The business for the week commencing
The provisional business for the week commencing
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business, and for her good wishes last week. As she is about to find out, I am indeed back to something approaching full voice. I put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend Jessica Morden, who so ably stood in for me.
Yesterday, the Leader of the House voted against Parliament taking back control: against MPs deciding which retained EU laws we should drop, repeal or replace—laws covering workers’ rights, environment protection and national security. Does she really think these important issues are best left to the whim of the revolving door of Government Ministers? They are hardly exemplary lawmakers given the chaos they have caused over the last few years. Our primary job as MPs is to legislate; this is what we do. Can I ask her, as Parliament’s representative in Government, whether she made the case in Cabinet for MPs to be given a proper say on behalf of our constituents? Does she not want the British people’s elected representatives to take back control any more?
We must be given the means to scrutinise the Government properly on these laws. It is how parliamentary democracy works—the clue is in the name—so why have the Government only introduced a half-finished online dashboard of EU regulations they plan to scrap? Do they plan to complete this dashboard, and if so, when? Should the public not know if laws are slipping through the cracks and set to be scrapped by accident, and how does the Leader of the House plan to square the practical difficulties of getting through thousands of these this year? This is not making Brexit work.
Can the Leader of the House tell us what is happening with the media Bill, please? It contains important provisions to promote our great British broadcasters on smart devices as well as safeguarding public service broadcasting in the streaming age. The Channel 4 debacle and the general Government chaos have caused unnecessary delay. I understand that we are only going to get a draft Bill. Is that correct, and when will there be a proper announcement?
I heard from the Leader of the House’s speech at the Institute of Government conference on Tuesday that she is a big fan of Government impact assessments. Who knew? She described them as very handy and most helpful in the Ministry—I could not agree more—so why have the Government not published the one on the impact of the sack nurses Bill? We should have seen it before this even reached Parliament, and there is still no sign. Where is it? Yet again, this is a Government swerving scrutiny. What have they got to hide? Is it that the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is supposedly all about safety, yet does not actually mention safety, or is it because it does not actually provide minimum service levels on days when there are not strikes, which after all is the vast majority of the time? When will we see this impact assessment?
The Leader of the House also said on Tuesday that if people stop believing that democracy works for them, “like Tinkerbell’s light”, it will die. I love that line, and I agree. However, unlike in “Peter Pan”, there is no chance of this Tory Government’s light being switched back on. Never mind fairies, the British people do not believe in Tories; only Labour can switch on the light. It should not take magic fairy dust to preserve democracy. It starts with a principled Government leading by example, a Prime Minister who tells the truth, the right Ministers at the Dispatch Box properly equipped to answer questions our constituents want us to ask, and legislation tackling the real problems from 13 years of Tory failure, not headline-grabbers dropped as soon as the Back Benchers get bored. I know these duties of a functioning Government will never land with the Tories, but they will with Labour. The right hon. Lady’s Government might be away with the fairies; this Labour Government in waiting are ready to treat Parliament with the respect British people deserve.
Happy Chinese new year to everyone and congratulations to HMS Oardacious, which I mentioned in a previous session, on its record-breaking row across the Atlantic.
It is very good to see the hon. Lady back and in full voice, and I am glad she has been paying attention to my speech—I am very flattered by that. Before turning to her specific questions, she invited me to compare and contrast our record against hers. Let me take just one example—waiting lists is a topic on our minds at the moment. We obviously had a huge catch-up job to do during covid and new diagnostic centres are bringing down those waiting lists, but let us look at the figures for those waiting more than a year for treatment. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, before the pandemic, under 10 years of a Conservative Government, the figure was 1,643, and when covid hit this autumn it was over 400,000. That is the scale of the challenge we face and is what I was concentrating on in my speech. It is the same story all over the UK: waiting times are longer in Wales. But what were the figures under Labour? With no covid—and, let us be fair, after 10 years of a Labour Government—they were 578,682.
Would the hon. Lady like me to go on to talk about Labour’s treatment of junior doctors, or the scandal of MRSA or C. diff infections in our hospitals, or the lunacy of private finance initiative schemes which saw us paying £300 to change a lightbulb, or the treatment centres that had machines that went “ping” but did not treat any patients? I could go on, but let me address the points she has raised.
The EU retained law Bill has good scrutiny: it has dedicated Committees both in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We can do a number of things focusing on and prioritising particular areas of reform or carrying over laws if we think that is the right thing to do.
I understand the pitch the hon. Lady and her party are making to be the party of taking back control; indeed this week Labour announced legislative plans and a take back control Act. There were no details of course, so let me suggest what that might look like. A take back control act might have been voting with us to deliver Brexit; it might have been walking through the Aye Lobby on our borders Bill, or championing new trade agreements, or supporting us in the competition Bill and the Procurement Bill or the EU retained law Bill or—I live in hope—supporting us on the legislation we will bring forward to tackle small boats. All those Bills increased fairness and freedom for our citizens, improved wage growth and gave improvements to consumer power, improvements to help businesses grow and improvements to speed up the take-up of scientific breakthrough.
Labour’s take back control Act is not a piece of legislation; it is a piece of performance art. While we power up and level up our communities, while we catch up with covid, while we raise up the nation—millions more in work, 1 million fewer workless households, 10% more in good or outstanding schools—Labour sucks up to union bosses, pulls up the social mobility drawbridge because of its dogma, and tells its MPs to shut up on social issues such as gender recognition.
Other business will be announced in the usual way.
Of course, solar panels have their part to play, but Gainsborough is going to be ringed with 10,000 acres of solar panels, more than the rest of the east midlands combined. May we have a debate on this issue and particularly on Government guidance on whether solar panels should be put on good agricultural land? There is a presumption against solar panels on grade 1, 2 and 3a land, but not yet on 3b land, and all the leadership candidates in our election promised they would shift solar panels from good agricultural land in places like Lincolnshire to urban areas and roofs or warehouses; may we have an urgent debate please?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that important point. That would be a good topic for a debate. I am sure that he knows how to apply for one and that it would be well attended. Given that Environment questions is not until much later in February, I shall write to the Department on his behalf to raise his concerns.
You know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I have had this role for only a few weeks, but I was under the impression that I would get a few more relevant answers to my questions. Instead, what I get every week is rubbish prepared lines read out by the Leader of the House—performance art, if you like—written by someone who either has no knowledge or care for Scotland and its people or whose aim is to make Scotland sound like a basket case, because cynically they know that mud sticks if something is repeated often enough, even if it is not true.
Perhaps we should have a debate on the quality of ministerial answers to questions. As a political opponent, one cannot help but be grateful for this weekly illustration of the contempt in which the Westminster Government hold our beautiful country and indeed the voters who inconveniently keep rejecting the Leader of the House’s party and supporting mine. It is almost as if our electorate can see through the drivel that they are being fed. If her aim is still to be Prime Minister for the whole of the UK—while it lasts—I am not sure whether annoying great swathes of Scotland’s people is really the way to go about it, but far be it from me to dissuade her.
May we also have a debate about unintended consequences? Just this week, a senior Minister dismissed the views of a holocaust survivor. The Government have also continued to infuriate NHS workers, rail workers, ambulance drivers, union members, trans groups, Scottish independence supporters, the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government, and shunted through a Bill that will snarl up many hundreds of civil servants in red tape—one could not make it up—simply because of their blinkered hatred of the EU. Finally, there was the decision to use a sledgehammer to crack the delicate nut of devolved relations through the use of the “governor-general” clause. If the Government keep that up, they will not have any friends left—apart from their many generous corporate sponsors.
Despite it all, I will attempt another question, because this is important. Yesterday, I was pleased to see the Government shifting their position on trans conversion therapy, but sadly they seemed to backtrack the very same day. Will the Leader of the House assure us that that she will use her good offices with her colleagues and make every effort to prevent the forthcoming Bill from being used to stoke culture wars, as her colleagues attempted recently in the Scottish Parliament? I am sure she agrees that trans people deserve nothing less.
I shall try to make my answers incredibly relevant. The hon. Lady raised questions of relevance and unintended consequences, and she mentioned blinkered hatred. She will know that in our sessions, which I enjoy very much, I am a great campaigner on relevance. I always try to make my answers relevant. I hope that, one day, the SNP will make its questions relevant to the issues facing the people of Scotland, such as healthcare and education, and all those things that they want their Government to grip, and not be so focused on constitutional reform, important though that is to the SNP.
The hon. Lady talks about unintended consequences. In all seriousness, we do not have to believe in the union of the United Kingdom to recognise that we all have a duty of care to every citizen in every part of the UK, no matter which part of the UK we are from and represent. That means having a regard for the social fabric and the social contract of the UK. The power that she refers to has been in existence for nearly 25 years—it is only marginally younger than the deputy leader of her group—and this is the first time that we have used it. It is not like we just discovered it down the back of the sofa. What has happened is a significant and rare thing, and is a serious thing. The powers were created as part of the devolution process in part because of the potential of such a scenario. It is because we have been placed in this position—the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill would have serious implications for the working of the Equality Act 2010—that we have done what we have done. It would have been better if the SNP had had regard to those unintended consequences; it is not as if they were not aware of them. The Minister for Women and Equalities raised the issue in correspondence and meetings with their Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, and officials had been raising it for some time. Given where we are and the worry that the issue will cause people, I hope that we can resolve the situation swiftly and in a spirit of co-operation and pragmatism. Our citizens, including those who are trans, deserve that.
The hon. Lady’s final comment was about blinkered hatred; I would say that the SNP ought to check their own behaviour before they start pointing the finger at other people on that front.
Yet again, my constituency office in Wellingborough has been attacked; this time a brick was thrown through the window. Luckily, nobody was hurt. If whoever did that thinks that I am going to be intimidated, they are wrong. Like Members across the House, I came to this place to serve my country and constituents, and to stand up for what I think is right.
Perhaps more important are the staff in my constituency office. There is absolutely no reason for them to be put in danger. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could arrange a debate in Government time about our staff, the work they do and the fact that they should not have to put up with this nonsense.
I am sure that I speak for all Members in the Chamber in saying how sorry I am to hear that my hon. Friend’s office has been attacked in that way; I know it has happened on numerous occasions before. Like the House authorities, I am sure, I would be very happy to assist if there is anything further we can do to deter and find the perpetrators of this horrible act.
My hon. Friend is quite right. All of us in this place have pretty thick skins, and we choose to do this job and face the dangers that come with it. But our staff should not expect such things to happen to them. I have also taken representations from staff in this place about what they have to endure from particular protesters, who are clearly protesting against us as individuals and Members of Parliament, but staff are caught up in that as well. That is quite wrong. I hope my hon. Friend will come to see me. We will see what more we can do to protect him and his staff so that they can go about their business as his constituents wish them to.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish the Leader of the House and Members across the House “Gong hei fat choy!” for this weekend—the beginning of the year of the rabbit in the Chinese calendar, I believe.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the Backbench Business Committee day on Thursday
In response to the earlier urgent question on the levelling- up fund, the Minister told us that over 500 bids, valued at £8 billion, had been received and that 111 bids, valued at £2.1 billion, had received awards. But those awards are one-off payments, while local authorities across the country have been stripped of about £15 billion a year in lost revenue support grant. My own local authority in Gateshead has lost approximately £180 million per year in real terms. Can we have a debate in Government time about local government finance and the total inadequacy of the council tax system to properly fund our councils and the services that our constituents desperately need, week in, week out?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for advertising forthcoming debates, which is always very helpful to colleagues, and thank him for working so constructively with my office to ensure we plan time well and give people as much notice as we possibly can of those opportunities.
I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. All Members will want to lever in as much funding for their constituency as possible. There is a very good tool on the Government website, gov.uk, which maps all the funding going into constituencies via the very many funding streams there are, so people can get a good overview about what is happening where and why. We had to deal with a situation when we came in to make sure the Government were balancing their books. We also felt it was incredibly important to hold council tax rises down. Under the Labour Government they rose by 110%. He will see if he goes on to that tool that we are putting enormous amounts of money into areas, particularly those that have been deprived of funding for many years.
Several schools in my constituency have contacted me about the proposal to extend the school working week to 32.5 hours for those in the voluntary sector. May we have a statement from an Education Minister to explain when the proposal will come in, if additional resources will be provided and if it will be discretionary for headteachers? Will headteachers be allowed to discuss with their governing bodies whether they wish to have a longer school day, or indeed a shorter one?
The measure that was introduced is a non-statutory expectation. I would think and hope those discussions would take place. With regard to additional support, Education questions is not until late February, so I will write to the Department for Education on my hon. Friend’s behalf and ask that it contacts his office with further details of the support that is available.
In November, I asked the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate on leisure services, given that so many of our leisure services are facing huge problems. Yesterday, people in Birtley in my constituency heard that their swimming pool is likely to close very soon. May I urge her to arrange a debate in Government time, so we can all discuss the issues relating to leisure services reviews and cuts that are facing our residents?
I thank the hon. Lady for again raising this very important issue. I think, if memory serves me correctly, since she last asked us for a debate we have had one on community sport and leisure facilities. The next Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions is on
The Leader of the House will know that the cross-party all-party parliamentary group on veterans is currently running a survey into the experiences of veterans across the UK when claiming compensation, war pensions and other fiscal support from Veterans UK. As a fantastic champion for our armed forces and veterans, will she please commend that survey to all Members across the House and, more broadly, to our 2 million veterans in the UK, noting please that our survey has two weeks left to run?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on that fantastic advert for this very important piece of work. I encourage all Members to promote that survey and the survey that the Office for Veterans’ Affairs is also running. That is a much broader consultation, but the work of the APPG that he chairs is very important because it looks in great detail at the fiscal issues which we know are of huge concern to the veteran community.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will try to cause fewer fireworks than this time last year.
Radcliffe was awarded a new high school in wave 14 of the free school programme. However, having first been threatened by the then Education Secretary, it is now being delayed by an inept Department for Education. May we please have a statement or a debate in Government time on the progress of wave 14 schools?
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has obtained funding. As I said in response to an earlier question, Education questions is not until a bit later in February, so I will be happy to write this afternoon to the Department for Education and get him an update on what is happening with that particular project. But it is good to hear that his constituency has secured money for that.
All our thoughts and prayers will no doubt be with the poor people of Ukraine, who are suffering from the illegal invasion by Russia. This is not the first time that Russia has invaded sovereign territory. Thirty years ago today, Soviet troops invaded Baku in Azerbaijan, trying to prevent the independence movement from succeeding. The result was 150 people killed outright and 800 severely injured. The end result was the break-up of the Soviet Union, demonstrating that in the end force does not work. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing the survivors and the relatives of the victims of Black January commiserations, and in expressing solidarity with the people of Azerbaijan?
It has been a particularly grim week, looking at the situation in Ukraine and the results of Russia’s war in Ukraine, in particular the scenes from Dnipro. We can all imagine what it would have been like sat there having breakfast with family and then suddenly your home is not there along with your husband, your father, your children, your household pets. What we have seen this week is appalling and I hope the war will swiftly be won by the Ukrainian people. My hon. Friend is right that it has echoes of horrors of the past and I thank him for drawing attention to the anniversary of Black January, when Soviet troops were deployed to Baku. It is an important part of the history of Azerbaijan and there are many people in the UK who will also want to remember those sad times.
This time last week we heard in a High Court ruling that wild camping on Dartmoor national park, which people have had a right to do for decades, will no longer be legal. We learned that a former hedge fund manager is curtailing the rights of people by essentially imposing a curfew on Dartmoor, when access to nature has been essential to many people for so long. Will the Leader of the House agree to make time to debate changes to legislation, so that we can protect the respectful right of wild camping in Dartmoor national park?
I am sorry to hear about that situation. The relevant departmental questions will not be until later on in February, so I encourage the hon. Gentleman to apply for an Adjournment debate. He will know how to do that, but I will also make sure that the relevant Department has heard his concerns today.
Dudley is the largest town in the country without its own railway station, and connectivity is very poor. It is a borough of over 300,000 people—some 200,000 in built-up areas. There are reports that inflationary pressures are bringing into question the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill metro extension. May we have a statement or at least a ministerial assurance very soon that the metro extension will be delivered as planned?
The next Transport questions is on
The levelling-up round 2 funding announced last night was a kick in the teeth for my community in Erdington. Despite the attempts by the Minister who responded to Labour’s urgent question to pretend that the process was fair, we know the truth. The Prime Minister’s constituency received £19 million of funding but Erdington High Street got nothing. An urgent question is simply not enough, so will the Leader of the House grant time for a proper debate on the total failure of the Government’s levelling-up agenda?
I am sorry to hear that the bid from the hon. Lady and her local authority for round 2 funding was not successful. I understand that the Department is going to be in touch with her and her local authority to talk about the bid, give good feedback and, we hope, carry the bid forward, as it will be doing with other colleagues. This is the second round and there will be further funding rounds, and I certainly stand ready to help her and her local authority to access that funding. Of course, it is just one funding stream of many. Again, as I say, she can look on the Government’s website to see exactly where all those bids have gone, across every funding stream.
Promoting biodiversity is an important issue for many of my constituents, and companies can play a very positive role if they pay attention to it. Under this Government, companies are doing a much stronger job on their carbon reporting, but will the Leader of the House advise me as to what I can do as a Back Bencher to promote attention to biodiversity in our corporate reporting and get Ministers to move that forward?
First, let me thank my hon. Friend for all the work he has done to champion this incredibly important agenda. We have a real opportunity here at the moment, not least because the Environment Secretary is a fanatic about biodiversity and has championed it throughout her parliamentary career. He will know that Environment questions is not until
Many pensioners are struggling during this cost of living crisis, with women pensioners disproportionately the poorest and more likely to be completely reliant on the state pension and pension credit. Women are also more likely to be in part-time work below the lower earnings threshold and therefore get no credit for their state pension at all. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out what measures she thinks the Government should bring forward to try to tackle the shocking and ongoing gender pension gap?
I thank the hon. Lady for that, as this is a subject close to my heart. When I was the Minister for Women and Equalities, I wrote the road map that looked at the inequality that women face at every stage of their lives. Of course, by the time they get to retirement they have had multiple layers of inequality that have reduced their financial resilience. I point her to the campaign by the Department for Work and Pensions on pension credit uptake; a fantastic toolkit has really increased the take-up of pension credit in the constituencies of those MPs who have done that campaign. If she has not done it already, I urge her to do it. The next DWP questions is on
The A338-A346 is more or less a sheep track that runs between Salisbury and Swindon in my constituency. It was laid out in an age when the heaviest traffic on it was horse-drawn wagons. Now the road is clogged up every day by hundreds of heavy goods vehicles running through our villages, particularly the Collingbournes. I know that the Government are reviewing the connectivity between the Dorset coast and the M4, but will the Leader of the House tell us when that review will report? May we also have a debate in Government time on the problem of excessive heavy goods traffic on our country roads?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue of concern to his constituents. He will know that Transport questions will be on
My constituent Gary Arnold entered into a business with the Saudi royal family some years ago. Unfortunately, that relationship soured, but rather than this matter being resolved through the courts, he has been subjected to a campaign of unlawful detention and travel bans, and he has been convicted, with a two-year prison sentence, in his absence. When I wrote to the Foreign Office, it said, understandably, that it cannot get involved in legal disputes, but this is far more than that—this is state-sponsored persecution of one of my constituents—and I think we can do an awful lot more than that to protect our countrymen. May we have a debate on what more the Government can do to protect our citizens who are faced with these situations?
I am sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s case. He will know that Foreign Office questions is on
All Ministers want to ensure that our transport is as low-cost and as environmentally friendly as it can be. If we look at ministerial travel, we will find that we always try to do that. It is important that Ministers, and in particular the Prime Minister, are supported to do their jobs. I want him to be as effective as he possibly can be. I know that he is doing a number of other things today, as well as the visits around the country, and I want him to make all those appointments.
May we have a debate on the importance of civil society links for promoting understanding and awareness of international development issues? The Scotland Malawi Partnership has successfully promoted such people-to-people links since it was founded in 2005, and since 2008 it has been led by David Hope-Jones, who leaves his role as chief executive on Friday, after 15 years. Perhaps the Leader of the House could join me and colleagues from the all-party parliamentary group on Malawi, which the SMP has provided excellent secretariat services for, in thanking David and wishing him all the very best for the future.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. That was an excellent question because often when we talk about international development we just focus on Government money and what is being dished out from the taxpayers’ purse, but our international development relationship across the UK with the rest of the world is much more than that. It is about the money raised at the local pub or at the local women’s institute, and the relationship that those places have with particular projects around the world, which can span many, many years, with deep friendships and partnerships formed. He has given an excellent example of that today and I, too, put on record my thanks to David Hope-Jones for all the work he has done and wish him well in the future.
In the 18th century, a Government Minister used to stand at the entrance to Westminster Hall at the end of the parliamentary Session and reward MPs who had voted loyally with the Government throughout the year with dollops of cash. Now, I am not trying to give ideas to the Government, and I hope that everybody would accept that that is utterly corrupt. I also happen to think that the operation of the levelling-up fund and of the towns fund is completely corrupt, because it is not based on need, it is not based on the poorest communities in the country and it is not based on levelling up. It is discretionary and it is competitive, which rigs itself deliberately against the poorest communities in the land, as we have seen over the past 24 hours. Can we have a debate in Government time on corruption in the operation of slush funds in this country?
The hon. Gentleman is the Chair of the Committee on Standards, so he will be very able and equipped to investigate this further.
It is his Committee; he can do what he likes. I would just say this to him: first of all, we have a number of funds. We have the levelling-up fund, the community ownership fund—
There are many, many funds. The hon. Gentleman is saying that they are all corrupt. They are all available to view on gov.uk, and you can see where funding has gone.
I would also say to the hon. Gentleman that these bids are not assessed by Ministers; they are assessed independently. They are scored and it is transparent. Good feedback will be given to those who did not progress in this round. Quite often, what happens is that bids that are not successful in one round are successful in successive rounds, because those areas that needed improvement have been done.
Finally, I would say to the hon. Gentleman, because of the way in which he has put his question, that he has slight form in accusing people of doing things that on investigation they have turned out not to have been done. It was very recently that he accused one of my colleagues of manhandling somebody who turned out not to have been handled at all. I would just urge a little caution in how the hon. Gentleman makes such accusations.
We have just had an urgent question on levelling up: an urgent question that was necessary only because the Government were too ashamed to come forward with a statement. Some of the successful bids for funding—amounting to about a third of what Scotland would have received from EU funding, I should say—were quite astonishing. Areas such as Renfrewshire, which has Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, on its doorstep, missed out on any funding. That comes just after it missed out on a green freeport to a much wealthier area. Can we have a debate on redistribution, levelling up and pork-barrel politics, and particularly on the criteria applied to levelling up?
The hon. Gentleman will know the tax dividend that is there for Scotland: over £2,000 more is spent per head in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK. As I say, there are a number of live funds to which constituencies and local authorities in Scotland can apply. Just from the levelling-up fund, Scotland has had £349 million. If the hon. Gentleman has been unsuccessful in a bid, I am sorry to hear that, but the Department will work with him and his local authority to improve the bid, and hopefully it will be successful in subsequent rounds.
In March this year, unfortunately, WH Smith in Wood Green is closing, which means that the post office is closing. It has not been able to find another site; 600 people have signed a petition, which I hope to present to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, at a future point. As this is an issue not just in Wood Green but across the country, would it be appropriate to have a debate in Government time to really sort out the importance of the post office to so many people and ensure that plans are in place if the likes of WH Smith have to suddenly close?
I am sorry to hear that. Because questions to the relevant Department are not for a little while, I shall certainly write to it today to make it aware of that issue. The hon. Lady will know that there are many examples of innovation; sometimes pubs and other seemingly unrelated organisations have stepped up to provide a base for post office services to work out of. I know that the Department is a repository of ideas and good practice. I will ask officials to get in touch to see whether we can help the her to facilitate the finding of a site and an organisation to house those very important services for her constituents.
I shall make sure that both the Foreign Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary have heard the hon. Lady’s concerns. It is good that progress is being made. As someone who sat on the withdrawal agreement joint committee under two chairmen, I can say that we have always worked constructively and in a pragmatic way. The EU is now meeting us on those ideas. I do hope that we will be able to resolve the situation soon, to the benefit of all our citizens across the whole UK and those in Europe too.
Later in the spring, I will be doing a charity wing walk, following a charity skydive and a charity zip-wire that I have done for Fundraising for Florence. Florence is an eight-year-old girl from Dukinfield in my constituency who has an incredibly rare genetic condition called GM1. It basically means that her body, bit by bit, is shutting down, and she will be lucky to live to 11, so we are making memories for Florence and fundraising for that purpose. Can we have a debate in Government time on GM1, so that we can raise awareness with Ministers of this terrible degenerative disorder?
I congratulate the incredibly brave hon. Gentleman on flying for Florence. As he says, he is not just raising funds, but raising awareness and hopefully creating some good memories for her and her family. I also thank him for pointing to a serious condition that is not often given a high profile; he has enabled that to happen today, and I thank him for it. I will make sure that the Secretary of State is aware not just of the issue, but of the hon. Gentleman’s fundraising efforts.
It is quite clear that the Leader of the House believes in fairness of approach for all citizens, regardless of where in the United Kingdom they live. Time and again in this place, I have raised the iniquitous unfairness of pregnant mothers in Caithness having to make a 200-mile-plus round trip to give birth. Is it not time that we had a debate to explore these unfairnesses within our United Kingdom?
That sounds like an incredibly bad situation. I know that the hon. Gentleman, because he is a very dedicated constituency MP, will have raised the issue many times and will no doubt have been working with healthcare in his area. I will ensure that the Department of Health and Social Care has heard about the situation; Health questions are on
My constituent’s little boy Joseph was badly hurt by a discarded needle while playing on one of our gorgeous beaches. His mam would like to see a ban on non-retractable needles, but after writing to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and, as usual, waiting months and months for a pitiful response, her request has not been properly considered at all. Can we have an urgent debate on the danger posed by these needles?
I am extremely sorry to hear about that situation. The hon. Lady is right that some of the problems that we face with medical devices and so on can quite often be designed out. As I say, Health questions are on
Research tells us that diabetics suffer with disproportionately high rates of mental health problems. A report published by Diabetes UK in 2019 found that 50% of diabetics consulted said that they would be comfortable talking about their emotional wellbeing, but seven in 10 of these people say that they are rarely or never supported to have those conversations. Given how stark the statistics are, the Government have clearly been letting diabetics down. There is an evident need for dedicated mental health support, so will the Leader of the House grant a debate on adequate mental health support for those who live with diabetes?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important issue. Let me also declare an interest in that I was a director of Diabetes UK, a great organisation that does fantastic work. As he says, people with long-term conditions encounter all sorts of additional complications and situations. I shall certainly ensure that the Secretary of State is aware of the concerns that he has raised, but this also points to the immense importance of community care, specialist diabetes nurses and experts in the field, and I know that Diabetes UK also wants to ensure that the pipeline of people going into those specialisms remains strong.
My constituent Susan left her partner following domestic abuse. She correctly updated the Department for Work and Pensions with all her new details, but the DWP then tried to put her next cost of living payment into the now closed joint bank account. When she inquired about the missing payment, it turned out that for some reason the DWP’s solution had been to pay the money to her ex instead, so she has not received it. May we have a ministerial statement explaining how the Government will better manage payments to victims of domestic abuse, and—importantly—confirming that Susan will get the money she deserves and needs in order to live?
I am sorry to hear about that situation. This is one of the reasons we have our offices and, as constituency MPs, we are there to help people facing such issues. If the hon. Gentleman wants to pass me the details of the case, I will do what I have done before and raise it immediately with the DWP to ensure that his constituent’s liquidity is not suffering. I will also ensure that the Secretary of State has heard about the case, so he can assure himself that it is a one-off and is not happening to other people in similar circumstances.
Earlier this week, I visited St Mungo’s complex needs hostel in Clapham, in my constituency. It does fantastic work in helping homeless people and I pay tribute to its staff and volunteers, but they are struggling to cope because of the cost of living crisis, and the cold snap predicted for next week will only make the situation worse. In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives pledged to end homelessness by 2024, but, as my work as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness has shown, that is not going to happen. May we please have an urgent debate in Government time on what the Government are going to do to help people who are facing homelessness?
Let me join in the thanks and praise that the hon. Lady has given to those staff and volunteers, who clearly do an incredible job. Since 2019, homelessness has halved. Both the DWP and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are focused on tackling the issue and, indeed, we have made huge strides—helped in part, ironically, by the opportunities that we had during covid to bring people in, and the measures that were taken at that time. It is a continuing battle, but we will continue to make progress on that number and ensure that there is somewhere safer for everyone to go. We are also tackling the issues that lead to people being in that circumstance in the first place.
The recent dismal performance of TransPennine Express is a cause of considerable consternation, not only in this place but among many of my constituents who use Urmston railway station, where 50% of stopping services are operated by TransPennine. What that means in practice is that some 50% of services are currently subject to near constant delay or cancellation. What more does the Leader of the House believe her Government could do to hold TransPennine to account, and, specifically, will she agree to a debate in Government time on this sustained underperformance and the misery it is wreaking on my constituents and commuters across the north of England and Scotland?
This is not the first time we have heard such criticism about that particular franchise and that particular route. I know that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are shared by many Members on both sides of the House, and I thank him for raising them. Transport questions will take place on
Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on what has been done to deal with the sharp increases in hate crime shown by recent statistics, and in particular with the real concerns of the LGBT+ community? I declare an interest, as someone who has been a victim. According to statistics, two of the three largest increases were in hate crimes against people on the basis of their sexuality, which were up by 41%, and those against people on the basis of their transgender identity, which were up by 56%. Hate crimes on the basis of disability were up by 43%. All hate crimes are abhorrent—the incidence of racial hate crimes remains stubbornly the highest—but, particularly in my own communities, there is real fear. In Cardiff we are only two years on from the tragic murder of Dr Gary Jenkins. Can the Leader of the House find time for a serious, respectful and impactful debate on the issue?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very serious situation. The LGBT+ survey carried out a number of years ago by the Government to get a clear view of what it was like to live in the UK and be LGBT+ pointed to the increasing amount of abuse and hate crime that individuals were suffering, which was causing people to be concerned about holding hands with their partners in public places. The Home Office has done a huge amount of work on the issue, and will continue to do so. He will know that Home Office questions will take place on
My team are dealing with several cases in which constituents are not being given timely support by their energy providers because phone lines are heavily oversubscribed. One problem is that providers are struggling to credit accounts with Government support, and customers are not paying by direct debit. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate, in Government time, on how energy support schemes could be improved for households?
During last week’s business questions a great many energy issues were raised, from prepayment meters to support not being passed on. We have seen, historically, particular energy companies hanging on to people’s credit and not transferring them to a new provider. As well as writing to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—I will do that again on the back of the hon. Lady’s question—I have spoken to the relevant Minister and emphasised that this suite of issues is of particular concern to Members. I will keep the House abreast of work that the Department is doing to resolve these serious issues, which will have an impact on people’s ability to afford household bills and on their personal liquidity.
Yesterday, along with others, I attended the launch of the Open Doors World Watch List, which highlighted the top 50 countries where Christians face violent attacks and extreme persecution because of their faith. Nigeria featured highly, at No. 6 in the top 10 countries where the intensity of persecution has increased to a significant level. On Christmas Day, 53 Christians in Kaduna State in Nigeria were kidnapped, and their families are living in suspense, fear and dread as they wait for their loved ones to return. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to make a statement on how the UK can assist Nigeria to reduce terrorist activity and free those kidnapped Christians?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this tragic case. I take this opportunity to thank and praise Open Doors for the work it does. I know that many Members attend that event, and it is incredibly helpful to get that picture about what is happening. Many Members are concerned about freedom of religion. The Government have championed it as well, which is why we have established an envoy on the matter. I will make sure that the Foreign Office has heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments today. Foreign Office questions is next on