The business for next week is as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
Monday 24—Opposition day (9th allotted day—2nd part). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party, subject to be announced, followed by remaining stages of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords].
Mr Speaker, may I conclude this announcement by paying tribute to Jack Dromey because it is the first opportunity for me to do so and to pass my sympathy to Ms Harman? It is such a tragedy for her. It is a loss to the House, a loss to the Labour party and the Labour movement, but also a loss to politics more generally. We mourn with the Mother of the House and her family.
First, I thank the Leader of the House for his tribute to our friend Jack Dromey. I find it hard to talk about, so I will wait until the tributes, but I join him in sending our love, support and sympathy to the Mother of the House. The loss of Jack will be felt so keenly by so many and it is a real tribute to him that so many people have said so and so obviously fulsomely.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I was listening intently to him. He will have noticed that I was gazing, waiting for the words to drop from his mouth. Given the publication of the Standards report into the conduct of Daniel Kawczynski, I should not have to ask, but in the light of recent actions on a previous case, will he please confirm when the Standards motion will be laid, and whether the Government will mount the same level of defence as they did for the former constituency neighbour of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, Owen Paterson?
Last week, the Leader of the House revealed his socialist tendencies in calling for the scrapping of the national insurance rise. Last night, in the media, he revealed his Scottish National tendencies. [Interruption.] Didn’t he just? Indeed, I do not think that Scottish National party Members are as rude as he about his Scottish colleague. Is it now Government policy to attack their own party? Does the right hon. Gentleman think it is appropriate to dismiss the leader of the Scottish Conservatives as a “lightweight”? In the light of all that, could we have a statement on where the Government see the future of the Union?
First, the Prime Minister said no rules were broken. Then he said that he did not know about any parties, then that he needed to wait for the internal investigation, and now he has admitted that he was at one of them, but he did not know it was a party. The Prime Minister was the one setting the rules. Are we really expected to believe that he did not understand them? As my hon. Friend Chris Bryant said—and goodness me, I wish I had thought of it—what a
“shower of shenanigans”—[Official Report, Wednesday
Can the Leader of the House direct us to the part of the coronavirus legislation where there is an exemption for the Prime Minister and those in No. 10 to break the rules and hold a boozy gathering just so that they can enjoy the nice weather? Does he really think that the Prime Minister cannot tell the difference between a party and a work meeting? And while I am at it, may I ask the Leader of the House whether he knows the difference? It is completely unsurprising that the public—the public—have concluded that the Prime Minister is lying to them and that he is laughing at them while he does. [Interruption.] It was the public—I did refer very carefully to the public and I did not make any accusations myself.
Throughout some of the most difficult months of this pandemic, all my constituents, and I am sure all the Leader of the House’s constituents, were following the rules that the Prime Minister set. On that day—when hundreds of people died from covid, it was illegal to meet any more than one person and that was allowed in an outside setting only—a bring-your-own-booze party was held at No. 10. I know that the Leader of the House has previously dismissed this as “brouhaha” and that the Prime Minister only attended the party for 25 minutes—I think that is what he said last night—but to all those who were unable to say goodbye to dying loved ones, unable to comfort family and friends, 25 minutes would have meant the world. But they, unlike the Prime Minister, followed the rules because they believed they were the right thing to do. How does the Leader of the House defend any of this as acceptable behaviour?
As if that is not enough, the Tories have been busy wasting even more taxpayers’ money this week. While our hard-working NHS staff were going without personal protective equipment, the Government were busy lining their mates’ pockets with PPE contracts. They are still covering up key documents and critical messages. Minutes have gone missing. A judge has ruled that the Government’s so-called VIP lane for handing out crony contracts was unlawful. So will the Leader of the House commit to a fully independent investigation to get to the bottom of how £3.5 billion of taxpayers’ hard-earned money was handed out in crony contracts and ensure that the Government cannot do this again?
When they are not wasting taxpayers’ money, the Government are voting against helping people with their bills. Working families feeling the pinch with rising prices deserve security, prosperity and respect, but this Government are not delivering that. I know the Leader of the House will say that there is a global gas price crisis, but I am sorry—it is 10 years of Conservative failed energy policy that has left us and our constituents uniquely exposed. The Conservatives’ dither, delay and incompetence have created an energy price crisis felt by everyone.
On Tuesday, the Government could have fixed this by backing Labour’s plan. Will the Leader of the House please explain why the Government refused to back the windfall tax that would have helped to support families and keep bills low, because if it was not clear then, it certainly is now—this is a Government who have lost their grip and working people are paying the price?
As regards the Standards report into my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski, I had a discussion this morning with the Chairman of the Standards Committee, and the Government, as is normal, look forward to bringing forward the motion as soon as possible. The business statement for next week was prepared before we had received a copy of the inquiry, but that will be brought forward swiftly.
The hon. Lady went on to the Opposition day that was held earlier this week. The problem with that Opposition day was not the main subject that it tried to get to, but the process it was using, where the Opposition decided that they would take over the Government and suspend
Then we come on to the issue of PPE, which has been raised before, and it is worth giving exactly the same answer: we needed PPE urgently. The normal procedure for procurement takes three to six months. We needed it immediately—there was not the ability to hang around. Interestingly, the judgment that came forth yesterday said that the contracts would have been awarded in the same way anyway and they were awarded not by Ministers, but by civil servants. Exactly what happened with the vaccine success was what was done with PPE. It was essential to ensure that the national health service had what it needed.
The hon. Lady challenged me about my hon. Friend Douglas Ross. My hon. Friend has an office within the Conservative party and it seems to me that people who hold office ought to support the leader of the party. That is the honourable and proper thing to do. But the United Kingdom is something that we can celebrate and debate in this Chamber daily. It is the foundation—the cornerstone—of the success of the nation as a whole. We are very fortunate to have the United Kingdom that we have and we are particularly fortunate to have the Scotland Secretary that we have, who is such a formidable figure in Scottish politics and offers the strongest, firmest and clearest leadership.
Let us come to the most important issue that the hon. Lady raised, which relates to events in Downing Street on
I was going to ask the Leader of the House about my private Member’s Bill tomorrow on abolishing the licence fee and the support I seemed to get from the Prime Minister for it. Unfortunately, however, this morning, my office was yet again vandalised. It is not fair on my staff in Wellingborough and it is not fair for other Members who have suffered similarly. So my question to him now is: may we have a debate next week on the security of Members in this House and the importance of that to our democratic process?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I am very concerned, as I know you will be, Mr Speaker, about the issue that he raised on the security of his office and the risk taken by his staff. I can reassure him that the review of MPs’ security with the Home Office and the Metropolitan police is going ahead well, that an updated letter went to you, Mr Speaker, and the Home Secretary at the end of December, and that you have both approved work to continue. It is so important for the sake of democracy that Members are safe in their offices and I am sure that the police will take this attack extremely seriously. It is difficult for me to promise a debate because we do not debate security matters publicly, for very obvious reasons in relation to security itself.
May I just reaffirm that all Members’ security and safety is taken very seriously? I have quickly made a note of what the Member has just said, but I would not expect a debate on Members’ security on the Floor of the House because, as the Leader of the House said, it is something that we do not discuss.
I suppose the only statement we want in the next few days is one confirming that the Prime Minister has written to Her Majesty the Queen to offer his resignation. The absurd and laughable defence that he did not know he was at a party has insulted and offended a nation, who now just want him gone. For the Leader of the House to stand there and say that somehow the rules were wrong just compounds this.
There are three options available to the Prime Minister: first, he somehow manages to find some self-respect and dignity, and goes of his own volition; secondly, Conservative Members somehow find a collective backbone and compel him to go; or, thirdly, we all wait until an election, and a good proportion of them will go down with him. That is what they are left with.
Now, of course, the Scottish Tories know exactly how the rest of Scotland feels after the Leader of the House poured his scorn and contempt upon them last night. According to him, the democratically elected Scottish Tory leader is an insignificant figure—a “lightweight”, a nobody—presumably just like every single Tory MSP who agrees with their Scottish leader. The Scottish Tories are supposed to be the praetorian guard of their precious Union, and the Leader of the House has just undermined them and thrown them under the proverbial bus. If this is how the Government treat even the Scottish Tories, why should the Scottish people even entertain being any part of their useless Union?
Does the Leader of the House want to take this opportunity now to apologise to Douglas Ross for his remarks last night, or is he prepared to make them once again in this House just to confirm what we in Scotland all know, which is that this is a Government who could not care less about Scotland and Scottish democracy?
The problem with the hon. Gentleman’s approach to business questions is that he is so angry every week that one never knows whether it is real or synthetic. He could have called for the Prime Minister to resign at every business questions at which we have exchanged pleasantries since I became Leader of the House, other than during his brief sabbatical away from the role, so I think his call for the Prime Minister to resign is not one of which any notice will be taken.
The Prime Minister won an election, and that is the basis on which our democracy in this country works. He won a majority of 80, and he has done so much to the benefit of this country in the last two years. If we look at the whole panoply of decisions made with regard to covid, the Prime Minister has consistently got them right. He got the vaccine right, he got ending the lockdown in the summer right, he got the refusal to impose new restrictions before Christmas right, and he got furlough and the £400 billion to support the economy right.
Again and again, the Prime Minister got the decisions right that mean this country is coming out of the pandemic in a better position than other countries across the world. It is something we should recognise, and that required good, solid, decisive leadership. That is not beginning to say that every decision made was perfect—that would not be within human nature—but the result of what has happened following the decisions that the Prime Minister has made has been to allow this country to do better than others as we come out of this pandemic.
Could we have a debate or a statement about developers that build on greenfield sites and do not tell the people who buy their houses that Japanese knotweed is present when they know it is present? They should do a survey, and they should alert people to it. I have constituents who now cannot sell their houses because developers such as Persimmon are not dealing with the problem seriously and getting rid of it so that they can sell their houses on. Could we have a debate on that?
My hon. Friend has raised the point so very effectively. Japanese knotweed is the most common of four invasive knotweed plant species in the UK, and landowners have an obligation to stop knotweed on their land spreading from their property. Soil or plant material contaminated with non-native and invasive plants such as Japanese knotweed can cause ecological damage and may be classified as controlled waste. This is a matter to be raised with the Environment Agency, and I will do that on behalf of my hon. Friend. People do not have to remove knotweed from their land unless it is causing a nuisance, but they can be prosecuted for causing it to spread into the wild.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, particularly the two debates on Thursday under the aegis of the Backbench Business Committee on the Uyghur tribunals and on lawfare and the UK court system.
Due to the very heavily subscribed application for the Holocaust Memorial Day debate on
On Tuesday, I chaired a meeting with Network Rail and London North Eastern Railway about the proposed timetable changes on the east coast main line. At over 500 miles long, it is a line that LNER shares with nine other operating companies, and it is quite clear that the complexity of the timetabling problems is caused in the main by lack of line capacity north of York. Can we have a statement on what the Department for Transport is going to do as a matter of urgency to increase capacity on the east coast main line north of York?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for giving me advance notice of his debates and that the Holocaust Memorial Day debate may be a full day’s debate. I will take that as lobbying me to try to deter statements on that day; Mr Speaker may well take it as an attempt to lobby him to deter urgent questions on that day. We have our separate responsibilities.
The integrated rail plan investment expenditure is going to be £96 billion: a great deal is being done to ensure that the rail system has the funding it needs. The £26.2 billion Department for Transport budget for 2024-25 is a real-terms increase of 1.9%, but there is £35 billion-worth of rail investment over the spending review period. Enormous sums are going in, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of where they should specifically go; an Adjournment debate may be the most suitable option.
Next week, the last piece of roof metalwork is due to be installed as part of the restoration of the 26 individual cast iron roofs of the Palace of Westminster. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Mary Gallagher and the team involved in this historic project, which has been done on time and within budget, and in wishing the restoration and renewal programme every success in following the roof projects team’s impressive example?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I thank Mary Gallagher for the work she has done. “On time and under budget” is not a phrase that one often hears in relation to projects in the public sector, let alone within the House of Commons, so this is absolutely terrific news. As we come to debate in due course the rumours that we hear of a potential 20-year decant, and enormous sums of money for restoration and renewal, we will have to think about how well the roofs programme was done. It is an indication of the historic nature of this building that the roof has a very unusual form, and it has been very carefully repaired—within budget, as my hon. Friend says. Keeping careful control of taxpayers’ money should be our watchword.
I am delighted to say that the unsuccessful attempt by the board of Liverpool Victoria to demutualise and sell up to the controversial American private equity giant Bain Capital just before Christmas was unsuccessful, but it revealed a series of legislative and regulatory weaknesses in the rules governing mutuals. Almost 90% of the owners of Liverpool Victoria rejected the board’s dismal deal, but will the Leader of the House nevertheless find time for a debate about how to strengthen the mutual sector and its rules?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that. Historically, mutuals have been a good way of providing financial services and pooling risk—and, indeed, pooling profits for investors. Sometimes mutuals have been demutualised with very significant profits for the mutual owners, which has been quite welcome to them, but of course it is always important that people should be treated fairly and that boards observe their fiduciary duty. The hon. Gentleman is sitting next to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee; I suggest that he has a quiet word to seek a debate.
There are many unsung heroes in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, but I want to commend one in particular: Isaac Rotherham, a pupil at St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Tunstall who turned nine on
It is an honour to join my hon. Friend in wishing Isaac a belated happy birthday. I am sure that the whole House will applaud Isaac and Lou for what they have achieved and for the incredible support that they have provided for the homeless. I am glad to say that the number of households that are homeless or threatened with homelessness is now below pre-pandemic levels. Good progress has been made on our manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping: our most recent rough sleeping snapshot shows that levels have fallen by 43% since 2017. The Government’s ambition to end rough sleeping within this Parliament still stands; we are working on the sector to build on the recent progress. Isaac and Lou are an inspiration to us all, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing another success of Stoke to the attention of the House.
I have met many constituents who have post covid-19 syndrome, also known as long covid. Many of them are workers—teachers, healthcare professionals, police officers—who caught covid working as part of this country’s frontline response to the covid-19 pandemic. With that in mind, will the Government provide time for a debate to allow MPs to bring the experiences of their constituents with long covid to this Chamber, giving the Government the opportunity to explain how they intend to deliver on their obligation to those workers and support them in the long term?
The hon. Lady raises a point of considerable importance that will be of concern to hon. Members across the House in representing their constituents. I can tell her that NHS England and NHS Improvement is spending £224 million to expand NHS long covid treatment and rehabilitation services and establish 90 long covid assessment services, including paediatric hubs for children and young people. I am sure that we still have a great deal to learn about the condition, but I can reassure her that NHS England is taking steps.
One of the familiar names on high streets up and down the country is Wilko. It is crucial to the vitality of St Peter’s Avenue in Cleethorpes, but unfortunately the company has announced the store’s possible closure, which is of obvious concern, particularly to the staff. The Government have done a great deal to support our high streets, but this is clearly another example of the difficulties that companies are facing. Could I urge the Leader of the House to consider a debate to further explore what can be done to ensure that companies such as Wilko retain their outlet in Cleethorpes?
As always, my hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency. I can tell him what the Government have been doing. The £4.8 billion levelling-up fund includes help to regenerate town centres and high streets. Considerable measures have been taken to spur innovation and investment across the country and help business to build back better from the pandemic. We are increasing the British Business Bank’s regional financing programme to £1.6 billion, providing capital to businesses across the country; extending the temporary £1 million annual investment allowance cap to March 2023, providing more up-front support to help businesses to invest and grow; and reducing the burden of business rates by more than £7 billion over five years. All those things should help high streets, but the support that my hon. Friend gives by encouraging people to use their high street and go to the shops will also be important in maintaining a competitive high street.
I have a British constituent who is still trapped in Afghanistan. She is an eight-year-old child—just eight—and is being kept from her mum and little sister because of successive Passport Office failures dating back to 2014. We have made frantic efforts to get her out, before and since the flights stopped. On one day, she was in a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office minibus, so close to the airport, for 24 hours—an enormous risk—but was turned away because she had been given nothing to show and no support to get through the checkpoints and the gates. I have written to the Foreign Secretary and others many, many times, but there has been no constructive answer and no action. This little girl is in grave danger, and she believes her mum does not love her. We have to bring her home. Will the Leader of the House intervene with his friends in the Home Office and the FCDO to get an answer and some action as soon as possible from someone?
I am very sorry to hear about that eight-year-old girl. The hon. Lady puts her case very forcefully. I have said before at this Dispatch Box that whenever right hon. and hon. Members have individual constituency cases I will do whatever I can to take them up with the relevant Departments, to try to get answers. I cannot promise the answer, because that is not within my purview, but if she writes to me with all the details, I will certainly take it up with both the Home Office and the Foreign Office as necessary.
As we know, the Welsh NHS is managed by the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff, and the biggest challenge facing my constituents is access to healthcare. Twelve hours in A&E is now normal, as are two weeks to get a repeat prescription and patients having to travel over the border to access minor injury units. I understand that that is not this Government’s jurisdiction, but can my right hon. Friend suggest ways that I can hold the Welsh Labour Government to account for my constituents?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this concerning matter, and I also thank her for her personal contribution to the health service, not just before becoming a Member but throughout the pandemic; I understand she returned to frontline nursing in 2020 to support the fight against covid-19. The poor performance of the NHS in Wales is, as she rightly says, a devolved matter and the precise policy is a matter for Cardiff Bay rather than Westminster, but those problems in the end affect the whole United Kingdom, with people coming across into England for minor injuries because of failures in the Welsh health service.
I am glad to say that on
When the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill left this House it was woefully under-scrutinised, since which time the Government have ladled amendments into it hand over fist in the other place. Those amendments include many draconian restrictions on our prized freedoms, especially the right to protest. Can the Leader of the House give me some assurance that, if the Government are successful in getting those amendments through the other place, when the Bill comes back to this House we will be given proper time—at least half a day or a day—to debate those amendments and not just the usual one hour?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. This House and the other place are both here to protect the freedoms of this nation and of the individuals within it, but also to protect their right to go about their lives in an orderly way. Therefore, there must be a balance between the right to protest and the right of people to go about their business. Amendments from the House of Lords go through a normal process. The precise timing for any consideration of Lords amendments is a matter for discussion; his representations have been made and I have heard them, but it will depend on the other business going through the House at the time.
Today, trade talks kicked off in New Delhi between the United Kingdom and India. As my right hon. Friend will know, the EU has been trying to do a trade deal with India since 1997, without any success. The opportunities for the United Kingdom and India of a mutually agreed trade deal are clearly enormous, so could my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made next week on the objectives the UK has in achieving this trade deal, so that Members across the House can contribute their ideas on how we can get the best deal possible for both the United Kingdom and our friends in India?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. India is one of our closest and most important allies, and I think will become closer and more important over the decades ahead. I can tell him that there will be questions to the Department for International Trade next Thursday, which would be an initial opportunity to raise those important matters. However, the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee is still in his place, and—without trying to lobby him, because I have no standing to do so—I think this would be a worthy subject for debate and many Members would be interested in how our friendly relationship with India can become even better.
I am sure that many Members present have experienced the never-ending struggle of trying to get a timely response from the Home Office. In Luton North, we have hundreds of cases that have exceeded the 20 working day response time. It is simply not good enough, especially for those waiting on immigration and asylum cases who want to get on with their lives—they want to get jobs, feel safe and contribute to our society. I would ask for a debate, but what I really want is some answers for constituents.
I take this issue extremely seriously. I think it is part of my role as Leader of the House to chase up Departments when answers are not forthcoming punctually. I have done that for quite a number of right hon. and hon. Members, and I am happy to continue to do so. Earlier this week, I wrote to all other members of the Cabinet reminding them of the importance of giving timely and good answers to written questions. I will happily take up the hon. Lady’s individual case if she contacts my office.
In 2006, Gunner Lee Thornton from Blackpool sadly lost his life during his second tour of Iraq. Lee loved his country and serving in the Army. Lee’s mum Karen has been campaigning for a suitable memorial for him, but, despite contacting Blackpool Council on multiple occasions, she has yet to receive a response. A petition requesting that Blackpool Council honours Lee’s service by, for example, looking to name a local road after him, has attracted a great deal of local support. Does my right hon. Friend agree that surely it is right that those who make the ultimate sacrifice serving the country receive a fitting tribute? Will he find time for a debate on how we can suitably recognise those who make the ultimate sacrifice?
We should be so grateful to people like Gunner Lee Thornton who are willing to lay down their lives for the country. It is, as my hon. Friend says, the ultimate service, and it is right that they should be memorialised locally. That is a proper way of remembering them, and that is surely our duty. We always say that we will remember them, and it is right to do it locally where their families and friends will be able to see the permanent memorial. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue his campaign. I think that the specific issue would benefit from an Adjournment debate to discuss the individual facts. I think that there would be so much agreement about the proper memorialisation in a wider debate that it would be rather more a series of statements in support of my hon. Friend.
It is telling, is it not, that the only Scottish Conservative willing to defend the Prime Minister is the Scottish Conservative on the Prime Minister’s payroll? The Leader of the House’s withering dispatch yesterday of the Scottish Conservative leader evidences the disdain with which Scotland is viewed by the Westminster elite and demonstrates that Scotland is a possession and not a partner of this Union. Can we have a debate about how we smoothly and transactionally move Scotland out of this Union and into a brighter independent future?
I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are equal fundamental parts of the United Kingdom, without which there is no United Kingdom. Our great history, our great tradition and our success as a nation has been built on this Union. How did we, a small country, a small island off the coast of the European continent, become one of the great empires in the world? It was thanks often to the work of people from Scotland. Why was it that, when I used to live in Hong Kong, there was Aberdeen in Hong Kong? It was because of the contribution of the Scottish people to making the whole of the United Kingdom a great nation. That is celebrated on the Conservative side of the House and is something that we glory in as our great, shared, joined history. It is our history of ties of kinship, of ties of blood and of ties of involvement in each other’s lives. In response to the hon. Gentleman’s absolute question and fundamental point, people who hold office in the Conservative party are honour-bound to support the Prime Minister.
There are currently no statutory requirements for a planning authority to consult immediate neighbours in another planning authority, nor are there any requirements to consult anybody at all in relation to the issuing of certificates of lawful use. The current framework therefore provides for greater opportunities for green-belt development by the back door, and that is happening right now between my constituency and neighbouring South Staffordshire. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on planning policy in relation to the requirements for public consultation?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Certificates of lawful use are exactly what they say and if the use is lawful then people are allowed to do it. If, on the other hand, enforcement action is taken, or people get it wrong and they should have applied for planning permission, then they have to apply for retrospective planning permission and can be forced to take buildings down. Local planning authorities are meant to co-operate with each other, but do not necessarily have to consult on individual applications. They all, however, have an overriding obligation to co-operate, because development can have knock-on effects from one community to another. I reassure my hon. Friend that protecting the green belt is a firm manifesto commitment. We are looking to improve the planning system to make it work more effectively, but also to ensure that restrictions are carried out properly. We need to build more houses. We need to ensure that people have homes they can live in and to make the dream of home ownership available, but it must be done in a proper and considered way.
Can we find time for an urgent debate on pensions injustices, so that I and many other Members across the House can raise the case of members of the Pensions Action Group, including members of the financial assistance scheme and many former Allied Steel and Wire workers in my constituency? I pay tribute to our late friend Jack Dromey for all the support he gave, typically, to those seeking justice on pensions during his time as shadow Minister. Many are suffering because of the failure to link their pensions to inflation, which is now going up massively. Some are now receiving 40% less than they were entitled to. With them, we met the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Guy Opperman in summer last year and provided detailed submissions afterwards, but received a reply only in November, with little comfort or support for those pensioners. The Leader of the House might think they are going to go away, but I assure him that they are not. It is important that we have a debate, so we can all put our cases to the Minister.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that private pension schemes are much more effectively regulated than they once were to try to ensure protections for pensioners, but many of them are still dependent on the underlying business and the ability of the business to afford the pensions. The Pensions Regulator has a responsibility to do that. It also has a fund to support pension funds that become insolvent or businesses that become unable to afford their pension obligations. None the less, he is right to stand up for his constituents who are expecting pensions they do not get. For a debate, however, in the first instance I point him to the Backbench Business Committee.
The Mayor of London is failing to maintain and upgrade tube stations in my constituency. South Kensington, the gateway to our world-class museums, unbelievably has no step-free access to the District and Circle line, and the Piccadilly line does not even stop at South Kensington at the moment. Ladbroke Grove in north Kensington, which is vital to access north Kensington, again has no step-free access. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Mayor of London needs to get his act together and provide suitable transport links for my constituents, and will he contemplate a debate on the matter?
I am contemplating having a set question every week to which the answer is, “The Mayor of London is failing,” because this is a continued theme of questions I get about what he is not managing to do. My hon. Friend raises a very important question about mismanagement. Bear in mind that £4 billion of emergency funding has come from the taxpayer to Transport for London, and that when London transport was run by the Prime Minister when he was Mayor of London, in that halcyon age of 2008 to 2016, services were much better. Disabled access is of fundamental importance and this failure of the Mayor is further evidence of his mismanagement.
“There is evidence that opportunities were treated as high priority even where there were no objectively justifiable grounds for expediting the offer.”
Some 32 billion items of PPE, valued at £14 billion, were bought through directly awarded and negotiated contracts. Rather than giving us history lessons in his reply, as he so often does during business questions, what action is the Leader of the House going to take to ensure that VIP lane procurement is investigated, and will he set time in Parliament for debates accordingly?
I suggest the hon. Lady reads the judgment, because it was absolutely clear that the contracts would have been awarded to the same people, and that they were done by civil servants, not by Ministers. I reiterate what I said to the shadow Leader of the House—that it was a matter of emergency, of urgency, and of need. There is dither and delay with the socialists. They never want to get on with anything. They always put process ahead of achieving things. They would still have us in lockdown and not able to move about. They love regulation, because that is what they believe in. What Her Majesty’s Government did was get the PPE that was needed and the vaccine that was needed. To do that, yes, of course, they had to short-circuit some elements of procurement, which normally takes three to six months.
The first part of the inquiry into the Manchester arena bombing has just been published. As the House will know, on
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I welcome the Home Secretary’s publication of the consultation findings on the Protect duty. As he rightly highlights, the Manchester arena attack was a tragic event, and it is so important that we bring forward legislation to support public safety while not placing excessive burdens on smaller businesses. The Government’s overriding priority must be, is and always will be keeping the people of the United Kingdom safe. Prevent is having an effect in stopping people being drawn into terrorism. Prevent is about working in areas where there are risks of radicalisation, and it offers support predominantly through local community partnerships.
The independent review of Prevent is looking at the effectiveness of the Government’s strategy to protect vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism. The Government will carefully consider the findings and the recommendations of the review and assess the implications for the future of Prevent. I obviously note my hon. Friend’s points about the better monitoring of those who come into this country, which I am sure has been a great concern to many British people following these attacks. We have Home Office questions on Monday, so I urge him to raise this directly with the Home Secretary then.
It is reported—I am sure the Leader of the House will know this with his new interest in Scottish politics—that the Prime Minister is not welcome to speak at the Scottish Conservative conference in March. This will be the first time that the party leader has been unwelcome. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on that and tell us whether the Secretary of State for Scotland would be welcome at such a conference? Does this demonstrate not only that the Prime Minister has run out of road with his own party and with the public, but that this Union has well and truly run out of road, and that we need a debate on Scottish independence now?
The hon. Lady does me an injustice. I was the Conservative and Unionist candidate in Central Fife in 1997, so I have long had an interest in the United Kingdom. I made the case in 1997, which I have made consistently since, for the benefit of the United Kingdom, and it has always been important for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister is one of our party’s great assets, and I note that our best results in Scottish parliamentary elections were when one B. Johnson was Prime Minister.
Will the Leader of the House give me his assessment of a problem that I am having with the Department of Health and Social Care? I wrote to the then Minister, Helen Whately, in May of last year and received a reply on
I am glad that the hon. Lady asked that question while I am sitting next to the Minister for Health, because I have said in this House on a number of occasions that Members have a right to expect timely replies. I have taken this up with various Departments. Earlier in the pandemic, I was very sympathetic to the Department of Health and Social Care because of the burdens that it faced, and it was not unreasonable that there was a delay. By the time we got to May last year, responses ought to have become more timely. I can only apologise that the delay in the response has been so long, until
Following the right hon. Gentleman’s disparaging remarks about the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, can we have a statement from him about exactly what he meant by that? For example, does he think that the leader of the Welsh Conservatives is a lightweight figure, and can he name him?
My constituents Amanda, who works for the ambulance service, and her husband James have been forced for the past month to provide incredibly complex care to Amanda’s father, John. John is entitled to receive NHS continuing healthcare between 7 am and 8 pm every day, but because County Durham clinical commissioning group simply cannot find a care provider with the staff to fulfil his care package, James and Amanda are having to stop work to provide this care, which they can provide only due to her profession. They are exhausted, and it is because the care system is broken. I know at first hand the stress of caring for a loved one while holding down a job, so can we have a debate on the current staffing crisis in care, and will the right hon. Gentleman facilitate a meeting with the Minister for Care and Mental Health to discuss this issue?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this very difficult case. I recognise that there are problems in social care that the Government are trying to tackle. There is a £5.4 billion package for social care over the next three years and we will have the end of the lottery that leads to catastrophic costs with the £86,000 cap. The White Paper put forward plans to spend more than £1 billion over the next three years on system reform. The hon. Lady raises an important and troubling case. It is recognised that there are difficulties, but urgent steps are being taken, with very significant amounts of taxpayers’ money, to put these problems right.
We had a statement this week from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about the problems that those in high-rise flats and flats under the height of 18 metres are having with fire safety. A statement is fine, and what he had to say was welcome, but it does not give us the opportunity as Back Benchers, all of whom have cases in our constituencies, to raise the detail of those cases. Can we have a debate in Government time in which we can put the detail before the Secretary of State so that he understands our constituents’ problems?
I think I granted that before the question was asked, because on Wednesday
Stronger safeguards are needed to stop online consumers choosing “buy now, pay later” options to pay for products without knowing the risks. As new research by Which? reveals, many people do not think that they are taking on debt when using that payment method, the use of which has soared in recent years. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the need to regulate this unregulated area of the credit market, including the need for much greater transparency on the risks that consumers face when using “buy now, pay later” options?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this. People ought to know what they are doing when they buy things online and ought to have consumer protections. There is a debate coming up later today on the draft Online Safety Bill, and that debate is entitled to cover these sorts of areas, so I encourage her to participate in it.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I wonder whether I may give an advert for Truespeed, which has come to Somerset and is doing terrific work in ensuring that my constituents are connected? Connecting Devon and Somerset has also been working very hard to improve the quality of broadband. However, it has to be said that when it comes to mobile telephony, there are still some parts of the south-west where the signal goes down and it does not seem to come back particularly quickly.
I read the Government’s record on covid slightly differently from the Leader of the House. Yes, the Government did really well on vaccines and take-up, but we had the biggest economic collapse of any advanced economy in the world, and I think we probably still have the highest death rate per 100,000.
My big anxiety this year is the financial situation facing families in my constituency. Gas and electricity bills are likely to go up by 50% in April. The cost of petrol and diesel has already gone up by 25% this year, compared with last year. We have the national insurance increase and a 7.1% increase in basic inflation. The average family in my constituency—I have done the figures—will be £1,535 worse off every year, and for those on universal credit the figure is £2,575. Many families are just on the cusp of collapsing financially. They would need an 18% pay rise this year to meet that figure, and that simply is not going to happen. So what are the Government going to do? When will they come here and acknowledge that we really do have a crisis facing thousands of families?
The hon. Gentleman is not right to say that we have the worst death rate of any major western country, because other European countries have worse rates.
In relation to the economic figures, we use a more up-to-date way of calculating GDP, so if people are still paid to work in a school but that school is not open, we do not count that towards our GDP, whereas most countries do. It is very important, when making these statements, to ensure that the comparators are correct.
Let me come to the hon. Gentleman’s question, because I think the whole House recognises the difficulties that our constituents may be facing during the course of the year. On his underlying point, most of our constituents live to their income level, and therefore big swings in costs have a powerful effect on people pretty much regardless of their income level. Those problems are recognised, so what are the Government doing? Well, there is £4.2 billion of taxpayer support to help with the cost of living. The national living wage will go up to £9.50 from April. Some 2 million families will get an extra £1,000 through our cut to the universal credit taper and increased work allowances. There will be seasonal cold weather payments of an extra £25 a week for up to 4 million people during colder periods. Fuel duty has been frozen for the 12th year running, saving car drivers £15 every time they fill up compared with pre-2010 plans. Local housing allowance has been increased in cash terms this year, worth an extra £600 on average to 1.5 million households. The energy cap remains in place. We have provided the £500 million household support fund so that local authorities can offer their residents help with food and utility bills, and there are winter fuel payments to over 11.4 million pensioners, worth up to £300. So there is very considerable support, but I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, because it is a worrying time for many people.
This morning the all-party parliamentary group for “left behind” neighbourhoods released a report on health inequalities showing that people from one of the 225 most disadvantaged parts of the country are 46% more likely to die from covid than people living in other parts of England. The report also shows these people work longer hours and have fewer years of healthy life, at a cost of about £30 billion to our economy. Will the Government make a statement on how health inequalities will fit into their levelling-up agenda? Without that, levelling up will not mean what we all want it to mean for these particular communities.
The right hon. Lady is right to raise that point, and I am aware of the report and the very troubling figure of a 46% higher possibility of dying from covid depending on where people live in the country and the level of prosperity. I do not want to go through all the figures I have just given to Chris Bryant, but they are part of this question and part of levelling up. It is about helping people with their bills, it is about increasing the national living wage to make sure that being in work pays and it is about reducing the withdrawal rate of universal credit, but it is also about ensuring healthcare is available to everybody. The support—the billions—going into the national health service will ensure there is good healthcare across the country. There may be challenges, as my hon. Friend Sarah Atherton mentioned, in relation to what happens in Wales and the devolved authorities, which will be in a different category.
This Monday is Brew Monday, a Samaritans event to mark what is often a low point for many people. Following the pandemic, we know that many people are feeling tested. May I invite the Leader of the House and hon. Members to join me online for Blue Monday to share a cup of tea to mark the event? May I also take the opportunity to praise my colleagues in the Samaritans of Tyneside who will be joining us to talk about their work?
I join the hon. Lady in thanking the Samaritans of Tyneside, and Samaritans across the country, for their work in saving people’s lives and helping people at the most desperate point in their life. I wonder whether she would like to join me in my office on Monday, when I would be delighted to give her a nice cup of tea. I will have coffee, even if she decides to have tea. I so enjoyed going online for Blue Monday last year, at her invitation. If this year we are able to do it together, I think that would be even better.
People up and down the country, including in my Bath constituency, are gathering this weekend to protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. That illiberal Bill is an attack on our liberal democracy, and it includes a crackdown on the right to protest peacefully. As my right hon. Friend Mr Carmichael mentioned, the Government have now shoehorned a large number of amendments into the Bill in the other place. It will shortly return to this House and we will possibly have only one hour, maybe three, to debate that controversial Bill. Further to the answer the Leader of the House gave to my right hon. Friend, what conversations has he had with his colleagues and the business managers about the time allowed for the Bill to ensure that my constituents and people across the country are properly represented when it comes back for debate?
I note that the hon. Lady mentions her constituency. I thought on this occasion she might be talking about the seemingly illiberal behaviour of Lib Dem councillors on Bath and North East Somerset Council and the serious accusation of their bullying another councillor who has left the Lib Dems because of the way he was treated. He has made serious accusations of racist bullying, and I thought the hon. Lady might want to apologise for the level of illiberalism going on in her own patch.
In 2015 the Government lost a Supreme Court case on clean air brought by ClientEarth. The Leader of the House will know that, as a result, a ministerial direction was placed on the 10 Greater Manchester authorities to bring air quality within safe levels for human health and instructing a category C clean air zone, which is about to go live in May. The Government gave Greater Manchester just £120 million to fund the retrofit, which is woefully inadequate for the task and, as a result, the direction is now harmful to many small businesses that are unable to comply. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to urge the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look again at his direction?
I say to the hon. Gentleman that £120 million is a very significant amount of money, and that Greater Manchester has a devolved settlement and a socialist Mayor who must live up to his responsibilities. That is what happens when these mayoralties are created.
My 30-year-old constituent Calum Campbell has dyspraxia, and all his life his mum has had to fight the Department for Work and Pensions for support. Even so, he has now lost his personal independence payment award. Our office assisted Calum’s wife with a mandatory reconsideration, but the DWP ignored the key information put to it, chose not to speak to Calum for updated information, and upheld its original decision simply by looking again at the original information—that is really a joke of a decision. Will the Leader of the House request that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions intervene to make sure that Calum gets the support he deserves?
I once again thank the hon. Gentleman, who often raises important constituency cases. I reiterate my commitment as Leader of the House to help Members, whenever possible, with constituency cases. If he would be kind enough to write to me with the details in relation to his constituent Calum, I will certainly take it up with the DWP as soon as possible.
The Scottish Tourism Alliance found this week that one in three businesses in Scotland are likely to fail this year. Retaining the reduced rate of VAT is essential to supporting the hospitality sector and preventing businesses from passing mounting costs to consumers who are already struggling with the cost of living. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate, in Government time, on the retention of the 12.5% VAT rate for hospitality businesses?
The hon. Lady makes a very important plea for her constituents. It is really important to keep businesses and to tackle the cost of living issues that we all face. However, I fear that she knows what I am going to say next: matters of taxation are for the Chancellor.
May I commend to my right hon. Friend today’s publication by the Environmental Audit Committee of its report on water quality in rivers? I take this opportunity to thank the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, Ian Mearns, who is in his place, for the opportunity that he has provided us to make a statement on the report in Westminster Hall this afternoon. In our report, we have made recommendations about the strategic policy statement that the Government will shortly be issuing to Ofwat. When that happens, will my right hon. Friend encourage the Environment Minister to make a statement to the House on that policy statement?
I am delighted that the Environmental Audit Committee has come forward with that report. I believe it has an absolutely brilliant Chairman who ensures that its reports are always well worth reading, and I am glad that he has a debate about this one in Westminster Hall later. The Osmotherly rules set out how responses will be made to Select Committee reports, and those will of course be borne in mind for the response coming from the Department and the Minister, but I will pass on my right hon. Friend’s request for a statement.
The issue with statements, as my right hon. Friend knows only too well, is the pressure on parliamentary business and the other matters that we have to decide. We have had a demand to receive information and for more time for House of Lords amendments, and we have pressures on Back-Bench business, but I hear his request, and a request from him is always taken seriously.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House has just accused my Liberal Democrat colleagues in Bath and North East Somerset Council of racism. Independent processes against those allegations, including from BANES Council, have already been held, and all allegations have been dismissed. Will the Leader of the House please withdraw his allegations?
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The councillor concerned is still making those allegations and does not believe the processes have been satisfactorily carried out, so I would point to what he has said.