The business for the week commencing 24 January will include:
Monday 24 January—Opposition day (9th allotted day - 2nd part). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National Party, subject to be announced, followed by remaining stages of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 25 January—Remaining stages of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill followed by a motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Down Syndrome Bill.
Wednesday 26 January—Second Reading of the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill.
Thursday 27 January—General debate on Holocaust Memorial Day 2022. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 28 January—Private Member’s Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 31 January will include:
Monday 31 January—Motion to approve a ways and means resolution relating to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Dormant Assets Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 1 February—Opposition day (11th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. First, I welcome the newest member of the parliamentary Labour party, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford). As the Leader of the Opposition said, my hon. Friend has rightly concluded that
“the Prime Minister and the Conservative party have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and Government this country deserves, whereas the Labour party stands ready to provide an alternative Government that the country can be proud of.”—[Official Report, 19 January 2022; Vol. 707, c. 321.]
The Leader of the House has demonstrated on several occasions his socialist tendencies, so I remind him that he is also more than welcome, any time he wishes, to come over to this side and join my hon. Friend.
At first, the Prime Minister said no rules were broken, then he said that he did not know about any parties, then he said he did not know whether he was there or not, then he remembered that he was there but did not know that it was a party. This week, the Prime Minister is testing out a new defence: that nobody warned him that the party was against the rules. So could the Leader of the House explain how the Prime Minister, who was literally the one setting and reading out the rules every night, did not understand the rules? It is a very odd defence.
The Office for National Statistics released figures yesterday showing inflation soaring to 5.4%, which is its highest rate in 30 years. Working families are already feeling the crunch, and the triple whammy of an imminent rise in the energy price cap, real wages falling and Tory tax rises make this crisis even worse. Labour would give people security, with fully-funded measures now to keep energy bills low, which would save households about £200 a year, with an extra £400 for families and pensioners who need it most. The Government could have supported that, but they did not. May we have a statement on why they are so out of touch with the reality faced by people across this country that instead of taking action to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, the Chancellor is just looking the other way, trapping us in a high-tax, low-growth economy?
I have asked the Leader of the House numerous times to locate which of the many sofas he perhaps possesses is hiding the Online Safety Bill, so I ask him that again. Last year, the Prime Minister said that it would have completed all stages by Christmas, then he said it would just be Second Reading—Members may be noticing a pattern here–and then there was just a vague commitment that it would happen at some point during the Session. The pre-legislative scrutiny Committee has reported, we have had a Backbench Business debate and still there is nothing. Meanwhile, social media and tech giants roam unregulated and many, including children and vulnerable people, are unsafe online. Please could the Leader of the House confirm when the timetable for this important Bill will be brought forward?
In another example of the Government’s trying to avoid scrutiny, Ministers have taken to trying to slip huge chunks of legislation into Bills through Lords amendments, in a desperate bid to circumvent elected representatives in this place having the chance to debate them, as they did this week in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Will the Leader of the House explain why the Government are forced to sneak in these additional amendments in the other place, hoping that we in the Commons do not notice? It did not work, because the Labour peers voted down those last-minute Government amendments to that Bill. I have to say that, in a foreshadowing of what is happening in this place, it was striking how many Conservative peers also did not support the Government. Labour peers were the ones who voted for alternative plans that provided for strong action against dangerous protests; stronger action against protests on motorways that put lives at risk; an urgent review of drink spiking offences; giving councils powers to prevent anti-vax intimidation outside schools; and making misogyny a hate crime. Tackling violence against women and girls in that way and tackling anti-vax intimidation in that way is something that the Government could have voted for, but they failed to do so. It is the Home Office that is failing to keep us safe. Recorded violent crime has risen and prosecutions have fallen. Tackling crime and violence against women should have been the focus of that Bill, so will he tell us when it will be brought back to this place, so that democratically elected representatives on this side of the House can continue to argue for a better approach?
Finally, let me say that our country deserves so much better than this Government, who have completely lost grip. They are out of touch and out of control, they seem to be out of ideas and they are soon to be out of office.
I am grateful, as always, to the hon. Lady, particularly for her offer that I should join them on the other side of the House. My welcome would be even warmer than that given to the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), who has not received the warmest welcome from the young socialists, who are not so keen, or from the Corbynistas, who are not in raptures at somebody who used language about the socialists on online chat groups that is not of the type I would use ever. I fear I would make our friends the stenographers of Hansard blush if I were to repeat such language in this House. Mr Speaker, I think you would swoon if the words he used to refer to his now socialist friends were poured forth. One has to say, “With friends like that”—I will leave others to conclude the rest of the sentence.
We then come on to what the hon. Lady and other socialists have been saying about the Prime Minister. He has rightly apologised to the House for mistakes that have been made. He has apologised to the country for mistakes that have been made, and Sue Gray is carrying out an investigation, but the socialists never want due process to take place. They always want to make the decision before they have the facts. They do not want to do it properly. This Government are doing it properly, and while we were doing it properly, we set up, under this Prime Minister’s leadership, the furlough programme that saved 14 million jobs and that kept the economy going, which means that the economy is now back above its pre-pandemic levels and that youth unemployment is at a record low.
Every statistic on the economy is going in the right direction in terms of economic growth and employment. Getting back to pre-pandemic levels is a real achievement and something of which the Prime Minister can be proud. The Prime Minister got the vaccine roll-out right. Just think what howls we would have now—what they would be saying every week—if, in the end, the vaccine had not worked. It was that bold decision to buy billions of pounds-worth of vaccines early on that has meant that we are the first country to reopen. Have the socialists ever wanted us to reopen? No, of course not, because when the socialists take charge of our lives, they never want to give it up. They objected to our opening in the summer. They wanted a lockdown in the winter. They have grudgingly come round to the fact that we are now able to reopen earlier than other comparable countries. This is the success of the Prime Minister.
That does not mean that every problem is removed. Everyone accepts that inflation is a problem, but, of course, monetary policy is the independent responsibility of the Bank of England—an independent responsibility given to it by one Mr Gordon Brown, who I seem to remember was a socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer who therefore delegated the primary responsibility for inflation to the Bank of England.
On Bills, the Government are looking carefully at the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill, which were extremely helpful. I expect that that Bill will be brought forward at the appropriate time—when it is ready. We like to do things at the proper pace. As a general rule, we like to put carts behind horses rather than in front of them. That is better than having carts and horses misaligned.
Then we get to the socialists’ desire for superglue. Mr Speaker, did you know that they want sales of superglue to go up. They are the advertisers for superglue, or Araldite. They want people gluing themselves to motorways to block up our major arteries, because they got their socialist peers in their fine ermine-trimmed robes to vote to obstruct the highways. That is what you get from socialism, Mr Speaker: control; interference; bossiness; and failure. With Conservatives, you get a growing economy.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agree with me that we need a range of options to ensure that energy prices in the UK remain affordable. To that end, I recently met Eqtec, a company operating in my constituency in partnership with Southport Hybrid Energy Park, that will turn waste into power without the emission of toxic fumes and that aims to provide enough clean energy for 20% of the homes in Southport. Does he agree that a debate to discuss clean energy innovation companies such as Eqtec would be worthy of this House and worthy of the time of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this to the attention of the House. Companies such as Eqtec are exactly what we need to keep us on course for net zero by 2050 while maintaining a healthy, varied and affordable energy supply. Embracing a wide variety of energy sources is vital for keeping the lights on and our houses warm. As the recent difficulties have shown, we need to embrace a widespread energy supply, from nuclear power to power provided by companies such as the one that my hon. Friend mentions, and, of course, natural gas as a transition fuel on the journey to net zero in 2050.
Her Majesty’s Government are committed to decarbonising our electricity system by 2035, backed by investment in renewables, such as tidal stream energy and nuclear. I am sure that, above all, our voters care for cheap, plentiful energy in their homes, and we want to ensure that that is compatible with net zero. As for the debate, it is either one for Westminster Hall, or, perhaps, under your generous auspices, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate.
Can we have a debate about big dogs and the operations to save them? Apparently, one big dog is feeling a bit more secure this morning, with a trip to the vet to put him out of his misery possibly having been averted for a few days or more—for the time being, anyway. Who knew that defection, intimidation and blackmail would have such a recuperating effect on his colleagues?
We in the SNP are absolutely gutted about the prospect of taking on the current Prime Minister in Scotland. We completely refute the assertion that he is the best recruiting sergeant we have ever had for independence. It is not just us, however. Members of one party in Scotland are so looking forward to the current Prime Minister fighting in Scotland—they are the lightweights and nobodies among the Scottish Conservatives. One can only imagine their enthusiasm to get out to the stump to encourage the Conservatives in Scotland to vote for a Prime Minister who do they not want and who they want gone. It will be absolutely hilarious.
We are all expecting the Prime Minister to honour his pledge to come to the House with a statement following the release of Sue Gray’s report. Does the Leader of the House not think, however, that the House deserves a full debate on a one-line motion, “That this House has full confidence in the Prime Minister”—an amendable motion? I am sure that that suggestion will have the support of the Government and the Whips in particular, because that would be an obvious opportunity for them to see all the recalcitrant Members and decide which will be denied funding and which will have all the leaks to the press about them.
Lastly, we need a debate about parties so that we can congratulate No. 10 staff on their sheer energy and hedonism. Those parties are the things of legend. I spent 20 years in rock and roll and even at the height of my excess, I could not even start to compete with those at No. 10. To those at No. 10 who are about to party, I say, “We salute you.”
One looks forward to the hon. Gentleman’s parties, which I am sure would be enormous fun. When he is there with his rock and roll band, I think the furious persona that is presented to us at business questions every week slides away, and suddenly the true Mr Wishart appears as the kindly, benevolent and jovial fellow that he is. I must say that the mask he wears so well in this House—in both senses—sometimes covers that up, but I am sure that, privately, his parties would be a joy to behold.
The hon. Gentleman asks me for a debate. Well, ask and it shall be given. As I have said, the Scottish National party has an Opposition day debate on Monday and he will be free to put down any orderly motion for that day. If the motion is the one that he wants, that will be the motion that we will debate. If he wishes to succeed in uniting the Conservative party even more on Monday, I look forward to the motion that he will put down.
As regards big dogs, they are absolutely splendid. I got a dog for my daughter a couple of years ago. I was quite keen on having an Irish wolfhound, because they are fine and impressive animals, but we ended up with a cocker spaniel, which is an absolute delight. I am sure that we could debate in this House on many occasions the varied virtues of all sorts of hounds—the bloodhounds that people admire and like so much. [Interruption.] Or Dalmatians, Yorkshire terriers or any of the range of dogs that could be considered and that bring joy to so many of sour constituents. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is most concerned that pet theft be made illegal, with which I am confident the Government will deal in due course.
I declare my entry in the register as the chair of a safeguarding board. The Leader of the House and all hon. Members will remember the tragic cases of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, the six-year-old and 16-month-old children who were killed at the hands of their parents and carers before Christmas. We had a statement from the Secretary of State for Education on 6 December. Can we have Government time for a debate on the safeguarding of children, which we have not had in this House for some time, to coincide with the report from the national review that the Secretary of State ordered? We will shortly have the serious case review of the Star case and many constituents will be concerned to know what further measures we can take to protect such vulnerable children.
I am genuinely grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue of those tragic cases that have upset the nation at large and that require great work to be done to protect children in future. The cruelty, abuse and pain that those children suffered is unimaginable. It is important that policies are brought forward and adopted to protect children. Obviously, during lockdown, the supervision of children who were thought to be at risk was not what it ought to be and what it usually is when the country is fully at work. That is something that needs to be looked at. We need to be aware of what went wrong, so that we can ensure that those sorts of things do not go wrong in the future.
I cannot promise a specific debate in Government time on this matter, but I encourage my hon. Friend to keep on on the subject and to seek the guidance of the Backbench Business Committee, because it is a subject that many in this House would like to discuss.
As always, I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business, in particular the fact that we have next Thursday to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, which is a vitally important day in the parliamentary calendar. I take the opportunity to remind Members across the House that, if they wish to apply for debates to commemorate particular anniversaries or notable calendar events, they should please look ahead in the diary and get their applications into the Backbench Business Committee as early as possible, so that it can help to secure the time and meet their wishes.
We all want to see the economy getting fully back to normal and to see the end of restrictions but, following yesterday’s announcement of the proposed relaxation of covid restrictions, I have been contacted by several constituents with concerns. So could we have a statement or advice for our constituents who are medically vulnerable, or have medically vulnerable family members, especially younger children with profound disabilities or chronic health issues, who are still extremely vulnerable to the covid pandemic but have not yet had access to vaccination? Those families need the Government to reassure them that they will not be forced into a form of self-imposed lockdown to protect their vulnerable family members.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the delivery of vaccinations. The vaccination and booster programme has been a considerable success. It is striking that 90% of people in intensive care have not received the booster vaccination, so the importance of having one is great. I will certainly take up any specific cases he has in relation to individual constituents with the Department of Health and Social Care if he is not getting satisfactory answers. He raises an important issue, which is one of general concern, but getting back to normal is what we need to do. We need this country to get back to normal, we need people getting back into work and we need to learn to live with covid after the difficulties that we have had over the last two years and after the remarkable behaviour of this nation in getting through so difficult a circumstance and being the first country to be on the way to getting back to normality.
The Labour party’s tax on business, otherwise known as the Greater Manchester clean air zone, is a disaster for my constituents. It is impacting taxi drivers, small businesses and many others over an area of 493 square miles. I ask my right hon. Friend to make time for a debate so that this House can tell the Mayor of Greater Manchester and all the Labour politicians, including the Labour leader of Bury Council, that that plan is not acceptable, that the voice of Parliament must be heard and that my constituents must not be penalised in that manner.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who serves his constituents so nobly. Labour’s plan is essentially a tax on jobs, a tax on working people and an attack on the motorist. The Labour party hates the motorist because the socialist does not like the independence that motoring brings to people. Again and again, Labour wants to attack the motorist. Labour’s plan, Mr Burnham’s plan, the socialist plan, the left-wing plan for a tax on working people in Greater Manchester is something that my hon. Friend is right to campaign against.
South Western Railway serves three stations in Battersea. Due to the pandemic, a reduced service has been in operation. Recently, however, it has introduced further cuts, including going from three trains an hour to just one and 200 fewer services every day. The changes will cause massive disruption to my constituents who rely on those services, including for their daily commute. It is worth pointing out that, in 2020, South Western Railway increased rail fares by 2.9%, which was the second highest among all rail operators. Can we have a debate in Government time on its service delivery, service cuts and reductions?
The hon. Lady’s point is serious and important. It is to be hoped that, as people come back into work, the railway companies will realise that more services are needed. The return to normality ought to see more people coming into central London, so one would expect—she referred to the three trains an hour going down to one —that the demand will be restored. As it is a very specific debate, I suggest the hon. Lady speaks to Mr Speaker for an Adjournment debate, but I know it is a concern that many of her constituents will share.
There have been media reports that 80% of residents in the United Kingdom are very concerned about a climate catastrophe. Can we have a statement from a Minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to give the results of the inquiry into net zero governance?
The Government share the public’s concern, which is why the UK was the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions through the Climate Change Act 2008. Her Majesty’s Government have continued to deliver on that commitment through the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, making our energy system more diverse and secure, while creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs. It is also important that any new technology ensures that energy is affordable. Between 1990 and 2019, our economy grew by 78%, while emissions decreased by 44%. That is the fastest reduction in the G7. The fundamental point is that we need our economy to grow and we need to be richer, and that will allow us to afford to be greener at the same time.
In October, I was pleased to support my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) when she brought forward her private Member’s Bill on the menopause. In response, the Government said they would look at combining the two hormone replacement therapy treatments into one prescription to make it more affordable. Can we please have a Government statement on when this important women’s health measure will be implemented?
Whenever the name of the hon. Member for Swansea East is mentioned in relation to a campaign, I always have a sneaking suspicion that it will be successful. I will take up what the hon. Gentleman has asked for. I know it is something that the Government are planning to do; it is merely a matter of timing. I hope we can find out a precise time for him and his hon. Friend.
This week, the Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced that he was minded to send commissioners into Labour-led Sandwell Council. We know about the corruption and malfeasance at the heart of the Labour administration in Sandwell, but can my right hon. Friend confirm that we will have the opportunity to have a debate in Government time on Sandwell Council at long last? Will he also confirm, responding on behalf of the Government, that should these commissioners find anything—whether that be instances of real financial corruption by previous leaders, councillors or even the former chief executive—these matters will be referred to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service?
We may need to set aside days of debate to discover all the failings and corruptions in socialist councils. They seem to come up at business questions again and again. It is important that Members hold local authorities to account, and this is not the first time that my hon. Friend has raised suspicious dealings at Sandwell in this House at business questions. The Government have been able to send commissioners to improve the performance of serially failing local authorities—that is a vital tool—and it is right that they are held to account. Of course, if crimes have been committed, the police should be called and involved.
It is always fun to discuss dogs with the Leader of the House. I remember that his daughter’s family pet is called Daisy. From cuddly dogs to warm homes, it has been reported in the press that the energy company obligation, or ECO, may be cut by the Treasury in response to the gas crisis. ECO tackles fuel poverty and reduces CO2 emissions through energy efficiency and heating upgrades. Scrapping or not uplifting ECO will make it more difficult for those who are already struggling to pay their bills. Can we have a statement from the Treasury on what measures it is taking to ensure that energy efficiency is achieved, but in particular that struggling households can pay their bills and not be worried sick?
I can tell the hon. Lady that Daisy came from her constituency, travelling the long way from Bath to North East Somerset.
On her serious question, the Government are obviously very conscious of the pressure on families through rising energy bills, so the energy price cap is being maintained. 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, and a £140 rebate on the energy bills of 2.2 million low-income householders this winter through the warm home discount. There are seasonal cold weather payments of an extra £25 a week for up to 4 million people during colder periods, and up to £300 in winter fuel payments for recipients of the state pension. A great deal is being done to help people with their energy costs, and that is the right thing to do.
May I offer my thanks to the leader of the Labour party, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), for uniting Conservative Back Benchers more effectively than anyone else could and for reminding us of our democratic mandate? May I ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a debate on that issue?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point about the democratic mandate and what mandate we have, because most of us know that we are elected because of the party that we support. All the studies have shown that the personal vote that Members of Parliament have is remarkably small. People are aware that however much independents may be brilliant individuals, they very rarely get elected to this House; it is the party ticket that gets people elected. I know that Bills have been introduced to this House, supported by hon. Members from across the House—particularly ones, I believe, from Bury—on having a by-election if people were to decide to change party. I think that is worth discussing and debating because the mandate goes with the party, but also, if I may say so, with the individual. Members of the Conservative party know that we were elected because of the leadership of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He has the mandate; he has the commission from the Queen; he had the support of the British people in 2019. It is our responsibility to ensure that the Government he leads is a success.
The House will be aware from the Adjournment debate last Friday on the insecurity of the private rental sector that 4.4 million families are now in the privately rented sector and that half of all people in that sector who complain to their local authority about repairs not being done were given an eviction notice to quit within six months of that complaint. When will the Government introduce the urgent legislation that is desperately needed to tackle the issue and help the 4.4 million families who now call the privately rented sector their home, and probably will for many more years to come?
I am going to quibble with the hon. Lady, because many of the 4.4 million people living in private rented homes are extremely happy with them. Private rented home residency is a very important part of the housing market. That is not an excuse for bad landlords, but it is wrong to assume that all private renting is bad, because a great deal of it is beneficial. It provides mobility and allows people to use their capital in different ways, so we should support and burnish the private rental sector, but we should also do whatever we can to ensure that landlords behave properly.
Bus lanes are intended to provide a smooth path for buses to travel, particularly during peak hours. Personally, I have never understood why in London, we have so many all-hours, seven days a week, 24 hours a day bus lanes when no buses travel during the early hours of the morning. Recently, there was a case in a neighbouring constituency where we have the smallest bus lane in London—it is 39 feet long. However, over the past year, 7,800 motorists have been fined for going in that bus lane, which operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and Harrow Council has got £442,363 in fines. Not only is it is a small bus lane but it is adjacent to a lane that is required only during peak hours. May we have a debate in Government time on bus lanes and their signage, which seems to be a way of milking the motorist rather than allowing people to travel properly?
I am in entire agreement with my hon. Friend. It is noticeable that, under the covid provisions, an awful lot of bus lanes seem to have gone from being for set times to 24 hours a day, even when they are not being used for a large chunk of the day. What he says about 7,800 fines for 39 feet of bus lane raising more than £442,000 is a swindle. Once again, the poor, hard-pressed motorist is being abused by councils that dislike motoring. The Conservative party is the party of the motorist. Yes, bus lanes serve a role during peak hours, but opening them for 24 hours just to turn them into a milch cow seems quite wrong.
My constituent Garry McDermott has been trying to resolve issues with his war pension for a decade, having sent crucial documents to the Ministry of Defence 50 times, but they repeatedly go missing. I understand there are 1,500 pages missing from his evidence bundle. Garry is just one of thousands of veterans facing similar issues, which are driving many into poverty and increasing the risk of suicide. I know all hon. Members have huge respect for veterans, so does the Leader of the House share my anger that the current system for claiming war pensions and armed forces compensation payments is far too complex and non-transparent and is driving veterans to give up altogether? May we have a debate in Government time to consider fully the need for an independent inquiry into the failings of the current process?
It is not always right to draw conclusions about a whole system from one case. The hon. Gentleman raises the case of Garry McDermott, who has sent in his papers 50 times over 10 years, with 1,500 pages going missing. I will certainly take up the case with the Ministry of Defence if he sends me more information, as it is important that systems work well not just in theory but in practice for individual constituents. I view it as very much the role of the Leader of the House to try to facilitate redress of grievance, where that is possible.
In 1825, Locomotion No. 1 pulled the first passenger train over Skerne bridge in Darlington, marking the birth of the modern railway. Ever since, Darlington has had a unique connection to the railways that made Britain great. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should celebrate the ingenuity of our Victorian ancestors by establishing the headquarters of Great British Railways in Darlington? Due to the extent of interest from hon. Members on both sides of the House in their constituencies hosting it, may we please have a debate in Government time?
Talking about early railway journeys always makes me nervous because we all remember that Huskisson, who was President of the Board of Trade at the time, unfortunately stepped the wrong way on the track and was run down by an early railway experiment.
However, my hon. Friend is right to ask me of all people to celebrate our Victorian forebears. I share a birthday with Her Majesty Queen Victoria, 24 May, which used to be a public holiday as Empire Day. Talking of birthdays, I have not yet wished the Chief Whip a happy birthday. Mr Speaker, did you know it is the anniversary of that distinguished gentleman’s birth?
We wish the Chief Whip many happy returns.
The spirit of Barry, Brunel and Bazalgette should be the guiding inspiration behind the Prime Minister’s levelling-up agenda. The Government are embarking on the biggest investment in our railway infrastructure, with £96 billion of taxpayers’ money being spent through the integrated rail plan. There will be £105 million spent on Darlington station thanks, at least in part, to the excellent campaigning work of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson).
The Great British Railways transition team is running a competition to identify where the national headquarters will be. Unfortunately I am not allowed to have favourites, otherwise I might suggest it goes to Midsomer Norton, which is mentioned in Flanders and Swann’s song “On the Slow Train.” As I am not allowed to be partial, may I wish Darlington and my hon. Friend every success?
The Leader of the House will be aware that on Tuesday afternoon there was an urgent question on football governance, but it was very narrowly drawn in that it really just addressed one club, Derby County, important though that is. May we have a general debate on football governance, because that is a matter of deep concern across the House and from all points of the country, with particular reference to the shambles that is the finances of football, which is not entirely but partly driven by the rampant untrammelled greed of the owners of premier league clubs?
I know that this is a matter of concern across the House, and there was indeed the urgent question earlier this week. I think that many Members have strong views about the management of football in this country, and I am sure there is demand for a debate. I notice that the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee is still here, and I think it would meet with widespread support.
Voters in constituencies such as Blackpool South, and indeed Bury South, voted Conservative in large part because of the Prime Minister and his positive vision of levelling up and getting Brexit done. They voted Conservative and for this Prime Minister, not for a socialist representative. MPs should not be able freely to play a game of musical chairs around the Chamber of the House. Does the Leader of the House agree that Members should respect the democratic mandate afforded to them by voters, and will he make time for further debate on the recall of MPs legislation?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Is it respectful to voters, when the campaign has been carried out on one basis, to change the terms of engagement without the other side of the contract having any say in the matter? I have always thought that we as Members of Parliament should not be afraid of recall as an issue. I think that our constituents are sensible and wise, and they would never use recall frivolously, but would use it sensibly for cases where they felt something had gone very wrong. Of course, Members also have the opportunity to decide these things for themselves, and I recall the behaviour of Douglas Carswell, the former hon. Friend of many of us.
It is now over three years since the Prime Minister promised to ban the abhorrent practice of gay conversion therapy, so when will the Government act decisively and bring forward legislation to ban the practice and ensure that the legislation, like that recently passed in France and Canada, makes it crystal clear that there are no loopholes for so-called consent?
A consultation has been taking place recently, so the hon. Lady can be reassured that the issue is at the forefront of the Government’s mind and, indeed, of the Government’s plans. Legislation is always subject to time and other events within the programme.
The Leader of the House mentioned the rising inflation rate earlier and also referred to the rising costs of fuel for people. Can we have an urgent debate in Government time on fuel poverty, because the measures he discussed earlier are not enough to support people going through that crisis? As MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis has pointed out, that affects families across all the nations of the UK, but it is especially hard hitting for families in constituencies such as Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, where we have a colder climate and higher costs because of off-grid considerations. Does the Leader of the House understand how critical and pressing the issue is for families dealing with the current crisis in their costs of living?
I think everyone across the House understands how pressing the issue is. The rise in fuel prices on world markets has been extraordinarily rapid and sharp, and that is having an effect on family budgets. I reiterate what I said about the support that is available, with the £140 rebate for 2.2 million low-income households this winter. Other supports are available, and organisations such as local councils and citizens advice bureaux can also provide support to people.
I would also point to the other side of the balance sheet, with the rising incomes available to people through the increase in the national living wage to £9.50 from April, which is an extra £1,000 a year for a full-time worker, while 2 million families will get an extra £1,000 a year through our cut to the universal credit taper and the increase to work allowances. The Government are working this on both sides of the equation: both by helping people increase their incomes and by giving some support with the costs.
With fuel prices rising, where newer tower buildings are installed with district heating, also known as network heating, leaseholders have no control over their heating provider. Is it not time that the Government reviewed the scheme and regulated providers? Will the Leader of the House ask a Minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to make a statement on the matter in the Chamber?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the matter. It is noticeable how serious the concern about heating bills is, because it has been raised today by Members across the House. The Government are providing the help that I have mentioned and are doing things to help leaseholders in other areas, but I will pass on the hon. Lady’s concerns to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
My city of York has developed an interest in how titles are assigned and in how they can be removed from people whose title takes the name of a geographical location. In 1917, Parliament enacted the Titles Deprivation Act to remove a title for the act of treason. Will the Leader of the House make time to debate new legislation that empowers local people to determine the circumstances in which titles are awarded and removed, and reflect on the geographical location from which titles are taken? York has a global reputation not just for its rich cultural heritage, but for the social values it espouses.
The Titles Deprivation Act 1917 is an extremely interesting Act of Parliament. An unusual process was adopted: rather than simply attainting the dukes who were on the wrong side of the first world war, it was decided to use classification. That was a successful means of legislating, although I understand that the successors to the dukes who were deprived could petition to have their titles restored if they so wished. As regards the award of territorial designations, that is a matter for the sovereign.
In 2017, the then Department for Communities and Local Government advised that it was actively looking at ways to take forward the issue of redundancy modification orders. To date, however, no updates have been provided—indeed, the Department no longer exists. Will the Leader of the House please assist me by contacting the relevant Department and urging it to meet me to provide an update? The long wait for an answer is having a detrimental effect on my constituent and on many others across the United Kingdom.
As I have said before, I think it a matter of routine that Ministers should make themselves available to Members of this House when those Members have important constituency issues to raise. If the hon. Lady has had any difficulty in organising such a meeting, I encourage her to come to my office; I will do my best to help.
May I ask the Leader of the House when we will have an opportunity to scrutinise the allocation of levelling-up funding? Stockport Council put forward a superb bid for the refurbishment of the Edwardian Reddish baths, fire station and library buildings into a new employment start-up space, learning centre and community hub. It ticked all the boxes: civic pride, employment generation, skills, community. No funding was given. If the Prime Minister is reallocating funds from his disloyal MPs, can we have them?
There is £4.8 billion in the levelling-up fund to help to regenerate town centres and high streets, upgrade local transport and spend money on cultural and heritage assets, and there is £2.4 billion in 101 town deals, investing taxpayers’ money in local economies. It is important to help our towns and cities in restoring local pride across the country. There are always more applications than ability to fund. That is a good thing—a good competitive spirit—and it shows that towns and cities are full of pride for their efforts, successes and histories, but there is not unlimited taxpayer money.
Albert Bartlett is one of the largest potato suppliers in the UK; its headquarters is based in my constituency of Airdrie and Shotts. I recently met Ronnie Bartlett to discuss the impact of Government policies on the agricultural industry and the challenges that the sector is facing in hiring both skilled and unskilled labour.
Our particular concern is the requirements in the provision of sponsorship for visas, with Albert Bartlett potentially being ineligible for the temporary worker visa scheme if it works with third-party producers. To make it possible for Members of this House to discuss how we can help companies such as Albert Bartlett to get the workers that they require and ensure that fresh and frozen produce remains on supermarket shelves, will the Leader of the House grant Government time for a debate on the impact on businesses of the Government’s immigration policies?
I would be delighted to have a debate on the virtues of potatoes, which, it has to be said, are my favourite food source—roast potatoes, chips, boiled potatoes: one can eat all sorts of delicious potatoes. So I wish Bartletts well as a major potato supplier. The hon. Lady probably did not realise how dependent my culinary contentment is upon her constituency business.
As regards the allocation of visas, there is a scheme for shortage areas to have special ability to apply for visas, but, having left the European Union, we want to try and ensure that our fellow citizens are able to get the jobs available. It is right that that is the priority.
There is more than a whiff of “jobs for the boys” if the report in the Yorkshire Post is right—that the former Tory MP, now noble Lord Patrick McLoughlin is to be the new chair of Transport for the North. Given that Transport for the North’s responsibilities have been stripped back and that it has been ignored by the Government when setting out the clear level of funding that the north needs for transport, rather than what was announced in the integrated rail plan, may we please have a debate on whether the Government intend Transport for the North to be only a neutered talking shop?
We would have to set aside far too much time if we were to debate the many virtues of my noble Friend Lord McLoughlin, who is a former Transport Secretary. I do not know whether the rumours are true—I have not seen the report—but to come to this House and complain about the giving of a job in transport to a former Transport Secretary, one of the best informed people in the country about transport, is, in a word, eccentric.
Earlier this week I received notification that the Carleton post office in my constituency, which had previously been described as temporarily closed, is now permanently closed. Residents in Woodside join a long, long list of communities in my constituency who have had this vital service withdrawn from them. The biggest single reason is that the business model that the Post Office insists on simply does not make sense to retailers of any size. Can the Secretary of State, who owns the Post Office, be brought before this Chamber to give a statement about what he is going to do to address this crisis, before there are no more post offices left to shut?
The Government are committed to a UK-wide network of post offices, which is why we have set the national access criteria. Those require that nationally, 90% of the UK population should be within one mile of the nearest post office branch, and that nationally, 99% of the UK population should be within three miles of the nearest post office branch.
While post office branch numbers can fluctuate between areas and regions, the Post Office works hard with communities to ensure that service is maintained. That can include solutions such as mobile or other types of outreach services when necessary. There is a policy to deal with this, and the Government take the issue of access to post offices very seriously.
Bus services are absolutely crucial for my constituents in Blaydon as a means of getting to work and to important appointments, yet bus services face a real cliff-edge crisis with the ending of covid funding. We still do not have news of the bus service improvement plan funding, which, incidentally, appears to have been cut from the original £3 billion to £1.4 billion. May we have a debate in Government time about the importance of bus services and how we can support them to continue to serve our communities?
I will say two things. First, the Government have a plan to spend £5 billion of taxpayers’ money on buses and cycling over the course of this Parliament. As people begin to go back to work—from today we can go back to work in our offices—it would be natural to expect the demand for bus services to increase, so that temporary closures ought to be reversible.
May we have a debate in Government time on ambulance waiting times, which are becoming critical in Lancashire? People are waiting for hours outside the Royal Preston Hospital, where covid cases have risen rapidly. The Government announced the relaxation of measures yesterday, but infections and deaths are rising, and we also have a Nightingale ward set up at the hospital, which is causing major congestion and problems outside. Will the Leader of the House look into that?
As I have said to other Members, I am always open to taking up specific cases with Ministers and Departments on behalf of individual Members in relation to their constituents. On the general point on ambulances, NHS England has given ambulance trusts an extra £55 million to boost staff numbers this winter, and the NHS has been supported this winter, including with £478 million as part of the enhanced hospital discharge programme, which frees up beds and therefore makes patient admissions at the front end easier. So considerable amounts of taxpayers’ money are being committed to helping the ambulance service, but, as I said, if there is a specific issue with a specific hospital on which the hon. Gentleman has not been able to get a satisfactory answer from the Department of Health and Social Care, my office will be more than happy to help.
Woodchurch leisure centre and the libraries in Greasby, Irby, Hoylake, Pensby and Woodchurch are really important to the quality of life and wellbeing of thousands of people in my constituency, including many living in areas of deprivation, yet all are under threat of closure as a result of savings that Wirral Council is required to make after more than a decade of brutal funding cuts by Conservative-led central Government. I note the Leader of the House’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) earlier this morning, but will he remind his colleague the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities that when he came to office he said he wanted to
“raise living standards especially where they are lower”
“improve public services especially where they are weaker”,
and will the Leader of the House, as a matter of urgency, let us have a debate in Government time on the impact of central Government cuts on the provision of libraries and leisure centres?
We will have a debate, if we do have one, on £4.8 billion—the largest ever increase in core funding in a decade—being given to councils, in addition to £3.6 billion being given to local authorities to help with social care reform, £45 billion committed to help local authorities support their communities and local businesses during the pandemic, and £12 billion of direct support to councils since the start of the pandemic. Local councils have a democratic mandate and are there to make choices. When the local council makes choices that Members do not like, that is not the Government’s fault; it is a decision of the local council.
High energy prices have many consequences, but one perhaps not always foreseen is the effect on the producers of carbon dioxide, and in the run-up to Christmas there was a real crisis. The Government put in place some short-term measures but they are coming to an end in a few weeks; may we have a statement from a Minister on what the Government are doing, because it appears they may be playing chicken with our national security?
The issue with carbon dioxide came to the fore in the autumn and the Government acted quickly to ensure that the carbon dioxide supplies continued. Obviously it is a matter of some commercial sensitivity because of dealing with a private company that, reasonably enough, seeks to make a profit out of its activities. I promise to highlight the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but I assure him that Her Majesty’s Government have not forgotten about this.
I am proud to say that the bank hub pilot in Cambuslang has been a resounding success, and the Post Office with its retail bank partners is looking to expand that across the UK, with five more hubs in the pipeline. Cambuslang community council is acting in a mentoring capacity to allow the proposed sites to share their expertise, so will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on the invaluable benefits that bank hubs can bring to improving access to cash and encouraging footfall in local high streets?
I think that is a record. I think it is the first time that I have ever been asked by an Opposition Member for a debate to celebrate something that the Government have done, and which seems to be going well and be pleasing the hon. Lady, so I am very grateful for that. I wonder whether a bank hub might be the solution for the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) in place of Carleton post office. Even though the hon. Lady’s question was so politely and kindly phrased, I cannot promise a debate in Government time, but an Adjournment debate would provide a good opportunity to bring the subject to the wider attention of Members.
Last week, Her Majesty’s Government opened the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme with a referral pathway for particularly vulnerable groups, such as women and girls at risk, human rights advocates and, in particular, members of persecuted religious minorities, many of whom are in hiding. However, the first year of the pathway will offer places only to British Council members, GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni. Given the vulnerability of the minority groups I mentioned and the high level of interest from many of my constituents, my constituents and I seek from the Leader of the House direction from the relevant ministerial Department on how those in hiding—Christians living in fear of death—can actually access the scheme? They just need to know how to do it.
The hon. Gentleman always raises important questions about freedom of religion or belief and trying to protect those who are persecuted. The Government have supported about 3,000 people leaving Afghanistan since the end of Operation Pitting and have a scheme that will relocate an additional 5,000 vulnerable Afghans in its first year, potentially rising to 20,000 over the longer term. He asked specifically how people access this ability when they have to be in hiding. That is obviously a difficulty. It is not simple to answer how to overcome that, but the eligibility is there, and finding routes as to how people claim it will be part of how the Government organise the scheme. I will try to get him a more detailed answer from the Department.