Before I begin, I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on this day of legend and song, because it is the second anniversary of your being dragged to the Chair with notable reluctance. The business for next week is as follows:
At the conclusion of business on Tuesday
The business for the week commencing
The provisional business for the week commencing
I would like to mark the retirement of Crispin Poyser, who has served the House as a Clerk for more than 40 years. A good understanding of “Erskine May” is essential for the functioning of Parliament, and Crispin is a great proceduralist. In the House and in his secondment to the Cabinet Office as parliamentary adviser to the Government, his work has underpinned the principle of accountability to Parliament. We should all be grateful. I know that his colleagues will miss his expertise nearly as much as they will miss him. I thank him for his terrific public service.
I am aware that last night’s vote has created a certain amount of controversy. It is important that standards in this House are done on a cross-party basis. The House voted very clearly yesterday to show that it is worried about the process of handling complaints, and that we would like an appeals system; but the change would need to be supported on a cross-party basis, and that is clearly not the case.
While there is a very strong feeling on both sides of the House that there is a need for an appeals process, there is equally a strong feeling that this should not be based on a single case, or applied retrospectively. I fear last night’s debate conflated the individual case with the general concern. This link needs to be broken. Therefore, I and others will look to work on a cross-party basis to achieve improvements in our system for future cases. We will bring forward more detailed proposals once there have been cross-party discussions.
I would also like to express the thanks of the whole House to Crispin Poyser for his 43 years of service to the House. We wish him and his wife Krissie well, and send our best wishes for the many things that they will do next. Crispin is known among colleagues for his keen procedural mind, curiosity and kindness. He will be missed by the House, and I thank him for the loyal service that he has given.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I join him and you, Mr Speaker, in paying tribute to Crispin Poyser. Clerks are some of the many unsung heroes who keep this place going. We are incredibly grateful to them all; they appear to know absolutely everything. I wish Crispin Poyser a happy retirement from this place. I also wish everyone a happy Diwali. May light shine on us all.
I am frankly astonished by what the right hon. Gentleman just said about separating the review of the standards process from the individual case. Government Members made the choice yesterday to link the two. There is no separating them retrospectively—he has made much of the fact that the Government do not want retrospective rule change. Much was said about the standards procedure not being in line with that in other workplaces, but MPs are holders of public office, not employees. We are subject to professional self-regulation, not employment law.
Government Members cannot pick and choose; if they want to be treated as employees of this House, rather than office holders, then alongside all other employees, they should be wearing masks around the estate and in the Chamber. Unfortunately, unlike when it comes to breaking the rules about paid advocacy, a convivial and fraternal spirit does not protect everyone else. The Government cannot have it both ways. Can the right hon. Gentleman ask his friends to do the right thing and wear their masks—if not for themselves and each other, at least for the staff?
On Monday, the Committee on Standards in Public Life published its 23rd report. More than 25 years have passed since the seven principles of public life were first introduced off the back of a previous escapade of Tory sleaze and corruption, and we and the Government are back there again. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether the Government will endorse the report? Or, if they do not like the recommendations, which I strongly suspect that they do not, will they just abolish the committee? Will they establish another sham Committee, so that the Government can get the answers they want?
Labour will not participate in the sham Committee that the Tories voted through yesterday, despite what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. We will look with interest at his proposals, but we will not participate in a parallel process when the Chair of the Committee on Standards, my hon. Friend Chris Bryant, who is sitting behind me, is doing such a great job with the other cross-party members of the Committee and its lay members.
How will the other Committee be resourced? Has there been a proposal under the estimates process? Considering that the Committee will risk wasting taxpayer’s money, which I know the Leader of the House dislikes intensely, if he cannot get it past estimates, could he ask one of his hon. Friends to contribute some of their lobbying money? Or will he perhaps pay the Chair’s salary?
As the Opposition will not participate in the sham Committee, will the Leader of the House confirm whether it will sit with only Tory members? How will it be decided who sits on the Committee, whether it is the one voted through yesterday or the other one that he has mentioned this morning?
Given the Business Secretary’s frankly disgraceful comments this morning, can I ask whether the Leader of the House agrees with him that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who was properly appointed, should resign? Is that his view—yes or no?
To continue on the theme of standards, I asked the Leader of the House last week about the updated ministerial code. As I said then, six months have gone by since Lord Geidt was appointed as the new independent adviser, but we still do not have that code. The Government seem to think it is okay for MPs to act as paid advocates for private companies, so it is no surprise to me that they do not seem to have much regard to it. Will the Leader of the House please confirm when it will be published, or whether they are just going to get rid of that as well?
This month is Islamophobia Awareness Month. Earlier in the week, my hon. Friend Afzal Khan said that this time a year ago, he wrote to the Prime Minister raising concerns over Islamophobia, and a year on, the Prime Minister has still not responded to my hon. Friend. This is wholly unacceptable. Can the Leader of the House please ask the Prime Minister when he will write back to my hon. Friend? Can he also again remind his other Cabinet colleagues of their responsibilities to this House, because I am afraid that we are still not getting timely—or indeed in some cases any—answers to written parliamentary questions or letters, or from hotlines?
Finally, to avoid any unfortunate coincidences, as Conservative Members have put it, between current cases and other Committees or processes, will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to say whether there are any other parliamentary procedures or Committees that he is likely to want to amend, abolish or duplicate—or will he wait until another one of his friends needs saving?
May I join the hon. Lady in wishing people a happy Diwali? I hope that they enjoy their celebrations.
There is a problem with people writing their questions before they have heard what has been said, because I made it quite clear in my business statement that we need to proceed on a cross-party basis, and it is a matter of regret that there was no cross-party agreement yesterday. Obviously, a Committee cannot work effectively without Opposition Members on it, and I think that was absolutely clear from what I said.
We need to ensure that we have standards in this place that are fair and robust, and that are seen to be fair and robust. I would highlight the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, which has an appeal body, the independent expert panel. The independent expert panel has on it a High Court judge—somebody of the highest standing and legal training—but that is not the case for standards cases. This issue has been bubbling away for some time, as people have seen the differential between the two.
Of course, I listened very carefully to the debate yesterday, and to comments made from across the House, and I absolutely recognise that it is important to proceed on a cross-party basis to have the highest standards in this House, but ones that, when implemented, are fair to those they are applied to. That is what we will seek to achieve. I hope that the hon. Lady and others are willing to enter into this in a spirit of co-operation, as we did when we co-operated successfully with her predecessors over the ICGS question, to ensure that the ICGS could be taken out of the Standards Committee while remaining under its umbrella, and become a much more independent process.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the fact that this is Islamophobia Awareness Month, and for asking for a reply to a letter that has been sent. As I have said many times in this House, I view it as my role to facilitate for this House answers to legitimate questions. This is a matter of priority for me, and I regularly remind my hon. and right hon. Friends of the need to respond. I will continue to do that, and I can assure her that I will take up with No. 10 Downing Street the letter that was sent last year.
On the hon. Lady’s question about whether there are any other planned changes, I am always rather with Palmerston: “Change, change—aren’t things bad enough already?”. However, I point out that the Procedure Committee is available to consider alterations to our procedures. It does invaluable work, and at the moment it is considering whether proxy voting should be extended.
The hon. Lady, and all other Members of the House, will know that our proceedings and processes have evolved. There was a lot of talk yesterday about 1695. As I am sure you are aware, Mr Speaker, that related to a Speaker, Sir John Trevor, who was given 1,000 guineas, I believe by the City of London Corporation and the East India Company, to influence proceedings in Parliament. He was therefore removed as Speaker, but rather oddly remained Master of the Rolls. We are so lucky, on your second anniversary, that no such question should arise with the current Speaker, who is fortunately not Master of the Rolls.
On Monday I attended a debate in Westminster Hall on research into endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome. I was hoping, indeed planning, to participate, but such were the excellent speeches from female colleagues who had been suffering from that condition, as well as time pressures, that it was clearly appropriate to hear their important words first. The debate highlighted that it can take up to eight years between someone presenting and their diagnosis. Could we perhaps build on Monday’s debate, broadening the subject to consider how long it takes between presenting and diagnosis for someone with certain conditions, and what we can do to improve that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, which has also been raised with me by constituents. That is the sort of question that may well have come from Sir David Amess in the past, because he was a passionate campaigner for those suffering with endometriosis. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence publishes authoritative evidence-based guidelines for healthcare professionals that help to ensure that the diagnosis, care and treatment of NHS patients is based on the best available evidence. I hope that eight years is not seen as an acceptable length of time for people to wait for diagnosis and treatment. In the spending review an extra £5.9 billion of taxpayers’ money was announced for capital expenditure to support elective, recovery, diagnostic and technology over the next three years, and we are rolling out 44 community diagnostic centres to increase capacity. That could deliver up to 2.8 million scans in the first full year of operation. We aim to deliver up to 100 community diagnostic centres in total by 2024-25, and we will publish the delivery plan for tackling the electives backlog later this year. I will, of course, pass on my hon. Friend’s concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
What an absolute and utter mess, and I am not entirely sure that it has been much helped and assisted by what the Leader of the House said about the process this morning. He is inviting us to capitulate to this Tory kangaroo court Committee, and go along with what the Tories are intending to do on reform. If he wants us to participate, we must return to the status quo. We have to get back to where we were before we voted yesterday, with an intact Standards Committee, and abide by the findings of that Committee. Only on that basis will we enter any discussions or talks with the right hon. Gentleman.
What we have is disgraceful. We effectively have two Committees—perhaps three if the Leader of the House gets his way—that have no legitimacy in the House, no confidence of the membership of the House, and no trust from any members of the public at all. No wonder so many gloomy Tory MPs are kicking around the House this morning—the magnitude of what they attempted to do yesterday is starting to dawn on them. What they did was to legitimise and sanction paid advocacy, and signal a return to cash for questions and grubby brown envelopes stuffed full of cash for doing their paymasters’ bidding. They have effectively dispensed with independent investigation, and they have transferred that to a kangaroo court Committee on which they have given themselves a majority. We will play no part in that Committee of corruption, and I am glad the Labour party will not either.
I heard the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy say this morning that the standards commissioner should review her position. That is akin to giving the referee a red card because we do not like the decision of that referee. It is not too late. Return us to the status quo and to where we were yesterday, and we will enter into discussions. But not on the basis of this ridiculous attempt at reform.
Mr Speaker, I have given up trying to get the Leader of the House to wear a face mask. I have now accepted that he does not care a jot about the safety and security of his colleagues or staff in this House. We now have an outbreak in this House, and we have him, with his weird individualism and arrogance, refusing to do anything about it. Maybe that is something that his Tory kangaroo court Committee could look at, because it will have precious little else to do.
I will just add in response to Thangam Debbonaire that I have had a note to tell me that the party chairman responded on behalf of the Prime Minister to the letter on Islamophobia. That was done earlier this year.
Nobody would wish to defend paid advocacy. I would say to Pete Wishart that his pre-prepared fury every week is becoming very much a broken record. It does not matter what the subject is; the fury is enormous. It may be that it is raining outside and the hon. Gentleman is furious. It may be that there has been a debate on standards and the hon. Gentleman is furious. Anything that comes up, he comes here to be cross, and he gets crosser and crosser as the weeks and the days go on.
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said, rather than concentrating on his pre-prepared fury, he would have noted that I said that we need to make sure that this happens on a cross-party basis. It would be idle to pretend that there are not concerns about the system. It would be idle to pretend that there are not many people in this House who feel that not having a proper appeals process is a flaw in the system. It would be idle to suggest that there are not people in this House who recognise that the system set up for the ICGS, with the IEP, has, with a High Court judge, a better legal focus than the other system. These things are all true and they all need to be looked at, but of course, to maintain high standards and proper processes, we want to have cross-party support.
I think one of the problems with yesterday was the fact that two issues were being put together; one was the case of my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson and the other was the reform of the system. On what the Leader of the House has said now, I understand the process of going forward on a cross-party basis, but I am not sure how that leaves the case of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire. Perhaps we could have a statement next week clarifying the Government’s position.
I voted for the Leadsom amendment, as it is called. I listened to the debate and I made up my mind. Will the Leader of the House issue a statement reminding people in the media that all votes in this House are free? I, for one, am never going to be told by someone else not to vote my conscience.
But Sir, the issue that concerns me most—I am sorry to take so long—is that this morning, my office was vandalised because of the way I voted last night. That puts my staff in danger. This is not the way that this should happen. We can have strong disagreement, but I think some of us should remember what happened to Sir David Amess, and perhaps our language needs to be a little temperate. I ask the Leader of the House if we can have a statement next week setting out the Government’s position on what he has said today.
May I just reiterate what I said at the beginning of these proceedings? While there is a very strong feeling on both sides of the House that there is a need for an appeals process, there is equally a strong feeling that this should not be based on a single case or applied retrospectively. I fear last night’s debate conflated the individual case with the general concern. This link needs to be broken. I hope that answers my hon. Friend’s question.
As regards the vexed question of whipping, as I understand it, all Whips are attendance Whips. My hon. Friend is well known for his independence of mind, and I am sure his constituents are aware of that, but to vandalise some Member’s property or office because of the way that Member voted seems to me to be potentially a breach of privilege, and it may be something that needs to be looked into with considerable care. As you warned us yesterday, Mr Speaker, we always need to discuss these things in a temperate and sensible manner.
The problem is, we are in a quagmire now. I fully support the comments that have just been made by Mr Bone and I am sorry for everything that has happened to his office; I think that has happened to quite a lot of MPs over the last few years. I think the message for all of us is that we need to be very careful when we are talking about standards issues, as I have tried to be.
The Leader of the House is quite right that we should never be changing the rules at the last minute for a named individual. There is a potential solution to that, which is that the Standards Committee, on a cross-party basis, could produce another report next Tuesday, which the Government could then put to the House next week to deal with the case of Mr Paterson. I think the Committee would say exactly the same thing, but it would be a means of separating that case out from the issue of the whether we should change the system.
On changing the system, as the Leader of the House knows, because he has given evidence to our Committee, we are already reviewing that. There are decent points to be made about things that could be improved in the system. They are not easy things to resolve, but my Committee will do its best, on a cross-party basis and with independent members—a valuable addition to the process and an important part of establishing the trust of the public—to take that forward.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming that there are concerns about the system. I think there is a general concern about the investigator and the adjudicator being the same person. It has been suggested to me on a number of occasions that that should be looked at. I am grateful for his suggestion that we should use moderate language, although it has to be remembered that he was the one comparing what happened yesterday to Russia when he was on the wireless this morning, so I hope he will use moderate language not only when he is in this House. As I say, it is important that this is looked at on a cross-party basis, because we need to have robust standards in which Members have confidence.
I was shocked and incredibly disappointed to hear of the Labour west midlands police and crime commissioner’s plans to overhaul the use of stop and search powers across West Midlands police. Yesterday, I wrote to the police and crime commissioner to spell out my disappointment at his proposals. My view, shared by other Members, is that we should be empowering our police officers to use stop and search powers in an appropriate and proportionate way, rather than undermining them and making our streets less safe. Will the Leader of the House make some time for west midlands MPs to debate this issue and ensure that the views of my constituents are represented?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. Police chiefs are absolutely clear: stop and search is a vital tool to crack down on serious violence and to keep people safe. That is why we have announced the relaxation of voluntary restrictions on section 60 stop and search powers in all forces in England and Wales. We are also introducing a new court order to make it easier for officers to stop and search those convicted of knife crime. Every weapon seized is potentially a life saved. Last year, stop and search removed 11,000 dangerous weapons from our streets. I encourage my hon. Friend to seek a Back-Bench debate on this matter. I will share her concerns with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
I said that in my remarks yesterday. I had a representation from union officials before the debate, which I thought it important to reply to in order to reassure people who work in the Palace that cases relating to harassment and sexual harassment that come under the ICGS are entirely unaffected by what happened yesterday. They have a different process. They have an Independent Expert Panel as an appeal, organised and presided over by a High Court judge, which I think gives those who may come up before the panel greater confidence in its ability to deliver natural justice.
My right hon. Friend may think, after a £56 million levelling-up fund, a £29 million transforming cities fund, a £17.6 million Kidsgrove town deal and 550 new Home Office jobs in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, that perhaps we would be rather full up in my constituency, but he will not be shocked to hear that we have an appetite for more. Potholes drive us potty in the Potteries, so with the announcement in the Budget of £2.7 billion to fix them, does he agree that Stoke-on-Trent should get a big slice, particularly when taking into account the condition and use of our roads, and that congestion delays drivers by an average of more than a minute for every mile travelled?
My hon. Friend is beginning to remind me of Oliver Twist, in that he is always asking for more. I heard him in Transport questions asking for £90 million and now he wants even more money. He is an absolutely terrific campaigner for Stoke-on-Trent and for getting things done there. There is a £2.7 billion fund over the next three years for local road maintenance, and there is this brilliant JCB device that can mend potholes very quickly. I encourage him to keep on campaigning to get rid of the potholes and to lobby his council to ensure that that is one of its priorities. However, I really commend him for his success in ensuring that any available taxpayers’ money always goes to Stoke-on-Trent.
It has just been announced in the media that the Government are U-turning and have ditched immediate plans to overhaul the standards system. First, will the Leader of the House confirm that? Secondly, does he agree that we need an urgent debate on the whole issue?
That was what I said in my statement at the beginning. We wanted to proceed on a cross-party basis and clearly, therefore, the Select Committee not being supported by other parties was not going to be an effective way of doing that. We had a debate on standards yesterday, which took up 90 minutes and was quite comprehensive.
With regard to yesterday’s amendment to the Standards Committee’s motion and my right hon. Friend’s statements this morning, both initially and in response to my hon. Friend Mr Bone and Chris Bryant, I welcome this move, but I emphasise the need to move very, very quickly for cross-party involvement and to allay the concerns that have already been expressed by members of the public. Our credibility is destroyed if we do not nip this in the bud very, very quickly.
I think we have moved quickly. We recognise that not achieving cross-party support yesterday made it very difficult to get the reforms that we are seeking. We do still seek to have a system that is properly fair and allows a genuine form of appeal, but that cannot be done by the fiat of the Government. It needs broader support than that.
One of my constituents, Christopher Crawford, recently changed his name by deed poll and has been experiencing considerable delays in securing a replacement biometric residency card. No other details have changed, but he has been told that the process will take up to six months. As he works in the creative industries, without this card he is unable to prove his identity and to apply for a covid pass, which is required in Wales in certain circumstances. I have written to the Home Secretary and no action has been forthcoming, so will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate so that we can look at the delays in the Home Office and actions that it can take to expedite matters and militate against circumstances such as these?
I view it as my role as Leader of the House to facilitate issues of this kind, when Members bring forward specific issues relating to their constituents who are not receiving an efficient Government service. I will therefore take this up with the Home Secretary after business questions, although perhaps if the hon. Gentleman could email to me further details of his constituent and the new name that he has adopted by deed poll, I will do what I can to try to speed up the process.
As shadow roads Minister, I had spent this week preparing to speak in a Committee on Monday on motor vehicles regulations—that was slightly complicated by the fact that one of the statutory instruments did not seem to have been published. We were told yesterday that that Committee would not go ahead. As a result, I had a conversation with the chair of the all-party group on trailer and towing safety, our neighbour, my hon. Friend Karin Smyth. It would have saved an awful lot of time and an awful lot of conversation and speculation yesterday if we had been told that the reason why the Committee was pulled was that it would be listed for the main Chamber on Monday instead. To be frank, this has upset rather a lot of people who were hoping that the measures on trailers were not going to go ahead. I would like to know from the Leader of the House why things could not have been tied up and why, when the Delegated Legislation Committee was cancelled, we could not have been told that it was going to be in the Chamber.
That is a very good question, but the answer is that the Chamber has to be told first the business of the Chamber. That is a courtesy to the House. I appreciate that when things are being cancelled, it is not helpful that people are not informed of the replacement, but it is absolutely standard practice to notify the Chamber first of business in the Chamber.
As the Leader of the House may be aware, I have been highlighting since August the unacceptable delays to state pension payments for the newly retired. Despite protestations from the pensions Minister that all payments would be up to date
“by the end of October”, today the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted that thousands of newly retired people still do not have their rightful pensions, including many in my constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran. This is causing deep financial distress, not least to the 1950s women who have already had their pension age increased. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out what he will do to ensure that the pension system is fit for purpose and that this mess, which has gone on for far too long, will be sorted out once and for all?
I will tell the hon. Lady what I did the last time she raised the matter: I contacted my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions within a few minutes of the end of business questions, and was told that it was expected that the problem would be sorted out by the end of October. I note that the hon. Lady says that that has not happened; I will be in touch with the Department immediately after business questions. I know that the Department deeply regrets the delays that have taken place.
St Joseph’s Catholic club in Birtley in my constituency has been running a 1 o’clock club in recent weeks, bringing together residents in a social and friendly environment with huge success. We all know that tackling social isolation and loneliness is really important, especially in the light of coronavirus, so will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating St Joseph’s Catholic club on its work? Can we have a debate in Government time on progress towards tackling loneliness?
Yes, I would very much like to congratulate St Joseph’s Catholic club on its 1 o’clock club and its efforts to tackle loneliness. I note that loneliness can be greatly helped by spiritual fulfilment, which many people find through their religious practices; I am therefore delighted that the Catholic Church is involved in helping to tackle loneliness. I fear that I cannot promise the hon. Lady a debate, but it may be that the Backbench Business Committee would be keen to help.
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for all the work that you are doing to ensure that Parliament is kept safe for staff and Members? May I say to the Leader of the House that this place is not safe? Around voting time, the Lobbies around the Chamber are rammed with many of his colleagues who are not wearing face masks, putting us all at risk. I ask him to review that with you, Mr Speaker, and with others in this House.
The housing crisis in York is growing and it seems that the Government’s proposals around planning have run into the long grass. Could we have a debate in Government time to look at housing need and tenure need in order to address the housing crisis that we are seeing in our constituencies?
The hon. Lady raises a matter that is of concern across the country: how we have a planning system that provides the number of houses that we need and ensures that the right number of permissions are granted every year to achieve the targets and to allow people to own their own home, which is the fundamental aim of planning reform. It was announced in the Queen’s Speech that there would be a planning Bill, and it is the intention of Her Majesty’s Government to deliver a planning Bill.
Finally, the voice of Bradford: Judith Cummins.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the Leader of the House and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Maggie Throup, who is in her place, will be interested to know that 30 million NHS dental appointments have been lost since the start of the pandemic. Access to urgent treatment is delayed and my constituents continue to struggle to find an NHS dentist. Can we have a debate in Government time on funding and access to NHS dentistry?
The hon. Lady will know that there is a very considerable catch-up plan for the NHS, including £5.4 billion over the next six months, but at the height of the pandemic, the very immediate contact that patients have with a dentist was thought to be a particularly high risk. However, I know that dentists are now very much back to work; indeed, I have visited dentists in my constituency who are extremely busy working through the backlog. We should be grateful to them for the work that they are doing, but the resources are being provided to help with it.