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Volume 686: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2020

Prime Minister, were you as dismayed as I was by the number of drug-related deaths reported in Scotland yesterday? If you were, then you can do something about it. Not just in Scotland, but across the United Kingdom, obstacles exist to the creation of drug consumption rooms, and those obstacles can be removed— (910391)

Order. I am not responsible; the hon. Member keeps saying “you”, and honestly, I do not want to be responsible for any of this.

My apologies, Mr Speaker. I am obviously addressing my question to the Prime Minister. There are obstacles that exist across the United Kingdom to the creation of drug consumption rooms, and those obstacles can be removed at Westminster. Previously the UK Government have held an ideological view that drug consumption rooms encourage drug taking. Will the Prime Minister engage with me and allow me the opportunity to help him do a good thing?

I listened very carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I must say that we do not want to do anything that would encourage the consumption of more drugs, nor do we want to decriminalise the possession of drugs, because I believe that they ruin lives and drive criminality across the whole United Kingdom. I am more than happy to look at the proposals made by the hon. Gentleman one more time, and to pursue the agenda of tackling drugs, but the vast panoply of powers that are needed to tackle drugs and drugs crime are already vested with the devolved Administration in Scotland, and I am afraid that the failures that he talks about are very largely down to them.

Mr Speaker, may I wish you and everyone in Parliament a merry Christmas, and thank you for keeping us in our place? I extend those best wishes to the Prime Minister as well; it has been a tumultuous 12 months, but he has shown great resolve and determination in leading our nation through it.This has been a wretched year due to covid, but the vaccination offers us a ray of hope in 2021. Does the Prime Minister agree that all those called upon to take the vaccine will not only be protecting their own health, but doing their civic duty in helping the health of others, keeping people in jobs and getting us back to our cherished way of life? (910393)

It is great to hear my hon. Friend, because he speaks such good sense on this matter; I hope that he is heard up and down the land. It is absolutely vital that people who are offered the vaccine do take steps to get it immediately. They will be protecting themselves and they will be protecting everyone else.

Highly skilled engineers at Centrica’s British Gas in my constituency were told last week that they had to sign new contracts before Christmas, or else they would be fired and rehired in the new year on worse terms. Fire and rehire is an exploitative and illegitimate negotiation tactic, and causes real hurt and anger. Will the Prime Minister join me in calling on Centrica to withdraw its threat and return to the negotiation table with workers and their union, the GMB, and will he work with Labour and the trade unions to introduce legislation to ban fire and rehire as soon as possible? (910394)

It is very important that all businesses treat their employees with fairness and respect. In that sense, I utterly share the point of view of the hon. Lady, but it is also vital that we have a flexible economy that is able to generate jobs, particularly when we are going to go through a very difficult and bumpy time. We have had a proud record of keeping employment high and unemployment low in this country, and we want to continue with that approach.

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, working with the council and local enterprise partnership Kirklees College has managed to open its new campus at the Pioneer House in the centre of Dewsbury. Not only will the influx of students give a much-needed boost to the town centre, but it will open up skills and apprenticeships to young people throughout my constituency. Would my right hon. Friend agree to accompany me on a visit to look round this iconic building, and to view the amazing sculpture loaned by renowned artist Antony Gormley, as soon as my right hon. Friend’s schedule, and restrictions, allow? (910396)

I thank my hon. Friend. I will do what I can to fit in his very kind invitation to inspect this sculpture. I admire Mr Gormley’s work greatly, by the way. I am delighted that Kirklees College has opened the Pioneer Higher Skills Centre, providing high level education and skills training for the people of Dewsbury. I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to campaign for that.

The Prime Minister promised to fund 4,000 zero-emission buses by 2024, but the spending review delivers just 800 such buses. Why has he put the handbrake on when it comes to supporting the bus building sector? With COP26 less than a year away, does he agree that it is time to put the pedal to the floor, get the low and zero-emission bus production lines in Falkirk, Yorkshire and Ballymena full, and support the bus building sector in full, as he promised? (910395)

I can confidently say that I do not believe that there is another Member of this House who has built as many buses, or caused as many buses to be built, as I have. We are absolutely committed to rolling out, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, 4,000 zero- emission buses and the country’s first all electric bus town. He is right to lobby for the wonderful Alexander Dennis buses that are built in in Falkirk. We will certainly champion them, as well as buses built in Ballymena and elsewhere. He can take it from me that, in a zero-carbon way, we are putting the pedal to the floor until we get to 4,000.

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Kevin Sinfield and Leeds Rhinos rugby league club on raising over £2.5 million for the Motor Neurone Disease Association by running seven marathons in seven days in honour of Rob Burrow, who is living with motor neurone disease? Will the Government commit to increasing their investment in MND research and marching on together to find a cure? (910397)

For what Sir Kevin—thank you, Mr Speaker—and Leeds Rhinos have done. MND is indeed a devastating condition. I congratulate Sir Kevin on his actions, and the Government are certainly in full support.

My constituent Charlotte, a single parent, has twice this term had to stop work due to her five-year-old son’s class self-isolating. She has been told that, because it is her son who is self-isolating, she is ineligible for the £500 support payment. The Library has confirmed that parents may need to use annual or unpaid leave in such circumstances. Is it not wrong to exclude parents on the lowest income from support to look after their children, and will the Prime Minister urgently look again at that? Wales and Scotland have done it, so why will he not now support parents in England? (910398)

The hon. Lady is of course right to draw attention to the hardship of parents who have had to cope with kids coming home from school because of self-isolation rules. One of the things that we are trying to do now is roll out lateral flow testing on a grand scale for schools, so that we reduce the size of the bubbles that have to self-isolate. We are doing whatever we can to support families throughout the crisis, as she knows, with big uprates in universal credit and all manner of support that we are providing, in addition to free childcare for 30 hours a week.

The best answer for this crisis is to keep our kids in school, to test them and to roll out that programme of mass community testing, which I am sure the hon. Lady supports in her neighbourhood, in order to drive the virus down, allow the vaccine time really to kick in, and protect our elderly and vulnerable so that we can all move forward together as a society. That is what this Government are aiming for, but in the meantime I fully appreciate the problem that she has raised, and we will do our very best to address it.

Order. In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business, and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I will now suspend the sitting for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.