute poverty if both parents worked full time, which is why it is so important to ensure that work is available. Since 2010, we have seen 650,000 fewer children in workless households. We have also increased the universal credit work allowances, giving parents and disabled people an extra £630 a year in their take-home pay. Great steps have been taken in particular to help children: the £220 million holiday activities fund; the 30% increase to the healthy start vouchers, providing £4.25 a week to eligible parents with children under four; and more money being invested in breakfast clubs. So great steps are being taken and are being successful in reducing poverty, as the absolute numbers show.
The hon. Lady then went on about the energy issue. Well, we know that energy prices fluctuate; that is part of a market system. They are fluctuating across the world. We do have a robust energy system. We have a system that ensures that supplies continue. There is a certain irony, is there not, when half the time the socialists have wanted us to close everything down? They do not much like energy, because they think we should have hairshirt greenery, whereas the Government are in favour of technological greenery. What does that mean? It means economic growth, so what have we had? We have had 78% economic growth since 1990 with a 44% reduction in emissions. It is getting that balance right. People need to be able to afford to heat their homes, but we also need to green the environment and the economy, and that is what is being done. There has been £9 billion of taxpayers’ money to support the efficiency of our buildings, while creating hundreds of thousands of skilled green jobs. Over 70,000 green home grant vouchers, worth over £297 million, have already been issued.
This is a story of success and I am very grateful, although the hon. Lady does not raise it as I would like, for the amazing support we receive from her in highlighting how we have reduced child poverty, ensured there is an energy supply and ensured a greener economy. It is a success of this Government and I am delighted it has been recognised by the socialists.
I join others in praising Mark Kelly, who really does know where the bodies are buried.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the subject of World Animal Day? Unfortunately it falls on
“Ask, and it shall be given you;
seek, and ye shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened unto you”.
I have done what my hon. Friend asks before he asked for it—before he rose to his feet—because on Monday
I join in the tributes to Mark Kelly. When I was Chief Whip of our group and the representative of all the minority parties, Mark Kelly gave us nothing but kindness and great advice. I am sure that he will be sorely missed. I congratulate Rob Foot, who I know will be missed in the Office of the Leader of the House.
Here we are, barely back, and we are just about to take another break so that we can participate in the proceedings of voluntary organisations of which we just so happen to be a member. We will be taking a month off when the UK is facing an autumn of discontent and when hard-pressed families are facing one of the biggest assaults on their weekly income. As this House abandons its station to go to the conference hall and seaside resorts, there are universal credit cuts, energy prices going through the roof, a carbon dioxide crisis, driver shortages, farming chaos, fishing chaos, export prices, the ending of furlough and a Brexit killing a nation. This nonsense of a conference recess has surely run its course and must now come to an end.
We also face an environment crisis, but hey, we have the Prime Minister telling us all to grow up as he quotes Kermit the Frog. Maybe he should have got Kermit the Frog to negotiate a trade deal with the Americans while he was there—maybe we could even get Fozzie Bear to solve the energy crisis. How dare anybody even start to refer to them as a bunch of Muppets?
I know now that there is absolutely nothing that will encourage Conservative Members to take the safety of their colleagues seriously in this House. Their pathetic defiance in refusing to wear a face mask is almost like a pathological childishness. When we come back, will the Leader of the House agree to a meeting with all parties and your good self, Mr Speaker, so that we can agree a joint approach to safety in this workplace and so that at least we do not have the ridiculous spectacle of a House divided by face masks, where Conservative Members defiantly do not wear one but everybody on our side of the House does?
Lastly, may I wish you a good conference recess, Mr Speaker? I do not know whether there is a UK Speakers’ party in which you might be the Chair. I also want to say to the Leader of the House as he goes off that I just hope Sir Toffalot here will manage to find a face mask on his way to Manchester.
There was a Speakers conference: an enormously successful conference of the G7, which was held in your constituency of Chorley, Mr Speaker, and included very significant Speakers, including Nancy Pelosi from the United States. I think that the hon. Gentleman was intending to congratulate you on a successful conference there. Otherwise I am slightly puzzled by his geography, because I was unaware that Manchester was a seaside resort, but perhaps he knows something that I do not.
As is now becoming traditional, I thought that I would give the hon. Gentleman a date that I discovered from The Times this morning: it is the anniversary of the battle of Salamis in 480 BC, when the Athenians beat the Persians and Xerxes was defeated. I am sure that that will be of interest to the hon. Gentleman, although it is quite hard to see how it relates to Scottish independence.
As regards the question of wearing masks, I do not know whether you are a reader of tabloid newspapers, Mr Speaker, but a certain very senior figure in the socialist party was photographed travelling on a train without a face mask. I do wonder whether there is one rule when the cameras are on and everybody is under vision, and another when people are on railway trains not expecting to be snapped.
I presume the Leader of the House meant the Labour party. That aside, before I call Rehman Chishti, I want to thank all the staff who have worked hard and made this House safe. They are due to have a break and, as much as the SNP spokesperson might like to cut it, they deserve it and need it. I also offer a big thank you to my team, the security team and all those who came up to help ensure that we had a great Speakers’ G7 in Chorley. It involved solid business, with real resolutions coming out of it.
On that point, Mr Speaker, may I thank you for all that you have done to ensure that our House can operate? To you and your team, from all of us, thank you.
I am reluctant to raise this sensitive but important matter with the Leader of the House. Both of us are men of faith, and it is important to give credit where it is deserved. A certain event took place at Edgbaston cricket ground on Saturday
Fortunately it was T20, and therefore my heart did not grieve too much, but I am of course delighted to congratulate Kent on their victory. My earnest hope and desire is that I shall live to see the day when Somerset win the county championship. We are one of the few counties never to do so in all our history, and I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in thinking that it would not be unreasonable to let Somerset do it at least once.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business. I reiterate my appeal of last week to right hon. and hon. Members across the House to look at their calendars and check whether they want to submit an application to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate to commemorate a specific anniversary or campaign day, and that they do so well in advance. That helps the Committee to manage the business and gives notice to the Leader of the House that date-specific debate applications are in.
I truly and with all my heart wish that food banks did not need to exist, but they do, and therefore they need to be supported, as they are by communities across the whole country. However, food banks in my constituency and across the north-east are already struggling with demand. Can we have a statement on what the Government will do to support food banks given the anticipated huge spike in demand as we approach winter once the £20 universal credit uplift is withdrawn and fuel bills go up again?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point about the calendar, and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will take that to heart, because it does make the scheduling of business between the Backbench Business Committee and the Government easier and smoother.
The Government have done a great deal during the course of the pandemic and continue to do a great deal to support families in difficulty. The welfare system received an extra £8 billion in the financial year 2020-21. When schools were closed, over £450 million of supermarket vouchers were provided so that families could feed their children, and things of that kind are continuing. As I mentioned earlier, there is the 30% increase to Healthy Start vouchers and further money for breakfast clubs. The people who donate to food banks and act in a charitable way are to be commended, and the support is there through the welfare system to ensure that people have the money they need to feed their families.
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 415 highlighting the serious concerns of thousands of Harlow residents about the Stort crossing proposals, which could have a devastating impact on the beautiful environment and wildlife of the Stort valley in Harlow?
[That this House understands concerns that the Stort crossing proposals will have on the beautiful environment of the Stort Valley in Harlow constituency; further understands the threat that those proposals pose to local wildlife and ecosystems; recognises the concerns on those proposals raised by hundreds of local residents; further recognises that the plans for that problematic development have been inherited from the previous Labour Council who agreed to the proposals in the 2020 Local Plan; notes that Harlow Conservative Councillors voted against the 2020 Local Plan; further notes the upcoming Planning Committee meetings of both East Herts Council and Harlow District Council at which this planning application will be considered; and calls on the Government to put pressure onto the developers to reassess those plans and go back to the drawing board.]
Unfortunately the problem was inherited following a decision made by a previous Labour council. Will my right hon. Friend praise the constructive “Save Our Stort” campaigners who, rather than block the M25 and harm commuters, have campaigned and demonstrated passionately to cherish a beautiful part of our town? We call upon the developers to go back to the drawing board on the proposals.
I do of course praise my right hon. Friend’s constituents—they are some of the most civilised constituents in the country, and are brilliantly represented by my right hon. Friend, who always ensures that their concerns are highlighted—and I also compare them with what we must now call the hippie-crites: the people who have been blocking the M25, and who turn out not to be insulating their own homes while lying down in the road to inconvenience and cause danger to others. We know that a lady did not recover from a stroke as well as she would otherwise have done because of the delays caused, and of the risk caused to the police. I commend my right hon. Friend’s constituents for campaigning peacefully, respectfully and in a civilised manner. As he knows, planning decisions are a matter for the local council and are rightly made at a local level, but I am sure that what he has said in the House will be heard by the developer, who will want to maintain community support.
We know that the Leader of the House is keen to see MPs return to the Chambers of Parliament; and, indeed, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority refused to fund appropriate maternity cover for me on the basis that people needed to be able to speak in the Chamber. In order to speak today, I have had to abandon my baby leave proxy vote—or else be reprimanded by the House authorities for speaking in the Chamber, which makes Parliament one of the few workplaces in the country where, when a new mother comes in for a “keep in touch” day, she is rebuked rather than supported.
I know that some in this place are not fans of mothers, in the “mother of all Parliaments”, but I am sure that the Leader of the House is not among them. Will he meet a cross-party delegation of MPs to discuss how we can ensure that everyone in this Parliament upholds the law on maternity cover and leave?
May I say what a pleasure it is to see the hon. Lady in the Chamber, and may I congratulate her on the impeccable behaviour of her infant? Mine are of course perfect in every possible way, but I am not sure that they would have been quiet for the whole time during a parliamentary debate. I congratulate the hon. Lady most warmly; there is no greater joy than a new baby.
The rules provide for maternity and paternity leave, and for proxy voting for people who want to take that opportunity, but if people want to be present in the Chamber, they are of course welcome. I would be the last person to deter Members from coming in, but I do not want to put pressure on them to come in. I think it is for them to decide for themselves, as the hon. Lady has done, and I think that the rules as they are currently constructed are perfectly reasonable and entirely in line with the law.
We have to remember—this is very important—that Members of Parliament are office-holders; they are not employees. As office-holders, we have different rights and different privileges from employees because ours is a different role, and therefore employment law applies to us in a different way. We have, in fact, many more privileges than most employed people, not because of who we are individually, but because of our collective responsibility to represent the people of this nation.
As regards a meeting, I am always open to meeting all Members of the House: I think that that is the proper role of the Leader of the House.
A constituent came to me recently, very distressed. Her young son was attacked at a community event about two years ago. The perpetrator was arrested and charged by the Crown Prosecution Service. He then reportedly failed to appear in court twice, was arrested a second time, and appeared in court for the third hearing. However, the Crown Prosecution Service erroneously, and wrongly, said that the case had been timed out—which it has admitted in writing was a mistake—and the perpetrator therefore got away with not being fully pursued. Because this was not publicly known, he went on to be selected as a candidate and subsequently elected to Crawley Borough Council in last May’s local elections. May we have a debate on why this perpetrator, Atif Nawaz, was able to do that, on why the victim was failed by the Crown Prosecution Service, and on the efficiency of the CPS?
Order. We need to have brisker questions, otherwise we will not get through everybody.
I am obviously not aware of the full details of that case, but I understand that the CPS has accepted that it made an error in the handling of the case and apologised to my hon. Friend’s constituent. I recognise, however, that an apology in these circumstances does not go very far. The CPS is ensuring that advocates in the south-east area receive training to prevent a similar error from happening again, but I would urge my hon. Friend to write to the Attorney General about this case if he has not already done so, as she oversees the work of the Crown Prosecution Service. Equally, I would be happy to take it up with the Attorney General on his behalf.
A constituent contacted me again this week desperately worried about his only brother, aged just 19, and his brother’s fiancée, who is 22. Their lives are in immediate danger in Afghanistan. They are both on the run and living in hiding following Taliban threats. I have had more than 70 constituents get in touch on behalf of hundreds of terrified friends and family members in Afghanistan. We are clearly not going to get a statement for several weeks, so having acknowledged the importance of this, will the right hon. Gentleman urge his colleagues in the Home Office to use this time to set out the referral process and clear guidance about how those still in Afghanistan can access the resettlement scheme?
As I said earlier, this is important, and it is worth reiterating what is being done. Under Operation Warm Welcome, we are ensuring that Afghans arriving in the UK are able to rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education and integrate. There is additional support, with extra funding for housing as well as immediate medical and mental health support. We have made it clear that all those who arrive through this safe and legal route will be granted indefinite leave to remain. I reiterate that more than 200,000 emails have come in, so the volume is very large, but we are committed to relocating an additional 5,000 vulnerable Afghans in the first year, with this potentially rising to 20,000. As I said to the shadow Leader of the House, if there are any specific cases to which the hon. Lady is not getting replies, she should please come via my office and we will do whatever we can to facilitate answers.
All three of Derby’s MPs are supporting Derby’s bid to become the UK city of culture in 2025. Derbyshire’s industrial heritage as the home of the world’s first factory is well known. Formerly known as the Silk Mill, it will be reopening officially tomorrow as the Museum of Making. Derby is also home to the arts and culture, with a 52-week festival in 2023-24 providing an ideal opportunity to promote the city of culture programme. Does the Leader of the House agree that Derby’s history and future growth in industry, sport and the arts make it a true UK cultural landmark?
My hon. Friend and I were going to go to a nightclub once the ban was lifted, and I think that that would have been a true cultural landmark. Beyond that, I would say that I heartily encourage Derby’s bid to become the UK city of culture. It is a wonderful city, and its record in the arts and manufacturing is enormously impressive. This is, however, an independent process chaired by Sir Phil Redmond, who is assessing the initial bids. He will announce the long list of eight places very soon, and the winner will be announced in May 2022. I wish my hon. Friend good luck.
My constituent Jack Barnett was furloughed by his former employer under the coronavirus job retention scheme between April and mid-September 2020, and was made redundant thereafter. Mr Barnett received CJRS payments in April, May and June, but with July, August and two weeks of September 2020 outstanding, he is still awaiting almost £3,000. Most recently, the employer advised that he was waiting for the funds from HMRC, although HMRC is unable to either confirm or deny this because of the general data protection regulation. This case in Angus cannot be the only such case in the UK, so can we have a statement from the Government on what recourse former employees can pursue to recover moneys owed through the CJRS?
The furlough scheme has been enormously helpful and one of the key things that has maintained employment in this country. In Scotland, it has protected more than 910,000 jobs. However, I would be happy to take up the case of Mr Barnett with HMRC and with other Ministers. I have always thought business questions were a good opportunity to raise constituency issues that have not been solved by other means, and I will try to get a proper answer for the hon. Gentleman’s constituent.
The Leader of the House rightly talks about greening the environment. This week, a company has put in an application for a solar farm around Gainsborough that would be the size of 4,000 football pitches. It says that this is a nationally significant infrastructure project, and therefore, under a law passed by the last Labour Government, no local planning is allowed at all. There is no say for West Lindsey District Council, the county council, myself or anybody else. Can we have a debate on this matter? I was going to ask about a levelling-up grant for Gainsborough, but perhaps we could have a bit more levelling up for local democracy too.
It is obviously important that planning decisions are taken efficiently and that matters of national importance come to a national level. I have to say that 4,000 football pitches sounds like a very large area. I do not know very much about football, but I know that a football pitch is not an entirely small space. It cannot be that dissimilar to 4,000 cricket pitches. I note my right hon. Friend’s concern, and he is right to raise it in this House. The opportunity to discuss it will probably be best provided through an Adjournment debate to ensure that this specific issue can be raised and that a Minister of the Crown can be held to account.
Earlier this year, I sky-dived for Florence, a beautiful seven-year-old girl from Dukinfield who sadly has a life-limiting degenerative condition called GM1. This Sunday, I will be zip-wiring for her at the same place that the right hon. Gentleman visited in north Wales recently. Can we have a debate on GM1, and can I have some tips for Sunday?
I sincerely congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what he is doing. I think all of us in this House find the greatest pride when we campaign on issues such as these for people like Florence and try to help them when they have a terrible disease. I am probably not allowed to say this, but I wish him every success in his campaign to get a treatment for GM1 and to get the appropriate support from the Department of Health and Social Care. As regards going down a zip wire, it is enormously exciting. It really is the most exhilarating thing to do. I would say to him: just lie back and enjoy it. They run it extraordinarily well and it is very safe.
Last week, I had the privilege of meeting Thomas Gill and his parents. Thomas suffered major injuries requiring significant reconstructive surgery, and he and his parents and I would like to compliment his surgeons on their skills. The injuries were the result of Thomas being hit by a car driven by a young female driver who was under the influence of drink and drugs. The sentence handed down at the magistrates court was incomprehensibly lenient: a two-year driving ban and a fine of £439. Will the Leader of the House help me and Thomas to enable the Crown Prosecution Service, which chose not to proceed with one of the charges, to understand how it has let him down so badly, and tell us whether the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will help to prevent similar occurrences?
This is a deeply troubling case, and I am sorry to learn of the injuries suffered by Thomas. I wish him well with his recovery. Charging decisions are a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service, and sentencing in individual cases is entirely a matter for our independent courts. The sentencing framework and sentencing guidelines apply equally to all offenders. I understand that the CPS is seeking a meeting with my hon. Friend’s constituent to explain the decision making in this case. I am able to reassure my hon. Friend that there are provisions in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently before Parliament—which I note is being opposed by the Opposition—that will increase the maximum penalty from 14 years imprisonment to life for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. The Bill also creates a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, so the issue is being addressed in the Bill before the House.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for confirming that we will have the Second Reading of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill on Monday
“Civic space is in decline in the UK, with the right to freedom of peaceful assembly repeatedly targeted”.
It also states that the
“Judicial Review and Courts Bill threatens fundamental rights and democratic checks and balances which aim to hold the government accountable”.
The other countries added to the watchlist today are Afghanistan, Belarus and Nicaragua. Surely we should be better than that.
That says more about this silly organisation than it does about Her Majesty’s Government. We have a wonderful tradition of freedom of speech, and it is protected in this House under article 9 of the Bill of Rights, which has provided us with freedom of speech since the reign of William and Mary. This is fundamental to our constitution.
Peaceful protest does not mean running in front of cars and risking the lives of police officers, meaning that people who need stroke treatment may be much more seriously debilitated than they would otherwise have been. It does not mean people saying we should insulate our homes while not insulating their own homes. They are frightful old humbugs causing trouble, distress and inconvenience, and nearly causing people to die. This depth of irresponsibility does not begin to be freedom of speech or expression, and I am afraid the organisation to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is clearly very silly.
Can we have a debate in Government time on the progress that has been made in improving the probation service since it was brought back into public ownership? Will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to admit that privatisation was a mistake?
It is important that we have an effective probation service, and I was privileged to visit Birmingham prison recently and to speak to prisoners who are keen to get back on the straight and narrow when they leave prison. They need help and support to do that, and it should be provided as effectively and efficiently as possible, which is what this Government are trying to do.
Experts in the field estimate that the energy requirements of High Speed 2 trains will be five times that of conventional rail. Given that HS2 was sold to us as a green project, and given that the level of interest in the House is such that contributions to last week’s 90-minute Westminster Hall debate were limited to two or three minutes—many hon. and right hon. Members who wished to participate, including me, were not even called—can we have an extended debate on the impact of HS2 on Government energy policy and the level of annual subsidy with which this loss-making project will have to be supported, if it is ever built? Can we have that debate before 2041, when, my whistleblower at the very top of HS2 tells me, phase 1 will actually be able to carry passengers between London and Birmingham?
I thought whistleblowing was more for steam engines than for fast, high-speed trains, but never mind.
Obviously, the energy needed to run a train that is 440 yards long—that is two furlongs, which is an extraordinary length for a train—and going at 225 mph is more than the energy required to run Ivor the Engine. That has to be built into this country’s overall energy plans, but the cost of energy to operate the HS2 network has been accounted for within the project’s overall business case. This energy will be procured on the open market at the right time to start operations and achieve value for money for the taxpayer.
Once operational, HS2 will be delivering significantly lower overall carbon journeys than other modes, offering journeys at roughly half the carbon impact of intercity rail per passenger mile. The delivery into service date for phase 1 of HS2 remains 2029 to 2033, so I am interested in my hon. Friend’s whistleblower and I will, of course, pass the whistle on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
Having previously called two consecutive Opposition Members, I will now call a second Conservative Member.
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on special educational needs provision for young people up to the age of 25? It is crucial that we ensure young people with SEN have the support they need at school and college to maximise their life chances and job opportunities. Will he therefore join me in supporting the establishment of SEN hubs throughout the country to provide bespoke commissioning services linking health, education, care and employment support in one location?
My hon. Friend raises an issue about which many in this House will be concerned. Children and young people with special educational needs should be supported to prepare for adulthood, including employment, and local authorities must include provision in their local offer. The support needs to start early and should centre on the child or young person’s hopes, interests and needs. Through the special educational needs and disability review, we are committed to improving the SEND system to improve outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs and to focus on preparing them for later life and adulthood.
In terms of a debate, I see that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, Ian Mearns, is still here and he will have heard the appeal.
I take the Leader of the House back to the far off days of his childhood, watching his favourite shows “Thunderbirds”, “Captain Scarlet”, “Joe 90” and “Fireball XL5”. As Thunderbirds Day fast approaches, will he join me in paying tribute to the late Sylvia Anderson, television and film producer, writer, voice actress and costume designer, without whom these childhood-enhancing shows would never have made it to our television screens and whose immense contribution, in common with so many iconic women in the arts, is still largely unrecognised? In the presence of Sylvia’s daughter, Dee Anderson, will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on putting matters right by recognising the contribution of women to our great creative industries?
First, I apologise for thinking that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is here, as he is not. That was my mistake.
Dr Cameron is right to recognise Sylvia Anderson and the happiness that she brought to countless children through her work, which ought to be recognised. I cannot promise a debate in Government time, but I would have thought an Adjournment debate to praise her work would be very well attended and would be enjoyed by children across the land.
We need to speed up a little, in both questions and answers, if we are to get everybody in, as I would like.
I know the Leader of the House is an avid reader of the Worksop Guardian, so he will have been astounded to find out that South Yorkshire police underspent their budget by £2 million. Does he agree that the Labour police and crime commissioner has no excuse not to reopen Dinnington police station, which was closed to save £14,000 a year? Can we have a debate in Government time to ensure that happens?
My hon. Friend knows that locally elected police and crime commissioners are responsible for their allocated budget. I am afraid that I am rather austere when it comes to public spending, and I think it is a good thing if people underspend rather than overspend, so I might not give him the most helpful answer. I would encourage him to campaign locally with the police and crime commissioner on the important issue of keeping police stations open.
I am sure my hon. Friend Ian Mearns, the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, would support upholding the law, as I hope the Leader of the House does, particularly section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. I remind the House that, at the height of the pandemic, 560 employees of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency centre in Swansea contracted covid and one sadly died because they were working on site, at management’s request, despite Government advice that people should work from home. Can we have a statement on the background to the dispute at the DVLA in Swansea, not just the backlog but the robust allegations that political interference by Transport Ministers led to the industrial dispute with members of the Public and Commercial Services Union being prolonged?
It is important to recognise that some people had to go into work to do their job properly, for security reasons or to ensure the integrity of systems, and the DVLA was one of those organisations. We are now getting back to work and people are going back to their offices, which is a thoroughly good thing.
Can we have an early debate on the role of the Committee on Standards in delivering natural justice for those against whom complaints are made? Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, in its second report, at paragraph 53, the Committee decided that my right hon. Friend Sir Roger Gale did not accept that he had breached the rules of the House and that this was treated as an aggravating factor? That is in complete contrast to the rules of the Sentencing Council, which say that pleading guilty can be a mitigating factor but that contesting a case cannot be regarded as an aggravating factor. Does that not show that natural justice seems to have been thrown to the wind by the Committee on Standards?
My hon. Friend raises an important point: people must be entitled, in all circumstances, to defend themselves, and it would be unfair to penalise somebody who believed they had acted in good faith for that belief. The assumption must very often be that Members do act in good faith. That is not to say that we do not make mistakes, but to defend oneself must be a natural right of Members of Parliament.
The Leader of the House may be aware that last week a High Court judge refused the Cabinet Office leave to appeal against a first-tier tribunal decision that it should release information to me that I had requested under the Freedom of Information Act concerning public opinion research in Scotland. Sadly, earlier this morning the Cabinet Office’s Minister without Portfolio, Nigel Adams declined to confirm that the Department would comply with that ruling. May we have a debate in Government time on why the Cabinet Office is acting as a rogue Department within government and refusing to comply both with the law of the land and with the courts?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the guidance given to Ministers is that answers given in this House should be at least as full as those given to Freedom of Information requests. So he may wish to table a written question, because that ought to have exactly the same effect and would use the procedures of this House. However, Her Majesty’s Government obey the rule of law.
Tomorrow, is the grand reopening of the Salvatorian College, a Catholic academy for boys aged 11 to 16 in Wealdstone, in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the diocese, the Department, the staff, the governors and the children on achieving this tremendous new facility? Does he agree that it is good to have first-rate buildings for an excellent faith-based education?
May I congratulate the Salvatorian College on its reopening and all those involved with it? It may not surprise my hon. Friend to know that I think there are huge advantages in Catholic education and it should be widely encouraged. Having good and suitable buildings is very important; there is the great line of Churchill’s that we all know so well that I will not repeat it.
Sue is a single mum and a former nurse. She wrote to me saying,
“The 20-pound a week Universal Credit uplift was a relief…but now it’s being taken away and I don’t know what to do… I can barely exist and I am terrified.”
My inbox is filled by accounts such as that. The papers tell me that the Leader of the House has just been paid £600,000 from share dividends. I ask him for a debate, so that he and the other Conservative Members can explain how they sleep at night knowing that they are robbing people such as Sue and plunging 800,000 more into poverty.
The answer I gave earlier was that we have reduced the number of people in absolute poverty by 700,000 since 2010. An extra £8 billion was provided for the welfare system during the pandemic. Other systems are still in place: there has been the increase in the living wage, and an increase in the tax allowance. All of these have combined to make people better off. That is fundamentally important. It is the right way for the Government to be going. The £20 a week extra on universal credit was a temporary measure during the height of the pandemic, and to pay for this would cost the equivalent of 13.5p on a gallon of a petrol. These things have to be paid for and there are limited resources.
There are several contentious development proposals in my constituency, including the redevelopment of South Ken tube station and the sale by the Mayor of London of Notting Hill police station. Does my right hon. Friend agree that residents’ voices need to be heard in deciding how their local communities develop and that they need to be at the heart of the planning process? Will he contemplate a debate on this topic?
We will be bringing forward the planning Bill and publishing a response to the White Paper consultation in due course. It is important that local people have a say in how planning takes place. It is amazing how few people take part in it now, under the current system. There are opportunities for them to do so, but they are not always taken. I would say to my hon. Friend that Kensington is extremely fortunate to have her as its representative, because she is always a voice for her constituents, and for their interests and thoughts on planning, and long may that remain so.
The Leader of the House was very helpful in June when he passed my request for a focus on childhood cancer research to the Department of Health and Social Care. I am sure he knows that it is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and perhaps he will encourage hon. Members to sign my early-day motion 428 on that topic.
[That this House acknowledges that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month; notes that blood cancers are the most common cancers affecting children and young people and that acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a type of leukaemia where cancerous cells build up in the bone marrow, is the most common cancer diagnosed in children, further notes that ALL is an acute leukaemia, which means it develops quickly and needs treatment straight away; recognises there are around 790 diagnoses of ALL in the UK each year, including over 500 in people aged under 25; welcomes signs that improvements in outcomes for children and young people with ALL have been driven by improvements in treatment related to clinical trials, including the use of CAR-T therapy, which has been effective in curing some patients with advanced cancers where other treatments have failed; expresses its appreciation for the work of groups such as the Teenage Cancer Trust and Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group who are working to provide and improve the care and treatment of young people with ALL, supporting them and their families through the aftermath of a diagnosis and the extended period of treatment, which may last for two or more years; and calls on the Government to provide additional funding and support for research into promising treatments, such as CAR-T therapy, and effective means of recognising the signs and symptoms of ALL and other childhood cancers to ensure early diagnosis, which plays such an important role in ensuring survival from these distressing diseases.]
I think there is a bit of a logjam in correspondence, so I wonder whether he would also help me by giving his colleagues a nudge and by facilitating a debate on childhood cancer research in Government time. These children and families really need to know that this research is an absolute priority, one that the Government understand.
Yes, of course I will provide a nudge if any specific correspondence is outstanding. I think it would break all possible convention if a Minister encouraged Members to sign an early-day motion, but may I say that I think the hon. Lady’s early-day motion sounds extremely worthy, if that is a good enough hint for her? As for a debate on childhood cancer research and awareness, I think that is very important, but I suggest it is a matter for the Backbench Business Committee.
Knife crime is a problem in Northamptonshire and it is not being helped by lenient sentencing. Ministry of Justice data show that last year in Northamptonshire there were 39 cases where an offender was convicted or cautioned for a second time or more over the possession of a knife or offensive weapon. In 20 cases the culprit was given an immediate jail sentence, but in 15 cases the repeat offender was not sent straight to prison. The Leader of the House will know that the law says that adults already convicted of the crime should face a minimum six-month jail term under the “two strikes and you are out” system brought in six years ago. Across the country, one third of repeat knife possession cases did not result in an immediate jail sentence. May we have an urgent statement from the MOJ about the courts issuing the sentences that the law demands?
The punishment must fit the crime, and the Government are taking urgent action to tackle knife crime and keep people safe, in addition to hiring 20,000 additional police officers. We are spending £40 million this financial year to tackle drugs supply and county lines, building on the successful results of our £25 million county lines programme, and £130.5 million to tackle serious violence and homicide this financial year, including funding for targeted police interventions and the introduction of serious violence reduction orders, which will make it easier for officers to stop and search those convicted of a knife crime. In addition, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General can apply for unduly lenient sentences to be increased. So there are things in place, but it is fundamental to our constitution that Parliament passes the law, which the judges must then implement as we have passed it.
I was really pleased that in the Queen’s Speech the Government announced that they were going to make the armed forces covenant statutory and that they were going to introduce a covenant for the police as well. Between
The right hon. Lady always raises points of great importance in this House, and the work done by people on the frontline during covid was of fundamental importance. I think that this is initially a subject for a Backbench Business debate to raise this issue and whether covenants may be appropriate in other areas beyond the armed forces and the police, but I will certainly take it up with the Department concerned.
Since a fire at the Bilsdale mast on
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important issue, which my hon. Friend Andrew Jones raised with me last week. I understand that my hon. Friends attended a meeting with the Minister responsible at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Arqiva, which is responsible for the mast. The point that my hon. Friend made is spot on: terrestrial television channels such as ITV are important in the lives of many people, especially the elderly and vulnerable, who are often alone for extended periods and find such channels an important form of comfort and company. As I understand it, the Bilsdale mast is in a particularly remote location, which has provided certain challenges, but I hear that a temporary mast may be constructed before
Today is Loss and Damage Awareness Day. For COP26 to be counted as a success, rich nations must commit to a fund of at least $100 billion for developing countries to adapt to the climate crisis. The Government have announced that they will contribute $2.3 billion to the fund—except that money is to be taken from the slashed foreign aid budget. Is robbing Peter to pay Paul the way that the UK, as the host of COP26, should lead by example? Will the Leader of the House ask the COP26 President, Alok Sharma to come to the Chamber to explain the position?
That $2.3 billion is not an amount of money to be sniffed at. There is a limited budget for funds, so it is right that that money comes from the overseas development budget because that is what it is.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has committed to four targets for COP26 in Glasgow this year: first, to secure global net zero by mid-century and keep the 2.7 °F target within reach; secondly, to adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; thirdly, to mobilise finance—developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100 billion in climate finance by 2020; and fourthly, to work together to deliver and finalise the Paris rulebook, which comprises the detailed rules that make the Paris agreement operational, and accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration among Governments, businesses and civil society. The Government’s policy is very much in line with what the hon. Lady asks for.
I have previously raised in the House my concerns and those of my constituents about the decision by Warrington Borough Council to borrow £1.6 billion to invest in business around the UK. One of those businesses is a domestic energy supplier, Together Energy. The total exposure for taxpayers in Warrington is £41 million, and we are seeing what is happening in the energy sector. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on the decisions that councils are taking, so that we can have absolutely clear transparency? Does he agree that action of this type is absolutely irresponsible?
Order. We must have shorter questions.
My hon. Friend raises a point of concern. When I served on the Treasury Committee some years ago, I tried to encourage its then Chairman, my noble Friend Lord Tyrie, to hold an inquiry into the borrowing by councils of money for speculative investments, which is obviously a risk. I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that on
Two weeks ago today, I attended Mr Speaker’s state apartments to meet members of the Climate Assembly who a year ago produced an excellent report on climate change and the actions we need to take. The assembly was a great example of how to bring people together to discuss such important issues. The Government have said that they plan to set out their wider public engagement strategy “shortly”, but the clock is ticking and time is running out, so will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time on the Government’s strategy? I thank the Backbench Business Committee for scheduling a general debate on the issue when we return after the recess.
The hon. Lady has, in a way, answered her own question, because there will be a debate on this important issue. I have just set out the four targets for COP26, and there will be questions to the President-elect of COP26 on
On Monday, an unauthorised Travellers’ camp was set up on Torr Top car park in the centre of New Mills, blocking the car park, including the disabled bays, for all other users. This has caused concern, particularly among local businesses on the high street that are worried about the impact of the loss of the car park on their customers and footfall. May we have a debate on the laws relating to trespass and look at whether we need to give the police more powers so that they can take action on such cases in future?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. The Government’s overarching aim is to ensure fair and equal treatment for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in a way that facilitates their traditional nomadic way of life. However, we are equally clear that we will not tolerate law-breaking and are determined to ensure that police have the powers they need to support and serve their communities. I will take up my hon. Friend’s concerns with the Home Secretary, because it is important that the law should apply equally to all.
In a debate yesterday, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said as an aside that Northern Ireland would no longer be subject to the EU state aid regime and that changes to the Northern Ireland protocol had been sought to ensure that would happen. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a ministerial statement on proposed changes to the Northern Ireland protocol and the process that the Government will undertake to attempt to make them?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the Northern Ireland protocol, which is a matter of discussion between Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union. It is clearly not working properly at the moment, and we cannot allow our country to be divided by the actions of the European Union and their interpretation of the agreement that we came to. Last week, my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Frost made a statement to their lordships that was reported in this House by my right hon. and learned Friend the Paymaster General, so these things are being brought to the attention of the House and will, I am sure, be brought to the House’s attention in future.
My right hon. Friend will have seen the chaos caused on the M25 this week by Insulate Britain. I am pleased that a number of protesters have been arrested and that an injunction has been served. My concern is that they might simply go to another strategically important road somewhere else in the country. Will my right hon. Friend find Government time for us to debate how the law may need to change so that we can instantly and robustly deal with and move on these troublemakers?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. A lot of these people are being exposed as the most ridiculous humbugs. I think it is The Sun that has discovered that they pretend to want insulation but do not insulate not only the houses that they live in but the houses that they let out to other people. One of them stormed off some television programme in a great huff when it was revealed that he was a frightful old humbug. We should know these people for what they are: silly, dangerous and hippie-crites.
I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is under consideration in the Lords, contains proportionate measures to enable the police to deal better with disruptive protests. By putting public nuisance on a statutory footing, as recommended by the independent Law Commission, it will increase the powers available to the police for dealing with protests of that sort. Proper, peaceful protest and freedom of speech are fundamental, but causing risk to life and liberty is not.
I am grateful to the York Medical Group, which enabled me to spend last Friday with the group to see the capacity challenges that our GPs face. On our return from recess, may we have a statement on the crisis faced by primary care and its inability to cope with the demand it has to deal with?
Yes, we should have a clear statement that people ought to be able to get face-to-face appointments. This is fundamental and really important. I have had complaints from my own constituents, one of whose cases was reported in detail in The Telegraph because they almost died because of the inability to get a face-to-face appointment. Another of my constituents was told off and told to go to A&E instead of going to her GP. It is not satisfactory. GP appointments need to go back to being face-to-face and the Government have been clear on that. I urge GPs to reopen their surgeries and see people.
Will the Leader of the House consider providing time for a debate on the need to uplift the child-benefit threshold to allow single-parent working families to ask for the increase needed to address inflation? Gas prices in Northern Ireland have jumped by 30% due to the Northern Ireland protocol, among other issues, and further rises are upcoming. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is right and proper for the House to consider an uplift to the threshold in line with inflation?
It is a rare occasion when I do not see eye-to-eye with the hon. Gentleman. As always, I am grateful for his diligent attendance in the House and representation of his constituents. The Government’s approach charges the high-income child benefit charge on those who are on higher incomes, while leaving the majority of child-benefit claimants unaffected. This ensures that everyone makes a fair contribution while those with the lowest incomes continue to be supported. The Government are committed to managing the public finances in a disciplined and responsible way by targeting support where it is most needed. The £50,000 threshold affects only a small minority of those with comparatively high incomes. The Government believe that the current threshold for the high-income child benefit charge remains the best option. As always, it is of course about a balance, in these difficult financial times, between the support the Government can provide with taxpayers’ money and the need to ensure that we live within our means.
I am very concerned about a British citizen, Michael Brian Smith, who continues to be detained in the United Arab Emirates despite having received a pardon and having subsequently completed his original sentence, particularly as his health is deteriorating as a result of AIDS and kidney cancer. May I ask that the UK Government do all they can, including making further urgent representations to the relevant UAE authorities, to help secure his release soon on humanitarian grounds? I fear that time is running out for Mr Smith and it would be tragic if he were to die in prison in the UAE. Can we have a debate more widely in Government time on human rights in the UAE?
I cannot promise the debate, though I may guide the hon. Lady towards an Adjournment debate in relation to Mr Smith. I will take up the case that she has brought to my attention with the Foreign Office immediately after this session.
I thank the Leader of the House for the Business statement.
We come now to the Backbench Business debates, the first of which is on Baby Loss Awareness Week. As colleagues will see, the two debates are well subscribed. I hope that they will bear that in mind when considering how long they will speak for.