The business for the week commencing
The provisional business for the week commencing
Right hon. and hon. Members may also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will now rise for the Christmas recess at the close of business on Tuesday
I thank the Leader of the House for the business and the recess dates.
Tomorrow is the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, which I have been involved with for decades, so it is desperately sad that we still have two women a week tragically murdered by partners or ex-partners, the same as in 1992. Laws have changed, but sadly too many attitudes have not. I also recognise Islamophobia Awareness Month and join my hon. Friend Afzal Khan in urging the Government to produce the official definition of Islamophobia; it is three years since they promised to.
I must admit that a bit of infighting has hit the shadow Leader of the House team: a bit more than the Bristol channel divides us this week with England taking on Wales on Tuesday. The Leader of the House’s party will be far more prepared for division among colleagues than we are—because it has had plenty of practice this year—but may I take the opportunity to wish both home nations well? Who knows—maybe we will see each other in the final?
The Leader of the House’s business statement is testament to her Prime Minister’s poor judgment and weak leadership. Pulling Monday’s votes on their flagship Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill marks just the latest stage of the Tories’ long-running psychodrama. In one corner—the Prime Minister desperately trying to find at least some manifesto commitments that he can still deliver on. In the other corner—50 of his own MPs threatening to back an amendment against their Government’s own Bill. It is a complete shambles, with the Government running from their own Back Benchers, leaving the levelling-up agenda in tatters and, more importantly, the British people with a broken housing market. If he cannot stand up to his own party, how on earth is he going to stand up against vested interests? Do the Government even intend to continue with the Bill? If so, when will they bring it back?
Since I became shadow Leader of the House, I have had a ringside seat for the chaotic way in which the Government have dragged the Online Safety Bill through Parliament with the grace and decorum of a reversing dump truck. It was first mooted a decade ago and it has been four years since they promised it. In that time, online crime has exploded, child sexual abuse online has become rife and scams have proliferated. I now hear that, in a bizarre move, the Government want to send the Bill back to Committee to try to remove a crucial section that deals with legal but harmful content. The Bill was designed to deal with legal but harmful content, self-harm, suicide and racist content, so why are they trying to take that out? If the Bill does not come back soon, it risks falling entirely—it will run into the end of the Session. The Leader of the House knows that there is no option to carry it over in those circumstances. So will we have Third Reading on Monday
It is not just the Tories making poor use of parliamentary time. The SNP is busy debating independence and a plan to turn the next general election into a de facto referendum, rather than getting rid of Tories—and delivering a Labour Government. The NHS—Labour’s greatest achievement—was invented in Scotland. NHS bosses in Scotland have set out plans to privatise the health service. Should they not be working out how to sort out 15 years of SNP mismanagement and underfunding instead?
Another issue that I have raised before is the Government sending Ministers to answer questions who simply do not have answers. We had the latest incident on Monday. A Minister was dragged to the Chamber to answer an urgent question on the COP27 climate conference who said herself that she was “not the Climate Minister”. Members have important questions to put to Ministers on behalf of our constituents. I ask the Leader of the House—not for the first time—to press the Government on the importance of sending Ministers to the Dispatch Box who are actually able to answer questions.
If the Conservative party cannot fill its legislative programme effectively, it could make way for a party that can. Does the Leader of the House want to swap places? As Leader of the House, within the first 100 days of the next Labour Government, I would schedule an employment Bill—legislation for an economy built on fair pay, job security and dignity. There would also be a race equality law to tackle racial inequality and legislation to kick-start a credible strategy for fairer, greener growth. That is what we would get with a Labour Government. So she can swap at any time she likes.
I start by joining in the hon. Lady’s good wishes to both England and Wales for their matches tomorrow; I wish them all the luck in the world. It would be wonderful to see them both in the final, although we may be faced with difficulties if that comes to pass.
The hon. Lady mentions violence against women and girls, an incredibly important issue. Our nation can take great pride in the work we have done globally to combat it. In particular, I put on record my thanks to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office envoy. I think a summit is taking place very shortly to help consolidate a lot of the work on this and the work Lord Hague has done in putting it firmly on the agenda globally. This country has some great non-governmental organisations who are also doing fantastic work globally, supported by the UK Government, but we know there is still more to do. There are some nations in the world where perhaps only 1% of women and girls will not have faced horrific violence, so we must continue to do all we can to ensure every woman and every girl across the world can grow up in peace and security.
The hon. Lady mentions that it is Islamophobia Awareness Month. The Government are committed to ending all anti-Muslim hatred. Our work ranges from supporting Tell MAMA to our places of worship protective security fund, which for this financial year is £24.5 million. We are also bringing in new measures to protect faith schools. The work of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on the definition of Islamo- phobia is progressing. My understanding—I will correct this if it is not the case—is that there is a difficulty with the definition formulated by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims and its compatibility with the Equality Act 2010, but the Department is looking at that. If that is not the case, I shall make sure the hon. Lady knows the facts.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady has still not condemned the train strikes, even in the run-up to Christmas. Many people working over Christmas will want to visit relatives. For those who are completely reliant on train services, the strikes are very disappointing indeed. I still hope the Opposition will support our legislation to ensure that minimum standards on these important services are maintained.
As for other legislation, I will make an announcement on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and the Online Safety Bill in the usual way. They will still be making progress through the House. I hope that Opposition Members will support those important Bills.
The hon. Lady mentions what Labour has to offer in its legislative programme and its policies. On the Government Benches, we are tackling the serious challenges that our country faces. In contrast, Labour’s policies would make things worse. Labour’s policy is £115 billion of unfunded spending, which would fuel inflation. Labour voted against the effective £1,000 tax cut for low-income families, when it voted against reducing the universal credit taper rate. It is not on the side of working families. It has no plan on illegal migration. It voted against the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and would scrap the efforts we are making to deter and frustrate illegal migration. And I seriously doubt that a Leader of the Opposition who voted to block us leaving the EU 48 times really wants to deliver on the Brexit dividend. I think the public, when they are asked, will look at Labour and see it has no clue and no plan, and say, “No thanks.”
On Saturday, in the big football match, King’s Lynn Town are playing in the second round of the FA cup. The Walks will be full of fans backing the Linnets, and it will be on BBC 1 for anyone who cannot get there. In addition to joining me in wishing the team the best of luck for the match, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the importance of football clubs to their local communities?
What a timely question from my hon. Friend. I join him in sending congratulations. The World cup presents a huge opportunity to get people interested in the sport. Grassroots football is absolutely fantastic in giving people that opportunity, encouraging talent and, of course, contributing to health and wellbeing across the nations, so I thank my hon. Friend for raising that today.
I associate myself with the comments made about violence against women and girls and Islamophobia Awareness Month. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate for an independence referendum without Westminster’s permission. I make it clear that the Scottish National party fully respects and accepts the Court’s judgment. It should be emphasised, however, that the Supreme Court does not make the law; it interprets and applies it. The Court was not asked to decide whether there is a democratic mandate for a referendum, nor was it asked what democratic means remain by which Scotland can choose its future.
The ruling proves beyond doubt that it is no longer—if it ever has been—a voluntary or equal Union, so the situation we are in transcends arguments for and against independence. This is fundamentally an issue of democracy. Do the people of Scotland have a right to self-determination? If we do, will the Leader of the House tell us how that right can be exercised if the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to do so? If the people of Scotland keep electing a majority of pro-independence MSPs and MPs, what is the democratic route to realising that mandate? Will the UK Government recognise that democratic injustice and amend the Scotland Act 1998 so that the right to self-determination for the people of Scotland is protected, or will they continue to deny democracy?
Later this afternoon, a Westminster Hall debate is taking place on the infected blood inquiry and compensation framework. That terrible tragedy continues to devastate lives. Last month, following decades of campaigning, the Government paid interim compensation payments of £100,000 to those infected and bereaved widows and partners. However, the families, estates and carers of deceased victims are being excluded from any interim compensation, which is an enormous injustice that the UK Government are carrying out in plain sight. My constituent, Justine Gordon-Smith, is the executor for her late father Randolph’s estate. Justine was her father’s carer throughout his painful struggle and ultimate passing, and she has suffered enormous and lasting personal trauma. When will people such as Justine receive justice? Will the Government make an urgent statement on the specific issue of excluded family members such as my constituent?
Oh no, my intelligence was wrong! Well, I am glad to hear that, because I thought that it would be very unfortunate if it fell on the same day as the Supreme Court ruling.
Let me start with the infected blood inquiry and the interim compensation scheme. That is incredibly important, and I am glad that the Government have made some interim payments. It is not often recognised that, as well as the initial wrong that those people had to suffer, they have also suffered layers and layers of injustice over years and years. That includes the loss of their homes, the inability to take a job, travel or get insurance, the stigma, further inequality for their children, and many other things. We are very conscious of that.
I was pleased to set up the compensation review. I am glad that it is having a positive impact for some families, but we must ensure that all the injustices that people have suffered are properly dealt with and that they are compensated. To do some of that properly, we will need the main inquiry to report, but rest assured that the Government have acted on this after years and years of other Governments not acting, and we are determined that to see that justice is done.
The hon. Lady asks what the mechanism is with regard to the Supreme Court ruling. The implication of her question is that a mechanism does not exist. If that was so, how on earth did we have a referendum roughly eight years ago? Even if the SNP wishes to forget the fact that we did or to ignore the result, there was discussion. Political parties, the Scottish and UK Governments and civil society agreed with one another. There was a consensus, and we decided in this very Chamber that that should be so on
Order. I just say to the Leader of the House that it would be better if her answers were addressed through me. This is becoming a personal battle. Let me put it that way.
I recently met a group of Stroud secondary school headteachers, and I have spoken to countless schools such as Berkeley Primary School, and they are all concerned about pressures on special educational needs, including funding, up-front costs, delays to education, health and care plans, endless paperwork and difficulties recruiting teaching assistants. These are smart, committed education experts who welcomed the recent extra funding, with education being viewed as key to the UK’s growth plan, but special educational needs and disabilities remain a gap. Can my right hon. Friend update us on when the Department for Education will respond to the well-received SEND Green Paper, and on when we can expect a Bill?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. We published the Green Paper in March, and the Department is reviewing it. I suggest that she raises it at Education questions on
Rail cuts will be implemented in my constituency in early December without consultation. This follows a derogation from the Department for Transport on consultation. I wrote to the Department to find out how many derogations there have been in the past few years. Today I received a disappointing response from the Minister of State, Department for Transport, Huw Merriman, that not only did not answer my question but arrived late. Given that the Leader of the House recently stated that all changes and cuts to rail services should involve consultation, can she please update the House on her position? Will she also urge the Transport Minister to respond to my question?
I do not know whether the hon. Lady managed to get any further information at Transport questions, but I will certainly write to the Department for Transport on her behalf to ask that it responds to her concerns.
A world heritage site in my constituency has just been awarded levelling-up funding by the Arts Council, for which we are very grateful, but the Arts Council has also withdrawn funding from a fabulous music project at Old Park Primary School in Malinslee, in which every child learns an instrument and experiences the pride and joy of playing with an orchestra at concerts. Does the Leader of the House agree that levelling up is about creating opportunities for communities such as Old Park Primary School, which serves a disadvantaged area? Can we have a debate on Arts Council funding and levelling up?
If my hon. Friend were to apply for a debate, I think it would be very well supported. The Arts Council has funded about 1,000 organisations across England, so I know that other Members will also want to look at this issue. Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions are on
Grid infrastructure is now the biggest issue holding back renewable energy development in the UK. Despite this, the Government are stalling on plans to reform Ofgem’s remit to allow for pre-emptive investment in grid infrastructure. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the Government’s plans for Ofgem’s remit?
The hon. Lady will know that Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions are on
My right hon. Friend was right earlier to reference the fact that the Opposition still refuse to condemn the rail strikes, which will hit retailers and the hospitality sector at a time of year when they are most dependent on trade, and will frustrate schoolchildren getting to school and patients getting to their hospital appointments. Will she therefore make time for a debate that looks at the impact of those rail strikes and, furthermore, at ways in which we can prevent a double-whammy from cancelling planned engineering works over that period, in the interests of rail passengers?
On my hon. Friend’s last, practical suggestion, I shall certainly write and put that in front of the Secretary of State for Transport. We want to do everything we can to ensure that the travelling public, and especially those who are completely reliant on rail services, can travel. We could hold a debate, which I am sure would be well attended, certainly by Conservative Members, but what we really need is some legislation to ensure minimum standards, so that the travelling public are not disrupted as they currently are. We are doing that and I hope the Opposition will support it.
I am sorry to do this only now, but I call the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
I am eternally grateful, Mr Speaker. I was wondering whether I was possibly off your Christmas card list!
I thank the Leader of the House for the business and for notice of the comprehensive list of proposed recess dates, which is really useful for diary planning for Members from across the House. If there is to be any Back-Bench business in the weeks beginning
Students at universities across the north-east have been contacting me, because of my work on the Select Committee on Education, about their maintenance loans. An average maintenance loan is about £485 per month for each student, but, like everyone else, they are experiencing huge increases in energy, rent and food bills. So may we have a statement on sustainability for students in our higher education sector, as many are really struggling at the moment and there is a danger to the institution, to the individual and to society as a whole of drop-outs due to unaffordability?
On being able to plan Back-Bench business, the hon. Gentleman will know that even if the dates are not set in stone, we will tip his office off and try to ensure that he can plan as best as possible to facilitate that for all Members of this House. He raises a good point about the additional cost of living pressures on students, which everyone else is facing. I will write on his behalf to the Education Secretary to ask that this matter is looked at, but the hon. Gentleman will know better than anyone else here how to apply for a debate.
When I founded Grassroots Out, along with my hon. Friend Tom Pursglove and Councillor Helen Harrison, we wanted to end the free movement of people, to stop sending billions of pounds to the European Union each and every year and to make our own laws in our country, judged by our own judges. I recall that the Leader of the House made a fantastic speech at one of our GO rallies. The former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson delivered all those things, so may we have a debate in Government time, led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, entitled “Brexit, a roaring success. No turning back”? [Hon. Members: “More!”]
As someone who campaigned for Brexit and who was delighted that the nation voted that way, I must put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend for his part in that campaign. While he was wanting to loosen certain ties, he was also producing some very fetching ties, one of which he is wearing today—the GO green tie. He is absolutely right to say that leaving the regulatory orbit of the EU enables us to capitalise on some new freedoms to deepen our trading relationships, not just with the EU, but with countries around the world. I think in particular of the opportunities of a £9 trillion market in the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. We had not been able to do those things, be they trade deals, the memorandums of understandings we are doing with US states, or opening up opportunities for our technical professions and procurement. There is a lot that we have done, but there is still more to do. I can assure him that this Government remain totally committed to that agenda.
The shadow Leader of the House said that November marks Islamophobia Awareness Month. It is a reminder to root out this awful hatred that impacts communities across the UK and worldwide. I commend the Leader of the House for her leadership in the past and suggest that she meets Zara Mohammed, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, who, I remind the House, is the youngest, first woman and first Scottish leader of the MCB. Whether it is the ongoing genocide against the Uyghur Muslims in China or the fact that the British Muslims suffer from the highest number of hate crimes in the UK year after year, more work needs to be done. Sadly, the Government have failed to produce a definition on Islamophobia after promising to do so for three years. Can we have an urgent debate, in Government time, on Islamophobia?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. Other Members have also raised that in today’s questions. I will write on his behalf to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ask that he updates the Members who have raised that issue today. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave earlier. This is an incredibly important matter for this Government in terms not just of the programmes that we do, but of ensuring that the right policies are in place.
In Iran, 60,000 people have been arrested for protesting, hundreds have lost their lives, and many are being warned that they face the death penalty. The agreement on the joint comprehensive plan of action seems to be in complete tatters. Thanks to you, Mr Speaker, two urgent questions have been granted recently, but we have never had a debate in Government time on what is going on in Iran and what the Government’s position will be. Can we now have such a debate? Today, there is an attempt at the United Nations Human Rights Council to launch an investigation into Iran’s activities, and its activities against its own people. Surely now is the time that our Government should be launching a debate in Parliament so that we can pile on the pressure.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important matter. I know that it is of huge concern to Members in all parties. Many events will be taking place in Parliament to ensure that the voices of the Iranian people can be heard and that we hear about what is going on there. The UK supported the special session at the UN to which he referred. I will write to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Foreign Secretary to make sure that they have heard his concerns today.
In 2010, 26,000 people used food banks. Last year, the figure was 2.6 million—a hundredfold increase. This year, we have one in four households in food poverty. Has the Leader of the House looked at the evidence from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, including that of FareShare and the Food Foundation? Indeed, the UN special rapporteur called for a right to food and also supported what the Welsh Government are doing in ruling on universal free breakfasts and lunches for our schoolchildren across the nation. We should do the same in England at a time of this desperate hunger among English children in English schools. Let us do it. Let us have that debate and make it work.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important matter. One benefit of having debates is that we can also share good practice across the UK. Food banks are one particular type of support. The pantry and larder schemes, I know, are also expanding. I shall certainly write to the relevant Department to let it know about the hon. Gentleman’s question today and to ensure that those opportunities are taken up.
We recently celebrated 150 years of Barrow shipyard—not just the institution, but the men and women, past and present, who have worked there. It was once said to me that a nuclear submarine is the most technically complex thing that we build on the planet; in Barrow we are building many of them at the same time, which is tribute to the skills and ingenuity of the people working there. Those boats keep us and our NATO allies safe 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to the workers in our shipyard and agree that there is no more fitting tribute to the work that has gone on there and is going on now than awarding royal borough status to Barrow? Can she advise how we might go about that?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on speaking up for the silent service. Although we are very used to seeing aircraft carriers and other surface ships, it is rare that we see a submarine in dry dock and can truly marvel at it. They are huge and much more complicated than anything that goes into outer space—they are incredible. There are massive opportunities under the AUKUS alliance to produce more, to enhance those capabilities and to share technology. Conferring royal status is very rare, but I shall certainly write to the Cabinet Office so that it can advise my hon. Friend on that matter.
Is the Leader of the House aware that Arwen Lark Hayes-Sheerman, our 13th grandchild, was born last week? Is she also aware of my campaign to ensure that every child in this country can breathe clean, fresh air wherever they are? At the moment, the poorest people in our country breathe in the filthiest air. Will she support my Motor Vehicle Tests (Diesel Particulate Filters) Bill, which would at least tackle the diesel particulate filters, which do not work and are not properly tested in the MOT?
I am sure I speak for the whole House when I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his family on that very good news. I am aware of his ambitions and his private Member’s Bill, and I shall certainly write to the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure they have heard his comments.
May I say pob lwc —good luck—to the Wales football team for next Tuesday, especially Anglesey’s Wayne Hennessey?
Today is a special day for Anglesey and for Wales. I have championed Anglesey’s becoming a freeport—I have mentioned it more than 26 times in this Chamber—and today is the day that bids are submitted. I am delighted that more than 1,000 supporters have signed the Anglesey Freeport website and more than 45 companies from all over the world, including BP, Bechtel, Rolls-Royce and Sizewell C, have endorsed Anglesey’s bid. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time on freeport proposals for Wales?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her continuing campaign. Business questions is becoming known as “Freeport Thursday” in my office, because she is always championing the project. I also congratulate her on the non-partisan way she does so. In addition to campaigning in Parliament, she is winning over supporters from her community and from across the political divide: I understand that the Isle of Anglesey County Council is putting jobs and local prosperity before politics and is supporting her and the Conservative manifesto commitment to enable this project to go ahead, bringing benefits not just to Wales but to the whole UK.
Everybody in the House knows that the reason the Bill on Monday has been changed is that the Government cannot deliver a majority for their top-down, random house building targets to be imposed on various local councils. May I make a helpful suggestion to the Leader of the House? Why not have a debate about house building and how we deliver our targets without damaging local democracy? That would test the views of the House and give me a chance to oppose a 3,000-house development in south Featherstone, which will do massive damage to the community and the local environment.
We are continuing with the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. There will be a second day on the Bill. That will happen shortly, and I will announce it in the usual way. The delays to some Bills are because of things such as the Finance Bill, which is pretty important, but house building is incredibly important. We want to ensure that people have the opportunity to have a safe, secure home and also the opportunity to own their own home, so I am sure that a debate on that topic would be welcomed by all Members.
Last week I had the pleasure of joining celebrations at Penny Hydraulics Ltd, which has just received a royal warrant. This is a specialist engineering company that I am proud to say is based in Clowne in my constituency, although it started as a small family business in nearby Eckington. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate to celebrate the importance of small, local and family businesses and the successful role they play in our fantastic economy?
My hon. Friend has asked a very timely question, as this week is Family Business Week. I have warm feelings towards Penny Hydraulics. It sounds like a great firm. There are currently 5 million family-owned businesses in the UK. They enable 4 million people to have a pay cheque and contribute about £575 billion to the UK economy. I am also pleased to say that the number of small businesses in the UK is up by 1 million since 2010.
Following on from that question about the importance of business, the right hon. Lady will of course be mindful of the fact that energy support for businesses is due to end on
We do want to provide support for business, and that is what we have done. We have done it throughout the pandemic and with the energy packages. We have announced our intention to continue to support businesses and households with what they need to get through challenging times, and I refer the hon. Lady to the recent statement that the Chancellor made.
Bereavement, regardless of the time since someone lost their loved one, is totally overwhelming, and talking about loss is often the route to dealing with the pain. It took me very many years to realise that. Finally sharing my story in a bid to help others was the most difficult thing I have ever done, but it was also a great honour knowing that it had helped others. I am therefore delighted to be working with the Co-op on launching a campaign, “Let’s Talk About Grief”, to share real stories of bereavement and encourage those who are grieving to speak about their loss. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the Co-op on the campaign and also congratulate it on all the work it does in supporting bereaved people all the time?
I thank the hon. Lady for her work on this other campaign. She has a reputation in this place for a doing a huge amount of good on issues that affect enormous numbers of people, but which are often not spoken about or focused on. I congratulate the Co-op and her on the work they are doing on this, and I am sure that all Members of the House would want to get involved and support what she is doing.
As the shadow Leader of the House said at the outset, tomorrow is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is also known as White Ribbon Day, which is a campaign that engages men to prevent and end violence against women and girls. Tomorrow I am hosting a coffee morning that will bring together support services including Women’s Aid, elected local representatives, men’s groups and sports clubs, so can we have another debate in this place on men’s role in ending violence against women and girls?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. It is absolutely fundamental that we address it, whether through international campaigns—HeForShe and other campaigns of that nature—or grassroots local campaigns that help provide education, support and opportunities for men, both to help change the culture and to contribute to resolving these ongoing issues. I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he is doing in his constituency, and I hope many Members from across the House will be doing similar.
In light of the fact that the Government have been forced to confront the housing crisis that we are seeing, because of the rebellion on the Leader of the House’s own Back Benches, I hear that the Secretary of State is now meeting with Conservative MPs to talk about their issues, as opposed to trying to hear what the issues are in many of our constituencies where we have had a crisis for so long. Can we have a debate on housing in Government time, to inform the future of housing and planning and to address the housing crisis that we see on a daily basis?
This is a matter of considerable concern to many Members. We want to improve the quality of housing; we want everyone to be able to have a warm, secure home that is in good condition; and we want people to have the opportunity to own their own home, too. The Secretary of State’s door is always open to all Members of this House, and I will ensure that he knows about the concerns that the hon. Lady has expressed.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend Abena Oppong-Asare, I can inform the Leader of the House that the issue relating to Southeastern was raised at Transport questions, and the Minister, Huw Merriman, confirmed that he had adopted the role of Fat Controller when it comes to Southeastern trains and had cut peak-time trains through my constituency and others, without consultation with our constituents. That is the key point: our constituents were refused the opportunity to be consulted. As they have not had the opportunity to have their say, will the right hon. Lady grant them a voice by giving us a debate in Government time, so that we can debate this terrible decision by the Department for Transport?
I will certainly write to the Department for Transport to let the Secretary of State know about the concerns that have been raised today. It is important that local communities are consulted about such changes, and I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.
Today, we have seen a damning report from Surfers Against Sewage regarding the scale of discharges being committed by water companies. In particular, the report includes new revelations about dry spills that pollute our rivers and beaches even when there is no rainfall. My own son was ill after entering the water earlier this year, in the summer—he came down with a spell of gastroenteritis, as did his friend—so I have some personal experience of this issue. Thanks to that report, we now know that South West Water, which covers the Tiverton and Honiton constituency, is one of the worst offenders. Will the Leader of the House make time available so that hon. Members from across the House can discuss the report’s findings in relation to dry spills?
First, I am very sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s son was ill, and that this was the cause. This issue is vital, and this Government have committed through the Environment Act 2021 and other work done by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure both that genuine storm overflows are reduced and that we are monitoring what water companies are doing. In 2016, I think only 5% of such discharges were monitored; from next year, that figure will be up to 100%, which is a key part of getting to the bottom of this.
The report is an important one. I do not think there will be Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions until
Last week, representatives of PANS PANDAS UK met a multidisciplinary group of medical professionals to discuss the future of diagnosis and treatment for those suffering from neurological disorders as a result of viral infections. That meeting was reported as being positive. There is clearly an issue with diagnosis of neurological disorders that is causing grave concern for many individuals, including people in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time to discuss these very important issues?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Diagnostics are vital. We must ensure that people get the chance to find out what ails them, even though we have a backlog from covid; that is why we have stood up the new diagnostic centres. It is clearly a highly specialist area, so I will write to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and ask him to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s query.
Other UN member states’ leaders and Prime Ministers did not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to COP27. I was there, and I witnessed the frustration that many people have about the lack of climate leadership from the UK Government. Getting rid of climate questions, removing anyone with climate in their brief from the Cabinet and allocating 100 new oil and gas licences simply makes us a laughing stock on the world stage. Can we have a statement from the Prime Minister about why he is so determined to keep us driving on the highway to climate hell?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the conference of the parties. Labour Prime Ministers were not dragged kicking and screaming to COP, because all bar one of them did not attend at all, so I am not going to apologise for my right hon. Friend’s attendance at the summit. What he is also concerned about is our very real issues at home, which I know are his prime focus and care. All those issues, from the health service to the cost of living, are what he is focused on.
My constituent has had to flee domestic abuse and has three children with significant health problems, so her life can be stressful at times. The Department for Work and Pensions recently advised her that it was transitioning one of her sons from the disability living allowance to the child disability payment, but for two universal credit assessment periods in a row she lost the payments despite updating her UC journal. It was only my office’s intervention that stopped her losing her payments for a third month in a row. Can we have a Government statement on how the DWP will resolve what appears to be a systemic failure in legacy benefit transitions and stop it happening to many others?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that case. With regard to the systems and how they can be improved, he will know that the next Work and Pensions questions will be on
Few Bills in modern memory have done more to protect children than the Online Safety Bill will, but it has been delayed for more than three years, which is completely unacceptable. We were making significant progress with the Bill. I am glad to see that it is coming back on
Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman and all Members of the House about how seriously the Government—particularly the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who is steering the Bill through the House—take these issues. I know that she will have met many of the affected individuals and organisations and will be very aware of the tragic consequences of the content that is sometimes pushed towards children and vulnerable people. The Bill’s focus is very much on protecting children. I am proud that the Government are bringing it forward; I hope that all Members of this House will support it when it comes back to the House. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is coming back very soon.
In the last few days, several primary school headteachers have written to me about the serious issue of Government funding for free school meals. Currently, schools pay £2.30 per child for a school meal, but catering services are raising prices, in some cases to £3 per child. In one school that amounts to £20,000 a year. A high number of children in Lewisham East receive free school meals, and this very serious issue will affect schools beyond my constituency. Will the Leader of the House ask her Cabinet colleagues to come to Chamber and make a statement on what the Government are going to do about it?
The hon. Lady will know that she can raise the matter at the next Education questions, on
They are traditionally for Members to raise issues and concerns that affect their constituents. Alas, when SNP Members have had Opposition days, they have tended to focus not on matters of concern to the Scottish people, but on their obsession with having another referendum.
Healthy n Happy, a community trust in my constituency, is running the “Give a Gift of Joy” campaign in Rutherglen and Cambuslang until this Saturday, gathering gifts for children and young people who face a difficult Christmas. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking the trust for its great work, and schedule a debate in Government time on the pressures faced by families this festive season?
I am very happy to put on the record my thanks to that organisation. This is an incredibly important issue, and there will be many opportunities, in debates and in oral questions, to raise matters of concern for families under pressure this festive season. I hope that the hon. Lady will make use of all such opportunities.