The business for the week commencing
At the conclusion of business on Thursday
By your leave, Mr Speaker, I wish to say a few words of thanks to the former Cabinet Office adviser Gosia McBride, whose secondment to the Government came to an end this week upon her return to the House service to take on the crucial role of the head of the Governance Office and the secretary to the Commission. The period of her secondment has seen some unprecedented challenges and she has worked tirelessly to provide invaluable advice to Ministers, and especially to me, on parliamentary procedure and handling, particularly in response to the covid-19 pandemic, when our procedures had to be adapted.
I am immensely pleased that I will have the opportunity to continue to work with Gosia in her new role on the Commission. She is absolutely brilliant and a source of first-class advice. The House is very lucky to be served by Clerks of such ability and it is truly the case, Mr Speaker, that my loss is very much your gain, but we will both work with her in future and I have a feeling she will keep us both in good order.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business and, of course, join him in giving wholehearted thanks to Gosia McBride, with whom I look forward to working in her new role on the Commission and in the Governance Office.
Will the motion on Tuesday to approve the statutory instruments relating to public health following yesterday’s announcement include any mention of mandatory vaccination for NHS staff, as has been widely rumoured?
Yesterday, the Prime Minister stood right there at the Dispatch Box and said that he was “sickened” by a party that apparently did not happen—it might have been an event—but, if it did happen, definitely did not break any rules. But that is exactly why he—or rather, the Cabinet Secretary—will now hold an inquiry and that is exactly why evidence will be handed over about something that may or may not have existed. I do not think that was what the Government had in mind for crime week.
The Prime Minister does not seem to know about seven events—parties or gatherings—in his own residence, so perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could help me out. In “Debbonaire Towers”, we would know if an event, gathering or party was happening in our place. How big does a place have to be for the Prime Minister not to know about all seven?
Judging by the video I have seen of the right hon. Gentleman’s comments at a dinner earlier this week, it does rather seem that he, too, thinks it has all been a bit of a joke—that after the British people followed the rules and made the sacrifices that have been mentioned this morning by colleagues throughout this place, yes, the Prime Minister’s staff laughed about covering up their Christmas party, but the right hon. Gentleman also seems to think it is funny.
As my hon. Friend Dr Huq mentioned in the urgent question, it does rather look as though the woman staffer has been asked to walk the plank, as my hon. Friend said, while the men around her are just standing back. Will the right hon. Gentleman say why, for instance, he is not apologising for his laughter? Will he tell us—Mr Bone mentioned this—who told the Prime Minister that there was no party? Who exactly was that? It must be known, because we have heard repeatedly from the Dispatch Box, “The Prime Minister was told”—by whom? Will the inquiry now include the cover-up of that information?
Over the course of the past week, just like with the other scandal recently, Ministers were put up to spout lines that they clearly did not believe, until yesterday, when the Health and Social Care Secretary did not even get put up. I know that it must be hard for the Prime Minister to admit that he was not even invited to the party/gathering/event in his own place. Can the Leader of the House please look at the questions that I have just asked? Furthermore, does he also agree that it really is a very bad look indeed for a group of male politicians to let a female staffer take the rap for the mess? She laughed. He laughed. She has apologised and resigned. What will he do?
In November, the Public Accounts Committee published a report into efficiency in Government. It comes as no surprise to me, and I suspect to millions, that the report found that this Government overpromise and underdeliver. Given that the Prime Minister is probably wishing that he had not wasted £2.6 million of taxpayers’ money on a room in No.10 for daily televised press briefings, especially as the only clip that we will ever see now is the one where his now ex-press secretary joked about the party/event, can we have a debate in Government time about efficient and competent Government spending?
On Tuesday, a now former civil servant who had been involved in the organisation of the evacuation of Afghans after the fall of Kabul revealed the chaos in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office at the time. This included the fact that many, many emails—I believe he said thousands of emails—including many sent by Members from across this House, were left completely unread, and even unopened. It must be almost certain that some of those who were left behind have at least suffered and, at best, suffered under the hands of the Taliban, and possibly worse. More than four months later, we still do not have the promised Afghan resettlement scheme. We therefore need to hear from the Foreign Secretary in a statement to this House, to respond to the whistleblower, explain what has happened to the resettlement scheme, and assure us that steps have been taken to ensure that a situation such as the chaos in Kabul this summer could never happen again and that the chaos in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office could never happen again.
Finally, in a new one for Erskine May, yesterday our Opposition day on the Government’s rail betrayal was interrupted for a ministerial statement. The Government have downgraded and derailed the northern powerhouse already, because, in the past seven years, they have re-announced the project or recommitted to a major rail project in the north more than 60 times, and now, like so many train services in the north and elsewhere, it has been cancelled. Our motion passed last night, so can the Leader of the House confirm when the Secretary of State for Transport will update the House in person before the end of the year—he does not have long—on his Department’s cost-benefit ratio analysis for the revised HS2 line? We are talking about overpromising, underdelivering and wasting taxpayers’ money. If it was not clear before, it certainly is now: this Government have lost their grip and it is working people who are paying the price.
First, the motions that will be brought forward on Tuesday will be announced as normal the evening before. That is completely routine with motions coming before this House.
The hon. Lady says with regard to No.10 that something may or may not have existed. That, of course, is the whole point, and that is why an investigation is taking place and why the Cabinet Secretary will be looking into it.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady mentioned crime week, because this has been crime week and the Government are making enormous efforts to tackle violent crime. From 2019 to 2022, in the 18 areas worst affected by serious violence, we will have spent more than £105 million of taxpayers’ money to develop 18 violence reduction units, and more than £136 million to support an enhanced police response. We are recruiting 20,000 more police officers—11,000 of whom we have already recruited—so there will be more police on the streets. We are increasing the number of female police officers and ethnic minority police officers, so the police will represent the community better. The police are getting £15.8 billion of funding, and the Government also announced during crime week a strategic plan to tackle drug abuse. I am delighted that the hon. Lady has given me the chance to talk about what the Government are doing so well and are so committed to doing.
The hon. Lady asked a whole string of questions about what went on in Downing Street. I would like to pay tribute to Allegra Stratton, a very distinguished figure and a very capable journalist, who decided to resign yesterday. That does not undermine, as I heard Mr Sheerman say in the previous session, her great distinction, her contribution to Government and her wider work as a journalist, which was first class. It also does not undermine what she did as somebody one had to deal with, as I did when she was working on The Guardian, for “Newsnight” and with Robert Peston, and she has left with great dignity.
What I was saying at the Institute of Economic Affairs was how nice it was to be free of restrictions so that we can have parties this year. That was what I was being pleased about, as opposed to the comparison with last year. The situation has got better because of what the Government have done, so the hon. Lady complains about Government spending—although she did not have anything very specific to mention in relation to that—but the £400 billion that was spent on saving the economy was absolutely fundamental. It has meant that the economy is recovering and people are beginning to get back to normal.
Yes, I accept that there is some tightening of restrictions, but those restrictions are there to ensure that we do not have to go back to where we were a year ago. We are being proportionate, sensible and cautious. This is surely the right way to go, because we have seen a rapid economic recovery, which we need to protect and for which taxpayers provided £400 billion. In fact, I am pleased that this week our socialist friends are referring to taxpayers’ money, rather than pretending that it is Government money. This is an encouraging, cross-party approach to the proper use of the money of hard-pressed taxpayers.
As regards the railways, now the runaway train has gone down the hill with £96 billion of spending. It is an extraordinary amount—the highest in real terms since our friends the Victorians were building the railways. What the Government are doing with the railway would make Ivor the Engine proud. It is a really important set of spending commitments that will ensure that we have the transport that we need, through the integrated rail plan. I am glad to say that the north is getting six times the amount spent on Crossrail. Crossrail is not happening as fast as it should because of a socialist Mayor, so it is the socialists who let us down on rail and the Conservatives who get the trains to run on time.
After four years, two general election manifestos and a hand-signed pledge by the Prime Minister, where is the legacy Bill? The Northern Ireland Secretary promised this House that we would have it, to help to protect Northern Ireland veterans from endless investigation and reinvestigation, by the summer recess—he broke his word. Then he faithfully promised that the legislation would be introduced into Parliament by
“the end of the autumn”—[Official Report,
We now have the business up to Christmas and there is still no Bill. If the Secretary of State repeatedly breaks his word to the House of Commons, he has no honourable option but to resign. He has let down his party and the people who fought to uphold the law in Northern Ireland. When will Brandon Lewis resign his seals of office?
I apologise to my right hon. Friend for the fact that I have not been able to announce the legacy Bill during my period as Leader of the House, and particularly post the general election, but I remind him that the Government speak with one voice on these matters and we share the responsibility for the Bill not having been brought forward; it is not specific or personal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, because Bills have to be agreed collectively before they can be presented.
This Bill is in equal measure important and complicated. It is right that we should treat former soldiers, who have served this country bravely, fairly and that we should protect them. It is also right that we should not give carte blanche to terrorists. Getting this balance right in the legislation that we bring forward is not simple, so although I regret the fact that this Bill has not come forward to the timetable that was hoped for and anticipated, there is good reason for that, and it is unfair and unreasonable of my right hon. Friend Mr Francois to lay it all at the door of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Can we have a debate about the Prime Minister just simply going? We have reached a sensitive point in this pandemic where the next few weeks will be absolutely critical in the battle with the virus, yet we are led by someone who the public simply do not trust and who they believe is less than truthful. This is someone who no longer has the authority to see down the maskless, right-wing libertarians in his own party and their dangerous, do-nothing, let-covid-flourish nonsense: a Prime Minister who has just been fined £17,800 regarding the refurbishment of his flat; a Prime Minister with the attitude, “Do as I say, not as I do.” It cannot go on—and the thing is that Conservative Members know it.
There are rumours, Mr Speaker—you have probably heard them—that the Leader of the House is going to have the House rise on Tuesday so that the embarrassing indignity of PMQs is not repeated once again and the Prime Minister can sidestep all of them at the 1922 committee. Will he take this opportunity today to say that this House will run until Thursday next week?
The shadow Leader of the House is absolutely right: it was not just Allegra Stratton who made light of the party that never was. The Leader of the House could not help himself at the Institute of Economic Affairs about the police investigations and with his oh-so-funny, rib-tickling rubbish about imperial measures—his favourite subject. So here is another chance for him—it is not just the women who have to apologise or resign—to apologise to this House for the insensitive remarks that he made the other day.
Yesterday the Prime Minister said that
“you should work from home if you can.”
Well, this House has shown that it can, with virtual participation and proxy voting. After the loss of public trust, we now have an opportunity to lead by example and do exactly what the Prime Minister says, so will the Leader of the House take the Prime Minister’s call seriously? For the sake of the people who work here and the people we serve, will he now turn the virtual Parliament back on?
Once again the hon. Gentleman is furious. It is very hard to tell, because his fury is so perpetual, whether there are any degrees of fury that come forth from him. He said there should be a debate on the Prime Minister. SNP Members had one only just over a week ago; they lost. They do not like losing. They keep on losing. They lost the referendum; they do not like that either. They lose again and again and they come back to the same old subjects.
The hon. Gentleman criticises me for making a joke about imperial measures. I know he has no sense of humour, at least professionally—he may do in private—as it is part of his image, but while making a joke about imperial measures may not be very funny or win any awards for humour, it seems to me to be an eccentric thing to be concerned about.
The hon. Gentleman complained about the Electoral Commission’s report. I seem to remember that there is some very large amount of money missing from the SNP, so perhaps we could have a debate—perhaps I should arrange one in Government time—about the missing money of the SNP, or perhaps he would like to own up about it now. Perhaps we should give him another go later on so that he can say, “Is it half a million pounds that has gone missing from the SNP—I wonder where it’s gone.” Is it missing down the sofa, or has Mona Lott stashed it away somewhere? Who knows, but wouldn’t it be fun to find out?
Then the hon. Gentleman wants to go away again. He never likes being here. He always wants recesses except when we announce them. He now seems to be asking me to give an early recess for some strange reason, when I have just announced the business for Monday to Thursday of next week—but business is announced as it is announced. Of course we should be here working. What the Government have said in their guidelines is that people should not go into work if they do not need to. Parliament does not work properly with people absent. It is very disappointing that the Opposition are so lily-livered about holding the Government to account that they want to go back home early. That is not how democracy should work.
Being here holding the Government to account and asking the difficult questions is just as important as people being in their offices who are delivering Government services. We know from our constituents that services have not been as well delivered when people have been working from home. I know, absolutely, that the House authorities will ensure that people who do not need to be here to deliver services will be able to work from home, and that is quite right, but democratic accountability requires MPs in this Chamber, and that is the policy of Her Majesty’s Government.
Overnight I have been contacted by many businesses in my constituency that are deeply concerned about how the sudden switch to working from home will affect both productivity and the local economy as a whole. Therefore, may I ask for an urgent Government debate on what impact these additional restrictions will have on local businesses and our economy, what support will be provided to businesses following yesterday’s announcement, and how we can make sure that there is a road map in place to ensure that people return to their workplaces as soon as possible?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There will be a debate on Tuesday on the new regulations, and that will be an opportunity to raise these matters, but I say to my hon. Friend that people are asked to work from home if they can, and it is a judgment for people to make as to whether they can work from home effectively. It is not law, it is guidance, and therefore I encourage people to make decisions for themselves.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for our meeting yesterday. Subsequent to that meeting, I can inform him that an application for a debate on Holocaust Memorial Day is anticipated, so time for that at the end of January would be greatly appreciated.
On imperial measures, I still remember, sadly, that an acre is a chain by a furlong, so we have to remember these things, because they are vitally important. Our constituents often still work in imperial measures, and the conversion into metric can be difficult for some.
Union Electric Steel, a company locally known as Davy Roll in my constituency, produces forged and cast roll products that are exported around the world. It employs more than 200 people in highly skilled jobs, but its running costs have a high energy factor. The company has seen its energy costs quadruple and, at times, sextuple during the past 12 months, but no Government help appears to be available to support this important business. Can we therefore have a statement on what the Government will do to support energy-intensive industries such as Union Electric Steel through the current energy cost crisis?
I am grateful for the early notice on Holocaust Memorial Day, which is a very important date. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, an acre is a chain by a furlong—22 yards by 220 yards. Where do we find a chain on a cricket field? Between the two wickets, although I am not sure they have been finding that as successfully as we might have liked in Brisbane. I very much note his point on energy costs for highly energy-intensive businesses and for the company in his constituency that produces cast roll products and employs 200 people. It is obviously really important that industry is able to cope with these energy costs, and we have a very good energy strategy. Current spikes in cost are difficult for business, and I will pass on his comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
I hope everyone would agree with the Leader of the House that it is absolutely right that this House works by being here and hearing the information, not by having television screens reporting all the information. Why, then, do the Government insist on having TV press conferences to announce new policies? It is, as the Leader of the House says, this House that debates the things. I really hope—this is a genuine request—for a statement next week on ministerial statements. When he announces the day for that, can he tell me that the hour before that a press conference will be given to explain what will be in that statement?
I seem to remember that Jim Hacker was initially the Minister for Administrative Affairs, and having a statement on a statement does sound like it was invented by Sir Humphrey Appleby for the amusement and entertainment of the nation, rather than for the elucidation of facts and information.
It is important that the country at large understands the changes that are being made. It was thanks to your good offices, Mr Speaker, and the co-operation of the Opposition that a statement was made interrupting the Opposition day. A motion was moved without notice, which is a highly unusual procedure, to ensure that protected time for the Opposition day was not eaten into. That ensured that the courtesies to the House and the constitutional proprieties to the House were observed, but there was also the opportunity to inform the nation at large. It is inevitably a balance, but yesterday—thanks particularly to you, Mr Speaker—we got it right.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister referenced the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme and said it is very important that we get the eligibility details right and that an announcement will be coming from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office “in due course”. Given that the scheme was announced in September, and there has been no further progress, will the Leader of the House make time available for an urgent debate on this matter to ensure that vulnerable religious or belief communities remain a priority in the scheme?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the subject of religious minorities, whose safe passage it is essential to ensure. The Home Office is working quickly to establish the details of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme which, in its first year, will welcome to the UK up to 5,000 vulnerable Afghans who have been forced to flee the country, with up to a total of 20,000 over a five-year period. We are working with various partners, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to design and open the scheme amid a complex and changing picture. Further details will be announced in due course by the Home Office, but in the meantime, I will pass on his concern to the Home Secretary.
I am not sure if my right hon. Friend is aware, but Harrogate Town association football club recently beat Portsmouth in the FA cup, which means that they have qualified for the third round for the first time in their history. That is a fantastic achievement for a club that has been built from the ground up and that became a professional team only in 2017. Can we have a debate to look at that ground-up approach to see what more can be done to encourage younger people in particular to play the game and how talent can be identified early, nurtured and developed through to local and national teams?
The FA cup, which, as right hon. and hon. Members will recall, was won in 1878-9 by the Old Etonians when they defeated the Clapham Rovers 1-0, is a football competition that people take enormous interest in. I congratulate Harrogate Town on their great achievement and wish them success in the third round. With a bit a luck, perhaps they will go to Wembley—let us see if they can do what the Old Etonians did all those years ago.
There is a huge benefit to early participation and the Government work with football authorities to encourage grassroots participation. I hope that we are seeing the fruits of nurturing great talent in this country, not least through the success of Euro 2020. In terms of a debate, I see that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is still in his place. I am not sure whether he will take that as a formal application, but I am sure that he will take it as an informal one.
The Prime Minister’s former spokesperson resigned after being caught on video laughing and joking about a rule-breaking Downing Street party. This week, the Leader of the House was also caught on video laughing and joking about rule breaking while giving a speech at a lectern. She has resigned and surely he should resign too—or is it another case of Government Ministers believing that there is one rule for them and another for everyone else?
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to come to the Institute of Economic Affairs—it possibly talks too much sense for him to be able to cope with it—but he would be welcome to come to future events to see what goes on and how nice it is, as I was celebrating, that we are back together having parties without restrictions. That is extremely welcome.
The Leader of the House might be aware that the Mayor of New York introduced compulsory vaccination certification this week for all workers—public and private sector—and for all children aged five and over attending any sort of activity, sport or entertainment. Does he agree that that is tantamount to compulsory vaccination? Can he assure the House that the vaccination certification that we are being invited to vote on for large venues will never be extended in that direction?
The United Kingdom operates a system of informed consent for vaccinations. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care say this morning that compulsory vaccination would be “unethical” and “wouldn’t work”. Any employer who proposes to introduce a requirement for staff to be vaccinated will need to consider the existing legal framework, including the law on employment, equalities and data protection.
The Government have committed to, where possible, make time for votes on regulations of national significance that apply to England or the whole of the UK before they come into force. May I make one point about this House? No new restriction can be imposed on Members of Parliament attending Parliament except by primary legislation. We have a right, dating back to 1340, of unmolested access to the Palace, and nothing can or should be done that would restrict that in any way.
Following the UK’s departure from the EU, the Government opted to initiate an independent programme, the Turing scheme, to replace the operation of Erasmus in the UK. The British Council is currently contracted to operate the scheme in its first year. Yesterday, media reports appeared that the firm Capita had been awarded the future contract to administer the scheme in the British Council’s place. No such statement has been made to Parliament as yet, so given that there are no suitable departmental oral questions prior to recess and given the impact that the decision will have on the British Council’s future, will the Leader of the House advise whether a statement will be forthcoming?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady. It is always important that this House is kept informed. I will take this up with the relevant Secretary of State, and ensure that an answer is provided both to the hon. Lady and indeed to the House.
I must say that in my constituency there is a sense of exasperation and exhaustion with the imposition of new covid rules, and a real fear that we are now back on the conveyor belt to more restrictions. Can we have a debate on how we learn to live with covid and its variants in the long term without unacceptable measures such as widespread use of vaccine passports, or the shocking suggestion that members of the public might be forced to get a vaccine? That would be unacceptable, and it is not what we need in this country.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend because I think I share the concerns and frustrations of her constituents. I do not think anybody wanted to be in this position. I think she is right in saying not only that we should learn to live with covid, but that we are in the process of doing so in that through the vaccination programme—88% of people over 12 have been vaccinated—we are getting life back to normal. Some temporary measures have been introduced to try to delay the seeding of the omicron variant, but if variants keep on coming, ultimately we are going to have to return to normal life, and I think that is just the way it is going to be. I think we are beginning to learn to live with covid, and that must be the way policy is going. That is why these temporary measures are both proportionate and go with the consensus among the British public that we have constantly worked with the grain of public opinion in any restrictions that have been imposed, and I think that is the right thing to do.
In York, I am really worried about vulnerable children and children at risk, I am very worried about vulnerable parents, I am very worried about social workers working in children’s services and I am very worried about the level of funding that is going towards those services. I do not want to hear that we have to have another serious case review, and that we have to learn lessons again. We have heard that too many times, so can we have a debate about children within the care system, the risks that are faced and how we can resolve this issue once and for all?
What can I say to the hon. Lady? I think the angels weep over what happened to little Arthur. It is so just mortifyingly sad to see those pictures of that sweet little boy, who was so brutally treated. I share her frustration that we talk about lessons learned, and I have got in my notes today that I am meant to say lessons will be learned, but that is what we always say, and it is not good enough. We need to protect little children.
Are there easy solutions? No. Are there problems that we can identify? Were there issues with covid that meant people were not going out to work? Why do hon. Members think I keep on saying in this House that there are jobs people need to do face to face? People have to get out and do some of these jobs. The limitations are on people who can work from home, and we should not turn that into being on people whose jobs are essentially done out of the home.
There are so many things that need to be put right, and the spirit is certainly willing, but can I promise the hon. Lady that tragedies will not happen again? No, of course I cannot. However, as I say about the sadness over Arthur, I found it almost impossible to read the news stories because I was thinking of the children I know and my own children, and how could somebody behave like that? I sympathise with what the hon. Lady says.
Highway maintenance is one of the top priorities for residents, particularly those in rural constituencies just like mine. Given that Lincolnshire has over 5,000 miles of road to maintain, can we have a debate on the national allocation of the road maintenance grant so that counties such as mine receive the fair share that they deserve?
Yes, I would probably want the fair share for Somerset before it goes to Lincolnshire, but I very much sympathise with what my hon. Friend is saying. Roads are absolutely essential to the lives of our constituents, and the percentage of journeys by road is much higher than any other form of transport by mileage covered within the United Kingdom. The spending review 2021 announced £2.7 billion over the next three years for local roads maintenance in places not yet receiving city region settlements. That is enough money to fill in millions of potholes a year, repair dozens of bridges and resurface roads up and down the country. The three-year settlement should help local authorities plan effectively to manage their highway assets and tackle potholes and other road defects across their local road networks. Individual authority funding for local roads maintenance is allocated using a formula based on the local highway assets for which each highway authority is responsible. Lincolnshire County Council received more than £89 million for highway maintenance in 2021-22, but I understand that my hon. Friend is taking this further and having a meeting with my noble Friend Baroness Vere next week to discuss the issue.
The Leader of the House is right: we did have a debate just nine days ago on the integrity of the Prime Minister. But in the very short time since that debate we have had the scandal over the Downing Street parties—plural; pick a number between one and seven—and this morning we hear that the Prime Minister told the adviser on ministers’ interests in May that he did not know who paid for his flat refurbishment in February this year yet we have learned that he WhatsApped Lord Brownlow in 2020 asking for more cash. So may we have a debate in Government time on the importance of integrity in public office?
The Scottish National party had its debate nine days ago. The SNP does not like the Prime Minister; that is the state of affairs. Nothing I say from this Dispatch Box will change that. I am not a hypnotist; I will not be able to convert their minds. However brilliant my oratory may or may not be, I will not be able to persuade them, because I am like whoever it was who tried to charm the deaf adder; the deaf adder stoppethed up its ears, and the SNP seem to have their ears very stoppethed up, Mr Speaker.
On Monday, India and Bangladesh celebrated the first Friendship Day and next week Bangladesh will celebrate Victory Day when it finally gained independence from Pakistan. The then Prime Minister of Bangladesh was welcomed to Downing Street by Prime Minister Ted Heath; the UK was one of the first countries to recognise Bangladesh. So may we have a debate in Government time on relationships between the UK and Bangladesh and how we can further them still more?
The UK and Bangladesh share a close relationship based on strong historical and people-to-people links. We continue to work closely together on our shared interests, including security, development, climate, trade and the Rohingya crisis, and throughout the year we have celebrated Bangladesh’s 50th anniversary. It is worth noting that most of these independence anniversaries are about independence from us, so it is nice to celebrate one that is about independence not from us but from someone else, and we look forward to commemorating Bangladesh’s 50th Victory Day on
As you know, Mr Speaker, I have been in this House for 41 years and I agree with you and the Leader of the House that at its heart what makes this place work is that when there is a ministerial statement it takes place in this Chamber. May we also have an early debate on the value of working across parties with all-party groups? That is how I have succeeded on many issues, introducing seatbelt legislation and much else. Working in all-party groups is at the heart of this place yet certain people in this House are murmuring against all-party working. It is important—it civilises this place and is effective—so may we have a debate on the importance of cross-party working?
May I begin by saying that I have read press reports that the hon. Gentleman is thinking of standing down at the next election. May I say how sorry I am to hear that? He has served this House with enormous distinction. I think he told me once that he first stood to be the MP for Taunton so he could almost have been a near-neighbour of mine, which would have been a different state of affairs and different for the people of Huddersfield. But 41 years of public service is a remarkable achievement and one really worth celebrating regardless of our political differences, which leads on to the hon. Gentleman’s point about cross-party working. Of course I am not going to promise him a debate—he knows that—but cross-party working is invaluable, and I do try in this Session, as I hope hon. and right hon. Members have noticed, to do whatever I can to help people particularly with individual constituency issues, because I think we do all have one objective in this House, which is to improve the lives of our individual constituents.
I met the most inspirational constituent recently. Bryony Thomas has fought off devastating pancreatic cancer and speaks movingly about the impact on her life, her weight loss, her family and her energy levels. Bryony is campaigning for increased use of pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy and to help others by raising awareness of this cancer, which she found is one of the least understood but most deadly common cancers. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising Bryony and other campaigners, and consider granting a debate in Government time so that we can consider the merits of PERT treatment?
May I begin by praising Bryony for campaigning in this way, which must be extraordinarily difficult? I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this matter. I know from my own experience that one of the things one can do as a Back-Bench MP is campaign on such issues with cross-party support very successfully. Do not give up—that is my key piece of advice. Ask me questions, ask for Adjournment debates, ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and ask at Prime Minister’s questions.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence clinical guideline on diagnosis and management of pancreatic cancer in adults recommends offering enteric coated pancreatin for people with unresectable pancreatic cancer and to consider this treatment. NICE publishes a quarterly standard on the diagnosis and management of pancreatic cancer, including PERT, but sometimes the availability of drugs and the decision making of NICE is encouraged and enhanced by campaigning in and through this House.
There is a plethora of websites run by private companies masquerading as UK Government websites, offering assistance with things such as renewing driving licences and passports. They invite people to call high-premium phone numbers and hold them on the line for long periods or ask them to pay very high charges for very little assistance. These websites stay on just the right side of the law by having very small and very easy to miss disclaimers that they are not official Government websites. Will the Leader of the House make a statement about what action he can take against profiteering by sites masquerading as Government websites to con people out of their hard-earned cash?
Once again, I thank the hon. Lady for raising a point that I think will concern many people across the House. Even when we know that these sites exist, when we are looking for a Government service it is quite easy to find the first one or two that are enormously expensive and have charges that the Government websites do not begin to have. It is easy even for people who are alert to these things and aware of them to be caught. She raises a really important point. Joint Committee scrutiny of the online harms Bill is just about drawing to an end and that Bill will come forward, so this issue will be discussed, but I will pass on her concerns immediately to the Secretary of State.
In Blaenau Gwent and across the country, illegal off-road biking continues to be a scourge on our towns and countryside, intimidating local people and tearing up our environment. It must be stopped. In my area, Gwent police is doing good work on it, but given that this is crime week, can we have a statement outlining the Government’s plans to act on illegal off-roading?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about something that I think affects many of us in rural constituencies; I have certainly had complaints about it in North East Somerset. It is threatening, it is unpleasant and it can be extraordinarily noisy. I am delighted to hear that Gwent police is acting effectively, but I will of course pass on his concerns to the Secretary of State.
Barnsley clinical commissioning group recently stated that there is currently a huge gap between the unprecedented demand for GP services and the available capacity in GP practices, both in Barnsley and nationally. Can we have an urgent debate in Government time about the fact that far too many people cannot get a GP appointment?
In my own constituency last week I went to see St Chads surgery, which is suffering in exactly that way. Demand is exceptionally high. This seems to be partly because of normal seasonal factors, partly because of covid and in particular among children, and partly because people were not necessarily going earlier on in the pandemic. This is an issue that CCGs across the country are working on. Practices are doing their best to meet and manage demand, which is obviously important, but the hon. Lady raises a point which I think is well known but none the less is extremely important. I will raise her point with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
Attached to the Government spending review is, of course, the big Red Book, which highlights that Scotland’s North sea oil and gas sector will contribute some £2 billion to the UK Treasury in the coming year, on top of the £375 billion that has already been taken in. Does the Leader of the House not agree that we should have a debate in this House on the merits of ring-fencing that additional £2 billion to deliver two things: the Acorn carbon capture underground storage project in the north-east of Scotland; and match funding for the Scottish Government’s £500 million Just Transition Fund to protect my constituents’ livelihoods going forward?
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is in favour of more North sea oil development, which is not, as I understand it, the line of the leader of the Scottish National party in Scotland. He seems to want to have his cake without baking it, rather than to have his cake and eat it. I would point out that £2 billion, though an important amount of money, pales into insignificance compared to the £6.5 billion that is coming from UK taxpayers to support Scotland as extra money under the Barnett formula. There was £1.7 billion that went through the self-employed scheme and 910,000 jobs saved through the furlough scheme. So, £2 billion is not an amount to be sniffed at, but they get a lot more than that.
It will be two weeks tomorrow since Storm Arwen hit my constituency, causing many to lose their power supply. I want to thank all the people in the community who helped, including the Chopwell community centre, the Winlaton community centre, the Blaydon youth and community centre, and especially the Riverview Bakery in Blackhall Mill, which catered for residential homes that were without power. Can we have a debate in Government time, please, about the impact of Storm Arwen and how we got to the position of having so many failures for a 10-day period?
May I join the hon. Lady is paying tribute to those who helped, particularly the Riverview Bakery? The mere thought of the cakes they may provide is making me hungry. The point she raises is very serious. As it happens, one of my oldest friends was caught by this storm and had no power for over 10 days —he was made my oldest and coldest friend, I think, during that period. Electricity companies have a very serious responsibility to get power back to people who have been affected. That is what electricity charges are paid for: to ensure there is a robust system of repair when things go wrong. Everyone knows that from time to time storms come in and cause damage to power lines. The service that was provided was simply not good enough. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has made a statement and there was an urgent question.
The Leader of the House will know that on a number of occasions I have asked him questions on transparency. Today, I want to ask him from a slightly different angle. I recognise that local government is devolved, but we have a situation in Midlothian where the Labour-led Midlothian Council has overturned years of community consultation over the siting of a new Beeslack High School—my old high school, as it happens. In June, a document was made public and taken down within minutes. At three subsequent meetings, private reports have been taken and no indication has been given to any public member about the site of the new school. May we have a debate in Government time on the importance of transparency at all levels of government?
I find myself in considerable agreement with the hon. Gentleman. Local councils must be transparent about what they are doing. Transparency is beneficial for government most of the time. Obviously, we cannot give away the nuclear codes, but beyond that the more people know and the more people understand, the more we get better government. Also, the more people know, the more willing they are to support things. Midlothian Council may have found the best site possible and it may be supported by everybody, but if it is not willing to tell people, it will never know that. On the other hand, it may have made an awful blunder.
From the head movements of the hon. Gentleman, I think that that is what he thinks. I do not know how Hansard reports head movements, but there was a distinct head movement to a bungling by the council. But, yes, of course: the council should reveal all the information it is required to reveal under freedom of information requests and otherwise by law.
I was very pleased that the Leader of the House announced the business for the whole of next week, until Thursday, because the election of the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee is due to take place on Wednesday and I hope I might be a candidate.
Can we have a debate on the issue of county lines? Last Friday, I spent time at Hull interchange with officers from British Transport Police who were carrying out a county lines operation. They were a superb group of officers, assisted by Railway Children, a charity that works to get alongside and support young people who, sadly, have got involved with county lines. I wonder whether we, as a House of Commons, need a debate about what additional resources British Transport police, home police forces and local authorities need to deal with the scourge of county lines.
That was a very subtle campaign moment from the right hon. Lady, but under the circumstances, it was entirely permissible and orderly. She is absolutely right about the scourge of county lines. It is a very serious problem, which the police have been tackling very effectively in the past couple of years. They have managed to break up quite a lot of county lines and, crucially, rescue children. I understand that some of the children involved in county lines are as young as five—certainly as young as seven—so this a serious concern. The police are involved and it is being tackled; people are being arrested and charged with drug offences, and it is part of the drugs strategy that was announced this week. I cannot promise her a specific debate, but the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, Ian Mearns, is in his place.
Very sadly, antisocial behaviour continues to blight parts of Denton and Reddish. It needs firm action, so can we have a statement on whether the powers and resources available to local authorities such as Stockport and Tameside, and to Greater Manchester police, are adequate to tackle the tearaways?
This issue is fundamental—I am sorry to hear of the antisocial behaviour in Denton and Reddish—because the police and local authorities have powers, but we all know that low-level antisocial behaviour can lead to more serious crime. I am beginning to sound a bit like a broken record on the 11,000 extra police, but I must mention that, because having police who are available and present is a very good way of stopping antisocial crime. Dealing with drugs and county lines—this goes to the question asked by Dame Diana Johnson—also reduces antisocial behaviour, because of the enormous quantity of crime that is drug-related, and particularly the theft that is responsible for the purchase of drugs. I believe that half of murders in this country are drug-related, so antisocial behaviour, drug crime and more serious crime are all interrelated. He is absolutely right to raise this matter in relation to crime week and I am sure that the House will discuss it on many occasions.
Today marks United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day—a day designed to highlight the negative impact of corruption on society—and from the flat refurbishment to the Owen Paterson scandal to cash for honours, I simply do not have time to list all the allegations of corruption against this Government. However, in the light of their actions that are dishonest and embody corruption, will the Leader of the House make room for a debate in Government time on corruption?
Today is also the feast day of St Æthelgifu, who is the daughter of Alfred the Great and who became an abbess; I am more tempted to offer a debate to celebrate the virtues of one of England’s leading saints. This country should be incredibly proud of its reputation on corruption. We have the toughest anti-corruption laws on what goes on not just in our country, but in our companies trading abroad. We try to ensure that British companies obey the highest standards globally. We should be really proud of that and not talk down the nation. In league tables, we always come very near the top, because we have a good political system, proper representation in this House and a free press. All that ensures that we have a country that we can be proud of.
We are only days away from the two-year anniversary of the Second Reading of the Bill that became the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. At that time, huge promises were made—£350 million a week would be given back to the NHS, and there would be huge trading opportunity and a decrease in the cost of living—but was it all worth it? Can we have a debate in Government time on the impact of Brexit and a report from the Government that would show the impact of Brexit, region by region, and what that has meant for us all? For good or ill, the country needs to know.
We can start Prayers every morning—I may propose this as a formal resolution of the House—with a celebration of Brexit. We should have the Brexit prayer and perhaps even the Brexit song, beginning, “Gloria in excelsis Deo”, because it has been a triumph for this nation in reasserting its freedom. The NHS already had the £350 million that was on the side of the bus. That was delivered by my right hon. Friend Mrs May in 2018, with an extra £34 billion uplift for the NHS by 2023-24. Just think of the vaccines that we have and the success of the vaccine roll-out programme. I believe that I mentioned earlier in the year the happy fish that we have, so there is general celebrating and rejoicing that we are now a free country once again.
Across Bath and North East Somerset, 6,000 households are on the social housing waiting list. Our council, which the Leader of the House and I share, is delivering the first new social homes for rent in a generation and we should congratulate it on that. However, the Government are making it incredibly difficult for councils to build new social homes for rent, certainly in the numbers that we need, so can we have a full debate on the dire need to build more social homes for rent and hear what the Government are saying about actually delivering them?
I am beginning to think that the hon. Lady has access to my diary, because last week she raised a question relating to the Royal United Hospital, with whom I had a meeting the following day in which I raised some of the points that she made, and tomorrow, I am having a meeting with the chief executive of Curo, which is a social housing company that does a really good job. I have found in my dealings with Curo that it is consistently receptive to issues that their tenants face and quick in response, so I can discuss some of the points that she raised today.
In addition, the Government are committed to increasing house building. The sheer volume of house building is what ensures that there are houses for everybody. Whether it is social or affordable housing—however it is defined—we need to build more, which is why it was announced in the Queen’s Speech that there would be a planning Bill. However, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for helping me with my diary management.
I reinforce the call from my good and hon. Friend Liz Twist in requesting a debate on Storm Arwen, and particularly the need for an independent public inquiry. At no point have the local authority or Ministers shown any self-awareness of their failings over the lack of leadership and delays in getting welfare support to residents affected by the loss of power, some for 10 days. There seems to have been a collective effort by Conservative politicians at both local and national levels to push all the blame on to Northern Powergrid in the storm’s immediate aftermath. I believe that there are some similarities with the failure to accept responsibility for the No. 10 Christmas party debacle.
It is quite a leap of imagination to go from a party to power lines being blown down in a storm. The responsibility for power lines inevitably lies with power companies. The hon. Gentleman may never have been the greatest proponent of privatisation, but private companies have a responsibility to deliver service to their customers. The message that we had from his hon. Friend Liz Twist was that, actually, society at large had rallied round. That should always be welcomed and viewed positively. The Government do not do everything; society has its place, as does private business.
My constituent Jan Ahmadzai, a British national, was in Afghanistan visiting his wife and five children when Kabul fell. He was due to be evacuated, but unfortunately he was close to Kabul airport when the suicide bombing took place. He has since managed to flee with his family to Pakistan, but the only information that we can get from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is that he should report to the Afghan embassy in Islamabad. Can we have an urgent debate in Government time to raise such issues on behalf of constituents such as Mr Ahmadzai and his family?
Obviously the evacuation from Kabul was incredibly difficult. Operation Pitting was a remarkable achievement; I went to Brize Norton to see some of the people who had been involved, and some of them then came to the House of Commons. Their work was really very remarkable, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
Rather than offering the hon. Lady a debate, I think it is more useful if I say that if she sends me the details, my office will be more than happy to take up the case of Mr Ahmadzai and see whether we can help in getting answers from the FCDO—in the hope that they are not all on leave.
I was delighted to hear the Leader of the House’s words in favour of transparency, so I look forward to his support for a debate in Government time on unincorporated associations and on closing key vulnerabilities identified by the Electoral Commission in how those associations receive donations. The frankly scandalous situation whereby their donors are not required to be “permissible” donors means that those associations can receive moneys from overseas sources entirely legitimately and then donate to political parties and candidates with perfunctory checks, if any.
Unincorporated associations are a fundamental part of how this country operates. Lots of football clubs, cricket clubs and so on are unincorporated associations—they have a very proper place in society. However, I point the hon. Lady to the Elections Bill, which I think is now in the other place, having been dealt with by this House. There will be opportunities, should their lordships make any amendments, for us to consider it further.
Can we please have a debate in Government time on the enforcement of the ministerial code? The Electoral Commission’s report today on donations for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat states that the Prime Minister was WhatsApping Lord Brownlow asking for money in November 2020, but it would appear that the Prime Minister also told Lord Geidt, the independent adviser, that he had become aware of the funding source only in February 2021. It remains to be seen whether in those circumstances Lord Geidt will feel able to continue in the role of independent adviser, but whoever does that job will have to do it with every assiduousness—shall we say—and exhibit perhaps a greater degree of curiosity and perhaps a little less trust than has been the case to date.
I fundamentally dispute that—I think that the right hon. Gentleman has the wrong end of the stick. The Government have a mandate from the British people by virtue of having won an election. The Prime Minister is Prime Minister because of that simple fact. The ministerial code is a code in the Prime Minister’s name. It is followed carefully and the Prime Minister is responsible for it.
My constituent, who is on maternity leave caring for her baby and her disabled daughter, has just had this month’s universal credit cancelled because her partner was paid a day early and it was counted as double pay. That means that, as well as earnings deduction, they are losing the mother’s carer and child disability elements. Will the Leader of the House instruct the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make sure that the family get the money they are due, urgently and certainly before Christmas?
I am aware of the problem that occurs when people receive two payments within a month; it has caused problems for constituents of mine in the past. If the hon. Gentleman gives my office the full details, I will make sure that they are sent to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions as a matter of urgency. I am not brave enough to instruct the Secretary of State.
Today, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has published the names of 208 employers in the UK that failed to pay their staff the national minimum wage. I was very pleased to see that none sits within my constituency’s local authority this year. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on the effectiveness of naming and shaming, and on how smaller or newer businesses can avoid common accounting pitfalls that can lead to it?
I think that naming and shaming is effective, particularly as I think—although I have only seen brief press reports—that the list includes some very large companies that have not been paying the national living wage, which will go up to £9.50 next year. It is a legal requirement; companies must obey the law. Once companies are named and appear on these lists, I hope that the relevant authorities will scan the list and see who they ought to focus on investigating, because it is a serious matter.