The business for the week commencing
The provisional business for the week commencing
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, and this afternoon’s crucial debate will allow Members across the House to mark the day. I pay tribute to all the survivors for their bravery and generosity in reliving enormously traumatic personal experiences to educate us. I also thank the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for all the work they do to ensure that such atrocities never happen again.
It started with the Prime Minister saying that no rules were broken. Then he said that he did not know about any parties. Then he said that he did not know whether he was there or not. Then he remembered that he was there but did not know that it was a party. Then he said that nobody warned him that the party was against the rules. This week, we were told that he was ambushed by a cake, although on the media earlier this week the Leader of the House said that he needs to wait for an internal inquiry to establish whether the Prime Minister ate the cake or not. Can the Leader of the House explain how we have gone from being told that no rules were broken to the Government being the subject of a police investigation? We do not yet know when the long-awaited internal inquiry into rule-breaking at No. 10 will be published, but can he give assurances that when the report is published, it will be published in full, and that Members will have advance sight of it before any statement is made in the House?
While the Prime Minister is desperately trying to shore up his own position and the Leader of the House is busy threatening Back Benchers with an early general election, working families are hit with steep rises to energy prices, falling low wages and Tory tax rises. Labour’s fully funded measures would save households £200 a year from their energy bills, with an extra £400 for families and pensioners who need it most. The Government chose not to support that plan. Can we have a statement on why the Government are choosing to look the other way and ignore the cost of living crisis faced by millions of people?
An estimated £4.3 billion of fraudulent loans will not be recovered, and yesterday, during an urgent question, a Government Minister refused to commit to bring forward a long-overdue economic crime Bill to tackle fraud and corruption. Given that a different Government Minister resigned on Monday in protest at the Government’s failure on this, can the Leader of the House confirm when it became Government policy to waste billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and hand it to fraudsters?
As the Leader of the House will be aware, four disabled people took the Government to court this week on the national disability strategy consultation process. In a ruling that will come as a surprise to absolutely no one, the High Court found that the strategy is unlawful. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has not made a statement to the House following this ruling, so will the Leader of the House provide Government time to debate this critically important strategy?
Last year, in December, the Prime Minister said that it was “complete nonsense” that he personally intervened in decision making over whether to evacuate Nowzad staff and animals from Afghanistan. However, emails released yesterday appear to suggest that the Prime Minister did intervene and overruled the Defence Secretary, so can the Leader of the House explain what happened?
This Government put their own self-interest above the national interest. They have completely lost any grip, and working people are paying the price.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight Holocaust Memorial Day. I thank the Opposition Front-Bench team for not putting in any urgent questions today, and I am glad that there are no statements either so that we can devote the whole time to debating Holocaust Memorial Day, which is, I think, what the whole House wanted.
I am glad to see the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee nodding. It is a truly important day. I agree entirely with the hon. Lady that education is so important. The more people know and understand the horrors that went before, the more likely it is that such horrors will be avoided in future.
The hon. Lady then asked a wide range of questions about Government policy. May I say how pleased I am that she has finally moved off cake? It has seemed to me over the past few weeks that all the Opposition could ever talk about was cake—whether we have had our cake and eaten it, whether there has been no cake, whether there never was any cake, or what cake there may have been; how it was baked, how many eggs there were in it, whether it was made with margarine or butter, or what type of cake it was: did it have sponge or was it chocolate? All these issues about cake have been an obsession of the Opposition, so I am glad that we are now getting on to some more serious subjects.
The hon. Lady referred to the cost-of-living issue, and here the Government have been extremely active in helping people, including families. The national living wage will rise to £9.50 from April, which will mean an extra £1,000 a year for full-time workers. Nearly 2 million families will receive an extra £1,000 a year through our cut in the universal credit taper and increased work allowances. There is also a £140 rebate on the energy bills of 2.2 million low-income households this winter, and there are seasonal cold weather payments of an extra £25 a week for up to 4 million people during sustained colder periods.
However, the key to ensuring that the economy works lies in the steps taken by the Government during the pandemic, when they introduced the furlough scheme and bounce back business loans to ensure that the structures of the economy survived it. That is fundamental to why we now have the highest payroll employment in our history, the lowest recorded youth unemployment in our history, and the economy back to where it was before the pandemic. So the real question on the cost of living is whether the economy is being managed well, and the answer to that is “Yes, it is, because of the decisions that this Government made.”
The hon. Lady then raised the issue of fraud, and the £4.3 billion that has come out of the covid supplies. That is about 1% of the amount of money that British taxpayers provided. However, the Government have already stopped or recovered £743 million in overclaimed furlough grants. We have prevented £2.2 billion in fraud from our bounce back loan scheme, and our Taxpayer Protection Taskforce is set to recover an additional £1 billion; its investigations are under way. The Government take this seriously, but if we want to know who are the real experts in wasting taxpayers’ money, it is the socialists. When they were in opposition, what happened to the NHS computer system? How many billions were frittered away through their irresponsible approach to taxpayers’ money?
The hon. Lady raised the national disability strategy and yesterday’s court judgment. The DWP has sought permission to appeal against that judgment, which is solely about technicalities and the requirements to consult. The DWP has engaged with disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, carers and others as part of the national disability strategy, which is one of the broadest packages of real, practical action put together so far to improve the lives of disabled people in relation to jobs, housing, transport, education, shopping, culture, justice, public services, data and evidence. There is a real push to help disabled people.
Then we come on to the Afghanistan animals. The Ministry of Defence got 15,000 people out of Afghanistan in an extraordinary and amazingly successful operation, but again the Opposition are dealing with the fripperies and the trivia, not with the really big picture. All they care about are cake and animals, whereas we are getting on with the important business of government.
Families in west Berkshire have told me about waits of up to two years to receive diagnoses of either autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder for their children, often at a catastrophic cost to their educational and social development. However, I understand that the problem extends much more widely than west Berkshire. May I invite my right hon. Friend to make Government time available for a debate to discuss the provision of child and adolescent mental health services?
I thank my hon. Friend both for her question and for her campaigning on children’s mental health issues, which are of great importance and, I think, recognised as such across the House.
The Government have announced that £17 million of extra spending to build on the existing mental health support will be available in education settings, including £7 million for the wellbeing for education recovery programme and £9.5 million to fund training for mental health leaders in about a third of all state schools and colleges. That is on top of the £79 million to boost mental health support for children and young people that was announced in March. NHS England has consulted on the potential to introduce five new waiting time standards, and a response will be published in due course. I think it is accepted that there is a problem, and steps are being taken to tackle it.
Let me first echo and support the comments of Anneliese Dodds about Holocaust Memorial Day. I think we are all looking forward to this afternoon’s debate.
May we have a debate about the constitution, just to ascertain whether we are on our way to becoming a republic? This view has a rather odd new supporter and champion in the guise of the Leader of the House himself. In another disastrous performance on Newsnight, he claimed that a change of leader requires a general election because the UK is now effectively a “presidential system”. Well, somebody should notify Her Majesty the Queen—but perhaps not the right hon. Gentleman himself, after that disastrous Prorogation business.
Most of us suspect that this was just some sort of clumsy attempt to get recalcitrant Tory Back Benchers on board—the threat of a general election in which large swathes of them would lose their seats—rather than a real attempt to redefine the constitution of the UK, but could we please have a statement from the Leader of the House, just for the comedy value? Last week, he was flattering the precious Union; this week he is reinventing the republic of the UK. He must be President Johnson’s most inept spokesperson when it comes to these matters.
I am beginning to think it would be a matter of duty and mercy for the House services to provide some sort of counselling services for Tory Back Benchers. What they have been through is almost unendurable. There has been Owen Paterson, cash for access, cash for honours, partygate, cakegate, Operation Big Dog and Operation Put Big Dog Down. Now they are biting their nails to the stumps waiting for the report so that they can at least make up their minds about the Prime Minister. It is like some sort of dysfunctional “Waiting for Godot”. But we are here to help: if confessional is required, Tory Members should come and speak to some of us in the Opposition. We are here to help out; we could help them fix some of their woes. Who would be a Tory Back Bencher just now? But help is out there.
I am so grateful that the hon. Gentleman is his normal cheerful self. He raised the interesting constitutional point of the dissolution of Parliament under a new leader. I actually raised that point on Second Reading of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 on
Then the question is raised as to whether we have become a more presidential system. Being a more presidential system does not override the need—the essential need—for a constitutional monarchy. It means that the power of the monarchy has evolved and been devolved to the Prime Minister, and we have seen this happen over centuries. The exercise of the prerogative, now done on the formal advice of the Prime Minister, shows that most of the powers that would be vested in a President are vested de facto if not de jure in the Prime Minister. So if we are looking at how the constitution has evolved, it is clear that a Prime Minister has a personal mandate much more than a party mandate and that that mandate comes from voters, who would expect to renew it in the event of a change of Prime Minister. That is why I think we have evolved to the situation where a new Prime Minister would want a new election.
I am delighted that the SNP wishes to discuss my favourite pet subject, which is the evolution of the constitution, and it is something we should debate more and more, but I look to the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee for his kindness.
One of the Government’s levelling-up initiatives has been the establishment of freeports. The Humber ports have been granted freeport status, but we really need to get motoring. Could the Leader of the House arrange for a debate or a statement so that we can see how the Government’s initiative is evolving?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend because I agree with him. I think that freeports are going to be one of the real advantages and benefits of having left the European Union. The National Insurance Contributions Bill, which is passing through Parliament at the moment, is the main Act of Parliament that will facilitate an ambitious programme of freeports, so I am glad to say that it is going ahead and legislative action is taking place.
I call the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, Ian Mearns.
I reassure the Leader of the House that, if at some time in the future he should be on the Back Benches, I would very much welcome an application from him for a debate on the evolution of the constitution—but I am sure that will not be for some time.
Can I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the business managers in the House for helping us by devoting the remainder of today to the important debate on and commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day? It is so important to so many of our constituents, and to mine in particular in the constituency of Gateshead, which has a very large Haredi Jewish community.
On advance notice of applications already received for particular debates, I have already mentioned an application for a Welsh affairs debate to commemorate St David’s Day on
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I am glad I am storing up credit for applications for future debates when it is not necessarily as easy as it may be now for me to see what the business of the House is going to be.
I completely understand the importance of the debates the hon. Gentleman raises, especially in relation to Taiwan, St David’s Day, dementia research and International Women’s Day. It is extremely helpful of him to give me advance notice, as it is of course for Members to give him advance notice of particular dates that are coming up. However, I am sorry that nobody, as far as I am aware, has asked for a debate on
The last Bill of attainder, as far as I am aware, was in 1798, although there was the Titles Deprivation Act 1917 to strip royal dukes of their titles when they were traitors. My hon. Friend is right to say that it requires legislation to take away a peerage, although I do slightly wonder what satisfaction it will give to the person to whom he refers to be called “My Lord” while he is serving time at Her Majesty’s expense. The disgrace he has felt means that his title has become, I hope, wormwood.
Can we have a debate, because the Leader of the House did not take this question seriously earlier, about the evacuation from Afghanistan? Many of us still have constituents and friends of constituents who are stuck in Afghanistan in very dangerous and frightening situations, and some of us are concerned that the process of deciding the priorities last summer was not as it should have been. In fact, it was so chaotic—perhaps for good reasons, but perhaps for bad reasons as well—that bad decisions were made.
If we had such a debate, we would also have the opportunity to clear up the fact that the Prime Minister has repeatedly said that he took absolutely no role in the decision to evacuate Pen Farthing and Nowzad, whereas the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary wrote a letter in which she made it clear that she was involved as his PPS. We now have in the Foreign Affairs Committee an email from one of Lord Goldsmith’s officials, so a member of the Foreign Office team, saying that the Prime Minister had authorised this. We need to get to the bottom of this. There may be a perfectly innocent explanation. But it may be guilty as charged.
Under Operation Pitting, our armed forces and civil service worked around the clock to evacuate 15,000 people, including around 8,300 British nationals and 5,000 people through the Afghan relocations policy. This was an incredibly successful and pressurised operation, and our armed forces, once again, showed what amazing things they can do when called upon to do them. The hon. Gentleman is fussing about a few animals. I think that shows the level of seriousness that he characteristically brings to today’s debate.
I very much welcome the Government’s excellent vaccination roll-out programme in my constituency, with a vaccination centre in Medway, which all three Medway MPs campaigned for. Linked to that, my constituents very much welcome the £12 billion extra NHS investment year on year. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House about support for hospitals? My hospital in Medway serves half a million people. It needs extra resources in the short term and in the long term in Medway we need a full brand new hospital to serve the needs of our constituents. I know that the Government are committed to supporting the national health service.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and commend him for his brilliant campaigning work locally in his constituency, and for the remarkable work he has done to protect freedom of religion around the world. The Government have used, and are using, taxpayers’ money to support the health service. In September, we announced an additional £36 billion for health and social care over the next three years, which interestingly was opposed by the party opposite. We are doing things to catch up with the backlog that has come through covid. For example, there will be 9 million extra scans and an extra £8 billion to tackle the elective backlog. He lobbies for a new hospital. I will pass on his lobbying to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. What I was saying was that the constitution evolves, and the norms and conventions of the constitution are not normally set down in legislation, although some of them are.
It is the rugby league world cup this autumn, and the new Super League season kicks off in a fortnight, with some of the games for the first time on free-to-air television—they will be on Channel 4—which will be great for widening the notoriety of the sport. Such a debate would also give me an opportunity to express my deep disappointment that Labour-run Kirklees has reneged on an agreement to host the National Rugby League Museum in the birthplace of rugby league, the George Hotel in Huddersfield.
I think we should have a special debate every week on the failures of socialist councils, to which Conservative Members would massively subscribed. Labour Members would probably decide to work from home that day, which is something they enjoy. I cannot claim to be an expert on rugby league. The only sport I know anything much about is cricket, which may be rather embarrassing, under current circumstances, to confess to. But I thought I heard—whether the stenographers of Hansard did, I do not know—a modest “Hear, hear” emanate from the Chair during my hon. Friend’s question. Assuming that it did not come from the Clerks, who tend not to comment on our business, I think that an application for an Adjournment debate may be very favourably looked upon.
That is good news. It is Stefan Ratchford’s testimonial on Saturday, when Warrington play Wigan, and I will be there.
Further to Mr Speaker’s announcement that there will be no statements today, that does rather leave unanswered the question that many members of the public want to know the answer to: the whereabouts of Sue Gray’s urgent and very important report into the numerous reported events and parties that No. 10 took part in during lockdown. The Prime Minister has been known to hide in a fridge to avoid questions, so can the Leader of the House confirm that there will be no hiding from the outcome of this report—that it will be published in full, and that we will be granted time in this House to scrutinise its findings in full?
First, it is wrong of Members of this House to pressurise the independent investigator over the speed of her report. It would be wrong for the Government to put pressure on her, and it is wrong of the Opposition to do so. Sue Gray is doing it independently, and she must be given the time that she needs to do it. However, of course, as the Prime Minister has said, when the report is released, he will come to the House and make a statement, and will be open to questions. That is the proper parliamentary procedure.
Several of my constituents have made applications for the protective security grant and were successful, but as a result of the pandemic, some of those works have not been completed and the funding has lapsed. Can a Home Office Minister come before the House to explain to my constituents how they can revive those applications and ensure that their synagogues, churches and other places of worship and religion are adequately protected?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for this question, because it is very important to provide the necessary protections for places of worship that may need some level of protection. Work is continuing to safeguard places of worship, including synagogues and mosques, with £3.5 million allocated for the places of worship security grant this year. Of course, if there are specific issues with grants that have lapsed because of covid, if he will give me the details, I will happily take them up with the Home Secretary.
As the cost of living continues to spiral, it is ever more important that retired miners receive all of the money in their pension scheme, and that the Government stop profiting from 50% of the surplus, which totals £4.4 billion to date. Can I ask the Leader of the House to facilitate a meeting between the scheme’s trustees and the new Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Minister?
As I have said before in this House, I very much view it as my role to facilitate meetings between hon. Members and Ministers, so I will obviously take up the request that the hon. Lady has made.
I am sure the Leader of the House agrees with me and John Spellar that Parliament should be showcasing the best of British food and drink to the world. In Rushcliffe, we have the brilliant, award-winning Ruddy Fine gin, which uses local ingredients from the village of Ruddington. I want all colleagues to have the opportunity to enjoy a Ruddy Fine gin and tonic, and to have the chance to get their local producers stocked here on the estate, but unfortunately at the moment, the House authorities will only consider guest beers. Will the Leader of the House work with me to find a solution to this issue, and see if we can get Ruddy Fine gin and other best of British producers on the menus here in the weeks ahead? Can we also have a debate in Government time to discuss what more this House can do to promote British producers?
My hon. Friend is on to something here. It is a pity that the House does not have guest gins as well, but why leave it at a gin and tonic? Why not have a gin martini, a gin and it, a pink gin, or a whole variety of gin cocktails? We could even put gin into sweets and have a gin Opal Fruit or something like that, to give people a little taster—a little sampler—of gin. I am all in favour of Ruddy Fine gin: perhaps I should provide a tincture to visitors to my office in future. If it is not in the bars of the House of Commons, perhaps the Leader of the Home Secretary should get a small supply for people who need to see him on important business.
Yesterday, a colliery in south Wales was given permission to mine a further 40 million tonnes of coal. The Government appear to have abdicated responsibility for the decision, although in reply to my written questions I have learned of discussions and correspondence between the Secretary of State and the Welsh Government about the licence. A promised copy of that correspondence has still not found its way into the Library nine days after it was promised. Real climate leaders do not issue new fossil fuel licences, nor do they pass the buck if someone else is trying to do that on their watch. Will the Leader of the House use his best offices to ensure a copy of that correspondence is put into the Library as soon as possible, and can we have a debate in Government time on the importance of leaving new fossil fuels in the ground, as the science demands?
Of course, the Government will follow the normal requirements of business, and if a document has been referred to at the Dispatch Box by a Minister it will be put in the Library in due course—that is routine—but I do not know the status of the document she refers to. Net zero is by 2050. We are not at 2050 yet. We are going to need to have fossil fuels for the interim period and we are going to need coal for things like heritage railways and so on. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable that we take some coal out of the ground. I cannot see why it is better to import it from abroad, rather than to get it from our own green and pleasant land.
Yesterday, British Indians celebrated Republic Day, a very joyous occasion. I am sure my right hon. Friend, as a keen monarchist, would not necessarily celebrate Republic Day. Equally, last week we commemorated a forgotten genocide, namely the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir valley. People were forced out of what had been their ancestral homes for thousands of years at the point of a gun, with the cry, “Leave, die or convert.” May we have a debate in Government time to commemorate that terrible act, which is now being recognised in India as a genocide?
My hon. Friend is right about my queasiness about celebrating republic days as a general rule. I note how many countries around the world celebrate their annual day when they get out of the grasp of our great country, and there is a certain poignancy to it. However, I wish India well in this its 75th year of independence. It is a crucial and growingly important ally for the United Kingdom. We agreed a comprehensive strategic partnership in May 2021 and a 2030 road map, which will benefit people across both countries and support regional and global security and prosperity. Obviously, Her Majesty’s Government condemn any instances of discrimination or violence because of religion or belief. We continue to encourage dialogue between India and Pakistan to find a lasting diplomatic solution on Kashmir to maintain regional stability, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.
High streets in constituencies like mine are being broken up by an ever-increasing number of gambling venues. Yet another bank branch on Hertford Road, which closed only 12 months ago, has now been replaced by a gambling venue. Residents and local councils are powerless to stop this happening. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government’s review of the Gambling Act 2005, which was due in October last year, will be published? Will he allow a debate in Government time on the findings of that review?
The Government are committed to supporting high streets and have provided £2.4 billion of taxpayers’ money for 101 towns deals. It is obviously important that there is a variety of activity going on along high streets to ensure that people wish to go there and that commerce takes place. I am glad to tell the hon. Lady that a key part of the levelling up White Paper will be about how we encourage levelling up, which will inevitably boost high streets. The White Paper will be coming forward in due course.
Approximately three years after submitting the Greater Manchester clean air plan outline business case, the Mayor of Greater Manchester has called for changes to his own plan. However, the only change needed is to scrap the scheme in its entirety. Based on flawed analysis and data, we are in the ludicrous position that the most up-to-date air monitoring data for the borough of Bury show no breaches of legal air quality limits anywhere, yet this draconian scheme is still scheduled to begin in May. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate to allow for much-needed scrutiny of this tax on jobs?
I am very concerned about the Labour Mayor’s tax on jobs, which my hon. Friend raised with me last week. As I said earlier, we could have a session every week discussing how the Labour party attacks local businesses and, particularly, wages war against the motorist. The motorist always seems to be in the crosshairs of the socialist, because they do not like the independence that motoring brings and the freedom and liberty that we get by being able to drive. My hon. Friend raises an important point and the Mayor of Manchester would be well advised to listen to him.
The illegal use of off-road motorbikes is becoming an ever-increasing problem on the streets in my constituency, with more and more constituents contacting me about the matter. Residents tell me that they feel intimidated, threatened and fearful for their safety, while the police say that they face huge difficulties when trying to pursue and identify suspects and seize off-road motorbikes that are being used illegally. Can we therefore have a debate or statement on what steps the Government are taking to tackle this increasing blight on our communities?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing this issue to the attention of the House, because it is clearly a serious problem. The police saying that policing is difficult is not a very satisfactory answer from them. Of course policing is difficult; that is why we have a police force, and we have taken on an extra 11,000 police officers. I encourage her, though I doubt she needs much encouragement, to pressurise her local police force to actually get on and do its job and enforce the law.
On Holocaust Memorial Day, we think about some of the groups that continue to be persecuted across the world. Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Cox’s Bazar Rohingya Muslim refugee camp; it was an incredibly emotional experience. I spoke to two child refugees and said to them, “What’s your wish? What’s your dream?” It was very simple—they simply wanted to return home. They did not want to go anywhere else. They just wanted to go home and they wanted to live free from persecution. I know that the Government have taken steps to aid the Bangladeshi Government, but could we have a debate in Government time about what further steps this country can take to aid and facilitate the safe return of Rohingya Muslims to their homeland?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government very much share his view and have great concern about the increasing violence across Burma. As the first anniversary of the coup approaches, Her Majesty’s Government are working with partners to push for an end to violence, unhindered humanitarian access and the importance of respect for human rights and the protection of civilians. In Burma’s Rakhine state, we have provided over £44 million to all communities since 2017, including over £25 million for the Rohingya. Since 2017, we have committed over £320 million and supported about 1 million refugees in Bangladesh. Any Rohingya returns to Rakhine must be voluntary, safe, dignified and in line with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees principles, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are working on this and will continue to do so.
Yesterday, the Leader of the House said that, in his experience,
“very few people do lie in public life”.
Very few people indulge in burglary, but the law is there to deal with them. My party has long-standing proposals to strengthen Parliament’s ability to hold politicians to account when they deliberately lie, so can we have an early debate on lying in politics?
What people say politically is a matter of continual political debate; it is what we do in this Chamber. People have different opinions one way or another and when they disagree, they often make accusations that are more aggressive than the facts bear out.
In recent years, clinical services have been reconfigured across my hospital trust, from Eastbourne and Bexhill to Hastings, but one in four households in Eastbourne do not have a car and public transport options are poor. There is no direct bus service; the journey can mean two buses and take two hours, and funding—financial support for some—is very narrowly defined. I have secured a meeting with the Minister for Health, who has responsibility for hospitals, but may we have a wider debate about access to hospitals? Although I am working with local stakeholders who are engaged in this to improve the situation, the lines of responsibility are not clear.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what she says about access to hospitals; the issue of ensuring good hospital services and good transport to them has arisen for many of us in our constituencies. I assure my hon. Friend that the aim of the Government to improve bus services is very strong. More than £5 billion of taxpayers’ money will be spent on buses and cycling during the course of this Parliament. Local authorities have published bus improvement plans, which provide an assessment of existing services in their area, including details of current provision for rural and coastal communities. Action is being taken, but my hon. Friend is right to raise the question about integrating services so that people can get to their hospital appointments.
Family homes are being converted into houses in multiple occupation, and HMOs are increasingly becoming the new homes for many vulnerable people and families. That is a growing concern for my constituents and for other communities across our country. May we have a debate on the issue in Government time?
The hon. Lady raises an issue that will be of importance across the country. It is obviously important that there should be a range of residential accommodation; what is suitable for some individuals will not be so for others, and it is important that there should be a plurality of provision. But HMOs are regulated by law, primarily by local authorities, to ensure that basic standards are maintained. As regards a debate, I point the hon. Lady in the direction of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
May I ask the Leader of the House a question that is actually about the business of the House? Both sides of the House have regularly said that they want there to be statements in this House before things are debated in the media. I understand that the Government do not control when Sue Gray delivers her report, but if she happens to deliver it today I hope the Government will request a statement tomorrow, so that we can discuss the issue in this House before the weekend press does. It seems to me that if we believe in this House having the first say, that is what should happen. Can the Leader of the House advise that if there is a statement to be made tomorrow, it will be announced today?
First of all, I thank my hon. Friend for the very novel approach of actually asking a question about the business of the House during business questions; it is the first time that has happened in a long time.
My view is that every sitting day is a proper sitting day; there are not greater or lesser days of business in this House. The House of Commons sitting is an important constitutional activity and statements made on a Friday are as valid as those made on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. I do not know when the report will be published or when it will be possible to announce a statement, but I am certainly of the view—and I know that you share this view, Mr Speaker—that this House has the right to know first. We should certainly know before our friend Brendan Carlin at the Mail on Sunday gets the information.
I should add that I expect all Members to know about the statement with very good time in hand.
I think I owe the Leader of the House an apology. Last week, I was critical of the fact that the former Tory MP, the noble Lord McLoughlin, had been appointed to chair Transport for the North. In his first utterances as chair, he has made it clear that he thinks that the Government’s integrated rail plan is not in the best interests of the north. To quote something that the Leader of the House might enjoy,
“there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth”.
May we have a debate about Transport for the North, whether the Government plan to listen to what the new chair says and the cut of a third to Transport for the North’s budget?
I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s charming apology. I refer her back to what I said last week about what a great man my noble Friend Lord McLoughlin is. I think particularly highly of him because—I shall let the House in on a not-particularly-secret secret—it is thanks to the noble Lord that I ever got on to the candidates list for the Conservative party in the first place. He interviewed me during the candidate selection process. When I then arrived in Parliament and kept on voting against the Government while he was Chief Whip, I think he sometimes had reason to doubt his judgment some years earlier.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the use of military planning expertise in civilian settings? Last Friday was the first anniversary of Storm Christoph and the sad destruction of Llanerch bridge in my constituency. This historic, grade 2 listed bridge spanned the River Clwyd, connecting the communities of Tremeirchion and Trefnant. Although Denbighshire County Council is considering options to replace the bridge, the process is complex and time consuming. Meanwhile, local people are left without a key travel route, so military planners could, I am sure, be used to advise on the possibility of a temporary solution.
The provision of defence support to civil authorities in the UK is governed by a robust and well-defined set of principles, set out in a publicly available joint doctrine publication. Those principles ensure that defence assistance is the last rather than first resort when responding to operational challenges. That is essential in order to preserve defence capabilities for defence outputs wherever possible and to reduce the risk of legal challenge from commercial providers, which may otherwise have reasonably expected to tender for contracts from the requesting authority. Defence maintains a standing network of joint regional liaison officers across the country to maintain relationships with civil authorities, provide potential advice on defence assistance, and facilitate requests when they meet the required principles. Any request for defence assistance should be referred to the joint regional liaison office.
I fear that that is not an enormously helpful answer, because the issue is that defence assistance is a last resort. However, I hope that raising the issue in the House will put a little bit of extra pressure on Denbighshire County Council to get on with what it should be doing in relation to the bridge.
Last week I raised with the Leader of the House issues relating to war pensions and the armed forces compensation scheme, and I thank him for his actions in support of the points I made. Since then I have been contacted by dozens of other veterans who find themselves in similar situations. In the past week I have also received from the Ministry of Defence an answer to my written question asking how many veterans are giving up on the process because of the situation in which they find themselves. Unfortunately, the answer was:
“This information is not held in the format requested”,
so the MOD does not even know how many veterans are giving up on the process of trying to get compensation or uplifts to their war pensions as a result of injuries or traumatic experiences from their time serving in the forces. May we have a statement on that and on how we can make sure that the MOD does in fact have accurate records of the situation of all veterans?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. It is important that written answers are as helpful as possible. It is always possible to seek the advice of the Table Office—it is exceptionally good at this—to work out how to rephrase a question in order to get around an initially unhelpful answer so as to get the information requested. If the hon. Gentleman is not able to do that, or is not successful in doing so, my office will be more than happy to seek fuller answers than he has got so far.
On this Holocaust Memorial Day, I would like to pay tribute to my constituent Marika Henriques. Marika was born in Hungary. At the age of nine, she got separated from her family and she became a hidden child during the war. Mercifully, she survived and now she is resident in my constituency. I would like to thank my Front Bench colleagues, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and you, Mrusb Speaker, for making so much time available for today’s debate. May I ask that this also happens in subsequent years?
The individual stories of those now in very old age are of the greatest importance and are incredibly moving, whenever Members come across them, and it is so important that they are recorded and restored for posterity. I am glad to say that both last year and this year we were able to avoid any urgent questions or statements on Holocaust Memorial Day. It would be wrong of me to promise that that can be guaranteed in future, but I can assure the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee that as long as I am the Leader of the House, that will certainly be my aim.
This is the first time I have been here on a Thursday for some time, Mr Speaker, and I have not had a chance to speak of a colleague and friend, Jack Dromey. Like so many of us, he was always here on a Thursday, and we miss him dreadfully. I hope you do not mind me mentioning that.
I ask the Leader of the House to secure a debate quite soon about what sort of democracy we live in. I fear that we are steadily moving towards an Administration that would love to have a presidential system of Government based in No. 10, rather than a parliamentary system, where the power and sovereignty lie in this House. What he has said, as reported in the press, is very worrying indeed.
I must also tell the Leader of the House that, with 12 grandchildren, I get a lot of cake, but I have a secret passion for Eton mess. One of the messes I want cleared up is that, while my constituents think they have an inalienable right to breathe fresh, clean air, increasingly what is emitted from the back end of vehicles is poisoning our children, pregnant women and the elderly. When can we get a real step? Will he support and give time to my Bill, which would force every local authority to audit the air cleanliness in its area every year and report back to this Parliament?
On clean air, one of the real problems has been the scandal of diesel engines, promoted by the last socialist Government, in cahoots with the European Union and the German car manufacturers. That is one of the biggest scandals of this political generation, and extraordinarily little commented on. Nitrous oxides were spewed out, rather than the cleaner and less health-damaging emissions from petrol engines. That was a political decision taken by the last socialist Government, as I say, in cahoots with the European Union. I will take the hon. Gentleman’s statement as an apology for the last socialist Government on that.
As regards a debate on the increasing presidential power of the Prime Minister, that is something we can take back to the time of Gladstone, who was accused of riding roughshod over his Cabinet. Certainly, in the period of Lloyd George, it was thought that the centralisation of power was going too far. It is almost a reverse of the debates that took place in the 18th century about the power of the Crown, when this House debated that:
“The power of the Crown has increased, is increasing,” and should be decreased. We now have much the same discussion going on, but the reality is that the British elector looks to a leader, and is very pleased with the leader they have.
Doncaster Sheffield airport has played a huge part in Doncaster’s history—I am sure my right hon. Friend will know it was once home to our nuclear deterrent, in the form of the Vulcan bomber—but, although it has a distinguished past, I am more interested in its future. The airport is currently working with both the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and a company that produces the Airlander. Both will help hugely towards our net zero goal and employ and train many local people. With support through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, they would truly start the levelling-up agenda. Will my right hon. Friend therefore speak with Government Ministers to help to secure that funding, so that Doncaster’s future is as exciting as its past?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant champion for his constituency, as he shows once again. He is right to take pride in the history of a place, but to look forward to how that will become a future of prosperity and growth. I can tell him that BEIS has committed to co-funding a new zero carbon UK aircraft technology through the Aerospace Technology Institute programme to 2031, which will help to reach net zero aviation emissions by 2050. That is a commitment from both industry and the Government and builds on the commitment to provide joint funding of £3.9 billion for aerospace research and development between 2013 and 2026. The same programme has supported 343 aerospace technology projects, with total Government and industry funding of £3.2 billion across the UK, including the emerging green aerospace cluster in south Yorkshire. Officials will consider any business case presented for support, so I will ensure his comments and his request are passed on to the Secretary of State.
We have a national crisis in the dentistry sector. Most people cannot find a dental practice that will accept new NHS patients, and it is compounded by the fact that dentists are leaving the sector in droves. The reality is that many people are facing hardship and simply cannot afford the cost of private dental treatment. The Government must therefore work with the British Dental Association to tackle the crisis. Will the Leader of the House allocate Government time for a debate on the NHS dental sector?
I am well aware of the concern, because it has been raised with me in my constituency and there was an Adjournment debate on Monday on access to NHS dentistry services in Bristol and the south-west. The Government have provided extra funding to dentists, who are doing a remarkable job of catching up with the backlog created because of the procedures and precautions required around covid.
Last weekend, a terrible fire ripped through the Leopard pub in the mother town of Burslem, which resulted in the local community collectively grieving. On behalf of residents across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, I thank Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service firefighters for their bravery in tackling the blaze. I am proud of Stoke’s unrivalled kindness: people have been bringing chocolates, mugs of tea and even drawings from local children such as Izzy to thank firefighters for their hard work in challenging conditions. The Leopard sits on Burslem’s high street and is a key part of not just Stoke-on-Trent’s history, but that of the United Kingdom: during the industrial revolution, Josiah Wedgwood and James Brindley met there to discuss building the Trent and Mersey canal.
Will my right hon. Friend add his thanks to Staffordshire Fire and Rescue? Will he commit to a debate in Government time on what more can be done to help, protect and regenerate heritage buildings, particularly on our high streets?
Once again, my hon. Friend stands up for Stoke with aplomb and vigour. I understand the sadness that there will be about the fire at the Leopard; I am tempted to say that the Leopard has compulsorily had to change its spots. I definitely add my thanks to Staffordshire Fire and Rescue. How charming that people like Izzy gave pictures that they had drawn to thank Staffordshire’s noble fire brigade for its work!
The Government provide heritage support through the taxpayer-funded £150 million community ownership fund, which allows communities to take control of vital local assets, and councils may use compulsory purchase orders for long-term empty properties. I hope that the Leopard was properly insured and that it will soon bounce back in all its glory.
The Leader of the House was asked a specific question about an urgent debate on the Government’s national strategy for disabled people. The DWP lost a court case and its actions were found to be unlawful. Belittling the need to consult with disabled people is quite frankly disgraceful. The voices of disabled people are key to getting the strategy right.
We have never had a debate on the strategy. I think a debate would ensure that the strategy benefits from the experience of all Members, many of whom would consult disabled people and disabled people’s organisations.
I would simply say that the Government are making an application to appeal the case and that the disabled strategy is a fundamentally important strategy brought forward by the Government to ensure the best possible support for disabled people. That is exactly what the Government are doing. The Government lost on a technicality, as I said earlier; that does not undermine our fundamental drive to help disabled people.
We are waiting for the report from Sue Gray. The Opposition still seem obsessed with these issues; I am still surprised that they are not using business questions to ask more about the really serious issues of the day, such as Ukraine and the build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. As far as I can tell, they are interested in cake rather than in Russia.
At last week’s Health and Social Care oral questions, I raised the importance of improving diagnosis of, and care for, people living with pulmonary fibrosis and supporting research into a cure. I was pleased that the Secretary of State confirmed that he would bring the matter to the attention of his officials and see what more they could do, but can the Leader of the House advise how I can secure a debate in Government time on pulmonary fibrosis to raise awareness and press the Government to improve support and research?
The hon. Lady knows how the parliamentary system works extremely well. It seems to me that she is doing exactly the right thing in terms of raising this issue. She has raised it directly with the Secretary of State and she has now raised it with me. I have a feeling that she might be bobbing at Prime Minister’s questions in the not-too-distant future. There are also Adjournment debates, urgent questions and the Backbench Business Committee. I encourage her in that, because one of the real glories of our democracy is that, through using this Chamber, we can get policy changed. I know my role is to defend Government policy whatever it happens to be, but that vibrant democracy that gets things done, because MPs are standing up seeking redress of grievance for their constituents, is, I think, the life blood of how our constitution works.
Research from consumer champion Which? shows that an estimated 2.5 million households missed or defaulted on at least one mortgage, rent, loan or credit card bill this month, marking a significant increase from last year, with missed payments highest among those on lower incomes. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on what his Government will do to make sure that there is sufficient support for those in financial distress, and will he set out what urgent measures he will put in place to help prevent spiralling household debt?
The hon. Lady raises something of great and widespread importance, as she so often does. There are two things to say. One is about the general approach of the Government to try to improve people’s standard of living, and some of those that I have mentioned before, such as raising the national living wage and cutting the universal credit taper, so that people have more money in their pockets to better afford their bills. Having a record level of payroll employment is also a crucial part of it. So, there is the broad economic argument, but then there are the individuals who face a bill that they cannot pay. They probably need support immediately and urgently. There are a number of people who give that support in each of our constituencies. Sometimes it is simply about getting that support to reschedule payments to avoid massive interest payments that ratchet up and up. Therefore, it is the broad, top-down economic policymaking, which the Government are doing, and then there is the support that we, as individual MPs with the services available in our constituencies, can give to individuals when they have specific problems.
I was surprised to hear yesterday that the Chancellor had not consulted with the Prime Minister on writing off £4.3 billion of public money. It rather undermines what the Leader of the House has been saying today about the presidential style of Government. It also raises questions about whether we have effective Cabinet governance at the moment. This £4.3 billion is a huge sum of money, a fraction of which would transform the lives of my constituents. Does he not agree that that kind of money, if it is being written off, should be a matter for Cabinet discussion and for agreement by this House as well?
I have already mentioned that we have stopped and recovered £743 million in overclaimed furlough grants and prevented £2.2 billion in fraud from our bounce back loan scheme, as well as the taxpayer protection taskforce being set to recover, in addition, £1 billion. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Her Majesty’s Government, in all their parts, take fraud extraordinarily seriously and try to recoup money as fast as they possibly can. The package was slightly over £400 billion, and 1% of fraud is, of course, 1% too much. The Government obviously take it seriously, but when fraud has taken place, it is not always possible to recoup the money, because the fraudsters have spent it, and there may be no money to recover. One cannot get blood from a stone.
Will the Leader of the House update this House on the likely timetable of the Building Safety Bill? It is having its Second Reading in the House of Lords on
It would be wrong of me to pre-empt Second Reading in the House of Lords. The Bill has obviously completed its passage in this House in time to pass through the Lords in the course of a normal Session. Obviously, any amendments made in the House of Lords will come back to this House for confirmation when we get to the Lords amendments stages, which is the routine way in which Bills pass. I reassure the hon. Lady that the House will have a chance to discuss those matters when they come back and that any amendments will be announced in the normal way.
Monday will be a very sad day with the funeral of our dear friend Jack. He was a great champion for the people of Erdington but also, if I may say, for the manufacturing sector and the car industry in particular. He had GKN—now Melrose—in his constituency, and of course Jaguar Land Rover. Today’s report from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders shows that last year there was a 34% reduction in production compared with 2019, which is significantly worse than in European competitor nations. I am sure that Jack would ask this question, were he here. Can we have a debate in Government time on the Government’s mismanagement of the pandemic and its impact on our economy?
On the economy, I think the hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. The policy adopted during the pandemic has saved the UK economy—that is why it has already got back to its pre-pandemic level. The £400 billion of taxpayer support for individuals and industry meant that people did not lose their jobs and that businesses survived the pandemic. If we had not provided what was probably the greatest level of support of any country in the world, we would have reduced the supply available when the economy came back, and that would have been inflationary. It would also have had the effect of putting many tens or hundreds of thousands—possibly even millions—into unemployment; in fact, we have the lowest youth unemployment on record. I think the attack on economic management is simply misplaced and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government got the big decisions right. That has been so fundamentally important during the whole of the covid pandemic.
In Swansea, 62% of waste is recycled compared with about 30% in north London. In Wales, we have a moratorium on incineration, but the Government’s plan in England is to double incineration by 2030. Indeed, the latest incinerator in north London will generate 700,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Can we have an urgent debate on incineration and fiscal measures to reduce it so that we can have cleaner air locally, protected from the ultra-fine particulates that incinerators emit, and contain our climate change discharges in a sensible way?
I thought that the hon. Gentleman might make a pun about hot air and the ability of this House sometimes to produce it. Obviously, there are mixed ways of waste disposal, and producing energy from waste is not a bad thing to do. We need a mixed and diverse energy strategy. However, I am fascinated about the concern that the socialists always have for north London.
Ploughing matches and tractor runs are really important parts of rural life in the north-east of Scotland and far beyond, bringing the community together and allowing for the transfer of skills in the agricultural community. However, they are being put at risk by a rule change introduced by the Treasury from
In Somerset, they have ploughing matches, which are, as the hon. Gentleman says, things that people enjoy. Actually, a late cousin of mine was exceptionally good at winning those ploughing competitions, so I have a great deal of sympathy with what he is saying. Of course, taxation is a matter for the Chancellor, but I will ensure that his point is passed on to the Treasury.
Assuming that levelling up is still the Government’s policy and that the Leader of the House thinks it is unacceptable for children to be taught in what the national media has called
“Britain’s worst built school where pupils paddle in sewage and get sick from toxic fumes,” may I ask him to use his good offices to get the Department for Education to look again at the problems at Russell Scott primary school, caused by a botched £2.7 million refurbishment by Carillion, which has required a further three quarters of a million pounds just to patch up and needs a further £5 million to put right the structural deficits? I received yesterday an appalling response from Baroness Barran saying that she recognises the condition needs at Russell Scott but there are no capital funding routes available at this time to support the school. That is not on, is it?
Hon. Members and right hon. Members will have heard me say before that I view it very much as my role as Leader of the House, when Members seek redress of grievance, to help them in that process. I do not know about this specific school and I would not wish to comment on it in detail. However, if the hon. Gentleman provides me with the details I will take the matter up with the Department and see whether I can get him a better answer, but I cannot promise to be able to do so.
Dickson chemist in Rutherglen, in my constituency, has become the first Scottish pharmacy to have a hyperbaric chamber available for customers. Hyperbaric chambers can have huge health benefits for tissue damage repair or chronic illness, such as multiple sclerosis. While recognising that health is a devolved matter, will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on how provision of this equipment can be improved across the UK, both in terms of supply and cost?
I am delighted that the hon. Lady is asking a Unionist question, because it is important that all parts of the Union learn from what is going on in other parts of the Union, so that we provide the best services to individuals. Having a hyperbaric chamber in a pharmacy sounds prima facie to be a very good idea and I hope it will be something that other people look into. I am grateful to her for raising it.
The one and only, Jim Shannon.
It is always a pleasure to ask a question of the Leader of the House. Last week, Aneeqa Ateeq was found guilty of blasphemy and given a death sentence by a court in Lahore after sharing a message on social media. Aneeqa is one of 80 people imprisoned in Pakistan under blasphemy charges. Will the Leader of the House provide a statement on Her Majesty’s Government’s efforts to tackle blasphemy laws in Pakistan, given that that country is the largest beneficiary of UK aid?
I am always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising these important points about freedom of religion, ensuring that the Government are aware of them and that they are raised at the highest levels within Government.
Regrettably, I am not allowed to comment on individual cases. However, the Government remain concerned about the use of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. It is our long-standing policy to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances, as a matter of principle. UK aid in Pakistan targets the most marginalised and vulnerable communities, and the Government fund programmes that work to address discrimination against minorities and gender-based violence, but of course Her Majesty’s Government should use all the influence at their hand to protect freedom of religion.