The business for the week commencing
The House will rise for the conference recess at the conclusion of business on
The business for the week commencing
Is that it—a general debate, Backbench Business, and rising again on a Tuesday? I wonder why that is: inaction man yet again swerving the parliamentary action. We have more general debates and statutory instruments on the Floor of the House when we return, and then we will be off again. We hear on the parliamentary grapevine that the Leader of the House wants a two-week Prorogation. It beggars belief. We have already clocked up 234 non-sitting days this Session—way more than in previous Sessions. Is this really the legacy the Leader of the House wants? Can she confirm today whether we will have such a long Prorogation? She said her role in Government would be to make this Parliament the most effective in the world; instead she has turned it into a zombie Parliament.
A part-time Government, devoid of any ambition for this country, want to avoid parliamentary scrutiny on the long list of things going wrong: crumbling schools, growing waiting lists, polluted rivers and coastlines, the rising cost of living, and illegal immigration out of control. People need answers and the country needs a plan.
We have also heard this morning that the Prime Minister has been found to have inadvertently broken parliamentary rules—again. Can we have a debate on the Prime Minister’s interests? We all know what he is not interested in: accepting that he is to blame for the problems the country is facing. Talking of avoiding answers and accountability, next week marks the first anniversary of the Government’s disastrous mini-Budget. Will Parliament get an update on the impact that is still having on the economy? Interest rates are up 3%, with mortgage holders paying thousands more. We have soaring inflation, with the weekly shop up well over 10%, and business investment is crippled by a so-called plan for growth. We need answers, and we need accountability.
The Leader of the House backed the former Prime Minister. She sat at the Cabinet table, and she approved those decisions. I give her the chance again today—one that she dodged last week—to apologise for her role in those decisions. Will she ensure that there is accountability and consequence? Government Members might not like it, but these are their decisions. Or is it just more honours for cronies, book tours and consequences only for the many, while the few show no contrition?
The Leader of the House is not the only one avoiding accountability. The new Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero failed to show up after the utter failure of the offshore wind auction. We did not have a statement; the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero had to be dragged to Parliament with an urgent question, which I thank Mr Speaker for granting. The Minister seemed to have no clue why it was such a historic disaster. Offshore wind auctions might feel like a technical issue, but the Government’s failure to attract any bids will lock us into more expensive and volatile fossil fuels for years to come. No new projects can get under way next year.
There were warnings about this auction for months, and that is why the Irish Government adjusted their price. If our Government had done the same, new offshore wind could have saved £2 billion for families and increased our energy security. Why were those warnings ignored? The Government want to sweep this under the carpet, but families will feel the bite when their energy bills hit the mat. Offshore wind is supposed to be the UK’s leading light. Some 80% of the jobs are outside London. What does the Government’s failure say to those communities? All around the world, Governments are getting ahead in the race for green jobs; meanwhile, this Government have presided over inaction that is costing us jobs. We have a plan—our green prosperity plan. Perhaps the Government should take a look at it. It would slash energy bills for good, create well-paid green jobs, strengthen our energy security and make the UK energy independent.
This all speaks to a bigger truth: the Government are so out of ideas that they have nothing to keep the lights on in Parliament for, nor will they take accountability for their failures or decisions. Is the Leader of the House not as tired as the rest of us are, having to come here week after week with no real business to announce and more things going wrong? I know she will tell us how great everything is and how the problems are everybody else’s fault but theirs, but quite honestly, that is getting boring too. I do not blame the 54% of people who say they would never even consider voting Conservative at the next election. What would they even be voting for?
First, I am sure I speak for the whole House in putting it on the record that our thoughts are with the people of Morocco and Libya in the wake of the recent tragic events? May I also wish shanah tovah —a very happy, healthy and sweet new year—to the Jewish community celebrating Rosh Hashanah?
I am a Conservative, and I am always happy to take personal responsibility, so let me respond to the points the hon. Lady raises. First, in regard to the Committee on Standards report, she will know that it did not recommend that any action be taken against the Prime Minister. I am happy to get that on record.
I remind the hon. Lady that the work rate of this Government and this Parliament has been to put through 16 Bills—13 of which have received Royal Assent—since the Prime Minister’s tenure started, as well as a record number of private Members’ Bills. In every area of Government, we are delivering. She mentions energy. We have decarbonised faster than any other nation and led the charge on that.
We have been extremely busy, particularly focused on the Prime Minister’s five priorities, chief among them stopping the small boats. The hon. Lady is new to the post, but I remind her that her party voted more than 70 times against our measures to strengthen borders. We have been working very hard, and the Labour party has been frustrating us. Labour has consistently stood against any measures to combat small boats. Those measures are delivering. Crossings are down by 20%, and those from Albania are down by 90%.
The leader of the hon. Lady’s party is today showing himself again to be Mr Open Borders. He wanted the Home Office to stop all deportation flights, he wanted free movement, he is mooting taking 100,000 illegal immigrants from the safety of the EU and bringing them here to the UK, and he is planning on reversing our ban on people claiming asylum if they have come here illegally. We are working very hard. We are putting Bills through, but the Labour party would unpick that legislation. Time and again, Labour is showing that it is not taking the tough decisions to stand up for the people of this country.
We have seen that in other areas as well. The hon. Lady invited me to look at her energy plan, but it would make this nation less energy secure. We have also seen it today with Labour’s so-called new deal for working people, which I call the trade unions’ charter. Labour says that it will ban unpaid internships, yet its MPs advertise them. Labour says that it will fight for equality, yet in Birmingham, where it is in power, it did not pay women a fair wage. Labour says that it wants homes for all, yet it blocks plans to build them. Labour is the party of ULEZ, the fuel duty escalator, the 20 mph default speed limit and soaring council tax, and every health board it oversees is in special measures. It is no longer the party of working people—we are.
The hon. Lady wants to examine our work rate and record. We are the party of free childcare, of 11 million workplace pensions, of 1 million new businesses, of doubling the personal allowance, of fair fuel and, at times of crisis, of furlough and loans to preserve the livelihoods and businesses of this country. We consistently take action to stand up for the interests of the people of this country.
The hon. Lady echoes the hilarious gag that the Leader of the Opposition made yesterday in his attempt to insult the PM by comparing him to a popular children’s figurine. I am happy to focus on that. I do not think that that line will survive contact with the Prime Minister’s work rate, but let me rise to the bait and return the serve. I think that the Labour leader is beach Ken. Beach Ken stands for nothing, on shifting sands, in his flip flops staring out to sea, doing nothing constructive to stop small boats or to grow the economy. When we examine the Labour leader’s weak record on union demands, border control, protecting the public and stopping small boats, we discover that, like beach Ken, he has zero balls. Further business will be announced in the usual way.
Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House arrange for the right person in government to contact me about the Afghan for whom I have been trying to work for the last nearly two years? I have approached the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence, but have received nothing useful or helpful back, so could the right person approach me?
I have received the following endorsement from a former colonel in the International Security Assistance Force:
“Because of his service in support of the NATO Armed Forces in the Afghan Theater of Combat Operations,” this person, whose name I will not give out in public,
“has suffered and continues suffering threats to the life and property of himself. To the best of my knowledge,” he does not present a
“threat to the safety or national security of any Country of the NATO Alliance.”
The person himself wrote to me today, saying,
“I am sorry bothering you”— he always apologises for bothering me—and explaining again that his grandfather was killed for not disclosing his location. He writes:
“The Taliban trying everyday to kill me. I feel death every moment. My economy is very weak I can’t longer continue to feed myself. I am hidden day and night…Please help me urgently. Please save my life urgently.”
Could the right person please approach me to say how he and his wife can be extricated, exfiltrated or allowed to leave Afghanistan?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising again that case, which he has raised previously. I have written to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence, but I will happily do so again and I will ask that an official from one of those Department meet him. I know that the Veterans Minister is very aware of those who remain in-country or in third countries, and is focused on those cases.
It is always revealing to hear the Leader of the House express her increasingly outlandish views of Scotland every Thursday morning. I expect today will be no different. Her efforts last week had the feel of a fever dream, as she treated us to her thoughts on Mary Queen of Scots, the highland clearances and the hundred years war, all in some sort of answer to my comments about Scotland’s remarkable progress on child poverty. Goodness knows what we will get this week, although once again I gently remind her that business questions is for Members of this House to ask about her Government and their policies. We all understand the difficulties of defending this tired, hollowed-out bunch on their last legs, but that is her job—for the moment, anyway.
I wonder, given her claim to have a keen interest in events north of the border, if she has had a chance to look at the report by the think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research on the state of the Union. It suggests that the kind of belligerent, muscular Unionism we see on display from her Tory Benches is now utterly counter- productive, and not just on Thursday mornings but day in, day out. The report highlights the brittle and contemptuous approach of Westminster to Scotland and its people. Professor Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University’s governance centre, and co-author of the report, said:
“attempts…to champion a single version of Britishness, to buttress what some have termed ‘the precious Union’, are not only doomed to failure but are likely to be self-defeating.”
Doomed to failure—a phrase that could be applied to so many of this Government’s endeavours: Brexit, High Speed 2 and numerous defence projects such as the Ajax tanks debacle. I could go on. They never listen. They never learn. It might also help the Leader of the House to read an article by respected BBC financial journalist Paul Lewis of the “Money Box” programme, who recently wrote:
“I once coined the acronym Tabis – Things Are Better in Scotland – as a shorthand for the forward-looking social policies of that country. And it gets truer all the time.”
Once again, is it not time for a debate, even in the dog days of this Government, to look at Scotland and learn how, as Paul Lewis said, to do things better?
I have always advertised the differences across the nations of the United Kingdom and regional differences in England as one of the strengths of the Union, as well as the things that we have in common. The hon. Lady accuses me of talking Scotland down and not celebrating it. Au contraire, if she looks back at my speeches from the Dispatch Box, she will know that is not the case. I am not talking Scotland down but about the SNP running Scotland down.
I am happy to compare our record of stewardship of public services against that of the SNP. Not a week goes by without the SNP messing up some particular sector or service. This week, highlights include the SNP pressing ahead with short-term lets licensing, which on
Scotland deserves better than socialist separatist parties. Yet again, the hon. Lady has demonstrated that the SNP is yesterday’s people talking about yesterday’s grievances. It is yesterday’s party.
Is my right hon. Friend concerned, as I am, that the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, which was set up and agreed by this House in 2018 following careful cross-party working for more than a year, has not been implemented faithfully, and has had bits added on that are doing damage to the reputation of our politics? Does she agree that it needs a thorough review to get it back on track, so that everyone who works in this place can have confidence in the scheme, and so that it can restore the reputation of our democracy?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the work she did to ensure that this important step forward for the House was established. I agree that there are serious concerns about the timeliness and quality of investigations, and other concerns. I and other Commission members look forward to working with the new director and the new Parliamentary Commissioner to ensure that the system operates effectively and as it was intended to do. The Commission took some important decisions regarding the upcoming governance review at its meeting on Monday. I hope the review will also lead to some important improvements that will restore trust in the system. I encourage all colleagues to feed into the review and the Committee on Standards. I thank again my right hon. Friend for the attention she is still showing to this very important body.
The Backbench Business Committee has been accustomed over the years to managing demand for debates in the Chamber and dealing with a queue of applications. But due in the main to the Government’s very welcome generosity in awarding Chamber time to us, as evidenced again this morning, we currently have no queue. We have one application where the applicants have asked for time in late November. As always, we will always welcome applications for debates here in the Chamber and for time we can allocate in Westminster Hall.
Lastly, will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the 60,000 entrants of the Great North Run, which took place last Sunday, many thousands of whom had to complete the race in absolutely torrential rain, and in particular my hon. Friend Mrs Lewell-Buck, who completed the race?
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very helpful advert for Back-Bench time and the debates that hon. Members can apply for. I am very pleased to announce in the business a lot of time for Backbench Business debates. They are an important part of the work of this House. I am delighted, as I am sure all hon. Members are, to join him in sending our congratulations to the 60,000 runners in the Great North Run.
As the Leader of the House will know, in a little over a month’s time we will go through the unnecessary and archaic ritual of putting our clocks back, thereby plunging the UK into darkness and misery by mid-afternoon for a period of several months. May we have a Government review on the desirability of using summer time in winter? It would cut the number of road accidents, boost tourism and cut energy use. Why don’t we try it?
May I first congratulate my right hon. Friend on his cover story this week in The House magazine? It is very good to see the band back. He will know that this House has, under recent Administrations, debated these sorts of issues, but I will certainly make sure that the relevant Department has heard his interest. He will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way.
Two months ago, one of my constituents had to be taken to accident and emergency with a fractured knee after she was mowed down on a path by a reckless e-scooter driver. As the Leader of the House is aware, although it is illegal to use e-scooters on public paths and highways beyond the designated trial areas, they are freely available to buy. They are known to reach speeds of up to 70 mph and have become a menace to drivers and pedestrians right across the UK. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on the regulation of e-scooters?
I am verry sorry to hear about the incident the hon. Lady refers to and I hope her constituent is making a recovery. She will know she can raise this matter at Levelling Up questions on
We have not had a debate in this House specifically on the issue of sodium valproate since 2017—it has been debated combined with other issues—yet the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency recently issued guidance that shows that not only women of childbearing age need to exercise caution when prescribed sodium valproate but all children and, indeed, all people up to the age of 55. The pregnancy prevention programme is inadequate; it now needs to include men because men can also pass on birth defects. Still too little is known about the transgenerational issues regarding those children who have been impacted by valproate passing conditions on to their children. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that we can have time in this House to debate the matter, or that we hear from the Department of Health and Social Care about how it is going to ensure there is clarity of guidance, so that everyone prescribed valproate recognises the risks associated with it?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that important point. She will know that Health questions are not until
Conversion therapy is an appalling and most cruel practice that is essentially aimed at changing who a person is. In the past five years, the Government have promised again and again to bring forward draft proposals to ban conversion therapy, but so far nothing has come forward. Time is running out. Can the Leader of the House update us on whether draft proposals for a full ban on conversion therapy will come to the House before the next King’s Speech?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important point. She is right that those are abhorrent practices that sometimes have lifelong impacts on those who have had to endure them. I take this opportunity to thank all hon. and right hon. Members who have contributed so far to the work that the Department has done on the matter. She will know that I will say further business will be announced in the usual way, but I understand the concern that Members across the House have and want to see action taken on this matter.
As part of my listening campaign, the excellent councillors Gill Mercer and Tony Spooner have warned me of a fly infestation in the Pemberton part of Rushden. I have surveyed the whole area and, sure enough, there is a problem. My excellent parliamentary researcher, Jack Goodenough, has plotted it on the map I am holding, and it is all around one area, right next to the Sanders Lodge industrial estate. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Fly Minister to swat this problem?
I might be testing the limits of the ministerial responsibility directory if I allocate a particular individual as the Fly Minister, but the normal procedure in such cases is to turn to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. I shall certainly make sure that the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I wish him and his councillors well in combating this problem.
My constituent, Judith, a cancer survivor in her seventies, has paid hundreds of pounds a month in energy bills for six years and been told that she is a high energy user. In June, Judith and I worked together to urge ScottishPower to investigate and it turns out that for six years she has paid the energy bills of a family of four next door—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] It has been 14 weeks since ScottishPower found out that Judith’s meter was crossed, and still no progress has been made. She is still paying her neighbours’ bills. Does the Leader of the House agree that ScottishPower’s delay in correcting that error is unacceptable and that no vulnerable person should be going to bed cold at night?
I hope the hon. Gentleman has seen from the audible response from Members of all parties that we all think that that is an appalling situation. Normally, I would be putting pen to paper to write to all relevant Secretaries of State to highlight poor business practice and poor customer service, but I cannot believe that having heard this case on the Floor of the House ScottishPower would not immediately—today—seek to rectify the situation, alter what is going on with his constituent’s bill and make recompense for the overcharging. I would also expect some compensation for her. I will say to my officials in the Box that we will give ScottishPower until 3pm this afternoon before I get my pen out.
In Bidwell West and Linmere, to the north of Houghton Regis in my constituency, we are building up to 8,000 new homes. Many residents are in those new homes, but we do not have sufficient section 106 money to increase general practice capacity in that area. There is no health centre going up with those homes, which is simply not acceptable. Health is again getting the short straw in the planning system and we urgently need to sort this out. I think the autumn statement would be a perfect opportunity to resolve the issue of the backlog: the deficit in primary care facilities across the country where they have not been built alongside thousands of new homes.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that again. Having campaigned on the issue, he will know that we are going to change local authority planning guidance this year to raise the profile of primary care facilities when planners consider how developer contributions and funds from new housing developments are allocated. I think that is a big step forward. He wants the situation in his constituency to be addressed. I will make sure that what he has said today is passed on to my Cabinet colleagues, and particularly the Chancellor, in advance of the autumn statement on
A single parent of two young children in my constituency could not afford the bus fare to her DWP appointment, so she has been handed a £280 universal credit sanction. Such sanctions do not deliver employment; they deliver severe anxiety, depression and hardship. Can we have a debate in Government time on the sheer inhumanity of their benefit sanctions regime?
I gently point out that, as I said earlier, the complaint rate has increased by 350% since benefits have been managed by the Scottish Government, so we will take no lectures on that.
If the case is as the hon. Gentleman says, and I have no reason to doubt him, it does not sound like a good outcome. If he gives the details to my office, I will be happy to assist him in getting this resolved for his constituent.
The Labour Government in Cardiff, supported by Plaid Cymru, will be introducing a blanket 20 mph speed restriction in built- up areas across Wales from
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. This is absolutely insane, even by the standards of the Labour Welsh Government. They have ignored businesses and the public, and they are pushing ahead with this scheme despite huge opposition. The latest estimate is that it will cost the Welsh economy £4.5 billion. More disturbingly, it is going to increase individuals’ fuel bills considerably and be harmful to the environment.
My hon. Friend is right that there are circumstances in which 20 mph speed limits are a good idea, but having them as the default for many roads is crazy. Instead of punishing motorists, Labour should focus on fixing public transport, and particularly the trains, as Wales has the highest cancellation rate in the UK. This situation is what the Labour party refers to as its blueprint for governing Britain.
Despite repeated assurances given in this Chamber and to his own Back Benchers, the Prime Minister has failed to protect our children from age-inappropriate sex education and the corrosive effect of indoctrination with gender ideology. Now the Secretary of State for Education has refused to make public the findings of the independent review of relationship and sex education in schools. What are this Government running scared of? I suggest it is the legitimate concern and anger of millions of parents and grandparents. So can we have an urgent statement by the Education Secretary in this Chamber, where she can be questioned and cross-examined on these important matters, and not merely another leaked press release to The Daily Telegraph?
I shall be happy to write to the Secretary of State for Education to raise the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and the issues he speaks about. The next Education questions is on
Can we have a debate or a statement before the House rises on Tuesday about the plight of thousands of residents who are adversely affected by RoyaleLife companies going into administration? Four of the 64 sites owned by RoyaleLife are in my constituency and my constituents living on those sites are finding that they have not got any of the basic services now. Rubbish is piling up. The administrators are not even ensuring that that is addressed. This is a really big threat to all those people who have invested their life savings in buying a park home. They are suffering, while they see that the proprietor and owner of that company was the second highest entry in this year’s The Sunday Times rich list.
I am shocked to hear about the situation that my hon. Friend’s constituents are having to endure. It sounds like an urgent one, so I shall raise it with the relevant Departments to see what advice they can provide to him about how to get it resolved. Pleas that I might make from this Dispatch Box for somebody to step up and take responsibility are likely, because of the situation, to fall on deaf ears, so I shall try to get him some advice about further steps he might take to ensure that the matter is resolved for his constituents.
As my hon. Friend Ian Mearns said, last weekend, I joined more than 40,000 people completing our Great North Run. This year, at the finish line in South Shields, we showed our great love and respect for honorary Geordie Sir Mo Farah as he completed his final professional race. Will the Leader of the House please put on record the Government’s thanks to one of our greatest ever sportsmen, Sir Mo, for his contribution to sport and athletics?
First, let me say “good effort” to the hon. Lady for her impressive run. I thank her for the opportunity, which I am sure we all appreciate, to get on record our thanks to Sir Mo, not just for the amazing sporting events and achievements that we have been able to celebrate with him, but for all that he has done in his charitable work, in helping many organisations and in being an inspiration to many people around the world, as well as in this country. So, on behalf of us all, Sir Mo, thank you.
Active travel is an important policy for this Government and cycle paths are one part of that programme. However, when cycle paths are designed poorly, as is the case in Doncaster, they can be detrimental to towns and cities. May we have a debate on disastrous town planning and what can be done to reverse this trend, before cities such as Doncaster become ghost towns?
I am sorry to hear about the situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The Government are committed to ensuring that by 2030 half of all journeys in towns and cities are walked or cycled, and enabling more choice about how people get around. That is good for them and for the environment. We have invested more than £600 million in active travel since 2020. That is a record amount of funding, with further investment coming this financial year. Of course, that is a good thing only if local authorities are spending that money well and things are being designed well. I shall make sure that the relevant Departments have heard his concerns and, again, offer some advice as to how he can ensure that this situation is mitigated and in future years rectified.
Figures out this week show that the Government target for secondary school teachers entering training was missed by a whopping 48%. Schools are already struggling to find specialist teachers for their pupils and some schools, including the brilliant Turing House School in my constituency, have had to drop offering computer science at A-level because they cannot find a specialist teacher. The Prime Minister says that he wants our country to be a leader in AI, yet we cannot find the teachers to teach some of those skills. The figures are woeful; only three subjects met their targets—classics, physical education and history. I raised the issue with the Leader of the House back in June and asked for an urgent debate on the crisis in teacher training, recruitment and retention. Given that there is no legislation for us to consider, will she grant an urgent debate in Government time on the issue?
The hon. Lady will know that across all disciplines we have increased the number of teachers by close to 30,000. I am happy to raise the issue of specialist teachers in the specific disciplines she mentioned with the Secretary of State for Education, as Education questions is not until
I am concerned about HS2’s unacceptable behaviour in not paying my constituents in Stafford on time. I have heard that residents have had to pay their own surveyors, despite the fact that HS2 is meant to pay for them; local agents are waiting months for payment of bills by HS2; and some constituents have even paid HS2’s outstanding bills in order to have representation. That is clearly outrageous, so can we have an urgent debate on HS2 compensation?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her sterling work campaigning on birth trauma and on giving us all the opportunity to discuss that issue at a debate that has been secured, which I announced at the start of business questions.
I am sorry to hear about the situation that her constituents are in. Most compensation claims are resolved and paid promptly, but unfortunately there are some cases where that has not happened. The hon. Lady is clearly campaigning on behalf of her constituents to ensure that they are getting those claims paid in a timely way. I know she has raised the subject with Ministers previously, so I will ensure that the rail Minister has heard her concerns, as Transport questions is not until the end of October.
Can we have a debate in Government time about the requirements on developers to fulfil planning obligations? In Ackworth, the leader of Ackworth parish council, Martin Roberts, took me to the community facility that has been built by Strata Homes as part of the planning conditions for a large housing development. There is deep frustration in the village that the developers seem to have walked away, left the community facility unable to be opened and have not finished surfacing the roads. Can we have a debate so that hon. Members can express the frustration that people feel about such issues in their area?
The hon. Gentleman will know how to apply for a debate, but he has accomplished his mission today and we are all disappointed to hear about the company walking away from its obligations. I hope it will make good on those obligations, but I will ask the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities whether it can provide the hon. Gentleman’s office with any advice about how he can help the company to come to that conclusion.
The Leader of the House will know that Birmingham City Council was the latest to have to declare an effective bankruptcy because of excessive debt and mismanagement. I have raised my concerns about borrowing at Warrington Council in this House many times. With its borrowing amounting to almost £2 billion—10 times core spending—Warrington Council is not just an outlier, but off the Richter scale in terms of the level of debt that the council has racked up. Is it not time that the Government stopped councils acting like hedge funds? Can we have a debate in Government time on what we can do to effectively manage this situation in local councils? Does the Leader of the House agree that it is time to send in commissioners when councils do not take effective action to reduce their indebtedness?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. He is right that, in Labour-run Birmingham, the council blamed everyone else rather than taking responsibility for the situation. It blamed the IT system, the Government and women expecting equal pay. It really must stop passing the buck and take responsibility for its own mess. This comes as a stark warning to Labour-run Warrington Council, which I understand is in debt to the tune of nearly £2 billion and has just approved a £145 million loan to another council, despite that terrible financial situation. I know that my hon. Friend has raised this many times and that the Secretary of State has also asked for an independent review. With regard to other councils that are managing their budgets well, we know that there are still tough times ahead. There are many demands on their services, which is why we have confirmed an almost £60 billion package for local authorities this financial year.
Women continue to contact me with graphic descriptions of their horrifying experiences of NHS hysteroscopies, enduring appalling and unnecessary pain as the medical establishment appears not to believe that any kind of anaesthesia is necessary. I have raised this issue 10 times in the House. I know that the Women and Equalities Committee is currently conducting a very valuable inquiry into women’s health and I hope that it might consider this issue. Will the Leader of the House have a word with her colleague, the Minister responsible for women’s health, to ensure that her response to that inquiry is as good as it can be and perhaps to push this issue up her to-do list. It is simply not good enough that women are continuing to experience this dreadful trauma.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this very important matter, which will be of concern to many women across the country. I also thank the Women and Equalities Committee for the work it is doing in its inquiry. I will write on the hon. Lady’s behalf to raise this specific issue with the Minister and ask that she contact her office to give her some assurance.
Housing insecurity is not just a housing issue—I see that in my regular MP surgeries across Dover and Deal. It affects the welfare, health and educational outcomes of children. It affects finances and imposes other costs on adult tenants. It is urgent to bring forward renters’ reform. Research by Generation Rent shows that every 15 minutes somebody is evicted under section 21 notices. Can my right hon. Friend confirm the Government’s continuing commitment to this important renters reform, in line with the manifesto promises? Can we know when the Second Reading of that vital Bill is expected?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that matter. She knows I will not be able to give her specific dates, but I will announce them in future business. I can give her the assurance that we are committed to the Renters (Reform) Bill. She will note that the Bill had its first reading on
I hope the Leader of the House is aware of the Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Act 2022, which was enacted in Holyrood and provides a pardon for miners who were wrongly convicted of certain non-violent offences in the 1984-85 miners’ strike. Can we have a debate on extending that Act to cover England and Wales? Many miners were subject to trumped-up charges and convictions, including Ray Patterson from Dawdon Colliery in my constituency who has sadly passed away. Many others, like Ray, who lawfully exercised their democratic right to withdraw their labour and protest, were wrongly pursued and prosecuted. Extending the provisions of the Scottish Act would be a good start to repairing existing deep divisions, which, sadly, too many are taking to their grave.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that. He will know that Justice questions happened this week. Given that the next opportunity for questions is a little time away, I will write on his behalf. If he could provide me with some further information, that would be helpful. I shall ask the Ministry of Justice to contact him.
It is clear from the quantity of issues raised with me by constituents at surgeries, and from talking to local schools, that we are seeing a significant increase in the number of families seeking support for children with special educational needs, and that that growth is putting pressure on local providers. Please can we have a debate on special educational needs and disabilities funding, so that we can explore how it is targeted, and factors such as waiting lists and the number of school places?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will know that we have published over £1.5 billion-worth of high needs provision capital allocations for the 2023 and 2024 financial years. This is a priority for the Government. As the Secretary of State will not be at the Dispatch Box for a little while, I shall ensure that she has heard the concerns that he raised.
I thank the Leader of the House for confirming that we can have a sitting Friday on
I congratulate all Members who have worked on that Bill, particularly on the cross-party work that they did to secure its passage through the other place when at one point it looked like it might be in jeopardy. I thank all hon. Members who did that, and the Government are very supportive of these efforts. The hon. Lady knows that I have just announced that, subject to the House’s agreement, we will be able to consider private Member’s Bills on
I want to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to a kamikaze council, which I am afraid is wasting lots of public money. Six years ago, Mid Devon District Council started its own building firm. The chief exec and the deputy ran it, although interestingly they had never even built a sandcastle in their lives. Six years and £21 million later, 3Rivers Developments is broke. Instead of cutting their losses, these ridiculous council officers want to keep it going. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, it is a Liberal Democrat-run council. Like the gullible amateurs they are, the leader is actually a perfume-packer by day, and his fragrant head of scrutiny has vanished to Venice instead of attending the meetings— I believe to fiddle with a gondolier’s oar. This whole affair is crackers, farcical and expensive. Can we please have a debate in this place on councils’ vanity projects right across the United Kingdom, because councils should not spend public money on projects that they cannot possibly hope to control?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question; it does sound a very sorry situation indeed. I am very sorry to hear that his constituents are having to endure misplaced priorities from his local authority. I will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State has heard his concerns, and I congratulate my hon. Friend for getting his views on record.
Last week the Leader of the House told me that the former Prime Minister, her right hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss, had many achievements in office, and then struggled to name one. Now I understand that the former Prime Minister is giving a speech next week on how the Government can enable the UK to achieve higher growth. Irony really is dead with that one. For the sake of the millions hit by the Tory mortgage penalty, and as an enabler of her Government, will the Leader of the House please grant a debate on the subject of amnesia?
I look forward to entertaining questions from the hon. Gentleman. I gently say to him that given the Labour party’s track record on supporting business and focusing on growth, he might like to attend the former Prime Minister’s lecture.
Although I recognise the need for more housing, I have to tell my right hon. Friend that my constituents are angry and frustrated at the number of planning applications that continue to be granted for the villages across my constituency, and the main reason is that they lack the infrastructure and public services that should go alongside them. The anger is compounded when planning inspectors overrule decisions by local authorities, which are taken in the best interests of local people. May we have a debate on the whole planning system, and on how guidelines could be adjusted to ensure that infrastructure and public services are adequate when new developments are given the okay?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He knows that we have a good record on increasing additional homes—we have delivered 2.3 million additional homes since 2010—but we have also sought to protect the ability of local communities to play a greater role in their local planning system and ensure that local needs are being met and that beautiful, sensitive developments are being created. He will have heard earlier our plans to strengthen the requirement to look at primary care facilities when such developments are being built, and he will know of the work that the chief planning officer is doing to increase capacity in planning departments to make good decisions. I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard his concerns, and he will have heard the advert from the Backbench Business Committee. I think that is an excellent subject for a debate and encourage him to apply for one.
After years of my lobbying the Lawn Tennis Association, and a lot of persistence and hard work from Councillor Lisa-Marie Hughes and all the team at OneRen, it is great to see the tennis courts in Robertson Park in Renfrew being fully refurbished with help from the LTA’s park fund. The previous Labour council had promised a permanent repair, but unsurprisingly that never happened. Will the Leader of the House find time—in the otherwise hectic business schedule, obviously —for a follow-up to my debate of a few years ago on the Murray legacy, to ensure that Andy, Jamie and Judy leave the legacy that they and all Scots deserve?
I congratulate everyone who worked locally in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency to secure that facility. The Lawn Tennis Association does wonderful work in many constituencies to ensure that these important and accessible facilities are there. I will certainly write to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to thank her and her officials for the role that they played in making the money available. I hope that everyone will engage with the Lawn Tennis Association, which does terrific work.
Dangerous dogs are doing harm. The Leader of the House will know that serious and organised crime is increasingly moving into the lucrative business of breeding such dogs. There was an attack last week in which a child and a 20-year-old man were severely injured. Last year there were nine fatalities, the majority of which resulted from attacks by the so-called American bully XL dog. This dog needs to be banned. I have made representations to Ministers and the Home Secretary, in her typical wisdom, has said that she supports such a ban. May we have a statement setting out that the Government will do just that under the provisions of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, before more people are maimed and more people die?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue, which other colleagues have also been raising over several weeks. We take it extremely seriously, and I know that urgent advice has been commissioned on what steps can be taken, as the Home Secretary set out at the weekend. Beyond that immediate work, we have a number of measures in place to protect people, including penalties under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which can put people in prison for a maximum of 14 years or disqualify them from ownership if they let their dogs get dangerously out of control. This is not just about irresponsible owners, but about people seeing these animals as a particular weapon, and we need to approach the subject with that in mind. I thank my right hon. Friend for raising it. I know the Home Secretary is on the case and I will ensure that colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are also aware of his concerns.
Further to the question from Andrew Jones, I too would like a debate on special educational needs. The reason I ask is that there was a report last weekend about the Government signing a contract with a consultancy with the aim of reducing the number of education, health and care plans by 20%. We all know the struggles that parents face to get EHCPs at the moment, so I am horrified by the suggestion that there might now be an additional element of demand management put into the system. Children’s right to education should not be subject to that, and there are enough hurdles in the way for parents as it is.
The hon. Gentleman will know that SEN provision is a priority for this Government. We have made many improvements to it and increased funding to more than £10 billion in this coming financial year. It is critical that people get provision in a timely way and that children are not waiting, but are able to access education at the start of the school year or when they are due to go into a new school. As I said in a previous answer, given that Education questions are a little time away, I will ensure that the Secretary of State hears what the hon. Gentleman has said today.
I am sure the Leader of the House will join me in welcoming the fact that John Lewis, Tesco and Marks & Spencer are reducing the price of period pants. It is particularly important when we know that 25% of women say the cost is a barrier to them using those products. Obviously it would be better if we could reclassify period pants as a period product, thus ditching the value added tax, as the “Say Pants to the Tax” campaign asks. May we have a debate in Government time on removing VAT on period pants, making them a more sustainable way of dealing with periods, saving women money and giving them more choices, and taking all possible steps to end period poverty?
I think people would view those items as essential products. The hon. Lady will know how to apply for a debate, but I also suggest that she writes to the Chancellor about this in advance of the autumn statement.
My constituents have been appalled by accounts of sewage being dumped into the Thames and its tributaries. A recent BBC investigation showed that Thames Water and two other companies had carried out even more dumping than was previously thought. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on this important matter, and can she update me on what action the Government are taking, after many delays?
Recently there have been a number of reports of dry spills and questions about the legality of what certain water companies have been doing. It is important that monitoring is excellent. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have increased such rates: in 2010 only 6% of discharges were monitored, but at the end of this year I think we will be at 100%—the figure is now in the high 90s. However, we also want to be able to monitor the circumstances in which any discharges are taking place. They have been huge steps forward taken since 2010 in that respect, but there is more to do and we want to see all water companies delivering their infrastructure plans to eliminate storm overflows and similar discharges in short order.
There are currently 1.8 million people on mental health waiting lists up and down the country, including thousands in my constituency. That is a damning indictment of this Government’s record. Despite the staggering numbers, there are rumours that the Government are set to scrap their proposed reform of the Mental Health Act 1983 in favour of more vote-winning ideas. I ask the Leader of the House to scotch these rumours and confirm that this long-awaited and much-needed reform of the Mental Health Act will feature in the King’s Speech?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I will announce business in the usual way and that I cannot pre-empt the King’s Speech, but I can reassure him of our commitment in this area. We have a proud record of many steps, not only legislative but in funding, towards getting mental health parity with physical health—that has always been our approach and I think it is a concern to many people across the country—and preventive measures to ensure that people are in the best possible mental health. That is particularly important given what we have been through in recent years with the pandemic—they were very difficult times and I think many people are still scarred by them. I shall ensure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but I know the Secretary of State shares his focus on mental health.
Local newspapers, both online and in hard copy, are vital, and local journalists do a vital job for our communities and for democracy, but next week members of the National Union of Journalists who work for National World—it owns more than 100 local titles, including the Yorkshire Post and, indeed, titles in the Leader of the House’s Portsmouth constituency—are set to begin strike action over the company’s failure to reach a fair deal on pay. Will she therefore grant a debate in Government time on the sustainability of local newspaper titles? Does she share my concerns about the danger posed by owners such as National World hollowing out titles in order to boost short-term profits, prioritising shareholder payouts over journalists’ ability to afford to do their jobs, and cutting staffing to unsustainable levels?
I am sure I speak for everyone in the House when I say how important local newspapers and local media are, and not just as a lifeline of information for local residents but to assist in the functioning of democracy and holding people to account. The hon. Gentleman mentions my local titles; in my experience, the editors of these papers take very seriously indeed not only their responsibilities to journalists and those in their employ, but their obligations to the community. I am sure many people across this House have had similar experiences. They are important local services and I sincerely hope that they are not disrupted.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini in Iranian custody. As many hon. Members will clearly recall, she was murdered by the Iranian security authorities because she dared to speak up against Government brutality. In that time there has been no accountability for her death or for the deaths of more than 500 protesters across the country. All that the people in Iran want is freedom, liberty, a democratic society, a people-led Government and the rights of freedom of religious belief to be secured for all. Will the Leader of the House join me and others in this House in calling for justice for Mahsa Amini and all the others who have been murdered?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for again shining a spotlight on those important matters, as he does every single week. I think that particular case struck such a chord with many people around the world, and we very much salute the courage that Mahsa Amini and her peers showed in the protests. Many people who protest against the regime, not just from Iran but from the UK and elsewhere, are subject to intimidation and death threats for calling out its barbarity. Everyone deserves human rights; the women of Iran deserve human rights and the ability to live their life as they wish. I know that there will be many events inside and outside Parliament to mark this anniversary, and that they will be well attended by Members of this place. I thank the hon. Gentleman again.