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Business of the House

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 18 November 2021

The business for the week commencing 22 November will include:

Monday 22 November—Remaining stages of the Health and Care Bill (Day 1).

Tuesday 23 November—Remaining stages of the Health and Care Bill (Day 2).

Wednesday 24 November—Second Reading of the Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Bill, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.

Thursday 25 November—General debate on freedom of religion or belief: 40th anniversary of the declaration on the elimination of religious intolerance, followed by a debate on a motion on alcohol harm. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 26 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 29 November will include:

Monday 29 November—Second Reading of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [HL], followed by a motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Animals (Penalty Notices) Bill, followed by a motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Approved Premises (Substance Testing) Bill.

Tuesday 30 November—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 1 December—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No.2) Bill.

Thursday 2 December—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 3rd December—Private Members’ Bills.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business and also his colleague, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), for his various cries. I look forward to seeing him on a Friday.

Today is Equal Pay Day, but it is not a day for celebration. Today, 10 million women in the UK now face working their entire careers without seeing equal pay. This is up from 8.5 million just a year ago. Can the Secretary of State for Women and Equalities or the Work and Pensions Secretary, or both, come to this House and explain why, under this Government, we are going so far backwards and what they will do about it?

What a week! The Leader of the House and I have seen rather a lot of each other across the Dispatch Boxes, and we have also seen the true extent of the Government’s blasé attitude towards corruption. The Prime Minister’s letter, which I believe was sent to Mr Speaker on Tuesday, said that banning MPs from taking roles as paid political consultants or lobbyists would stop them from, “exploiting their positions”. But this Government seem to be saying one thing one day, and then doing entirely another the next—making rules to break them, and facing no consequences for their egregious actions. They could have voted yesterday for our motion, which would have guaranteed—guaranteed—this House a vote on strengthening standards and in a timetable, but instead they chose to support a wrecking amendment, with no clear timetable and no guaranteed vote, and that could see as few as just 10 Conservative MPs affected. Does the Leader of the House agree that such partisanship and what appears to be naked self-interest should never override upholding the principles of public life?

While we are on the Prime Minister and the subject of standards, news outlets are reporting—I do not know whether this has been confirmed—that he said that he had “crashed” the Government car into a “ditch” as a result of the advice that the right hon. Gentleman said, I think, that he gave to the Prime Minister over the affair of the former MP for North Shropshire. Can we have a debate in Government time on dangerous driving and whether that should take place on the Estate?

It is not just on the subject of standards where the Government show nothing but contempt for this House. I am afraid to say that I have raised numerous times with the right hon. Gentleman that Members are still not receiving timely, or in some cases any, replies to letters, written questions or calls to MP hotlines. I know that the Leader of the House shares my concern, so could he take it up again, please?

I am afraid that, at the last business questions, the Leader of the House stated that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) had received a response to his letter to the Prime Minister sent more than a year ago on Islamophobia. I am sure that the Leader of the House did not intend to make this mistake, but, unfortunately, it seems from what I am told that the response that he referred to was from the Conservative party chair, not the Prime Minister, and related to a completely different letter. I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could correct this and clarify. My hon. Friend has now written to the Prime Minister again, so can he also ensure that the Prime Minister finally replies to this letter before the end of this year’s Islamophobia Month?

The shadow Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), asked a named day question all the way back in September on the amount of covid-19 vaccines that had reached their expiry date. This week, it was publicly announced that around 600,000 doses were thrown away in August, but my hon. Friend has still not received a substantive response to her question, which is so critical for our global response to covid. Will the Leader of the House take this back to his Cabinet colleagues and impress on them once again their responsibilities to this House?

This is not my specialist subject, but the annual fisheries negotiations are due to conclude shortly, which is important in ensuring that we reach a good deal for British fishing. I ask the Leader of the House to allocate Government time to debate this, before the December fisheries council?

On behalf of the very many staff who have asked to be able to plan for next year, especially after this past year, will the Leader of the House please give us the recess dates for 2022 next week? They have a right to know those dates, as they have to plan around us and they need to be able to book that holiday to be with their family.

Finally, this week, Azeem Rafiq has given us distressing, but, unfortunately for many of us, not surprising evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee about his experience of racism—in this case in cricket. It is abundantly clear that there has been an acute failure of leadership—in his case, at club and national level—and that, sadly, this is part of a more widespread problem. There should be no place for racism in sport, in this House, or anywhere in our society. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to make sure that the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket’s inquiry into racism in cricket is taken seriously, and that it cannot be swept under the rug, as it has been so many times before?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. May I begin with the issue of cricket? As somebody who has followed cricket since his childhood, I think I can say that this is a matter of shame to all cricket lovers. I look back to when I followed Somerset county cricket in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when we had the most wonderful players from the West Indies—Joel Garner and Viv Richards particularly, but there were others, too. They were so inspirational, and encouraged excitement in cricket and made everyone in Somerset feel that they were part of our county and huge contributors to it. I am afraid that what has been going on in Yorkshire fills many cricket lovers with sadness. The England and Wales Cricket Board has a strong responsibility to ensure that this is stamped out and dealt with much more thoroughly than it has been so far.

The hon. Lady started by asking about equality. It is worth pointing out that the Government have pushed very hard to ensure that women get the opportunities that they deserve: there is a higher percentage of women on FTSE 350 company boards than ever before, and we have introduced shared parental leave and pay, and doubled free childcare for eligible parents, to help to ensure that women in the workplace have as strong a position as possible. Those policy principles and precepts will be kept to.

The hon. Lady then came to some more controversial matters and talked about partisanship. Well, I have a word or two to say about partisanship, because yesterday the Leader of the Opposition had to apologise to the House and withdraw a word that he had used, which today the same man has tweeted about the Prime Minister. That is not only extraordinarily partisan, but it is enormously disrespectful to this House and to Mr Speaker. To have to withdraw a word in this House, and then scuttle out like a beetle and tweet it, is utterly disrespectful to the House and is not the sort of cross-party leadership that one might expect.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition then went further and tweeted inaccurately about his own motion yesterday, so perhaps he did not even know what he had put his name to. That is partisanship, whereas the Conservative Government have been trying to put things right by ensuring that by 31 January—a clear deadline, in spite of what the hon. Lady said—the Committee on Standards can report, and can do so in a way that makes it clear how the rules can be improved following the 2018 report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, led by the noble Lord Bew. We are the ones who are trying our best to be cross-party against a barrage of partisanship, and we are trying to ensure the highest possible standards.

As regards the letter mentioned by the hon. Lady, my understanding is that the party Chairman was replying on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but I will obviously look into that, check and respond.

Fishing negotiations are an important matter for the House, but I am sure that the Backbench Business Committee can look into finding time for that important debate.

Finally, the shadow Leader of the House wants to go on her holidays. I quite understand that it is a very important matter, although I think that some Labour MPs may have been on their holidays already this week because the Finance Bill, which can go until any hour and sets out the major principles of legislation from the Budget—one of the most important things that the Government do—fell short. It finished early! Where were all the socialists keen to make their arguments about how the finances of the nation should be guided? It does not surprise me that the hon. Lady, and her hon. and right hon. Friends, are keen to book their holidays, but to facilitate them I will bring forward recess dates in the normal way.

Last Sunday, this country quite rightly paused to reflect, and to honour those men and women who risked or gave their lives in world wars and other conflicts. It is less well known that this Sunday we come together at the Cenotaph to honour the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, with a parade where veterans and children of veterans honour those who risked or gave their lives. Could we have a debate in Government time on all the other people who gave or risked their lives so that this country and Parliament could be free?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to my attention, because I did not know that the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women had a parade on the week after Armistice Sunday. I congratulate him on bringing that to the attention of the House. I also congratulate the association on its work and on the commemoration to recognise one’s gratitude to the veterans from the Jewish community who served in Her Majesty’s forces—or His Majesty’s forces, as they then often were—and to ensure that their contribution, along with the contribution of others, is not forgotten. It may be difficult to facilitate a debate immediately, but remembrance should be discussed in this House.

May I start by congratulating the Leader of the House? I congratulate him on actually still being here. I mean, he has defied every single rule and principle of political gravity by ensuring that this disastrous period of sleaze now goes into its third week. But at least he has had the good grace to concede that it was all his fault and that it was he who encouraged the Prime Minister to pursue this disastrous action. It might have been the Prime Minister who crashed the car into the ditch, but it was the Leader of the House who provided the directions.

When the history books are written on this sorry saga and detail how this rotten Government lost their momentum, their lead and their authority, there will be a chapter that starts, “And Jacob Rees-Mogg rose to his feet to oppose the report from the Committee on Standards.” To still be here after all this, the Leader of the House must know where the top hats are buried. We need at least two days of debate on all the issues around Government sleaze and corruption, and we need to see the Prime Minister leading those debates. The Leader of the House has ensured that this is the issue that is consuming the public, so I am almost certain that he agrees that we must now satisfy that public demand.

We definitely need a debate about the House of Lords, because there are huge public concerns about how people get a place in it. The Prime Minister yesterday all but conceded that donors are given a place in the House of Lords for their contributions when he said to my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil),

“Until you get rid of the system by which the trades union barons fund other parties”,

we have to go ahead—conceding that money buys people a place in the legislature that allows them to define, determine and amend the laws of this country.

Lastly, may I thank the Leader of the House for advancing the cause of Scottish independence in the most dramatic, compelling and convincing way possible?

One could never accuse the hon. Gentleman of being knowingly understated. We have had “disaster”, “sorry saga”, “rotten”, “sleaze”, “corruption”, “huge public concern” and “dramatic” all in about a minute. I do wonder whether he is capable of lowering the tone even further than he normally does, or of lowering the temperature and raising the tone at the same point.

It is so absurdly overstated; we have spent quite enough time discussing ourselves in this House in the last 10 days or so. For example, I return to the Finance Bill. It is a bit of a concern that when we have a debate that could go to any hour on something that affects the livelihoods of every single one of our constituents, the Opposition are too idle to turn up, but when we are talking about ourselves, they want even more time to focus a little bit more on our own concerns. On the idea that there is this huge public concern about the House of Lords, well, the hon. Gentleman must move in very different circles from those in North East Somerset, because the number of letters that I receive on House of Lords reform can be counted in single digits most years.

My right hon. Friend and I are great advocates of the power of the people, because the voice of the people is the voice of God. I say to him—because we both come from the heart of what made Britain as we now know it—that we need elections in Somerset. There is discussion that the local authority now wants all elections put back to 2023, which would be six years since we have had an election in the county that we both love. That is not acceptable. There are severe concerns from all political parties, including my own, that this should not happen again. It is not good for democracy. Gag the people, they will come back at us. Therefore, I ask for time in this place to debate the ability to have elections when we should be having them, because, as I said before, the voice of the people is the voice of God.

Vox populi, vox Dei, as my hon. Friend says. It is obviously important that there should be local accountability and elections, but sometimes when there is significant upheaval in local government, elections are postponed until the new body has settled down. It is all a question of getting the balance right.

I apologise to Members for missing these proceedings for the two weeks prior to the recess, but I am afraid to say that three weeks ago today I tested positive for covid. I can honestly say to Members across the House that it is still worth taking precautions because, despite being double-vaccinated, I had some rather unpleasant symptoms and it is best avoided.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business, notifying Members of Backbench business on 25 November and notifying us of an allocation of time on 2 December. I hope that we will be able to bring forward two important debates on that date. What we have provisionally pencilled in at the moment are debates on the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Dayton peace accord, and economic crime. I hope we can bring those forward. I hope that before Christmas I could have a meeting with the Leader of the House to make sure that we are up to date with our time allocation from the Backbench Business Committee’s perspective.

May I say how glad I am to see the hon. Gentleman back in his place? I thank him for his courtesy in letting my office know that he was not going to be here in previous weeks, and I hope he is fully restored to good health. I am grateful to him for announcing the Backbench business that will be forthcoming, and of course I look forward to having a meeting with him at a time of his convenience.

May we have an urgent debate on the provision of increased general practice capacity when thousands of new homes are built? This should happen with as much certainty as the sun rising in the east every morning. We really can do better and we need to do so urgently.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this point, because I think all of us as constituency MPs have come across it when there have been developments in our area. Trying to bring various bodies together to make sure that that is considered is important and something that MPs rightly get involved with. We obviously need more home ownership and we need to build the houses for it, but we need to make sure that the infrastructure is put in place as well. This often, in many ways, becomes a matter of local politics, when it is important to address it at the local level, but I will pass on my hon. Friend’s concerns to the Secretary of State.

I am aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) raised this with the Leader of the House two weeks ago. I have many constituents appealing to me for help about access to their state pensions. They were advised as early as July of this year, with impending retirements in November, to apply for their pensions. They still have not received confirmation of what state pension they are receiving or indeed when they will receive it. I now have three constituents who tell me that they cannot retire at the end of the month because they have no idea what their incomes will be. I know that the Leader of the House has raised this previously, but I would be exceptionally grateful if he could arrange for a Department for Work and Pensions Minister to come to the Floor of the House to make a statement, or for a written statement from the Secretary of State, to resolve the issue. We cannot have pensioners not having access to what is rightfully theirs.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue again. It has been a problem for some of my own constituents too, and I have therefore raised it at a constituency level as well as on behalf of the House. As I have said before, one of the very useful purposes of this session is that, if there is a general problem that gets raised by several hon. and right hon. Members, that gives me the opportunity to take it up. The DWP had hoped that the problem would be sorted by now, but I am hearing that it is not. I will therefore take it up with the DWP again and try to provide more information for the House on what progress is being made.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on prescribed drug dependence, I pay tribute to Dr Anne Guy, Dr James Davies and Luke Montague for their support for this really important work. Dr Davies recently published research showing that the NHS spends £500 million a year on unnecessary and habit-forming drugs, mostly antidepressants, that people should not be on any more. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this really needs attention, and will he find time for a debate on the over-prescription of habit-forming drugs?

This is a matter of considerable concern and my hon. Friend is right to raise it in this House. On 22 September the Government published “Good for you, good for us, good for everybody”, a review of over-prescribing commissioned by the Secretary of State and conducted by the chief pharmaceutical officer for England, Dr Keith Ridge, that sets out action to reduce patient harm by reducing unnecessary prescribing. A three-year national over-prescribing programme is being established to lead on implementation of the 20 recommendations in the review. A new national clinical director for prescribing, one of the review’s key recommendations, is currently being recruited to drive cross-system implementation and provide the clinical leadership for the programme. So I can reassure my hon. Friend that things are happening. As regards a debate, the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee is paying close attention to our proceedings, and I direct my hon. Friend in that direction in the first instance.

May I associate myself with the words of the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the House relating to racism in cricket? Particularly with the Ashes almost upon us, we will be mindful of that debate as we go into watching much more cricket in the coming weeks.

I also want to ask about GP provision. Our GPs locally have an 81% approval rate. Many people say that they love their GP but they simply cannot reach the surgery. Could we have a debate, perhaps in Government time, that looks at the capital spend that is needed for telephony so that people can get through more quickly with their inquiries?

The hon. Lady raises an important point that I think all of us are coming across as constituency MPs—access to GPs, face to face, on the telephone, or on Zoom or similar services. This has been difficult for GPs, who have a huge burden to carry at the moment with the extra demand that has come up post covid. The Government have provided £250 million of taxpayers’ money in the winter access fund to improve the capacity of GP practices, but the hon. Lady’s specific point on telephony is important and I will pass it on to the Secretary of State.

Each week thousands of economic migrants come to this country illegally by crossing the channel from France. Now we know that migrants landing on the Kent coast will be taken to Wellingborough, put in a four-star hotel and given free board, free food and free medical care. There might be many reasons why people want to flee France, but adding the pull factor of coming to Wellingborough—one of the finest and friendliest towns in the country—is absurd. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time where the Government can lay out their position that in future economic migrants will be arriving not in the town of Wellingborough but in a town in Albania?

I think the reason everyone wants to go to Wellingborough is that they will be so well represented by the Member of Parliament for that distinguished constituency, who will take up their cases for them regardless of their immigration status. However, I can give my hon. Friend some comfort because the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament, will give us much greater power to ensure that illegal asylum claims are dealt with efficiently and effectively, but also that people who have valid asylum claims that they declare legally early on will be treated in the properly sympathetic way that this country has a proud record of doing.

My constituent downsized in preparation for retirement and was left with a £76,000 surplus that he added to his personal pension, which is what this Government would advise him to do. In doing so, he wrote to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs stating that he wanted to claim tax relief for this one-off contribution. The letter was received, yet ignored. Despite HMRC admitting that it incorrectly changed his tax code, and a call handler admitting that HMRC had made a big mistake, it continued to harass my constituent, adding interest on a monthly basis and causing great anxiety. Can we have a debate on why HMRC continues to hold the public accountable for its own mistakes?

As I have said to the hon. Gentleman previously, I am more than happy to take up individual constituent cases where proper answers have not already come through. My experience from my constituents has always been that HMRC has been one of the more efficient Government bodies in answering correspondence that I have had. I am therefore sorry that he has not had a good reply and very sorry to hear about his constituent’s contribution of £76,000 to his pension not being handled correctly. If the hon. Gentleman will send my office more details, I will take it up with HMRC very shortly.

Good dental health is so important, but residents in Winsford in my constituency are finding it extremely difficult to access dentist services, leading, unfortunately, to some serious misdiagnoses, despite my having written to Ministers, to NHS England and to the Care Quality Commission. Will my right hon. Friend find Government time to sink the Health Department’s teeth into a debate on NHS dentistry so that we can better understand what is stopping my constituents from being able to access dentistry services when they need them?

My hon. Friend is making me think of Jaws from the James Bond films and what might happen if teeth are stuck in, or those children who have railway tracks put on their teeth to straighten them up. His question is very important. The pandemic has had a significant effect on dentistry, and we continue to work on recovering NHS dental services. We are addressing regional shortages of dentists by working with the NHS to try to ensure that training place numbers are better aligned with the needs of local populations. NHS England and NHS Improvement are developing proposals for dental system reform, working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care and other interested parties. I think this is being chewed over. There is some mastication going on, and I hope that we will not all become indentured servants.

We have made a degree of progress this week on taking unfortunate money out of politics. Now we need to take the next step and clean up the laundromat of British political party funding. In the wake of the Intelligence and Security Committee report on Russia last year, will the Lord President confirm that no British political party should be taking cash from suspicious fortunes made in Russia and Uzbekistan? Can we have a debate in Government time as soon as possible to crystallise a cross-party consensus on this critical topic?

There are very clear rules on how money may be taken by political parties, and all the political parties have a strong obligation to abide by them and to ensure that money is declared properly to the Electoral Commission. Ultimately, there will be a choice: whether we wish to have parties funded privately or to put a greater burden on the taxpayer. I would be very reluctant to put any further burdens on taxpayers; they have to bear enough already. I might even remind the right hon. Gentleman of a comment he made some years ago about the shortage of funds.

Can we have a debate on insurance premiums for emergency vehicle drivers? At present, if the driver of a fire engine, ambulance or police car is involved in a collision in a blue-light situation, they are hit by increased insurance premiums. It would seem unfair that some of the most skilled drivers in the country, who are very safe in their normal private driving life, are being hit with extra costs for their personal car for putting themselves at risk for public safety.

My hon. Friend raises a point of which many of us in this House were unaware. I see the difficulty that there is for blue-light drivers, who are likely to be trained to a very high standard. Insurers are responsible for setting the terms and conditions of the policies they offer, and it is for them to decide the level of risk they take in issuing any policy to a given applicant. The insurance companies have very large volumes of data from which to estimate their premiums. That makes the setting of premiums a commercial decision for individual insurers based on their underwriting experience, and it is not one where the Government seek to intervene, but my hon. Friend has done a service in bringing this matter to the House’s attention.

Like the Leader of the House, I was not aware that the Sunday after Remembrance Sunday—this Sunday—there is a planned march by the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, until it was raised by the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I feel it was a bit remiss of me not knowing that. Considering what seems to be a sharp rise in antisemitism, not just in Britain, but across Europe and elsewhere, should we not look at having a full debate in Government time on the contribution of AJEX to British history, where we could also pay tribute to associated organisations, such as the 43 Group, which crushed the Blackshirts in the late 1940s?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We have in some years had a debate around Armistice Day, where it has been possible to record the contribution of a range of people who have been involved in keeping the country safe and free. I am afraid that in normal circumstances, this is more a matter for the Backbench Business Committee than the Government, but his appeal is very wise.

The rot in the Labour administration in Sandwell is continuing to pervade. Last month, we saw the botched attempt by the council to close a care home in Tipton. Then we saw the moonlight flit on Tuesday of the leader of the Labour party in Sandwell, and now we have the disgraceful edict from the politburo—sorry, I mean the cabinet of Sandwell Council that if council tenants disagree with the council, they risk eviction from their home. I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees that this is a disgraceful situation. Can we have a debate in Government time about the shambles that is the Labour administration in Sandwell Council? The Opposition promised to deal with it. They have failed. Perhaps it is time for us to do something about it.

I am appalled by what my hon. Friend tells me. It is a very important point, and it is not the first time that the failings of Labour in Sandwell have been raised in this House. There is something rotten at the heart of many socialist councils. I noticed his slip in referring to the politburo, because there is sometimes a feeling of absolute control. The issue he raises today about limiting freedom of speech is particularly troubling. Politicians must expect challenge and for people to disagree with them and to push hard and argue their points. To try to put in a council contract that someone has to be polite or not say rude things about the council sounds like the sort of thing that happens in totalitarian communist states and not in the United Kingdom. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Talking about local councils, the Leader of the House is my constituency neighbour and we share the same local authority, Bath and North East Somerset Council. There have been some worrying trends of deliberate misinformation about some decisions in our local area. When politicians’ reputations are at all time low, it is important that we make sure we improve that. Indeed, earlier he deplored some misleading tweets. Will he therefore confirm that the spreading of misinformation has no place in today’s politics?

What the hon. Lady says is obviously right—information should be accurate—but there is sometimes not a clear dividing line between what is information and what is opinion. One should never use the piety of saying, “That is misinformation”, when one merely disagrees with an opinion.

Can I raise another general problem with the Leader of the House, which is that of constituents who have switched from energy suppliers that have collapsed, of which there are 21, as of today? They are facing long delays being set up with suppliers of last resort. They do not know how much their Bills will be, and they risk facing accumulating debt and missing out perhaps on the warm home discount, all through no fault of their own. Please can we have an opportunity to raise this problem with Ministers, as it is not going away?

The hon. Lady raises something that has been of concern. Steps have been taken to help people with energy bills, including contributing £140 to the energy bills of 2.2 million low-income households. I accept that there is uncertainty when energy suppliers go out of business and how that is handled. If she has any specific requests for information for constituents, I would be happy to help her to meet that.

I advise the Leader of the House that I was here on Tuesday for the Finance Bill. The debate was well subscribed on the SNP Benches. There was precisely one Back-Bench contribution from the Conservative party. I counted the contributions three times just to make sure I had not got it wrong. I will be speaking later this afternoon on the Critical Benchmarks (References and Administrators’ Liability) Bill. Can the Leader of the House explain why it is necessary to complete its entire passage through this House in a single day? Unusually, I do not think the total debate time of six hours is an issue, but the lack of a Public Bill Committee and of an opportunity to call expert witnesses are serious problems. At the moment, the House has not been told why the Bill has been timetabled in this way. Will the Leader of the House explain why, and say why the Government did not follow their usual practice of explaining their actions in the explanatory notes?

There has been a great deal of pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill to ensure that it is widely understood and accepted. The Bill is technical in nature.

Not a single amendment has been tabled to the Bill today, which indicates that there is widespread consent across the House. The most open form of debate and scrutiny is a Committee of the whole House, where every Member is able to be involved. I am afraid I disagree with the hon. Gentleman; I think it is a sensible way to proceed with a piece of legislation that has been very thoroughly considered and that ensures that the technical operations of the City of London in relation to interest rates and critical benchmarks can go ahead properly.

It has been reported that the Transport Secretary used public money to create a departmental team that lobbied against plans to build on airfield sites, including a gigafactory at Coventry airport. Disgracefully, that would mean he used public funds to lobby against green investment and jobs coming to Coventry. Why? Well, we know he is an aviation enthusiast. From a dodgy Transport Secretary to a dodgy Leader of the House, who last week tried to rewrite the rules to let his mate off the hook, this Conservative Government are rotten to the core. Is the Leader of the House proud of this shameful record?

Order. I think perhaps the hon. Lady could think of a different form of words. I do not like “dodgy”. She can make clear that she disagrees with what has happened, but perhaps she could put it in different words.

I do not think another word suffices for the levels of corruption that we are seeing from this Government, so I think that term suffices.

It does not quite suffice. I am asking the hon. Lady to moderate her language. It is absolutely in order to have disagreement here—that is why we are here—but we must moderate our language and be careful of the adjectives that are used about one Member by another. Perhaps the hon. Lady could just put it in slightly different words and just ask a straight question of the Lord President?

Apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am confused, because I do not have any other words to put it in.

It would suffice for the moment if the hon. Lady would withdraw the word she used, namely “dodgy”.

Order. The hon. Lady misunderstands me. I am asking her to withdraw the word “dodgy”. I am giving her the opportunity to put her question in other words. If she does not want to take that opportunity, she does not have to do so. I am not stopping the hon. Lady making the point she wants to make or asking the Leader of the House the question she wants to ask, and indeed drawing to general attention the points she wishes to draw to general attention. I am asking her to use moderate language in doing so. Would she like to put her question in moderate language?

I won’t withdraw those remarks, Madam Deputy Speaker.

[The hon. Member having been understood to have withdrawn her remarks—]

I thank the hon. Lady. I do not want to stop her asking the question. If she would like to ask a simple question of the Lord President of the Council, I am giving her the opportunity to do so. I do not ever wish to stop questions being asked or Government being held to account; I just want to make sure that language is moderated. Would she care to put her question?

With soaring energy prices and the abandonment of the triple lock, Age UK has warned of older people’s not being able to afford to keep their homes adequately heated this winter. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the winter fuel payment, which has been frozen since 2011, and whether he agrees that that support should be linked to the actual cost of energy in order to tackle preventable deaths, which are expected to rise this winter?

It may be helpful if I set out what the Government have done in this area. There is a £500 million household support fund so that local authorities can help those on the lowest incomes with their food and utility costs. The energy price cap is being maintained; £140 is being contributed to the energy bills of 2.2 million low-income households through the warm house discount; seasonal cold-weather payments of an extra £25 a week for up to 4 million people will be available during colder periods; the £300 winter fuel payment will go to recipients of the state pension; the increase in the local housing allowance in cash terms this year is worth an extra £600 on average to 1.5 million households and there is a £65 million package for vulnerable renters so that councils can support low-income earners in rent arrears, prevent homelessness and support families. There is a wide package of support to help people to keep their homes during the winter.

The triple lock, which the hon. Lady mentioned, was obviously distorted because of covid and the decline of earnings last year, followed by a significant bounce back this year, and it was entirely suitable and right to suspend it under those extraordinary circumstances. Last year, pensioners benefited; this year, obviously, it was the other way around.

Members on both sides of the House will be aware of the paltry amounts paid in royalties to musicians from streaming platforms. In contrast, the head of Universal Music is set to earn more than £150 million in 2021—more than songwriters and composers made from all UK music streaming, downloads and sales put together in 2019. The Leader of the House will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) has a private Member’s Bill ready that would address the situation. Can he assure me that sufficient time will be found to allow for the passage of my hon. Friend’s Bill?

This is an issue that the Government take seriously, and it has been considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman sponsoring the Bill, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), is a member, launched an inquiry into the economics of music streaming, which heard from key actors in the music industry, including artists, record labels and streaming platforms.

The Committee’s report was published on 15 July and made several recommendations to the Government for a broad set of regulatory interventions, intended to address issues with artists’ streaming royalties, and including a performer’s right to equitable remuneration similar to that proposed in the Bill. However, the Committee’s report did not provide sufficient evidence to support legislative action. The impact of introducing a new equitable remuneration right would be significant, so, while the Government are not unsympathetic, more evidence is needed before any action can be taken.

Before I call the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and while the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, is still in the Chamber, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that, in my capacity as Chairman of Ways and Means, overseeing matters in Westminster Hall, I have just been informed that the Backbench Business Committee has been unable to fill the slot available for Backbench Business debates on Tuesday 30 November. Yet I have sat here listening to people asking for debates and the Lord President rightly referring them to the hon. Member for Gateshead.

I feel it necessary to make this point—I hope it is heard more widely—that it would appear that Members are coming to the Chamber to ask the Leader of the House for a slot for a debate, but they are not at the same time applying to the hon. Member for Gateshead for a debate through the Backbench Business Committee. The Lord President has acknowledged the need for debates over the past 40 minutes; the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee is sitting here noting all these requests for debates, and yet those Members have not applied to his Committee for slots. Something is wrong here. I feel it necessary to make that point; it would be a pity to lose the opportunity to do so, since I have just been informed of this slot on 30 November. The hon. Gentleman tells me, “Applications by tomorrow,” so if you want your debate, do not ask the Leader of the House—apply to the hon. Member for Gateshead.

I have already had discussions with the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee and asked him about a debate, and I hope to submit that tomorrow.

Will the Leader of the House agree to arrange a statement on a total boycott of the winter Olympics in China in protest over human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic and religious belief minorities? This follows a call to the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 winter Olympic games out of China. Such a statement would show a united front following a similar announcement from the United States of America on Tuesday stating that it will not send a diplomatic delegation to the 2022 winter Olympic games. A statement would be very helpful.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am tempted to say that applications for debates do not go flooding in to the Backbench Business Committee because Members receive such full answers in these brief sessions, and therefore time is saved, although I see some shaking of heads among Opposition Members.

I am always grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for raising these points. He is such a strong campaigner for freedom of religion, and there is of course the debate next week on freedom of religion, following the 40th anniversary of the declaration on the elimination of religious intolerance. No decisions have been made about the UK Government’s attendance at the Peking winter Olympics in 2022. The attendance of athletes is a matter for the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association.

Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental human right, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it with me regularly at business questions. Her Majesty’s Government remain deeply concerned about the severity and scale of violations and abuses of freedom of religion or belief in many parts of the world, but particularly in communist China and against the Uyghur Muslims, as well as against the Tibetans—and the Catholics in China also do not have freedom, with Catholic priests being locked up on many occasions over the years. We have consistently led international efforts to hold China to account for its human rights violations, and we remain committed to the global effort to support the most vulnerable members of society irrespective of race, religion and ethnicity, but I am very glad that this is raised so forcefully in the House not just, but particularly, by the hon. Gentleman.