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Business of the House

Volume 701: debated on Thursday 21 October 2021

The business for the week commencing Monday 25 October will include:

Monday 25 October—Second Reading of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.

Tuesday 26 October—Remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill, followed by Second Reading of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill.

Wednesday 27 October—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement.

Thursday 28 October—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 29 October—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 1 November will include:

Monday 1 November—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 2 November—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 3 November—Second Reading of a Bill.

Thursday 4 November—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 5 November—The House will not be sitting.

Friday 5 November is a particularly important parliamentary date. Fortunately, considering what once happened, the House will not be sitting.

May I, at the end of my statement, Madam Deputy Speaker, by your leave, add words of tribute to our hon. and right hon. Friends, Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire? They have had tributes paid to them already, but they are so sadly missed by this House.

David Amess was one of the most regular contributors to business questions. I have the list of some of the subjects he raised with me: forced adoption, violent crime, face-to-face GP appointments, child sexual exploitation, do-not-attempt-resuscitation orders, zoonotic diseases, discretionary pension increases, endometriosis, animal welfare, a memorial to Dame Vera Lynn, and, obviously, Southend city status. Everybody adored David because he was such a champion of democratic rights for his constituents, but he did it all with such courtesy. However much he might have been trying to prod the Government into doing something, he was, of all the people who dealt with my Parliamentary Private Secretary, the most charming, the most kindly, the most willing to be open to discussion and thoughtfulness. He is desperately missed by all of us and missed because of the death that happened in such a particularly cruel way.

James was, again, somebody of the greatest popularity in the House. It is, I think, particularly poignant. There are quite a lot of tough cookies in this House, aren’t there? As I look around, I know that some of us are quite hard-boiled eggs. We have lost two of the nicest, gentlest, kindest and best people. I went to speak for James in his constituency. That is always a telling thing to do, because one sees how people are in their own patch. His association and his members adored him. They adored him because they really knew him. They saw his many great qualities and his openness and availability, somebody who had been a normal person in his constituency even when surrounded by the personal protection that a Northern Ireland Secretary has to have.

They are both desperately missed and one’s heart bleeds for their families. There are no words of comfort for them. It is just so desperately sad. I remind hon. and right hon. Members that books of condolence are still open in the Library in the end room, Room D, nearest to Mr Speaker’s office. I encourage Members, if they wish to, to go and sign the book of condolence.

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.

May I join him in his tributes to two fine parliamentarians? It is often a shock to some party members that we in this House can find common cause with each other across the Dispatch Box and across the divide of the House, yet these were two such Members who gave one great hope that democracy provides a way for people with very different political views to nonetheless work together and achieve change for their own constituents but also for the country. I consider both of them a terrible, terrible loss. That has been evident in the way people have spoken of them this week. I think of David this morning fondly and with a smile, because he would have been championing Southend. He is missed. I look around for him now and think, where is he? This moment is bittersweet. I think the right hon. Gentleman and I feel the same way about that. There is no more fitting tribute—it is the reason I am smiling—than that he can rest in peace knowing that his campaign for Southend to be a city has been fulfilled. We thank Her Majesty for making that swift and good decision.

On to the business: I am glad that the Leader of the House has rescheduled Monday’s business so promptly, and it is important, of course, that we do not fall behind, but I understand that any amendments for the Report stage of the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill will need to be in by the rise of the House today, which does not leave much time for Members to scrutinise the Bill before tabling their amendments. Does he agree and would he like to make any further comment about how Members are supposed to scrutinise the Bill if they do not get any time to scrutinise it before they can try to amend it?

While I am on the subject of Northern Ireland, the Government also promised to legislate by the end of October on language provisions—including the Irish language Act—agreed in the New Decade, New Approach deal, as part of the restoration of the power-sharing arrangement at Stormont. However, that does not seem to appear in next week’s business, so will the Leader of the House tell us when that legislation will be tabled and when the commitments made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be fulfilled?

I desperately want to know what is going on on 3 November. It is not that far away; I do not think it is too much to ask. The Leader of the House is very courteous about giving advance notice of things as far as is possible, so will he urge his colleagues to let us in on which Bill we are having a Second Reading of on 3 November? Rumours abound and it would be good to get the facts so that we can get our teeth into it.

In Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, the Prime Minister appeared to confirm, first, that the Online Safety Bill would have completed all stages by Christmas. It was then just going to be Second Reading and now it seems that No. 10 have rowed back even further, to a vague commitment that the Bill will be presented at some point during this Session—that is not even before Christmas. Will the Leader of the House help us out and tell us what the timetabling is for that Bill, because the Prime Minister does not seem to know?

On Monday, the Transport Secretary put out a written statement about the changes to travel guidance, including that, from this Sunday, travellers will no longer need to take an expensive PCR test when returning to this country and, instead, they will be able to take a lateral flow test. Opposition Members have been calling for months for a simplified system for international travel, affordability of tests and the publication of full country-by-country data. I am glad that the Government have finally listened. However, the list of approved providers for lateral flow tests is not yet available, and we are talking about Sunday. It will not be published until tomorrow, just two days in advance. That causes yet more uncertainty for our constituents, so will the Leader of the House ask the Transport Secretary to come back to the House to provide a fuller statement?

The heat and buildings strategy published earlier this week mentions a commitment on installing new heat pumps. It seems a bit strange that that is being heralded as a flagship policy when it appears that only 30,000 heat pumps a year will be subsidised through the policy, and for only three years. That is roughly only one in every 1,000 of the 30 million buildings in total in Britain—hardly a flagship. And with some of the least energy-efficient housing in Europe, millions of UK homes may require far more significant upgrades to be suitable for heat pumps, insulation and so on. Can the Leader of the House ask the energy and clean growth Minister—the Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands)—to come back to the House to explain why this policy appears to be about as successful in prospect as the failed green homes grant?

This week, we heard that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe lost her appeal, without a court hearing, against her second jail term, and is now waiting to be called back to prison in Iran. Anoosheh Ashoori has had his request for conditional release and an appeal against his 10-year sentence thrown out. So I ask the right hon. Gentleman again: when will the Government bring them, and all other UK citizens wrongly imprisoned abroad, home?

Finally—sort of finally—I know that this is something that the Leader of the House is committed to improving, and I did mention it before summer recess, so it disappoints me to have to raise it again: Members are still not receiving timely responses to written questions, ministerial correspondence and MP hotlines. A hotline cannot be called a hotline if it is barely tepid. So far, despite the right hon. Gentleman’s definite best efforts—I have witnessed that—there seems to have been very little improvement, so can he once again remind his Cabinet colleagues of their responsibilities?

This is finally: the Health Secretary said yesterday—unfortunately not to this House, but to a press conference—that it is crucial for people to act responsibly and wear masks in crowded places to avoid future restrictions. I give Government Members, including the Leader of the House, the opportunity to see that one can have a very natty matching mask to go with one’s outfit. The right hon. Gentleman may wish to talk to his tailor about what they can construct. I strongly urge him to do so, because we do seriously need to set the highest possible, best example to the public if we are to avoid the winter crisis that none of us wants.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the tribute that she paid.

Masks are a very interesting matter. After this sitting, I might retweet—you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, there is amazing modern technology on social media—a picture from the socialists’ conference that took place recently. Do you know the most extraordinary thing? There are all these luminaries of the Opposition Benches—some of the most formidable figures in British political life—and their faces are naked and unadorned.

What I have heard about the drinks party sponsored by the Daily Mirror at the socialists’ party conference—well! I do not know that they were able to get the drinks through their masks. That may be the reason that masks are worn more by socialists when there are television cameras around than when they are not going to be seen. I wonder whether we might suggest that the Doorkeepers, who historically have generously provided snuff for Members who wish to take it, should replace the supply of snuff with the supply of humbugs. That might, on occasions, prove more useful.

As regards timely responses, I am in entire agreement with the hon. Lady. Members have a right to timely responses. I have taken up quite a number of right hon. and hon. Members’ requests for speedier responses, and I am always willing to do so. That is not, in the end, an answer, because my office is not big enough to chase responses for 649 other Members, but I encourage Members to come to my office and I will do what I can to help. I will, of course, remind Ministers of this responsibility, which is quite clearly set out in the ministerial code.

I share the hon. Lady’s frustration about the way in which Nazanin has been treated. I can tell the House what the Government have done—the Foreign Secretary and all levels continue to push for Nazanin’s immediate and unconditional release—but we are dealing with a barbarous regime that does not follow the proper rules of international law and justice in its own country. There are, I am afraid, limits to what the Government can do, but I am grateful to the hon. Lady for pushing this important case.

As regards the heat and buildings strategy, the answer is technology. As technology comes in, we will find that there are more affordable ways of heating our homes. My personal view is very much in line with the Government’s strategy. Significant money—more than £100 million, I think—has been committed to trying to work out whether hydrogen will be the answer, but nuclear is part of it. A range of strategies are being adopted, looked at and implemented, with taxpayers’ money devoted to them, in addition to heat pumps. They are not the whole solution, but merely a part of it.

As regards the travel guidance, I am delighted that the Opposition are supportive of the simplification of the rules. That seems to me a good thing. I sometimes think that the hon. Lady makes points that I would in opposition and that I respond as she would in government. The truth is that obviously the Opposition call for rules to be relaxed earlier, but the Government have to work at a sensible pace to ensure that things are done at the right time and cautiously, as we continue to be in a pandemic.

I am delighted to inform the hon. Lady that the Online Safety Bill will complete its draft scrutiny in December. This is really important, because the draft Bill is already available—it is there for all and sundry to see, to look at and to consider. The Joint Committee on the draft Bill will come up with its wise views before Christmas; we will then be able to look at them and ensure not just a good Bill, but a brilliant Bill—the best Bill, an ideal Bill. That is a very important part of scrutiny.

I look forward to revealing next week the Second Reading of an important Bill on 3 November.

For all of us, business questions will not be the same without Sir David, and nor will our pre-recess Adjournment debates. May I suggest, as a matter for the House, that we call the summer pre-recess Adjournment debate the Sir David Amess debate as a tribute?

During Navaratri, Hindu communities in Bangladesh were targeted by lynch mobs. They were brutally attacked and many were murdered. Indeed, an ISKCON—International Society for Krishna Consciousness—temple in Bangladesh was targeted and partly destroyed. Protecting religious minorities is one of the key roles of Government, and there will be a demonstration this weekend by Hindu organisations across the country, so could we have a statement from the Government about what they will do to ensure that religious minorities are protected in Bangladesh and around the world?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this concerning matter to the attention of the House. The Government are concerned about the recent violence directed against Hindu Durga Puja celebrations across various districts in Bangladesh. Her Majesty’s Government continue to engage with the Government of Bangladesh on the importance of freedom of religion or belief, which remains a priority for the UK Government. I am glad to be able to inform my hon. Friend that the British high commissioner to Bangladesh has publicly expressed his concern and his condolences to the victims of violence, and the UK’s support for those working for religious tolerance and harmony in Bangladesh and around the world. In addition to that, I will pass on my hon. Friend’s comments to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker.

This has been a rotten first week back, and I think we are all still struggling to come to terms with and comprehend all the issues surrounding the killing of our friend and colleague David Amess, as well as grieving for the loss of James Brokenshire. The Leader of the House was absolutely right to pay those further tributes. I have been doing this job for nearly six years, and I think that missing Sir David at business questions is something we all feel profoundly today. Let us hope that we never have another week like this one.

Many of us will be leaving to return to our constituencies in the next 24 hours with a greater sense of anxiety, and a greater sense of the responsibility that we all feel for the staff who work with us. I think that what Members are looking for more than anything else is clear advice, bordering on instruction, about how we should do our business in our constituencies. We were grateful for last night’s statement from the Home Secretary, but will the Leader of the House commit himself to further statements, and ongoing information and clear advice from the police and the security services, to acquaint Members with what we can do to keep ourselves and our staff safe?

Another safety issue has arisen on our return: the ongoing comic appearance in this place of those on one side of the House wearing masks and those on the other side not wearing them at all. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said that we should wear them in crowded and enclosed places. He even went so far as to say that Members of Parliament should be setting an example by wearing them, so come on, for goodness’ sake—set that example! I am looking around the Chamber now, and I am looking at my Conservative colleagues. I do not like picking on them, because I consider that so unnecessary, but I think that four out of 14 are wearing masks this morning. That is a little bit better than what we saw before the conference recess, but we must do better than this. We are going to be back with compulsory mask-wearing, we are going to be back with further restrictions—we are going to follow the countries of mainland Europe, because we are way ahead in terms of infections. We are going to have to do something, so let us do it now. Let us set that example.

Mr Speaker was absolutely right to castigate the Government this morning for making major policy announcements outside the House. Today we are in a ridiculous situation: there will be an urgent question and a statement on the same topic. That cannot happen again. Indeed, I would go further: I would bring the Secretaries of State or other Ministers responsible for this to the Bar of the House to apologise for their disrespect if they dare to make announcements outside this Chamber.

The Bar of the House, interestingly, is a gift from Jamaica, as Members will see if they pull it out; but I do not think anyone has been called to the Bar of the House recently.

I think the issue really is, what is a major policy announcement? It was the Government’s view that the announcement made yesterday was an entirely routine announcement. Major policy announcements do come to the Floor of the House, but it is important to understand that there is a balance involved in the business of the House. Given the number of statements today, and the urgent question, it would be perfectly reasonable if the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee were to complain that his important debates were being squeezed; and this is an issue that we face every day of every week. Should we ensure that the business of the House—often important legislative business—has its time protected, or should we bring every possible Government announcement to the Floor of the House? There has to be that balance, which I think that, by and large, is got right.

As for the question of mask-wearing, I responded to the shadow Leader of the House on that, but I will say that there is no advice to wear masks in workplaces, and that the advice on crowded spaces refers to crowded spaces containing people whom we do not know. We on this side of the House know each other. It may be that the hon. Gentleman does not mix with his own side. He may wish to keep himself in his personal bubble, away from other SNP Members. I normally find them extraordinarily charming, but the hon. Gentleman may not take this catholic view of his right hon. and hon. Friends. I sympathise if that is the case, but we on this side have a more convivial, fraternal spirit, and are therefore following the guidance of Her Majesty’s Government.

I want to finish with another important point that the hon. Gentleman raised, and I have left this to the end because this is not the politicised bit. This has been the saddest week, I think, for any of us in Parliament. It has been a terrible week because of the deaths that have happened and the memory of Jo Cox, which was in itself a terrible time for the House and for politics. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that Members want very clear advice. The Home Secretary is working closely with the Speaker, and local police authorities will have contacted every Member. Many of them are getting in touch with further advice. I think that advice “bordering on instruction” is what we are looking for, because there are many forms of safety available to Members, but they do not all necessarily know what they are. Of course I could not say in the Chamber what they are, unless we were to sit in private, for the obvious reason that we do not want people who are hostile to us to know what they are. Information is going to be important, as is working with our local police forces, but we also want to know what the real level of risk is. I do not feel that that is yet clear. It might take some time to become clear, but it needs to be communicated to Members along with all the support that is available. I am in agreement with the hon. Gentleman on this, and the Home Secretary and the Speaker will work together try to ensure that Members are properly informed.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the Government will find time for a debate on the planned decommissioning of nuclear power stations across the country? As the most affordable large-scale low-carbon energy source currently available to the UK, nuclear energy must play a significant role in meeting our climate change commitments, including net zero by 2050. Although the Hartlepool power station is one of EDF’s most productive power stations, supplying low-carbon electricity to 2.3 million homes and providing 730 high-skilled, high-wage jobs in my constituency, it is set to be decommissioned by 2024. A debate on this topic would allow me to continue to make the case for a new nuclear reactor for Hartlepool, which would supply my constituency with thousands of new high-skilled jobs and ensure the success of levelling up and building back better in the north-east.

I think there may be opportunities to discuss nuclear power in this House in the not-too-distant future. It is an important subject, as nuclear has a key role to play in helping us to achieve our net zero objectives. That is why we are building Hinkley Point C in God’s own county of Somerset, which will provide around 7% of the U.K.’s current electricity demand. The community of Hartlepool can be very proud of its production of low-carbon electricity for over 30 years, just as it can be proud of having elected my hon. Friend.

I echo the comments that have been reiterated time and again about Sir David Amess. He was previously a member of the Backbench Business Committee, and he was a regular customer with us after he left the Committee. He will be sadly missed.

We have business pencilled in for Thursday 4 November, and I thank the Leader of the House for announcing that we have that date, but we are still waiting for confirmation from the sponsoring Members that they are free to take those opportunities. I also have a couple of provisional dates for the Leader of the House’s diary. On Thursday 18 November, we provisionally have a debate on the impact of alcohol in society, to coincide with Alcohol Awareness Week. The second provisional debate that day would be on International Men’s Day, which is on the following day, 19 November. The week after that, we have provisional acceptance of a debate on freedom of religion or belief, to mark the 40th anniversary of the UN declaration, which falls during that week. My fellow member of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), talked about religious intolerance, and it is important that this House should have an opportunity to debate that on the Floor of the House. To do that at the time of the 40th anniversary would be very welcome.

I also echo my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and ask the Leader of the House to urge his Cabinet colleagues to get their Departments to respond to MPs’ inquiries in a timely and complete way. Particularly from the Home Office, we are getting holding responses after eight weeks to say that the Department is “looking at it.”

We are also getting non-responses from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in a situation where heavy goods vehicle drivers have passed tests and had medicals but, by the time the process has finished, their medicals have lapsed and they have to go through the process again. This is keeping qualified HGV drivers off the road, so it is urgent. I raised the matter with the Leader of the House well before the summer recess and I said it was a looming crisis, and I am afraid to say that a Government Department is not helping that process.

Government agencies have a great responsibility to be responsive to Members of this House. What the hon. Gentleman says is very important, and I will take it up with the DVLA immediately after this session.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out the forthcoming anniversaries, which is useful to know for planning, although I must confess that I am slightly disappointed. Today is one of our great anniversaries, the anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar, and for some reason it has passed the Backbench Business Committee’s mind not to spend the rest of the day celebrating Nelson’s famous victory.

Our wonderful colleague Sir David Amess was the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on epilepsy, a cause that he championed with great energy. The Independent Fetal Anti-Convulsant Trust campaigns to raise awareness of sodium valproate, a drug taken by epileptics that can have terribly profound implications if taken during pregnancy. Yesterday the World Health Organisation announced that it is adopting In-FACT’s recommendations on the use of valproate, but here in the UK we are still waiting for the full implementation of the recommendations of the Cumberlege report. Will my right hon. Friend please find time for a debate to understand why we are still having to campaign for redress, more than a year after the publication of that report?

The Cumberlege report was an important report covering a number of pharmaceuticals. I cannot promise my right hon. Friend an immediate debate, so I would encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate on this subject. I am, as it happens, looking forward to meeting the noble Baroness Cumberlege next week, and I will discuss with her the issues that have been raised.

The Leader of the House will know that a child born this week in my constituency will lose more days of education, probably have more ill health and will die younger than a child born in his constituency. I say that not because I want to level down the opportunities for his constituents but because I would like us to have a meaningful debate about what levelling up really means for health, education and the things that make a material difference to a constituency such as Rochdale.

The hon. Gentleman is becoming an advocate for the levelling-up campaign, which is about helping people. Yes, it is about health, but it is also about improving skills so that people have a chance to get better, higher-skilled jobs so that they are able to be more prosperous. It is about the towns fund, which ensures that towns that have been left behind have the opportunity to do better. It is about the money that is being spent in the NHS to ensure that the backlog that has come about because of covid is dealt with. Levelling up is about ensuring that all the effort of the Government, the spending of taxpayers’ money, is directed towards ensuring that those who have been left behind have an opportunity to do as well as everybody else.

As my right hon. Friend knows, there is one way into west Somerset and one way out. That road has been completely blocked for the past couple of weeks due to work that had to be done. It was an absolute shambles. The signage was wrong and everything went wrong. Unfortunately, we need time in this place to ensure that, where major diversions have to be put in place, the statutory obligations of Highways England are carried out. To put it in context, if Alfred had had this problem he would still be stuck on the levels and would have been diverted via Edinburgh. Can we please have time to discuss this matter?

That is an important matter. Diversions do sometimes send people on peculiar routes, so it is always a good idea to have a look at a map. I think my hon. Friend can probably navigate his way around Somerset without resorting to a boat.

May I add my voice to all those who mourn the loss of Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire? Across Parliament, we have all lost two wonderful colleagues. In the words of the late Jo Cox, times like this remind us that there is so much more that unites us than divides us.

There is a shortage of bus drivers in Bath and across the UK. That is partly because of Brexit, but it is also because of the Government’s decision to poach bus drivers to fill the gaps in HGV drivers. That has caused innumerable disruptions to my constituents: four consecutive buses do not turn up; routes are being cancelled; and drivers are working well over their hours. So may we have a statement from the Transport Secretary on what the Government are doing to solve this crisis of their own making and to bring back the buses in Bath?

To say that this is anything to do with Brexit is absolute nonsense. There is a shortage of more than 100,000 lorry drivers in Poland and of about 50,000 in Germany. There is a shortage of lorry drivers in California, which has not recently been a member of the European Union, as far as I am aware; California may have some funny policies but it has never had one that funny. The problem with driving in Bath is that the council has made it absolutely impossible to drive around Bath; there is a war on the motorist, and I cannot think why anyone would try to drive in Bath.

The biggest single item in my inbox is constituents telling me about the challenges in getting face-to-face appointments with their GPs. They tell me about lengthy queues on outdated telephone booking systems. One constituent even told me that the NHS had refused to give them details of the guidelines on refusing face-to-face appointments. The Government have announced some measures in the winter access fund. May we have a debate to consider their effectiveness in dealing with this serious problem?

MPs ought to be giving face-to-face appointments to those who need them and to be ensuring that people can get through reasonably efficiently on a telephone line if a telephone appointment is what the patient wants. The NHS has been clear: every GP practice must provide face-to-face as well as telephone and online appointments. That is supported by the Government. There will be a Westminster Hall debate next week on GP appointment availability, and I encourage my hon. Friend to contribute to it.

The Leader of the House will know from his work as a constituency Member how much charities and voluntary groups have done during the pandemic, so I was appalled to receive a letter from my local Girlguiding groups informing me that HSBC has decided to start charging for charity accounts. I am sure he would agree that it simply is not acceptable for large corporate banks to charge for groups that do great work, support young women and girls into their futures and, importantly, do not have masses of funds in their accounts. This move makes it almost impossible for them to continue banking with HSBC. Will he find time for a Treasury Minister to issue a statement on what the Treasury can do to encourage banks to stop charging charities, which really are the backbone of many of our communities?

I am grateful for that question, as that is an important point. Banks do have, as do we all, a social responsibility. Most banks would be proud to support local charities, and I am slightly surprised that the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation does not wish to support local charities in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. As regards time for a debate, I think that it would be in order to mention this matter in the Budget debate. I have just announced several days for that, so he will have plenty of opportunity.

In 2018, the independent leader of Ashfield District Council ripped up the draft local plan, and promised to deliver a new plan to build 8,000 houses over 15 years and protect our green belt. Two weeks ago he published his new plan, which totally obliterates our green spaces. In a desperate attempt to save face, he is now the only council leader in the country to write to the Prime Minister to see how he can save our green-belt land. This staggering incompetence has left my local residents furious, so does the Leader of the House think that a debate on planning in this Chamber would serve as a good reminder to local authorities that it is their job to decide where we build houses, not the Prime Minister’s?

My hon. Friend is right to say that local authorities have responsibilities, which they should not try to pass on to other people. Local authorities are prevented from altering the green belt boundary unless in exceptional circumstances; that is the point of the green belt. So when developing their local plan, they must consult local people and use this availability only in exceptional circumstances. It is their responsibility and their feet must be held to the fire, but there was a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday on the inclusion of green-belt land, so this has been discussed in the House recently.

Six months ago, my constituent, who has a medical condition, returned his licence to the DVLA for renewal. Six months on, neither he nor his doctor have heard a word from it. This is possibly due to a dearth of medical advisers recruited by DVLA. As the Leader of the House can imagine, this is causing difficulties in terms of my constituent’s work and social obligations. I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that this is not good enough. Will he therefore advise me on the best way forward to ensure a response from the DVLA and the speedy return of my constituent’s licence?

The previous Speaker used to say, when points were raised that answered themselves, that the Member concerned knew parliamentary procedure so well that very little intervention was required. The appearance in Hansard of the hon. Lady’s question will go a long way to ensuring a response from the DVLA, but just to help it along its way, I shall send a copy of Hansard to the DVLA to remind it that it must respond to right hon. and hon. Members.

It is hard to believe that I was part of a tribute act, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) and Councillor Helen Harrison, when a leadership contest for the Conservative party was being run. We ran the “Back Boris” tour. We went to areas where the Prime Minister could not come and we had a substitute star. When David Amess found out about that, he was determined to get us to Southend. On that occasion, the star was the Leader of the House. We went to Iveagh Hall, Leigh-on-Sea, and it was packed, with people almost hanging from the rafters—we had everyone there. He made a wonderful speech and we overran. A lady had baked a cake for him, but because of all the events and how well David spoke we dashed off without taking it.

We dashed off to St Albans and the wonderful Anne Main. David rang me when we were on the motorway haring down to St Albans. He was desperately unhappy that the Leader of the House had not got his cake, not for that reason in itself, but because David felt he had let down his constituent who had baked the cake. David was really concerned and somehow or other he arranged to get that cake to St Albans before we left there. Taking into account what was said earlier, I wonder whether the Leader of the House could mark the pre-recess debate in the summer as the David Amess day, in response to such a kind and decent man.

I remember the incident very well. My children then benefited from the cake, which they enjoyed very much. What was so striking about the event at Iveagh Hall was, again, how loved by his constituents David was. That is what we all want, is it not? All of us want to have our own constituents on our side, and David had achieved that and was therefore, in my mind, a model of what a constituency MP wants to be. I am the servant of the House, and if the House would like the summer Adjournment debate to be the David Amess debate, that is what it will become.

I associate myself with the remarks by the Leader of the House and all other right hon. and hon. Members about Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire.

We need a debate or statement on British citizens being held prisoner abroad. I have raised many times with the Leader of the House the case of my constituent Luke Symons, who is still held captive by the Houthis in Sanaa. His family have recently received worrying reports about his welfare. May we have a statement on, or will the new Foreign Secretary participate in a debate about, British prisoners held abroad? Now that we have a new Foreign Secretary, will the Government redouble their efforts to get Luke and the other British prisoners unjustly held abroad released?

I have no up-to-date information on Luke Symons, but I will pass on to the Foreign Secretary the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has raised. There are Foreign Office questions on 26 October, so I encourage right hon. and hon. Members to raise such issues with the Foreign Secretary then. Whenever these matters are raised at business questions, I pass them on to the Foreign Secretary, so I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman’s comments and his desire for more information.

I am sure that, like me, the Leader of the House will have welcomed the Prime Minister’s comments about the protection of the green belt in his excellent speech in Manchester earlier this month. Like a number of other areas throughout the UK, Warrington is currently consulting on its draft local plan, which is, as the Leader of the House will know, the point at which green belt can be released for future development. In my constituency, thousands of homes are planned on green belt, so may we have an urgent debate in Government time to give councils guidance on the local planning process and the need to prioritise town centre regeneration and brownfield usage ahead of destroying the green belt for future development?

I heard my hon. Friend earlier promoting gin from his constituency; I am glad that he did not confuse his question and ask for gin distilleries on the green belt, which would have made for a different tone.

When developing their local plan, local authorities are prevented from altering the green belt boundary, unless in exceptional circumstances, and they must consult local people. It is of course right to use brownfield sites first and to try to redevelop town centres, and a number of permissive rights—permitted development rights—have been provided to make that easier for developers to do. That will help home ownership, which is a fundamental objective of the Government and is what people want. Our constituents want to own their own home and Governments must try to facilitate that, which means house building but, yes of course, on brownfield first.

Harkness Roses and We Too Built Britain are today launching the first rose ever to be dedicated to an ethnic minority person in the UK. The rose is named after John Ystumllyn, the first ever recorded black person in north Wales, who was taken from Africa as a young boy in the 1740s and spent his adulthood in Criccieth, where he worked as a gardener. His marriage to a local woman, Margaret Gruffydd, is the first recorded mixed marriage in Wales. In celebration of Black History Month—and of gardeners everywhere—will there be sufficient time in the House to debate the host of black history stories, as well as to ensure that the John Ystumllyn rose blossoms as a symbol of friendship, love, kindness and community?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, and to Harkness Roses. This is a really heart-warming story, and as Members we should all want to plant the John Ystumllyn rose in our own gardens, as a symbol, perhaps, of what we have debated this week. As the right hon. Lady puts it, we do actually have friendship across the boundaries, and that is important. We may disagree very fiercely on policy and we may fight our battles in this Chamber energetically—and so we should, because the issues that we discuss are important—but if the Ystumllyn rose could be the rose of friendship across political parties, it is something that we could plant with pride.

On many occasions I have said in debates in the House that I regard Cleethorpes as the premier resort of the east coast. It will come as no surprise to the House that David Amess did not agree with me, and we had some light-hearted exchanges on that subject. Members will recall that in his tribute to Sir David on Monday, the Prime Minister referred to an unnamed individual who, like Sir David, thought that Southend was better than Cleethorpes. Clearly, I disagree, but some people obviously think that we need some levelling up in Cleethorpes, so I urge my right hon. Friend to pass on to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities the message that he should look favourably on the bid by North East Lincolnshire Council to achieve that.

I thought that, being the great promoter of Cleethorpes that he is, my hon. Friend was going to ask for funding to build a cathedral in Cleethorpes, because a cathedral is a normal requirement for city status. I have a feeling that that might be the next campaign to ensure that Cleethorpes and Southend manage to be on an equal competitive footing.

On Tuesday, I presented a petition relating to the closure of the NatWest bank branch in Crouch End and Hornsey—I am sure I am not the first Member to have presented a petition on a branch closure—and I have now learned that Lloyds Banking Group will close its bank just up the road in Muswell Hill. Since 2015, there have been 50 bank branch closures per calendar month throughout the UK, and our high streets are turning into deserts. This will affect 8 million branch users who are on a low income, disabled or need the cash for their business. Please may we have a debate, perhaps with a Treasury Minister, on stopping this haemorrhage of banks from our high streets so that we can have genuine confidence that they can be vibrant places?

Obviously, banks make their own commercial decisions, but the Government are committed to ensuring that there is access to cash, recognising that it remains important to millions throughout the UK, and so have committed to legislating to protect access to cash and to ensuring that the UK’s cash infrastructure, which obviously includes bank branches, is sustainable in the longer term. That issue will inevitably be discussed in the House when the legislation is introduced, but it can of course be raised in the broader Budget debate next week.

Like many Members, I am deeply concerned about the reports in recent days of injection by spiking. This is a completely horrendous act and we have heard harrowing stories from dozens of young girls throughout the country. I am pleased that the Home Secretary has requested an urgent update from the police, but may we have a debate in Government time to discuss these crimes and ensure that we tackle the perpetrators without delay?

This really is a very concerning matter. It comes down to the whole approach that needs to be taken to tackle violence against women and girls. The Government do have a strategy on that and there is an extra £5 million for the safety of women at night fund, in addition to the £25 million safer streets fund. We are also increasing penalties for stalking and harassment, and the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has been passed. It is all about ensuring that our society is safe for women and girls and taking the legislative and policy steps that are necessary to make it a safer place.

I associate myself with the Leader of the House’s comments about James Brokenshire, who was the Immigration Minister when I first arrived in the House and helped with cases, and, of course, the great Sir David Amess, who always gave me, as someone who led for the SNP in summer Adjournment debates, support, advice and encouragement, no matter what the politics.

Data shows that in the United Kingdom, out of 282,000 tonnes of surplus food, just 9% is donated to food aid charities for human consumption, and it is estimated that 80,000 tonnes that could be donated for human consumption is not. May we have a debate and a statement on food waste and surplus food, to address this serious problem?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. I must confess that I was not aware of those figures, but it does seem extremely wasteful and it would be beneficial if food that is perfectly usable were used. I will take the matter up with the relevant Department.

Please can we have the opportunity to challenge Department for Work and Pensions Ministers on what they are doing to ensure that state pensions reach individuals on the date they reach pension age? I ask this because increasing numbers of Newport East constituents are reporting mistakes and long delays, often waiting months for their pension, despite applying well in advance, and it is causing hardship.

I am very concerned to hear what the hon. Lady says. It is obviously important that people receive their pension on the correct date. She, like many other Members of Parliament, is providing a useful service to her constituents by getting in touch with the DWP. I will pass on what has been said, but this is something that should happen correctly as a matter of routine.

Fife Council is one of over 90% of local authorities in Scotland that have given firm commitments of provision of housing for Afghan nationals and others who have had to be evacuated from Afghanistan recently. So I was very concerned to read a few days ago that a Minister in the Home Office, during a private press briefing, had said that the figure in Scotland was just over 50% and that only 18 or 19 out of 32 councils had given that commitment. Can we have a statement from the Home Office, first, to update Members on the fantastic work that has been done across these islands to support those who have been evacuated from Afghanistan, and, in particular, to put the record straight on just how comprehensive the support from Scotland’s local authorities has been?

I obviously do not know what was said in private meetings that I was not at. I would never put too much weight on gossip from private meetings; it is not always accurate. We should be proud of what councils have done. Having had a pop at Bath and North East Somerset Council earlier for making driving in Bath completely impossible, it has been extremely good as a council in terms of immediately volunteering to help take Afghan nationals and that is, I think, a spirit that has arisen across the land.

Last week, York CVS launched York’s Poverty Truth Commission and, tonight, York Labour will be urging the council to make York a Right to Food city. The levels of poverty in my constituency are rising really sharply, not least because of the recent cut to universal credit. Can we have a debate on poverty in urban areas and the impact that that is having on our constituents?

Since 2010, absolute poverty has fallen by 700,000. That is a very significant decline and 650,000 fewer children live in workless households than did in 2010. That is the key way out of poverty. Getting people into work is the key way out of poverty. We have a record number of vacancies. Employment has got back to pre-pandemic levels and an extra £500 million has been made available for people who, over this winter, may be in need because of the continuing consequences of the pandemic, so the Government are doing absolutely the right things. But the key way out of poverty is economic growth and economic success. It is not any other route.

Building on the question earlier from the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), I have been contacted by many constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran who have just reached state pension age, but have faced considerable delays in receiving their state pension payments. There are 2.1 million pensioners in poverty across the UK, so, for them, the state pension is the most important source of income and these delays to payments are a particular cruelty to the WASPI women who have already had their state pension age increased. I wrote to the DWP Secretary of State about this on 8 August and not yet received a response. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out what investigations he will undertake into these delays? Will he use his good offices to ensure that state pension payments are made in a timeous manner?

Since I have been doing this job over the past couple of years or so, I have thought that one of the most useful parts of business questions is that, if problems are arising and affecting a number of constituents, this is an opportunity to raise them. On some occasions, a number of Members have raised the same point, which tends to indicate that an issue is of a degree of seriousness and will need Government attention. This has now come up twice. I do not know whether it is affecting other hon. and right hon. Members—[Interruption.] I see a certain amount of nodding. I will therefore take this up as a matter of extreme urgency after this session with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The Leader of the House has very close links with the finance sector, so I am sure that he will have followed very closely the news that the Government are set to cut taxes on the profits made by banks. Surely, at a time when ordinary people are facing such a tax hike, any such cuts to taxes on the profits of banks would be completely wrong. Obviously, a Budget is on its way, but can we have a Government statement specifically on this issue because it is something that the public are alarmed about and that this House should be very alarmed about, too.

Planning is a much under-appreciated skill that some people think is beneath them, but, as a former network programme manager, I know that it is critical to getting anything done. Can we have a debate on planning and the Prime Minister, so that he will not again announce the date of critical legislation—the Online Safety Bill—and then U-turn on that date within a couple of hours? The many people suffering online hate will not thank him for not having a plan. Could the Leader of the House confirm whether the Prime Minister’s commitment to criminal sanctions will outlast his commitment to bring legislation to this House before Christmas?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the point about the Online Safety Bill, which I referred to earlier. It is undergoing detailed scrutiny as a draft Bill. This is really important because this is complex legislation. We have to deal with the online harms issue. We also have to protect freedom of speech. We need to hold the online service companies to account for what they publish and that report will come forward in December. We know that the plan of the Joint Committee is to have its report issued then. That will be the basis for legislation. It is following the proper, suitable plan. This is the parliamentary process—lots of it is written down in Erskine May, a copy of which I can see not too far from me—so the Government’s planning is exactly as we would expect it to be.

Will the Leader of the House consider providing time for a debate on the persecution of religion or belief and minorities in Pakistan? Last week, the Pakistan Government rejected a Bill that was designed to prevent abduction, forced marriage and forced conversion of Christian and other minority under-aged girls from among Pakistan’s minority religious or belief communities. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is right, proper and timely for this House to consider the plight of girls in Pakistan as the Pakistan Government violate their rights, and shirk their international obligations and constitutional provisions regarding the rights of minorities?

As always, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. His question is similar in principle to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) about protecting the rights of religious minorities who face persecution in various parts of the world. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, as he knows. Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right. Last year, the Foreign Office published its “Human Rights and Democracy” report, which noted significant concern about the treatment of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan following the global coverage of the trial of Asia Bibi for blasphemy. The United Kingdom remains deeply concerned about the severity and scale of violations and abuses of freedom of religion or belief in many parts of the world. Her Majesty’s Government remain committed to the global effort to support the most vulnerable members of society irrespective of race, religion and ethnicity. I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman’s points are passed on to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and that what can be done will be done.

I echo the sentiments by the Leader of the House about our two colleagues, James Brokenshire and Sir David Amess—two exemplary constituency MPs, who any MP would wish to emulate.

An issue of particular concern in my constituency in recent months is 5G mobile phone masts. While both I and many others understand the need for greater coverage and connectivity, my constituents and I share concerns about engagement on mast locations. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time about the requirements on telecoms companies to meaningfully engage with local communities when planning these projects?

There is a real difficulty in this, in that we need to improve connectivity. When I am at home in Somerset and my mobile signal gives out again, I begin to think, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a 5G mast not so far away, so that I could actually get some signal?” On the other hand, local communities need to be consulted and we need to take people with us as the systems are rolled out. Therefore, it is all about getting the balance right. We do not want to hold back business or communications, but, equally, we want to reassure communities.