I welcome the new Leader of the House, Mark Spencer.
I would be delighted.
The provisional business for the week commencing
If you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, while I am on my feet I will briefly pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg, my predecessor as Leader of the House and Lord President of the Council. During his time in post, he was instrumental in guiding parliamentary business through the pandemic. It may come as some surprise to colleagues that he was the leading advocate for the digital revolution in Parliament and a pioneer of the hybrid proceedings, and, to be fair, he ensured that the House and its Committees were able to sit throughout the pandemic.
My right hon. Friend also oversaw the Government’s delivery of the legislative programme over the past two and a half years, including ensuring that all necessary legislation was in place ahead of our departure from the European Union. He took his role extremely seriously; he was an ardent champion of Back Benchers, not least ensuring that all hon. Members who brought up issues at business questions had those raised with the relevant Secretaries of State. Those are huge strides that I will have to step into. I have huge respect for my predecessor and I hope I can fill his shoes. I have an enormous amount of respect for him and I think of him as a true friend.
My door will always be open to anyone who wants to speak to me. I especially hope that Thangam Debbonaire will come through that door, and that we can have a positive relationship in the best interests of the House and its Members. I can assure the House that I will look to carry on my predecessor’s commitment to ensuring that those who work on the estate are treated with dignity and respect. I look forward to working with the House of Commons Commission, where I will look to build on recent work to ensure the efficient and effective running of the House for the sake of its Members and all who work here.
I warmly welcome the new Leader of the House to his post. I thank him for the forthcoming business and look forward to working with him. Also in my line of sight is the new Government Chief Whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, and I welcome him to his place as well.
I thank the previous Leader of the House for our time working together. I note that he is taking up his new role as the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency. I was interested to find out more about that role, so I had a look on the ministerial webpage, only to find—certainly when I last looked, and I had been refreshing the screen all morning—that there seemed to be no responsibilities listed. I know from experience that that might suit him, so I wish him well.
This is Race Equality Week. Hate crime is rising in Britain. Race is now a factor in more than seven out of 10 hate crimes recorded in England. Can the Leader of the House explain what the Government are doing to tackle this? Religious hate crime is also rising, particularly against British Muslims, so can the right hon. Gentleman also demonstrate his personal commitment to tackling that by scheduling in Government time a debate on Islamophobia?
There are 14,000 cases of fraud every day and millions of cases of fraud every year. Each day, thousands of people are scammed out of hard-earned savings. Yet we have a Business Secretary who thinks fraud is not a real crime. Perhaps that is why the Chancellor is happy to write off £4.3 billion of fraudulent loans.
Meanwhile, we have a Prime Minister who does not seem to understand his own Government’s record on tackling crime, claiming last week that they have been “cutting crime by 14%,” when that does not seem to be quite the case. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that there is actually
“a 14% increase in total crime, driven by a 47% increase in fraud and computer misuse.”
This causes misery, as well as financial ruin, for many people. It seems to me that this indicates a Government that are both soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime. Will the Leader of the House please ask the Prime Minister to come here and correct that record about crime statistics?
Families up and down the country are facing a cost of living crisis, with energy bills set to rise by more than £700 per year per household. Meanwhile, oil and gas producers are making over £700 profit per second. Instead of helping working families, this Government are choosing to load them up with debt. The Government’s forced loan—the so-called discount—means that households will actually end up forking out an extra £19 billion on their bills next year. Meanwhile, the Chancellor is pretending that he is giving us a discount. Given that the Government appear to be keen on “Buy now, pay later” schemes, would the Leader of the House find time for a debate on this?
Labour’s plan would keep bills low enough, through a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas profits, and all households getting £200 off their bills, with an extra £400 for those who need it most. Can the Leader of the House explain why the Government are not backing a windfall tax that would help fund a cut in VAT on energy bills and ease the burden on working people?
I asked the previous Leader of the House several times for the online harms Bill. We have had a series of updates, but no actual legislation. Last year the Prime Minister said the Bill would have completed all stages by Christmas, then it was just Second Reading, and then there was a vague commitment that it would happen at some point during the Session. The pre-legislative scrutiny Committee has reported and we have had a debate, but nothing is forthcoming on the business. Can the new Leader of the House enlighten us about the location of the Bill?
Finally, as I have to say each week—unfortunately, nothing seems to change—this Government are out of touch, out of ideas and out of control. A decade of dither, their delay and their incompetence has left working people paying the price.
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words about my predecessor. He has gone off to give us those Brexit dividends and find the benefits of Brexit. They are easy to find, to be honest, and I think he will be quite successful. Instead of criticising and being negative about Brexit, it is time the Labour party embraced Brexit, understood that the British people voted for Brexit and got on the bandwagon with us. Come and give us the Brexit dream, and let us go together, support the previous Leader of the House and move forward.
The hon. Lady mentioned race crime. I think everybody in the House will recognise that race crime is a terrible offence, and we should all do our part in condemning anyone who is involved in racial crimes. I wholly accept the point that she makes. I would be delighted to work together, in any way we can—we have a responsibility not only as Members of Parliament, but as citizens, to call out racial hatred whenever we see it in all its forms.
Turning to fraud, everybody will recognise what a terrible crime fraud is. As Members of Parliament, we can help. There are very evil people out there who are trying to steal people’s savings and attack our constituents, but we can help by highlighting some of those scams and by working to bring down not only fraud, but all crime. The Government’s record on crime is actually pretty good. If we look particularly at the statistics on violent crime and burglary, we see that the number of those crimes in our constituencies is coming down.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Prime Minister coming to make a statement. I say gently to her that if we look at knife crime in the city of London, we see that when the Prime Minister was the Mayor of London, he tackled knife crime and it came down. Under the current Labour Mayor, those statistics have gone in the wrong direction. She should support the Government and support our ambitions to recruit more police officers, on which we are delivering, and together we can tackle crime.
Energy costs are clearly a very big issue for our constituents. The Government have done an awful lot to try to help with the pain of global energy costs. We have put £9.1 billion into the energy bill rebate scheme, with a £200 discount on bills this autumn. The Government are taking a number of steps. I am not saying that there is not more that we can do, and I understand the squeeze on people, on hard-working families, but the best way out of poverty is through hard work, good jobs and good careers. That is what the Government are delivering. I say to the hon. Lady: get behind the Government and support us as we do that, because reducing the tax burden on the lowest-paid and helping out those on universal credit is what we are delivering.
Finally, the hon. Lady mentioned the online harms Bill. The Bill has been through pre-legislative scrutiny and that report has been received. I am sure that the House will be updated in the usual way when I announce business in future. At this moment in time, she will just have to chill her beans, but it is coming at some point.
We are expecting a written ministerial statement today on the one piece of covid legislation that we do not yet know a date for revocation—namely, the provision of early abortion pills through the post without face-to-face consultation. Depending on what that statement says, will the Leader of the House consider making time available in the forthcoming business for an oral statement, so that those of us who are appalled by the practice can make the case for a swift return to the status quo ante?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. Of course, the Government take that very seriously, and I understand the strength of feeling on these issues—[Interruption.] I accept that—I understand the strength of feeling on both sides of the argument and both sides of the House. The Department for Health and Social Care will look at that and I am sure that it will update the House on any decisions before they are made.
Well, look who we have now—I warmly congratulate the right hon. Member on his new role and note that he is now my sixth Leader of the House in my short tenure here as shadow Leader of the House on the Scottish National party Benches. I have learned a few things about being Leader of the House over the course of the years. Usually, the position is reserved for one of two categories: those on the way down or those who are difficult to place. I will leave him to decide which of these categories he falls into.
Although the right hon. Member could not possibly remain as Chief Whip after blackmailgate and after being the initiator of all the current difficulties by trying to lead recalcitrant and reluctant Back Benchers over the top to defend the indefensible by trying to save his pal, Owen Paterson, the fact that he has been made Leader of the House is almost unbelievable. It is like moving Dracula from Minister for blood supply to Minister for blood transfusions. But we wish him well. He must not just know where the bodies are buried; he is also brushing off the dirt on his grubby overalls.
It is also right that we pay tribute to Mr Rees-Mogg. How we will all miss his affectatious patronisation. At least one good thing has come out of the oxymoron of his new job: one person has been gainfully employed by the Government’s disastrous Brexit.
Order. Hopefully we might get on to the business. This is very funny, but come on.
Can we have a debate about the lorry park that is now the county of Kent? I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is walking up and down the queue saying, “Hark! The sunlit uplands are just around the corner.”
There is one thing that the new Leader of the House could do to show that he is different in this job, and that is to resolve the case of my hon. Friend Amy Callaghan. She has had to come down here just to vote, against her doctors’ advice, travelling 800 miles to put a pass against a card reader. It is madness. Not only is that bad for her, but it is bad for this House. It makes us look callous, it makes us look indifferent and it makes us look heartless. Can the Leader of the House show that he is not just the Mogg without the expensive classical education, and get this resolved for Members who are sick or recovering from illness?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm words about my predecessor, who did warn me that the hon. Gentleman was quite an angry man. Every week he turns up here in a very angry state, and I am concerned about that. When I meet him outside he seems to be very calm, but as he crosses the line he seems to have this huge anger. It is my personal mission to try to soothe him. I am the Sudocrem to his nappy rash. We will work together and I will calm him as we move forward.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned transport, and there will be an opportunity for him to question the Secretary of State for Transport in early March. He also mentioned Amy Callaghan. I met her yesterday—she came to my office—and I fully understand the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises, and her predicament. We await the Procedure Committee report on how we can assist and support colleagues who find themselves in those circumstances, but these are very delicate matters that do need consideration. My door is genuinely open to a conversation about how we can try to solve that for the benefit of the whole House. That is a conversation that I am happy to take forward with him in the future.
May I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend on his appointment as Leader of the House? The Secretary of State for Transport recently announced that there would be a competition to find a new headquarters for Great British Railways. My constituency of North West Cambridgeshire comprises the southern half of the city of Peterborough, and I am in no doubt that it would be the ideal location for a new headquarters. Will my right hon. Friend kindly provide time in the House for a debate in which I and my hon. Friend Paul Bristow could put forward the case as to why the city of Peterborough should be the location of the new headquarters for Great British Railways?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituents, for Cambridgeshire and for Peterborough. I understand that the Great British Railways transition team is running the competition, and I wish him every success in his bid. I also note that the Government are embarking on the biggest investment in our railway infrastructure, with £96 billion through the integrated rail plan.
He will have picked this up from his predecessor, but I remind him that the Backbench Business Committee already has a number of date-sensitive applications on the stocks, particularly for the first two weeks in March, with Welsh affairs and St David’s Day in the first week of March and International Women’s Day in the second week. We are anticipating a couple of days to debate departmental spending through estimates day debates, and applications for those debate slots must be made to the Backbench Business Committee by the deadline of 2.30 pm on Friday
I met the new president and the new general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers yesterday, and they wanted me to raise an issue in National Apprenticeship Week. I am sure the Leader of the House is aware that this is National Apprenticeship Week, which is a cause for celebration, but seafarer training policies in the maritime 2050 strategy and in mechanisms such as the tonnage tax are just not working to recruit and train UK ratings. Far too many shipowners bring in crew from overseas on low pay, sometimes with dreadful conditions of service, rather than training young people in our port towns and cities. Can we have a statement on what urgent action will be taken, including through the tonnage tax, to boost rating apprenticeships across the UK?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for all his work as Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee. I encourage all colleagues to engage with the Committee, which is a great opportunity for them to raise any topic they like on the Floor of the House. His chairing of the Committee is exemplary. Of course, I will work with him to try to ensure those time-sensitive debates happen at a time of his choosing.
The Government have a very proud record on getting young people into apprenticeships, on which we can still do more. We need to reflect on how our young people get from school into careers. University is not the route for every young person, and an apprenticeship programme is a great opportunity for young people to get into the jobs market and to get a great career for themselves. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support.
Yesterday, in Oxfordshire, there was exciting news of a major breakthrough in our quest to develop nuclear fusion. The scientists at Culham have more than doubled the amount of fusion energy generated compared with previous tests, and Stroud and the south-west’s Severn Edge bid has been shortlisted for Berkeley and Oldbury to be the home of the first fusion energy prototype. I am biased, but we definitely have the best bid to deliver this source of low-carbon energy for the country. Will my right hon. Friend, with his brand new powers, grant a debate in Government time to discuss the UK’s scientific developments, particularly in fusion energy?
I have to confess that my knowledge of nuclear fusion is limited. My only experience is from “Spider-Man 2”, where it all seemed to go a little wrong. It says here that nuclear fusion has the potential to be a world-changing energy source, and I have no reason to doubt that. I recognise my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for investment in her constituency, and I sincerely hope it works.
This is a very important issue. I recognise that a lot of people on both sides of the House have done a lot of work to highlight the need for defibrillators—I have been contacted by the Oliver King Foundation about a tragic case. This would be a worthy debate to have either in Westminster Hall or as an Adjournment debate, and I know it would be very popular.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position. There is understandable public interest in the allegation of gatherings at Downing Street, but does he share my concern about how this subject has recently been taught at Welbeck Primary School in Nottingham? According to the school’s tweet about the lesson, children appear to have been taught allegations as fact—Mr Speaker, they also appear to have been taught that you have been biased—with no alternative view given. I have written to the Education Secretary to ask him to investigate whether the headteacher’s duty of impartiality under the Education Act 1996 has been breached in this case. In the meantime, might we have parliamentary time to debate the teaching of sensitive political subjects in schools so that teachers do not cross the line?
I know that you are quite capable of defending yourself, Mr Speaker, but any suggestion that you are biased should be robustly repudiated. My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Education on our democratic processes and establishments is an important part of how young people learn about how our democracy works, but the subject has to be taught with sensitivity and without political bias. Any suggestion that there is political bias is unfortunate.
The Leader of the House, whom I welcome to his place, will be aware that, this week, a Mauritian delegation set sail on a planned expedition to the Chagos islands with a number of expelled Chagossians on board. Members will be aware that, in 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that continued British occupation of the archipelago was illegal. Given the injustices that this population has suffered, does the Leader of the House agree that there should be a debate in Government time on the Chagossians’ right to return, on progress in delivering the compensation package and on the future of that island chain?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She will have the opportunity to question the Foreign Secretary at Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions on
London accounts for 13% of the UK’s population and 22% of its gross domestic product. The issue of how London is governed is important to the whole country. We used to have debates in Government time on London and its governance. Can we restore that situation, so that we can examine why Conservative Bromley is debt-free, while Labour Croydon is bankrupt and required an £120 million bail-out; and why the Labour Mayor increased his press office’s budget by 33%, while shipping the London Assembly, which, in statute, has a duty to scrutinise him, 8 miles down the river, out of the centre, in order to marginalise it? Are those not matters that we should be able to debate in the House?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question highlighting those issues. If I can facilitate such a debate, I will be delighted to, but of course there are other routes open to him: he might want a Westminster Hall debate; he can apply for an Adjournment debate; or he could even talk to Ian Mearns about getting a Backbench Business debate.
I warmly congratulate the new Government Chief Whip. You may not know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that he and I have been friends for many years; he helped me run my campaign to be Speaker, which did not go very well, obviously. I hope that he has just as much success in his forthcoming campaigns. Of course, I also welcome the new Leader of the House. May I ask him about the statutory instrument on Russian sanctions that the Minister for Europe said would be laid before Parliament this afternoon? The whole House wants to help the Government introduce proper legislation, but we need proper scrutiny of it. As I understand it, the SI will go through the affirmative procedure, which means that it will not become law today, whatever the Foreign Secretary said two weeks ago; it needs the agreement of the House. We all want that to happen as soon as possible. Why did the Minister for Europe not announce today when that will happen? Why can it not happen on the Monday after next, when the House returns?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm words about the new Chief Whip. I, too, congratulate the Chief Whip on his appointment. He not only ran the hon. Gentleman’s campaign, but assisted Dame Andrea Leadsom with her bid to become leader of the Conservative party, which was equally successful.
Turning to the statutory instrument on Russian sanctions that is being laid before Parliament, clearly this is a sensitive issue. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will keep the House informed on how the measures will be implemented and on what they are. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s desire to debate the instrument. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will at some point update the House and the hon. Gentleman will then have the opportunity to question her.
I warmly welcome the Leader of the House to his place. I can see that business questions on Thursday will continue to be the highlight of the week, and I thank him for that. I pay tribute to the former Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg. Thursday regulars will miss him, even though they might not admit to it. Members from across the House have certainly told me—
Yes, indeed. Members from across the House have told me how much they appreciate the diligence that my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset showed in following up on their questions, and in highlighting their local campaigns. He was ably supported by the wonderful Leader of the House team, who we see in the Box.
Today is the last day for Members to participate in the consultation on proposed changes to standards on the conduct of MPs. Members have expressed concerns that their names could be made public and their comments used against them if they were to submit them online. Can the Leader of the House suggest a mechanism for how Members can participate in the consultation anonymously?
Let me put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend for her contributions to business questions and supporting my predecessor. It is indeed the last day for contributions to the consultation on standards. [Interruption.] Chris Bryant, the Chair of the Committee on Standards, tells me from a sedentary position that those will be taken anonymously. I encourage all colleagues to participate in that. This is an important issue on which we need to have cross-party support on how we move forward. I look forward to the findings of the Committee and debating them in future.
I am sure the Leader of the House will share the widespread condemnation of the animal cruelty displayed by the West Ham footballer Kurt Zouma, which took place in front of a child and was filmed by the footballer’s brother, who can be heard laughing as the abuse was taking place. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out his disappointment that West Ham fielded this player in the days following this incident, thereby squandering the opportunity to demonstrate that it has zero tolerance towards the abuse of defenceless animals by any of its players, no matter how good they may be at playing football?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is right to highlight this in the House of Commons. It was an appalling video; anybody who saw it could not help but be shocked by it. I understand that West Ham United have fined the player two weeks’ wages and donated that money to animal charities. I would gently say to Mr Zouma himself that maybe he would like to match-fund that money and donate it either to Cats Protection or Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, which is not far from the London Stadium, where he plays. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight this shocking case—well done.
For those who doubt that these questions are valuable, last week I raised a question on the failure of the Home Office to respond to my frequent correspondence in relation to immigration cases, and I am pleased to say that this week I have received a plethora of replies, and I thank my right hon. Friend’s predecessor for enabling that to happen. Indeed, tomorrow, an official is coming to my office to go through all the individual cases that are still outstanding.
Further to the question from Patricia Gibson about the abuse of and cruelty to domestic pets, my right hon. Friend—I congratulate him on his new job—is of course a farmer and looks after animals in an exemplary fashion. Can we have a statement on the Floor of the House from one of our Ministers on what measures can be taken to further protect domestic pets from this dreadful violence, which has obviously been perpetuated by a famous footballer but goes on every single day of the week throughout the years?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments on the response of the Home Office. I would like to take full credit for that, but I will not. He is right to raise animal cruelty. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is progressing through the House. This is something that the Government take very seriously. He mentions the fact that I am a farmer. We should be enormously proud, as UK agriculture, of the record of animal welfare within UK food production: we are world leading. As regards domestic pets, there will be lots of opportunities for that issue to be debated in future. Debates of that nature, should he apply for one, are always very popular.
I welcome the Leader of the House to his post, and to his first whingeing gits session, as business questions are affectionately known on both sides of the House.
May I support the plea from my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House for a debate in Government time on racism and anti-racism? The figures for attacks on Jewish and Muslim communities in particular are rocketing for all sorts of reasons, and many of us, including me, represent both communities.
This is an important issue, and, as I have said, we all have a responsibility to try to ensure that we get our language right in the House. Hate crime of any nature should not be tolerated. I think it is always a good thing to debate it at any point and to highlight and condemn it, as well as working with our law enforcement officers who are out there on the frontline dealing with it on a daily basis.
The good people of Sherwood must be very proud today that their Member of Parliament has risen to become Leader of the House of Commons. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the position that he now holds. As one east midlands Member to another, may I ask him to confirm that he will facilitate, whenever possible, any debate in the House that seeks to highlight the great work that the Government do in helping to improve the lives of people and businesses in the east midlands?
I think it unlikely that I am going to say no. My hon. Friend is a huge champion for Leicestershire and for the east midlands, and I shall be delighted to work with him to highlight the importance of the east midlands, to get more investment into the region, and to create more jobs and more opportunities for the next generation.
In his opening statement, the new Leader of the House mentioned the £9.1 billion energy bill rebate that the Government have announced to help constituents up and down the country. Yesterday I visited small business owners in Kennington Road, in my constituency, and they told me that their energy bills were going through the roof. Some are having to take measures such as not turning on their electricity during the day when there are no customers. These are hard-working people who want their businesses to succeed. At a time when we are seeing Shell and BP make profits of £14 billion and £9 billion respectively, will the Leader of the House please consider providing Government time for us to discuss how we can help our constituents who are suffering pain now, given that this rebate will make no difference to their pockets?
I want those businesses to succeed as well. Everyone on the Government side of the House wants to see them succeed. I want to see them create jobs for the hon. Lady’s constituents and for mine, and I want to see them make a good profit and pay their contributions in tax. The energy companies that the hon. Lady mentioned, on which she wants to see a windfall tax, are already paying a huge rate of tax to the Exchequer, and many of our constituents depend on the share values of those companies for their pensions. We have to get the balance right. We need to ensure that those companies are efficient enough to deliver the lowest level of energy costs that they can manage, but the Exchequer has provided mechanisms to support those businesses and our constituents. I think the Government are striking the right balance, and that the proposals of the hon. Lady’s party would take us in the wrong direction.
High Peak is one of the safest places to live in the country, but for many years Fairfield Road in Buxton has been blighted by antisocial behaviour and drug-related crimes. I organised multi-agency meetings with the police, the fire brigade, the council, social services and the relevant housing associations so that we could develop a joined-up approach to tackling that crime and its underlying causes. I am pleased to report that since our meetings a series of arrests have been made, and the police have told me that there has been a 40% reduction in crime, but there is still a great deal more to do. With that in mind, may I ask for a debate on safer neighbourhood policing to enable us to make the case for more resources for local policing and make High Peak even safer?
I am delighted to hear about the extra funding and the reduction in crime in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The Government are committed to bringing down crime rates. We have already recruited 11,000 new police officers, which is over halfway to delivering on the pledge that we made at the last general election. We are giving officers more of the powers that they need to police our streets. My hon. Friend is a huge champion for his constituency, and I am delighted to hear that he is making good progress in fighting crime.
I welcome the new Leader of the House. Those of us who are regulars on a Thursday would prefer stimulation rather than soothing, and especially the stimulation of a Leader of the House who believes not in a presidential system run from No. 10 but a parliamentary democracy run here in this place.
On a lighter note, I am wearing my Valentine’s tie with hearts on it because it is Valentine’s day on Monday and we encourage everyone, in this House and outside, to send flowers to Nazanin on Monday. We cannot send them to her directly but they should be sent to the Iranian embassy. Let us build an enormous show of love for Nazanin and sympathy for her predicament on Monday. I hope that the new Leader of the House will join me in that.
I would be delighted to. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and for the love he is demonstrating across the Chamber. I will assist him and the House in drawing attention to the fact that the Iranian state is still holding on to Nazanin. It is an outrage, and the sooner we can get her home, the better.
My right hon. Friend will be familiar with the services provided by East Midlands Railway—although in the case of EMR’s Cleethorpes to Barton service, it is the lack of service that is causing my constituents concerns. Will he arrange a debate about reliability and the responsibility of the rail operating companies to their passengers?
I praise my hon. Friend for his role as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on rail. I am familiar with East Midlands Railway. He is a huge champion for the improvement of services to Cleethorpes, and I wish him well in that pursuit. He can always apply for an Adjournment debate to continue to highlight the challenges his constituents face.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role. I look forward to his attempts to lower the temperature in these sessions and am waiting for the moment when he tells me to “Calm down, dear”—I assure him that I will probably do the opposite.
I welcome yesterday’s announcement that cyber-flashing will become a specific offence in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. I congratulate Bumble and the End Violence Against Women Coalition on that victory. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that we see a timeline, via a statement in the House, for how the Government are going to take the change forward?
I think the hon. Lady may have confused me with Michael Winner—I do not think I have ever used those words.
The hon. Lady raises the important issue of violence against women and girls, which the Government take extremely seriously. I am sure the Home Office will update her on the progress made and that she will hold the Home Office to account as we move forward.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role.
The Mayor of London is failing my constituents in Kensington: he is looking to sell the Notting Hill police station to the highest bidder, meaning there will not be a police presence in the north of my borough after December 2022. My local council is putting together a bid to retain the site as an asset of community value. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Mayor of London should sell the site to my local council so that it is retained in the community rather than turned into luxury flats that will be bought by foreigners and probably never lived in?
The Mayor of London is the capital’s police and crime commissioner and is ultimately responsible for decisions of that kind. I note that his record on policing, and particularly on the scourge of knife crime, does not match that of his predecessor. My hon. Friend is diligent in her frequent questioning of the inadequacies of the Mayor of London and is a great champion of her constituents. I hope he listens to her pleas.
The UK Statistics Authority has written to the Government because the Prime Minister used the wrong figures when he talked about crime being down by 14% when it is in fact up by 14%. The Government have similarly been written to about the use of unemployment statistics that neglect to include people who are self-employed, the number of whom has dropped by 700,000 to 800,000, so there are in fact fewer people in employment, contrary to what the Government say. Will the Leader of the House undertake to investigate all the Ministers, including the Prime Minister, who have misinformed the House, albeit inadvertently, on those statistics and ensure that they come back and put the record straight, as they are required to do?
I think the hon. Gentleman rescued himself at the end by putting in the word “inadvertently”, because I know he would not want to suggest that anybody would come to the House and deliberately mislead anyone. I can cheer him up by telling him that the work on crime that the Government are delivering is making great progress. We are working on drugs strategies, we are shutting down county lines, we are investing £200 million in the youth endowment fund, we are lifting the number of police officers throughout the United Kingdom and we are working very hard to bring down violent crime—and succeeding. It is time for him to be more positive about crime reduction, get behind the Government, and support our police officers by recognising their hard work.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent start in his new role. This weekend, CPRE Bedfordshire is arranging a series of walks in conjunction with local parishes across the Bedfordshire countryside to highlight the pressure that excessive development is placing on our natural environment. What progress are the Government making with our infrastructure-first initiatives and our planning targets? Could we have a statement from the Minister responsible for those topics?
My hon. Friend is a keen campaigner on the issue of development on the green belt. A new Housing Minister, my right hon. Friend Stuart Andrew, who is a great man and the former Deputy Chief Whip, was recently appointed. I encourage my hon. Friend to get in contact with him to ensure that he understands the priorities. Many safeguards have been put in place in terms of planning. I wish him well, as many hon. Members have the same concerns.
Will the new Leader of the House provide an urgent statement on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s performance? The Transport Committee has criticised it twice in recent months. My constituent, who is a taxi driver, is desperate because his livelihood depends on his licence being returned to him. Another constituent needs to travel abroad but it has had her passport for three months. Can he work some magic to resolve those issues?
I know that issue is recognised in the Department for Transport. The hon. Lady will understand that, coming out of a global pandemic, there have been challenges in several Government Departments, where people have been working from home, to process all that information as quickly as it should be delivered. She is right to highlight that and I am sure that she will have an opportunity at Transport questions to question the Secretary of State for Transport on that matter.
The Government agree that an offshore transmission network is the best way to connect offshore wind to the national grid, but under current plans, an OTN will not be in place until after 2030, when we have had 40 GW from offshore wind by 2030 set out under the green industrial revolution. National Grid ESO estimates that that will cost consumers an extra £6 billion. Is there time for a debate on the need to accelerate the development and installation of the OTN so that it is ready for 2030 and the 40 GW connection, not after it?
I think there are Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions in the week we return from half-term, and I know that my hon. Friend will take the opportunity to question our colleagues in BEIS then. The Government are managing the transition from a carbon-driven energy production system to new tech. I know that he is a keen advocate of that, and I am sure that he will hold us to account as we make that transition.
FDR created the Executive Office of the President in response to the great depression and to drive through the new deal. The Office of the Prime Minister has been created in response to partygate and to get through a leadership crisis. Can we have a debate on the significant constitutional change—the power grab—that is being perpetrated by Downing Street?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is being a little disingenuous. The Prime Minister wants to bring efficiency to Downing Street, which will benefit my constituents and his. We need a system in Government that delivers for the House of Commons so that hon. Members in the Chamber can hold the Government to account as well as bringing the changes that our constituents desperately need to see.
I welcome the new Leader of the House. Could he apply some of his famed Sudocrem to those of us on both sides of the House who would like to see the Vagrancy Act 1824 repealed by allowing us to vote for the amendment from Lord Best and Lord Young—the latter is a distinguished former Chief Whip—in due course?
Although this is not the most important issue about Russia on the table, will the Leader of the House encourage Ministers in the Treasury and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to help Gloucester City Council, which has been badly hacked, reportedly by those in Russia?
My hon. Friend’s question highlights the importance of the security services in dealing with hacks in which local authorities have been subject to ransom software. We will continue to do anything we can as a Government to support local authorities or Government agencies to avoid that. On the Vagrancy Act, I am aware of the amendment currently in the House of Lords, which the Government are looking at closely. As soon as we have made a decision on that, I am sure that the House will be updated.
I welcome the Leader of the House to his new role. Given that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and, I think, the majority of the British public support the continuation of telemedicine—the Government also had a consultation on it that ended in February 2021—is it not time for an urgent statement from the Department of Health and Social Care about the future for telemedicine? Last week, The Daily Telegraph reported that Ministers had said that they would extend it, but that was not brought to the House of Commons first. It is however the right decision, because it is the healthcare that women in 2022 need and the Abortion Act 1967, which is more than 50 years old, is no longer fit for purpose.
I recognise the right hon. Lady’s work and how passionately she has campaigned in this area. It is a sensitive issue on which I fear to tread at this moment in time. We have Health and Social Care questions on
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place; he is doing an excellent job.
One hundred and seventy-five years ago, Barrow-in-Furness comprised little more than a few sheep farms, but the discovery of iron ore opened up Barrow to the world and Henry Schneider’s railway showed its potential. It is because of the iron and steel of the railways that we now deliver the national deterrent. With that in mind, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no better place for the home of Great British Railways than Barrow-in-Furness? Will he give time for a debate so that colleagues can discuss the issue further?
As I said earlier, the Great British Railways transition team is running a competition, and I wish my hon. Friend every success as I do my hon. Friend Shailesh Vara, who also hopes to bid. I remind the House that the Government have a plan to deliver a wide range of change on our railways. I congratulate him on being a huge campaigner and great advocate for Barrow—he is a true champion for the town—and wish him well.
Of course, we have a new Minister in place who will deliver the Brexit dividend. There are huge opportunities coming forward for the United Kingdom. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to get behind Brexit and to celebrate all that is Brexit. In the words of the movie “Frozen”—I do not know whether he has seen it—he should “let it go”. We have got to move forward and celebrate Brexit.
I also welcome the Leader of the House to his place. As I am sure the whole House knows, this is a momentous year for rugby league. We are starting the season today with rugby league being shown on two TV stations, and then the rugby league world cup will be hosted by England later this year. Does the Leader of the House agree that this momentous year should be celebrated in this House, starting with a debate in Government time on the power of sport and the huge contribution that rugby league in particular makes to our communities and to society as a whole?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I warmly welcome her question. It is important in answering that I mention Warrington Wolves, or Mr Speaker will be upset. I know that he is a huge fan of rugby league, and we should celebrate all that those small clubs do, with thousands and thousands of volunteers and parents turning out at weekends, supporting their kids playing football, rugby league and rugby union and many other sports. It is good for the mental health of their kids and their fitness, and it is good for families to have something to do at weekends that draws them together and keeps them as a unit.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role and thank his predecessor, Mr Rees-Mogg, for his assistance in pursuing the Business Secretary after I raised in November the issue of best available techniques, which set the conditions for environmental permits for key industries. Unfortunately, we are no further forward. The Government response to the April 2021 consultation has not yet been published, and we are only weeks away from the arrangements taking effect. There also seems to be uncertainty as to which Department is responsible. Can we therefore have a statement from the appropriate Minister, and will the Leader of the House allow time for Members to debate this issue?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for recognising the efforts of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset. First, let us try to identify the Department that is responsible. I will try to assist him in doing that, and then we can together pursue that Department to get the answers that he desires.
Luton North finds strength in its diversity; it really is one town of many voices. My constituents are concerned by the rising incidence of Islamophobia, backed up by worrying new findings from the University of Birmingham that Britons are three times more likely to discriminate against Muslims than any other faith group. Their fears are all compounded by reports of Islamophobia at the heart of this Government. The shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire, did not get a straight answer, so I will try again. Will people’s legitimate concerns be addressed in Government time, yes or no?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight all forms of hate crime and racial discrimination, and I am committed to assisting her in any way I can to try to diminish, reduce or eradicate racial hatred and racial crime. It is an appalling crime and it should be condemned at all levels. If I can assist her in any way in doing that, I would be delighted to do so.
The now Leader of the House is more than familiar with the details of the Owen Paterson scandal that did so much damage to our politics, given his role in those events. The rot needs to be cut out. Given that, will the Leader of the House give time to debate my Bill to ban second jobs for MPs—a Bill that the Government are repeatedly blocking from progressing?
I should declare an interest, as I have a second job. As well as being the Member of Parliament for Sherwood, I am also the Leader of the House. I do not know whether he wants to ban me from having my second role, but that would be challenging. The House of Commons benefits from a wide range of experience, backgrounds and former careers and, to a certain extent, colleagues should be encouraged to be out there in the real world experiencing other forms of employment. I think the hon. Gentleman is being a little disingenuous. If I am being honest with him, it would be pretty difficult for me as a farmer to extract myself from that. I live in the middle of that farm. I do not know how I would extract myself from that business if I was no longer allowed to have a second job. I am not prepared to divorce my wife or to move house. I do not know quite how I would deliver on the route he wants to go.
The bus industry is hearing that the Government are contemplating the removal of current covid subsidies for bus companies from April or shortly afterwards. That would be extremely detrimental to bus services in Warrington, potentially requiring full route withdrawals and a stiff fares rise. Both would be extremely unpopular and could leave parts of our town cut off from public transport. Will the Leader of the House therefore please arrange for a statement in Government time on bus funding, so that this issue can be resolved and continued funding secured as we build back public transport after the pandemic?
I think the Department for Transport just announced £29 million extra to support buses, but the hon. Lady must recognise that as we move out of covid we need to move back to original funding levels in those areas. The good news is that we are coming out of covid. We will be the first country to get rid of all covid measures. That is thanks to the Prime Minister who, at the very early stages, pushed the vaccine programme and delivered the booster programme. I warmly welcome our move away from covid and back to a normal way of working.
I welcome the Leader of the House to his new position. Will he make time, on the Floor of the House, for a debate on Islamophobia? I have spoken previously on the Floor of the House about my experiences of Islamophobia and racism. Does he agree that an individual’s religion, or indeed no religion, should never be a barrier to them in the workplace?
I wholly agree with the hon. Lady that someone’s religion, sexuality, sex or age should not be a barrier to their career. She is one of a number of Members this morning who has asked for a debate of that nature. It is clearly very popular. I encourage her to link up with the other colleagues who have asked for that debate and to petition the Backbench Business Committee. I am sure Ian Mearns, who Chairs the Committee, will listen to those pleas.
Next week is Love Unions Week. May I put on record the incredible work that our trade unions do every day, supporting workers through the very challenging twists and turns of the workplace, but also over the last two years supporting workers through the pandemic, and supporting the growth of the economy and advancing workers’ rights? May we have a debate in Government time to talk about the value of trade unions, and encourage people to join their trade union and make a difference to the world of work?
I should declare my interest as a member of the National Farmers Union. Unions are a force for good in many circumstances. A debate on the success of unions is something the hon. Lady clearly believes in passionately. I encourage her to apply for an Adjournment debate, so she can put on the record her desire to celebrate all that is good about UK unions.
I congratulate the Leader of the House on being able to hold down three jobs. Several of my constituents do not have a job. They lost their job or had a job offer withdrawn because it took the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency six months or more to renew their driving licence. I firmly support the earlier request by Catherine West for a debate in Government time to look into the performance of the DVLA, in particular the gross discrimination against people who have to declare a medical condition. That is what is causing the delays. That is what forces people to use an outdated manual system, instead of the online system. Will the Leader of the House advise his colleagues in other Departments that that discrimination is not only indefensible; it is almost certainly unlawful and the Government could be facing a massive compensation bill if they do not get their act together pronto?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the cases he talks about. There will be an opportunity for him to question Transport Ministers in the near future. I encourage him to use the methods available to him to pursue this issue in the House with an Adjournment debate or a Backbench Business debate.
Tomorrow is UN International Day of Woman and Girls in Science, which pushes for full and equal access and participation for women and girls in science, given the significant gender gap that persists, particularly in accessing participation in higher education. Could we have a debate in Government time on the important role that BTECs and other applied general qualifications, such as biomedical science, play in allowing women and girls to access higher education, including on the impact that defunding BTECs will have on that participation?
The hon. Member is right to highlight that issue. It is important to get young girls into science, technology, maths and engineering topics. The Government have made great progress in that direction, and the Secretary of State for Education and his Department would celebrate and love the opportunity to set out their record. If the hon. Member were to apply for an Adjournment debate, she would give the Secretary of State the opportunity to tell her about the great work that the Government are doing.
Two weeks ago, the House of Lords highlighted that the NHS sourced materials made by the forced labour of Christians, Tibetans, Uyghurs and Falun Gong practitioners in Xinjiang, China. Will the Leader of the House provide a statement on the steps that Her Majesty’s Government are taking to ensure that goods procured for the NHS are free from the forced labour of prisoners of conscience in that region?
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions are on
I welcome the Leader of the House to his place.
On Sunday morning, I will be joining locals at Hamilton Accies football club for The Big Step challenge, which is a campaign to end all gambling advertising and sponsorship in football. The campaign is part of Gambling with Lives—a charity set up by families bereaved by gambling-related suicide. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on the highly anticipated White Paper on the Gambling Act 2005, and on how those with lived experience can inform the legislative outcomes?
The issue is worthy of debate. Many people participate in gambling, and it does them no harm—it is something that they enjoy—but clearly there are people who become addicted. Putting in place safeguards to protect those people and ensure that they are safe from predatory activity is worthy of debate. I wish the hon. Member well in her campaign.
I add my congratulations to the Leader of the House on his new role. I know that it was on the tip of his tongue to wish Doncaster good luck in its bid to be the home of Great British Railways; I am sure that it was just the time constraint that prevented him from doing so. Welcome, Leader of the House.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope this is helpful, as it follows on from the earlier questions about the Standards Committee’s current code of conduct review. The consultation ends today, and I know that the Government are close to sending in their own submission. Neither I, nor the Committee, would want any Member of the House to be treated any differently from the public in their submission. Members of the public can make a submission to the consultation online and simply click the box that says, “I would like to remain anonymous”, and that facility is also available to Members.
Alternatively, Members can email me or the Clerk of the Committee. It is helpful for us to know that a submission has come from a Member, but if they wanted to indicate that they would like to remain anonymous, we would undertake to maintain that anonymity when we publish all the responses to the consultation. We really do want to hear everybody’s views as openly as possible. I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you can answer that point of order, which was not really a point of order at all.
I was just about to say that I felt that it was more a public service broadcast than a point of order, but the hon. Gentleman has obviously passed on the information very effectively.