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Business of the House

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 2 December 2021

The business for the week commencing 6 December will include:

Monday 6 December—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Armed Forces Bill, followed by Second Reading of the Dormant Assets Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 7 December—Remaining stages of the Nationality and Borders Bill (day 1).

Wednesday 8 December—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Nationality and Borders Bill (half day), followed by Opposition day (7th allotted day—second part). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 9 December—Debate on a motion on the contribution of financial services to the UK economy, followed by debate on a motion on consular support for British citizens. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 10 December—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 13 December will include:

Monday 13 December—Remaining stages of the Subsidy Control Bill.

Let me first say how pleasing it was yesterday to see the Leader of the House in a splendid-looking mask in Prime Minister’s questions. It is nice that he has responded to the urgings from Labour Members. I also make a request that neither of us refers to what one may or may not do underneath mistletoe. I thank him for the forthcoming business.

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. The Global Fund, with thanks to UK Aid Direct, has made remarkable progress against AIDS, TB and malaria, and that partnership has saved 44 million lives around the world. Unfortunately, however, for the first time in its history, results from its key programmes have declined, which means that fewer people are helped. Department for International Development funding used to be globally renowned and rightly celebrated. The Government chose to abolish DFID. Will the Government instead stop cutting international aid to vital programmes that are protecting lives, providing healthcare and preventing transmission? That is how we end HIV infections and deaths by 2030. That is the global leadership we need, but it seems to be sadly lacking from this Government.

At the start of the week, the Government mentioned changes to mask wearing for students in schools and colleges, but we have not yet had a statement from the Education Secretary on these new measures. The current Education Secretary must surely have learned from the previous one about the chaos that is caused when information is not provided in a timely manner. Will the Leader of the House therefore ask him to come and provide clarity in this place for both parents and children who have already lost out so much during the pandemic?

Back in October, the Prime Minister appeared to confirm that the online safety Bill would have completed all stages by Christmas. Then it was just going to be Second Reading. Then No. 10 seemed to row back even further to some vague commitment that the Bill will be presented at some point during this Session. Yesterday, I think I got a muttered assurance from the Prime Minister that it would be brought forward by that wonderful date “soon”. Could the Leader of the House help us out? Could he tell us what “soon” means? Will he tell us what the timetabling is for that Bill, because the Prime Minister does not seem to know?

On Monday, the Committee on Standards published its proposals for an updated code of conduct for MPs. I am looking forward to hearing the statement on that from my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) after business questions. Given the Prime Minister’s apparent, alleged, new-found respect, so he says, for standards in public life, surely we should have a debate on these proposals in Government time. However, if the Government response is anything like their response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life report, I am not holding my breath. It took them three years to accept that report. Once again, it seems that the Government are saying one thing one day and then the complete opposite the next, and the Leader of the House knows where that leads.

Two weeks ago, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, a Humble Address motion was passed by this House, so the Government must now publish any and all of the minutes from the meeting between Lord Bethell, Owen Paterson and Randox over the award of a contract that involves hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. As the Leader of the House knows, the Government must do that in a timely fashion, otherwise they will be in contempt of Parliament, as I understand it, yet nothing so far has been produced. That is much like the delays to the online safety Bill.

There just seem to be more delays and more delays, with Ministers saying that they cannot possibly make the minutes public for another two months. That leads me to wonder whether those vital minutes actually exist. If they do, will the Leader of the House ask Ministers to come and tell us about them? If they do not, can they admit that now, rather than pretending to spend the next two months looking for them? I have to say that I find it rather odd that this Government think they do not need to keep any receipts for spending half a billion pounds of public money, but then again, if they do not, it is just taxpayers’ money they are wasting, so why would they bother?

In conclusion, we seem to have a Government who fail to plan, who fail to bring forward key legislation and who fail to keep receipts for taxpayers’ money. They are a Government who have lost their grip, and it is working people who are paying the price.

The hon. Lady seems to have missed the fact that the rules on masks changed, which is why people are wearing them more. They are compulsory in public transport and in shops, but they are not compulsory in the Chamber. It is a matter of judgment for people, and people are entitled in this Chamber not to wear them if that is the decision they want to make. That is really important and comes to the point that the hon. Lady was making about schools. There is advice to schools that older students and teachers may want to wear masks in communal areas, but people must make decisions for themselves. We on this side of the House believe in individual responsibility.

I encourage schools to keep up with their activities and with their nativity plays. I hope to be absent from spectating at Prime Minister’s questions next week so that I can watch one of my children—young Alfred—appearing as a donkey in a Christmas play, although from what I hear he will be modelling himself on Balaam’s ass, which of course was a talking donkey, and I understand my son will be a talking donkey at the school nativity play. I encourage all schools to carry on with these very important activities.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for welcoming the work being done by the Government in support of World AIDS Day and the ambition to stop new infections by 2030. An extra £20 million of public funding—the Government using taxpayers’ money—will be devoted to that end, and a written statement was issued yesterday.

As regards the online safety Bill, it is going through pre-legislative scrutiny. That is very important, because we often hear the Opposition say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bit of pre-legislative scrutiny? Isn’t that a good way of proceeding?” Then, when we have it, they say, “Well, you are being frightfully slow.” They cannot have it both ways, and then we get into a metaphysical discussion of “What is time?”, “What is soon?” and “What is Christmas’?” We could say that Christmas goes on at least until 2 February, which is Candlemas and the formal end of Christmas, but then we could decide to use the Orthodox calendar, which goes on even later. Such metaphysical discussions of time are not necessarily elucidating for the progress of legislation.

I am much looking forward to the presentation by the Chair of the Committee on Standards, to which the hon. Lady referred, on the important report that the Committee has published. The report asks for a consultation period, which I think will inevitably include a debate in the House. I look in the direction of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), because when the Committee was set up, it was generally considered that Select Committee reports would be debated in Backbench Business time. I hope that we can come to a suitable arrangement, but it is inevitably something that the House will want to discuss.

There is more joy in heaven, as we all know, over one sinner who repented than the 99 who remain unrepented. The hon. Lady has at last eschewed socialism, because she has used the words that we use on the Government side of the House—taxpayers’ money. Normally, the socialists think that it is their money or the state’s money that they allow poor hard-pressed taxpayers to keep a little of out of their benignity, but we on this side know that it is taxpayers money. There is no other money in the system than that taken from people up and down the country.

Conservatives have therefore always held spending taxpayers’ money to the highest standard, while the socialists spent—what was it?—£13 billion on some scheme to make the NHS’s IT system technologically efficient and squandered money on tax credits over and over again, because they have always been incontinent in their use of taxpayers’ money. I am delighted by the hon. Lady’s conversion and move in the direction of Toryism, which is a welcome joy for those of us on the Government Benches. I assure her that we also take the constitution seriously and believe that Humble Addresses must be respected, as they will be.

The Government take the constitution seriously, so I put it to the Leader of the House that although we are about to have the opportunity to question the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) about his report, a debate in Government time would be helpful because of some aspects of the report. For example, the potential extension of the jurisdiction of an official into what happens in the Lobbies and in Select Committees touches on the principle of the Bill of Rights that no proceeding in Parliament be questioned in any place or court other than Parliament itself. Indeed, the principle of democracy is undermined by the proposal that we may be required to subscribe to behaviours to promote certain attitudes. I hope that my constituents never elect a racist or a misogynist, but they have a right to.

My right hon. Friend shows that there is much to debate on the report. As I have said, I think it is important that the House debates those matters. I point out that in terms of the Floor of the House, there is no difference between the standing of a debate in Government time and of one in Backbench Business time. The Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is here and will have heard the requests for a debate on the subject loud and clear before his Committee meets, but I am open to a discussion with him to ensure that time is available.

Hip, hip, hooray! Raise the flags—Union Jacks, of course—and let us have a party in Downing Street. The Leader of the House at last had a face mask on his fizzog at Prime Minister’s questions. All he needs to do now is to convince those menaces on the libertarian wing of his Conservative party to do the same. He and I were at the same meeting when Public Health England told us that if everybody on the estate wore a face mask, infections would be cut by 12%, so no more excuses: masks on mushes.

Tuesday was a big day in the House which we will have to debate properly. For probably the first time, the L-word—the one that rhymes with “mire” and “fire”—rang out loud and clear in the Chamber. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, ruled that it could be used in the context of the debate on the conduct of the Prime Minister, possibly because no other word could be found as an appropriate replacement or substitute. The public’s outrage at the conduct of the Prime Minister just goes on, and we have to be able to debate this in the proper context and use the words that are right and appropriate for the behaviour displayed.

Today, of course, it is the Leader of the House who is all over the headlines, as he emerges as the latest Government Minister to be investigated because of his outside interests. Six million quid! I never knew he was so loaded. He could buy two peerages in the House of Lords with that money. We have to debate the Standards Committee’s report. Will he now pledge to recuse himself—

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to be very careful about what he says on any matter being considered by the Standards Committee, whose Chairman is listening carefully, as am I. I am sure the hon. Gentleman can find a way of making the points he wishes to make from a political point of view without straying into matters that should not be brought here to this Chamber at this time.

Absolutely, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I cannot wait to hear from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) about his report. It is right that this is debated, but the Leader of the House must recuse himself from participating in that debate.

Lastly, the Conservatives say none of this matters; that is what they told us on Tuesday. They have lost their opinion poll lead to the Labour party—the Labour party, for goodness’ sake—but in Scotland there was an opinion poll showing support for Scottish independence is now back up to 55%. I repeat, 55%. The Scottish people are looking at this corrupt, sleazy cesspit, and they do not like what they see and are quickly determining that it is time to get the hell out of this place.

Order. Before the Leader of the House answers the points made by the hon. Gentleman, I feel it incumbent upon me to clarify that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in what he said about my ruling on what the parliamentary leader of the SNP, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), was permitted to say in this Chamber during the Opposition day debate earlier this week. However, I must make it absolutely clear to the House, because I do not think this has been widely understood, that that was very specifically in the context of the debate being on a censure motion about a particular person, and the use of any word that implies that a Member of this House has not told the truth is allowed only in that very narrow context. This is not to be taken as a general ruling that these words can be used. There are, of course, always polite and moderate ways of making points, and that is how they should be made here in this Chamber.

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is so easily pleased. Had I realised that he would become sweetness and light merely by my momentarily wearing a mask, I may have been tempted to do it before the Christmas season or the season of Advent was upon us.

The hon. Gentleman wants to bat back and forth opinion polls, and I note that, as I told him last week, even SNP supporters do not think that having a referendum on independence is very important. I think they want to see the SNP Government in Scotland getting on with running Scotland properly—making the health service work, building the roads and dealing with all the problems that they are singularly failing to deal with. They could not even get the new advice out to vaccination centres so that people could get their vaccines when the advice was changed around the country at large.

The hon. Gentleman wishes me to go to the House of Lords, which is very flattering of him. He is clearly unaware of the 1539 Act about places in Parliament—the House of Lords Precedence Act 1539—which allows the Lord President, when not a peer, to go and sit in the House of Lords. It is not a privilege I have ever taken up, as I am worried that their lordships might be a bit surprised, but the Lord High Chancellor, the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord President of the Council, the Lord Treasurer—a position currently in commission—and various others have the right to go and sit in the House of Lords when they are not peers, so I assume that is what the hon. Gentleman was talking about.

I have been campaigning for much-needed improvements to two tube stations in my constituency, South Kensington and Ladbroke Grove, both of which desperately need step-free access. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Transport for London and the Mayor of London are letting down Londoners by mismanaging TfL’s finances, and would my right hon. Friend contemplate a debate on the subject?

We could have a debate on the terrible failures of the Mayor of London and Transport for London. Transport for London seems to have a campaign of hating the motorist and doing everything it can to make driving in London difficult, with ridiculous 20 mph speed limits on straight and wide roads, with road closures and every possible inconvenience to the motorist—and then it cannot run the underground system properly. I agree with my hon. Friend, though she may wish to apply to the Backbench Business Committee in the first instance.

I apologise to hon. Members across the House for my absence from this place last week. I was with the Education Committee on a visit to a prison—somewhere many of my constituents think I should have been for some time. I will just point out to the Leader of the House that when it comes to debates on any given matter that hon. Members want, if we receive a formal application from Members, we will of course consider it, but we have not yet received any sort of application about the subject discussed earlier. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could give us privately an indication of any plans for Backbench time in the first week back in January, as we need to plan for that in advance of the Christmas recess.

I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for football supporters, a group we established a number of years ago. We welcome the publication of the recommendations of the fan-led review of football governance, under the leadership of the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). The recommendations have been warmly welcomed by fan groups and fans of football across the country, so can the Leader of the House give us some insight as to whether they might be brought forward as part of the Government’s legislative programme in the remainder of this parliamentary Session, or be included in the Queen’s Speech for the next session?

I will do my best to give the hon. Gentleman a private indication as soon as I possibly can about when there will be new Backbench Business debates. I note his support for the report of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), which was very popularly received. I doubt I would be giving away too great a secret if I indicated that the state of business at the other end of this Palace is so crowded that the prospect of new legislation in this Session is probably limited.

The Leader of the House gave us the business until 13 December, but the House rises on 16 December, so we still have three unallocated days. After four years, two general election manifestos and a pledge in a national newspaper hand-signed by the Prime Minister, still we have not introduced the much-delayed legislation to end the cycle of endless investigations against Northern Ireland veterans. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told us we would have it by the summer recess, and he faithfully promised that it would be into Parliament by the end of the autumn. I think we can agree that Christmas means the end of the autumn. In the three-day window that remains, I earnestly ask the Leader of the House to ensure that that legislation appears—#wheresyourbillbrandon.

My right hon. Friend makes appeals that are always heard, and can sometimes be assured of falling on fertile ground. I hope I will be able to reassure him that this matter is at the top of the priority list for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

A constituent of mine recently wrote to me to say that she was concerned, looking at how this House operates, that children do not figure very often. We are approaching a Christmas and a winter when a large number of poorer families with children in this country are facing a really tough time. Can we put the record straight a bit? I know the Leader of the House knows about money—he was telling us he was very conversant with it. We desperately need to give help to the poorer families in this country before Christmas so that they can enjoy Christmas and their children do not go to bed hungry.

Of course it is important to support children, and to support families, which is what the Government have been doing with a number of schemes. Children who live in working families have a much better chance of not being in poverty, and raising the national living wage to £9.50 next year means an extra £1,000 a year for a full-time worker. Two million families will get an extra £1,000 a year through our cut to the universal credit taper and the increase to work allowances. There is £200 million a year to continue the hugely successful holiday activity and food programme. The Government of course take the needs of children into account in what they do, the benefits that are provided, and the welfare given, and that is fundamental to how the welfare state operates.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the concern that the consultation on so-called gay conversion therapy, which clearly needs to be stopped, has been extended to include matters of gender, which are considerably more complex, especially as concerns children. The consultation period is too short at six weeks, especially as one version has had to be withdrawn because it contains factual errors. It seems as though the Government are trying to rush through decisions before the Cass review comes out. In those circumstances, will the Leader of the House commit to subjecting the eventual Bill to full prelegislative scrutiny?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As I was saying about the online harms Bill, it is often useful to have prelegislative scrutiny, particularly for Bills that need cross-party support to be effective, and that need to carry the whole nation with them, rather than cause contention and dispute. I note very much what he says, but also what I said in response to the shadow Leader of the House, because sometimes we get criticised for delay if we have prelegislative scrutiny, but criticised for rush if we do not have it.

Earlier this week, the third party, the Scottish National party, lost our Opposition half-day debate on the cost of living. Like others, I lost the opportunity to raise directly with the Minister important cases for my constituents, including those of student nurses, WASPI women, frontline healthcare workers and people with disabilities, who are suffering as a result of this Government’s failure to take measures to assist them with the high cost of living. Will the Leader of the House tell us when we will get that time back, so that we can have a debate about the struggles that our constituents are having with the current high cost of living?

I answered that question when I announced the change to business, and said that we looked forward to doing that as soon as is practicable.

May we have a statement from the vaccines Minister about the booster roll-out in Dorset? On the face of it, the roll-out is successful nationally, but my constituents in Dorset go on the national website, put in their postcode, and are referred to all sorts of areas and have to get their atlas out to find where they have to go. I went on the website yesterday and was referred to Newport in Wales. Some have been referred to Exeter or Reading, and all those points are nowhere near Dorset, which has nearly 1 million people. There seems to be a vast deficiency in the ability to put vaccines in people’s arms where my constituents actually live. On occasion, it has even been suggested that people go to Yeovil, and although I suspect that a day out in Yeovil is something most of my constituents would love, an hour’s drive there and back is rather long to get the vaccine in their arm. Will my right hon. Friend please draw to the attention of the vaccines Minister that there is a problem in Dorset?

Yeovil is on the Dorset border, so there are some people in Dorset for whom Yeovil would be extremely convenient. Yeovil is a town in Somerset, and therefore it is beautiful, glorious, and magnificent. I would have thought it would be a joy for anybody to go to Yeovil. But my hon. Friend makes a serious point, and after this statement I will of course take it up with the vaccines Minister. GPs are getting more involved and being paid £15 for every vaccine they are able to inject. That may be part of the process, but people need to be able to get to a vaccine centre that is reasonably close to them.

May we have a debate on what happens to British nationals when they are stuck overseas, for instance when there are changes to the rules on quarantine? There are 42 Welsh rugby players stuck in South Africa at the moment, including one of my constituents. They are in a double bind. Some of them have now had covid, so they might have to do 10 days’ quarantine in South Africa and then, on top of that, another 10 days’ quarantine in the UK. There is obviously a significant cost to that; more importantly, there is a cost to their mental health, too. Is there more we can do to help them to get home?

If there are specific constituency cases, the hon. Gentleman should raise those in the normal manner. If he needs the assistance of my office in doing that, I am always willing to help hon. and right hon. Members. The issue could have been raised in the broad debate on introducing the regulations, which took place when we took away the half day from the SNP. So there was a chance to debate it, but certainly we would be very keen to help with individual constituency cases.

Following Kristallnacht on 9 to 10 November 1938, the then British Government relaxed the rules on Jewish refugee children from Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Sudetenland, and allowed 200 to come here. Today is the 83rd anniversary of the first arrival of the Kindertransport. May we have a debate in Government time on safe routes for refugee children to come to the UK in the time-honoured way that we in this country have always allowed and encouraged refugees from war-torn areas?

My hon. Friend is so right to remind us of the 83rd anniversary of the Kindertransport, which was a wonderful humanitarian approach that crucially ensured there were safe routes for coming to this country. That is what we should work on, as the previous Prime Minister David Cameron did, taking up to 20,000 Syrians from refugee camps around Syria, rather than expecting people to take dangerous journeys. It is really important that people who come to this country to claim asylum do so by legal and safe routes, rather than being in the hands of people-traffickers. That is why the Nationality and Borders Bill, the remaining stages of which we will have next week, will make it easier for people who make legal claims and come here lawfully, and harder for people who come here using illegal routes.

In my constituency, a 91-year-old man was left waiting for an ambulance for seven hours. This crisis includes the Leader of the House’s constituency: in the south-west, ambulance waiting times are sky high. The crisis is also reflected across the country. In north Shropshire, response times to urgent calls are now four hours. May we, urgently, have a debate in Government time on ambulance waiting times?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point because our constituents in North East Somerset and in Bath share health facilities. We have over 4,000 ambulance crews in operation across the country, which is an increase of 500 since 2018. NHS England has given ambulance trusts an extra £55 million to boost staff numbers this winter and there is an extra £5.4 billion for the NHS altogether. Significant amounts of money are being put in, but I accept that when one is waiting seven hours for an ambulance that is not much of a compensation. There is an issue and things do need to improve.

Can the Leader of the House please confirm to my constituents that the UK Government are committed to at least two freeports in Wales? Will he update the House on how discussions on freeports are progressing with the Welsh Government?

Freeports are a really important way of levelling up. They are national hubs for trade, innovation and commerce, regenerating communities across the UK, attracting new businesses, and spreading jobs, investment and opportunity to towns and cities across the whole of the United Kingdom. Her Majesty’s Government are committed to establishing the freeports programme in Wales as soon as possible. I suppose there is a difficulty, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether you have heard the news that the socialists have gone into partnership with the separatists in Wales, so we now have to wonder whether the socialists are any longer a Unionist party.

Now that we are into December, families across the country will be sitting down together to stream their favourite festive films. The Prime Minister clearly is not a fan of “Home Alone”, but perhaps the Leader of the House is. Despite the House legislating for minimum levels of subtitles, British sign language signing and audio description for on-demand services in the Digital Economy Act 2017, it has taken four years for Ofcom to make final recommendations to Government on the level of access services to be provided and which broadcasters should be covered. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport before Christmas setting out when she will introduce regulations to make video-streaming services accessible to all our constituents?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising a point that will be important to many of our constituents. Ofcom is an independent statutory body and is therefore not directed by the Government. We cannot say go and it goeth, but the issue is important and I will take it up with the Secretary of State on the hon. Lady’s behalf.

Can we have an urgent debate on the need for an efficient service from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to get our heavy goods vehicle drivers back on the roads? My constituent, Mr Martin Hewitt, has had eight letters from his local hospital or his GP go missing at the DVLA. That has kept him off the road, it means that he cannot earn, and it puts further pressure on our supply chains.

The situation facing Mr Hewitt is clearly a failure, and I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised it on the Floor of the House. I will send an extract from Hansard to DVLA, so that it is aware of this particular case once Hansard is published. However, there is good news from DVLA that the additional online services and additions to staff have meant extra space in Swansea and Birmingham to house more staff to reduce waiting times. DVLA has been apologetic for the delays that have been created in returning people’s documentation, but with the 32 short, medium and long-term interventions that the Government have taken to help to tackle the global driver shortage, we now have over 90% more testing spaces available for HGV drivers on a weekly basis. So the HGV problem is being tackled, things are beginning to change and I understand that DVLA is beginning to get to grips with its backlog, but that is not very satisfactory for Mr Hewitt.

On Hogmanay, we will commemorate the 92nd anniversary of the Glen cinema disaster, when a smoking film cannister caused a panic, which, due to a blocked exit, led to a crush that killed 71 people, all of them children. Last week, a permanent memorial to those who died was unveiled in the centre of Paisley just yards from the site of the Glen. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking those who organised the memorial—Future Paisley, the Paisley Community Trust and Paisley Rotary club—send best wishes to two living survivors, Emily Brown and Robert Pope, and perhaps find time for a debate to honour those young lives?

How remarkable that there are two survivors from a disaster 92 years ago—they must be shortly due to receive a telegram from Her Majesty to congratulate them on their longevity, if they have not already. I would indeed like to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the organisations that have built and paid for the memorial of this terrible tragedy, killing 71 children—all children. I particularly praise Paisley Rotary, because I am a Rotarian for Midsomer Norton and Radstock rotary. The unsung work that Rotarians do up and down the country is really heroic in so many of our communities. They do things that other people do not necessarily want to do and they just get on with quietly. They do not ask for a lot of thanks, so I particularly thank Paisley Rotary.

I cannot help saying to the Lord President of the Council that my grandfather was a founder member of Paisley Rotary club. The question from the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) is really important in Paisley, as was the right hon. Gentleman’s answer.

I call Mr Liddell-Grainger.

I hope I did not point my finger the wrong way just then, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Government did not listen to the referendum in Somerset over unitary, and they did not listen to the districts when they held their own referendum, but I am delighted to say that they have now said that the elections for Somerset will take place next year. My right hon. Friend knows how important democracy is, as we all do. Putting those elections off would have been absolutely appalling, so I am delighted. Could we have a debate in Government time on the wonders of democracy, what it means to all of us and how important it is across the world, including—dare I say it—to the Commonwealth and others?

It is a delight that my hon. Friend is happy. I thought it was quite something when the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) was happy, but if my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) is also happy, it is clearly getting close to Christmas. I would say to him that every sitting we have in this Chamber is a celebration of democracy and the ability to use freedom of speech to express what we want to say, stand up for our constituents and seek redress of grievance. Every day, we do it; we should carry on doing it, and we should celebrate it.

I am very proud to represent Coventry’s NHS workers, who make the NHS an incredible public service. Today, I am wearing University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire’s charity T-shirt, featuring Penguino and friends, to raise money to support staff and patients.

But NHS workers are exhausted, worn down by the pandemic and a decade of underfunding, so will the Leader of the House give his support to the UHCW charity T-shirt and give Government time to debate the needs of the NHS? As a public service, it should not rely on charity; it needs proper Government funding and an end to privatisation. Its staff deserve a proper pay rise, not the pay cut—once inflation is factored in—that is proposed.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her support for Coventry’s NHS workers and for the charitable work that is going on there. I thought that she was going to ask me to wear a T-shirt, to which I am afraid the answer would have been no, but that does not mean that I am not very sympathetic to the cause.

May I just point out what the NHS recovery plan is? In 2018, delivering on the £350 million on the side of the bus, we gave NHS England an historic settlement that will see its budget rise by £34 billion by 2023-24. To help frontline services to tackle the coronavirus, we have made available approximately £97 billion of taxpayers’ money—ninety-seven thousand million pounds. That was sixty-three thousand million in 2020-21 and a further thirty-four thousand million in 2021-22. In September, we announced an additional £36 billion for health and social care over the next three years.

Applications to study nursing and midwifery have risen by 21% this year. If people are applying to join the NHS, that is surely a good sign about the terms and conditions available.

It has occurred to me that I have failed miserably to get the Leader of the House to grant debates in Government time, so I have thought of a wheeze.

Will the Leader of the House kindly come to my constituency of Wellingborough and Rushden in the east midlands? He can whizz up from St Pancras on the newly electrified line. As he gets out at the station, he will see the beginning of the electrification north to Sheffield. We can pick him up and take him over the new railway bridge; through the new development of Stanton Cross, to see the new houses; on to the wonderful double roundabout at Chowns Mill, which will be opened officially this week; along the A45; past the new magnificent Rushden Lakes leisure facility; further along, seeing on our left-hand side the Wellingborough prison that will be open in the new year—

I must get him there, Madam Deputy Speaker. We can go up through Wellingborough; go up where the new Isham bypass will be built; see where the new Boris hospital is to be built; and then meet Jason Smithers, the new leader of the new unitary council. Then might I persuade the Leader of the House to have, in Government time, a debate on what levelling up means?

It would be a joy to go back to Wellingborough. I have been to my hon. Friend’s constituency before; if I come, I hope he will invite me to speak to his local Conservative association and thank it for all the good work that it does.

My hon. Friend is heroic, because he has saved hours of Government time and Backbench Business time. He has managed to advocate the advantages of levelling up in one question, albeit a slightly long one.

It may disappoint you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it will come as no surprise that I am no monarchist. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me today in congratulating the Countess of Dumbarton on the rejection of the appeal by The Mail on Sunday relating to the invasion of privacy, and will therefore set aside Government time to ensure that a judgment that cements the fact that The Mail on Sunday—which is owned by a member of the peerage—has broken the law, and that whether one is the Countess of Dumbarton or a citizen of that ancient, noble borough, the right to privacy and a private life is far more important than the money spent on clickbait in The Mail on Sunday.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am a monarchist. I think that monarchism is essential to our country, and I think that republicanism is a most unpleasant activity. However, I also think that freedom of speech is more important than privacy. I find it concerning that the rich and powerful can use the courts to protect their private lives when others cannot, and I would be deeply concerned about anything that undermined freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is one of the great protectors of our national life and of our constitution.

Five-year-old Willow Jessica Phillips from Ashfield is having her hair cut off on Saturday to raise money and donate her hair to the Little Princess Trust, which is for little girls who have lost their hair through illness. I am sure that a mention from the Leader of the House would go a long way to help her to increase the £600 that she has already raised and help little girls throughout the United Kingdom.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What a wonderful little girl Willow sounds, given what she is doing for the Little Princess Trust. This is a truly moving cause, supporting young children suffering from cancer. I commend the trust for its work and its fundraising, and for committing millions of pounds to supporting children directly and funding research on children’s cancers. Willow’s efforts are particularly impressive: raising £500 is a terrific achievement. I wish her all the luck in the world in her fundraising, and I am sure she will raise as much as she possibly can. It is right that my hon. Friend has brought this to the attention of the House, and I hope that the wider public watching on the BBC Parliament channel will dig deep into their pockets to increase the amount given to Willow.

I have been contacted by constituents employed by the Department for Work and Pensions in my city of Dundee who are deeply concerned about a return to in-office working for all staff—throughout Scotland—from this week. That is contrary to the clear and consistent guidelines from the Scottish Government, which state that working from home should continue to be the norm where possible. Given the timing, may we have an urgent statement, and can the Leader of the House reassure my constituents that he understands that health is a devolved matter, that the DWP will continue to listen to Scottish Government guidance when it comes to the matter of home working, and, finally, that UK Government Departments do not consider themselves exempt from Scottish Government guidance?

I think people do want to get back to the office to work. I think it is a good thing to be doing, and I think it increases productivity. One reason that we have heard all those complaints about the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is that people were not in the office to work, and therefore the 60,000 pieces of post that were received were not all being dealt with. Working from home has disadvantages in respect of the services delivered to people, and the DWP deals with some of the most vulnerable people in the country, who need and expect to have an efficient service which is best given in person. I would therefore encourage people to go back to work.

The rise of GB News has been welcomed by many of my constituents who are sick and tired of the stale, politically correct and ideologically biased output of much of the mainstream media. Given the availability of so many other channels, is it just that those on low incomes still have to pay a regressive TV tax in the form of the BBC licence fee? Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate on scrapping it?

GB News is marvellous. I went on it with Mr Farage. The programme was called “Have a pint with Nigel” or something, and I took along my own cider, which we both enjoyed. I would encourage people to watch GB News, and to go on it. I think that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) would be a star performer, and I hope he will take people from GB News up to his farm so that they can watch his lambing in the spring, for which we have specially dedicated recess times that are convenient for him. The question of the licence fee is, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Digital, Media and Sport, and I urge my hon. Friend to lobby her enthusiastically with his views.

I refer Members to my chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on oral hormone pregnancy tests. The Leader of the House is aware that I have been campaigning for a number of years on behalf of the victims of the drug Primodos. The noble Baroness Cumberlege, a former Conservative Health Minister, produced a review in which she found that there was no excuse for not having withdrawn the drug many years earlier, that harm was caused to the victims and that they should have redress. That report was produced a year and half ago, but to date the Department of Health and Social Care will not engage with us on the matter. Will the Leader of the House please use his endeavours with the Government to ensure that these people get justice after so many years? There was an argument that this was a legal issue, but Baroness Cumberlege was aware of that fact. This is a question of getting redress for those victims.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on the work that she has done on Primodos. I was also a member of her all-party parliamentary group, and I saw at first hand the incredible work that she did tirelessly over many years to bring this issue forward. Without her hard work and effort I do not think that the Cumberlege report would have looked into it. I am very sympathetic to what she says, and I note that she asks for the Department of Health and Social Care to engage with her and discuss the matter. I will certainly do my best through my own office to ensure that there is engagement, because she is arguing for justice and right. The Cumberlege report was an important step in that direction.

Order. I should be drawing proceedings on the business question to a close very soon, but it would be better if everyone had the chance to ask their question. I must ask for brevity, please. Sometimes business questions become mini-speeches, but they do not have to be. If everyone is brief, everyone will get in. If there is not brevity, lots of people will be disappointed.

It is small business Saturday this weekend, and me and my partner will once again be shopping local for our festive gifts for each other. I will also be joining local councillor Adam Gregg and local campaigner David Heathcote in Lindley in supporting local businesses. Can we have a debate in Government time on the importance of supporting local businesses on our high streets, and will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging everybody to shop local in the lead-up to Christmas and of course to wear their masks in shops?

My hon. Friend is a tireless campaigner, and he is quite right to support small businesses. There is often very good service from small businesses, and one can help the local economy by encouraging people to shop locally, in farmers markets and so on. I would encourage people to follow the model that my hon. Friend is, in this regard.

Over the past two weeks, the number of pupils absent from schools has risen by 47% to the equivalent of some 8,300 classrooms-worth of children missing from school. As always, the most disadvantaged are disproportionately impacted, so will the Leader of the House please grant a debate to discuss this pressing issue and ensure that we keep schools open through the winter with maximum attendance? This is vital for our children’s wellbeing and learning.

I am in considerable agreement with the hon. Lady. It is so important that children are in school. This is very often a question of the way we look at the figures. As I understand it, 88% of pupils are in school. I cannot absolutely swear to that figure, but I think I heard it on the wireless this morning. We want as many children as possible in school, and we want schools to get on with the business of teaching. We want to encourage them to carry on with normal activities. The advice from the Government is for teachers and pupils in secondary schools to wear masks in crowded communal spaces. It is so important that children are in school.

The East Lancashire steam railway in my constituency has the oldest continuously-in-use locomotive shed in the world at Buckley Wells. The redevelopment of this truly historic site would create a mechanical engineering hub, but it requires between £10 million and £12 million of additional funding to achieve that transformative vision. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the positive contribution to the wider community of steam and heritage railways throughout the country and their potential to deliver a wide range of economic and social benefits?

My hon. Friend is not the first to raise at business questions the importance of heritage steam to local history and culture. Over the summer I had the pleasure of being shown around the Etruria Industrial Museum in Stoke by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon). It boasts the world’s only functional steam-powered flint mill, which is a great example of how innovation has played a part in our industrial history.

We were obviously, as a nation, a pioneer in the history of railways, from Brunel and Stephenson, to the modern day, with the enormous £96 billion railway programme announced recently by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Heritage railways are important and welcome, and I encourage people to enjoy their pleasures, possibly even in Midsomer Norton, which has a very nice heritage railway centre.

We are in the middle of UK Disability History Month, yet two of the three train stations in Luton, including Leagrave station in my constituency, are completely inaccessible to people with mobility issues. Does the Leader of the House agree with me and with campaigners that it is now time not just for a debate but for action on the situation disabled people face when trying to use train stations in this country? It is time for lifts at Leagrave.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because there was a disability access campaign in my constituency. One of the disadvantages of our industrial heritage is that things were built in the 19th century and early 20th century without the type of access we now take for granted, and retrofitting is an expensive business. I commend her for raising the issue, and I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate. In my experience, things happen when one keeps up the pressure.

May I request a statement from the Foreign Secretary on the terrible repeated violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria, with religious minorities being subjected to discrimination, harassment, intimidation, marginalisation and violence? My constituents and I need an assurance that the Government are concerned and appalled by the United States’ decision to remove Nigeria from its list of countries of particular concern, in essence abandoning civilians at a time of escalating terrorist attacks, ignoring the pervasive threat of Boko Haram and shirking its responsibility to the victims of such violence.

Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right, and the hon. Gentleman campaigns on it very effectively. The UK condemns violence across Nigeria, which has a devastating effect on all communities. The drivers of these different conflicts are complex, localised and relate to a number of factors, including competition for resources and criminality, as well as religious identity.

Unfortunately, since 1776, the actions of the United States Government—although it did not exist then—are not a matter for me at the Dispatch Box, and the hon. Gentleman is trying to invest me with a power I neither have nor wish to claim. However, the UK is a staunch champion of the right to freedom of religion or belief for all. In July 2022, we will host an international ministerial conference to energise collective efforts on this agenda.

Last week I met community development workers from Sheffield Wednesday football club. As the club are pushing to level up back into the Championship on the pitch, their commitment to levelling up communities in my constituency of Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough off the pitch is just as firm. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking Sheffield Wednesday for this vital work? What more should the Government do to support such community initiatives?

It is a real pleasure, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I would love to congratulate Sheffield Wednesday on their community efforts, which are a reminder of the importance of local football teams to their communities. It is right that the Government should encourage this, and there are various initiatives. Obviously the national lottery is an important part of it, but congratulations to Sheffield Wednesday.

A constituent recently contacted me desperately seeking help in obtaining a passport for her child. The family are British and live in Greece, where the baby was born, but they need to return to Scotland. Owing to red tape in Greece and delays at the Passport Office, they are currently stranded there, and they are not the only ones. Can we have a debate in Government time on the impact of the delays in issuing passports to British citizens overseas?

If the hon. Lady passes the details to my office, I will make sure they are taken up with the Home Office. There is a hotline, or there certainly used to be a hotline, for MPs to contact the Passport Office. If she and her staff have not used it already, I encourage her to do so.

Last week, Premier League club Brentford FC announced that it is going to retain its home strip for a second season to save the fans money and to reduce the environmental impact of clothing—polyester, in particular, in this case—so will the Leader of the House congratulate Brentford FC? My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) asked him to congratulate clubs such as Sheffield Wednesday and Brentford on their community impact. Will he also congratulate them on their environmental impact?

Again, I am grateful to the hon. Lady because I know what a burden it is for parents to have to buy the new strip every year. The club keeping its strip will be welcomed by fans and particularly young fans’ parents, who will have a significant saving in the run-up to Christmas. I congratulate Brentford FC and encourage it to continue its community activities. It is very impressive that it is doing good environmental work as well, possibly with a small hit to its bottom line, which makes it even more impressive.

Paragraph 8.14 of the ministerial code states that, when Ministers meet external organisations, private secretaries or civil servants must be present and details must be taken down. Recently, we had a debate on the Randox contracts, where there was some confusion from the Minister about exactly whether or not minutes were available. Following that, I wrote to each Department asking how it dealt with such a thing and I received a variety of replies, most of which said that not all meetings needed to be minuted. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time on this issue, so that we can actually get some clarity on this very important matter?

I think it is clear that external meetings that relate to Government business are minuted and that is routine civil service practice. But I think the hon. Gentleman has received replies from a large number of Ministers, including from my own office, although I am afraid that my office said that we followed the practice of the Cabinet Office because the Office of the Leader of the House technically comes under the Cabinet Office. But we do take minutes. It is what the civil service does and does very effectively.

Next Friday, I am bringing in a Bill to ban the importing of hunting trophies. The public and all parties, including the Leader of the House’s party, agree on this issue. Last month, I raised it at Prime Minister’s questions and he replied that the Government were going to introduce legislation, but there is still no sign of it. So will the Leader of the House either urgently bring a Bill to the House or tell his Whips not to block my Bill next week, so that we can get a law as soon as possible and end this vile trade once and for all?

The right hon. Gentleman has asked the Prime Minister and is now asking me. He has asked the organ grinder, and I do not quite know why he has come to the monkey. None the less, the monkey will do his best to say that it is Government policy to ban the importing of hunting trophies and that legislation is likely to come forward in the fullness of time, but there is no specific introduction date.

In June and in September, I asked the Leader of the House about prioritising research into childhood cancers and he was very helpful both times, following up his and my correspondence to the Department of Health and Social Care on that issue. Despite our chasing up, it took a very disappointing 118 days for the Department to respond to my initial inquiry and, unfortunately, the response, once received, was not worth waiting for; it added nothing about research into childhood cancers and was a grave disappointment to my constituent. Every single day counts for families in this situation and I wonder whether the Leader of the House could provide Government time for a debate on why a clear focus on research into childhood cancers matters so much.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point and, obviously, I am sorry for the delays in replies. I have noticed in terms of my own constituency correspondence that the replies from the DHSC have got much better in the past few weeks—they have become much more prompt. I hope that that is a common experience. She asks for an important debate. I suggest initially that that should be an Adjournment debate to raise the specific questions that she wants to raise, and then she could look to the Backbench Business Committee. This is an issue of great importance. The Government do devote money to investigating cures for childhood cancers, but she is so right to raise the issue.

Last week, in a written statement, the Government ended 31 years of cover-up and admitted that, in August 1990, the Government of the day had sufficient time to warn British Airways not to allow flight 149 to land at Kuwait airport, which was then being over-run by Saddam Hussain. The Government failed to give that warning and, of course, we all know that the passengers and crew were seized and subjected to unspeakable mistreatment for a lengthy time before finally being released. While the written apology last week is welcome, does the Leader of the House not agree that these matters are serious enough to merit at least an oral statement and, ideally, a lengthy debate in Government time, so that the full facts of that dreadful affair can finally be made public?

This matter has been raised in the House before. Governments should always try to put right mistakes that have been made by their predecessor Governments. This Government cannot take responsibility for what was done by Government 31 years ago. However, as we were discussing with Primodos earlier, when Government make mistakes there is no point in a successor Government trying to pretend that it was not a mistake. However, what is done has to be practical and have reasonable effect, so one needs to investigate what would be the benefit of this to work out where to go next. But I think Adjournment debates are a suitable way of starting as specific an issue as this.

My constituent, Ms Dutton, launched an appeal to a decision to refuse her a European economic area residence card in July 2020. The UK Government withdrew their decision in 2021, meaning that her appeal was successful. However, EEA residence card applications closed on 31 December 2020 and my constituent has never been issued a replacement for her expired biometric card, which overlapped the Government’s decision. Can we have a debate in Government time on the difficulties faced by such constituents over these ridiculous Catch-22 situations?

That is exactly the sort of thing where raising it in Parliament ought to solve the problem. I will take this up with the Home Office if the hon. Gentleman will send me more details. There is nothing more frustrating than when the Government say, “We were considering your application. Now you have passed the deadline, so we can’t consider it.” That is something that happens in bureaucratic systems and the great joy of democracy is that we flush bureaucracy away on these occasions.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is indeed like the wedding feast at Cana.

I thank the Leader of the House for his lambing recess. It is greatly appreciated in Na h-Eileanan an Iar. On an even more serious point, may I ask the him for his help on the UK’s departure from the safety of life navigation system that is the European geostationary navigation overlay service—or EGNOS as it is known. This is affecting airports at Campbeltown, Islay, Tiree, Barra, of course, Wick, Kirkwall, Sumburgh and Dundee. It is especially important in fog and mist and the UK is the only G20 country without such a navigational system. It is still actually switched on in Cardiff and in Glasgow to help Cork in Ireland. Why can Ireland have this and not Scotland? Can we—in the modern parlance—level up with Ireland and have systems that will help us to land in fog and mist?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. Yes, of course, he is the wedding feast at Cana, and the fine wine has been saved for last. I now understand the reason he wrote to me about being missed. His point is an important one and I will take it up with the Secretary of State for Transport. We obviously want to have efficient transport across the whole of the United Kingdom, and we particularly need the hon. Gentleman to be able to come here because he does so assiduously and dutifully, and, I think, he wins the prize for finest heckler in the House.