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Business of the House

Volume 719: debated on Thursday 8 September 2022

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I paid tribute to my predecessor yesterday but, before I announce the business, I would like to place on record my sadness and my thanks for the life and service of Nick Munting MBE, who gave this House 35 years’ service.

The business for the week commencing 12 September will include:

Monday 12 September—Second Reading of the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 13 September—Remaining stages of the Public Order Bill.

Wednesday 14 September—Remaining stages of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, followed by a motion relating to the Procedure Committee’s first report of 2022-23 on proxy voting and the presence of babies in the Chamber and Westminster Hall.

Thursday 15 September—Debate on a motion on NHS dentistry, followed by a general debate on the national food strategy and food security. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 16 September—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 September includes:

Monday 19 September—Remaining stages of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business, and I join her tribute to the former member of staff.

It is a pleasure to welcome the Leader of the House. As she dives into her new job, I hope it is not too cheesy to wish her all the best in making a splash. I also thank the right hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) for his service. The Leader of the House’s brief is unique in that it requires cross-party co-operation on a number of matters, and I look forward to working with the Leader of the House, as I looked forward to working with her predecessor.

The well-respected former Cabinet Secretary, Lord O’Donnell, said, “it is always best to look at the reasons why your predecessor fell and fix them.” I have been calling for the Government to bring forward the Standards Committee’s recommendations on strengthening the code of conduct for MPs for months. It is incredibly disappointing to see that it is missing from the business again. Will the Leader of the House please pass on Lord O’Donnell’s wise words to the Prime Minister and bring forward those recommendations urgently?

I pay tribute to my good and hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and his Committee for their excellent work, which must not go to waste. Labour has long called for transparency on Members’ interests and for a ban on paid consultancy work. Where Labour wants to act, the Tories sit on their hands. Labour would go even further by establishing an integrity and ethics commission that would sanction Ministers who breach the rules, but the Prime Minister has refused to say whether she will even appoint a new ethics adviser after the last two resigned in despair. There is clearly a need for stronger enforcement of the rules across Parliament and across Government. Will the Leader of the House tell me when the much-needed new ethics adviser will be announced?

The Government’s legislative agenda is in disarray. Without going all Craig David, let us look at their first few days. On Monday, the data Bill was pulled. It fell well short on ambition, but it was supposed to unlock growth and business opportunities. Does the new Culture Secretary support the Bill? If so, when will it be rescheduled? Or are the Government planning to drop it completely? We need clarity on which Bills from the Queen’s Speech of just four months ago the Government will be proceeding with. Are they dropping any other legislation that we should know about? If they are, may I suggest that the Leader of the House uses the space for the Public Advocate (No. 2) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), which would give real protection and succour to victims of future public disasters and their families? It would be a lasting legacy for the Hillsborough families, who have suffered so much.

On Tuesday, the scrutiny session on the National Security Bill was cancelled when the latest Minister—[Interruption.] Well, I don’t know what happened. There have been four Ministers over the course of that Bill. Why could the Government not get anyone to turn up? Our Labour Back Benchers did. The zombie Government continue. Can the Leader of the House give us assurances that business on national security, or indeed anything else, will not be delayed again because Ministers cannot be bothered to turn up?

On Wednesday, whatever Craig David was up to, the Leader of the House announced that the Prime Minister would swerve scrutiny by announcing policy today in a general debate rather than making herself properly accountable by giving a ministerial statement. I see instead that there is to be a written ministerial statement, but it has not yet been published. Members cannot be expected to properly scrutinise significant policy when we have not seen it. When will it be published? Either way, this is not the same as bringing forward a policy, legislation and an implementation plan, and there is nothing in the Leader of the House’s statement. The energy price cap increases in less than a month, and without the legislation families will suffer. It is days away that the bills go up, so when are we going to do this?

So, the Government dropped a Bill on Monday, did not turn up on Tuesday, did something else on Wednesday and here they are planless on Thursday. Labour has been calling for action on energy bills for months. We could have passed legislation to freeze the energy price cap by now. Throughout the leadership campaign the Prime Minister consistently said she is against windfall taxes. What is it about this former Shell employee, the new Prime Minister, that means she is so determined to protect the £170 billion of excess oil and gas profits? She must now choose whose side she is on. Labour’s plan, backed by the country, is fully funded by a windfall tax on oil and gas companies. The Prime Minister is making working people pay. We have a new Prime Minister but the same story. Only Labour can tackle the Tory cost of living crisis, get money back into people’s pockets and deliver a fresh start for Britain.

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind and witty remarks on my appointment, although I have to disappoint her, because I am afraid there is nothing wet about me.

I am deeply honoured to have this role at a time when we have to restore trust in this place and in our politics, and that trust has to be earned through our conduct and our care, but also our policies. That is why—in answer to the hon. Lady’s question about energy costs—this Prime Minister believes in keeping our promises and delivering certainty for both households and people, and businesses and investors in this country.

I was buoyed up to hear the hon. Lady want to talk about the Prime Minister’s predecessor. I am taking that as an encouraging sign that she thinks the current Prime Minister is rather good. However, the hon. Lady does raise important issues about the code of conduct and the Prime Minister’s ethics adviser. I have asked for an early meeting with the Chairman of the Standards Committee—

We can debate over time, but I am pretty quick off the mark. The ethics adviser is a matter for the Prime Minister. She has an enormous in-tray to get through, but I know that she has a spectacular work rate and will get to these issues swiftly. I am keen to talk to the Chairman of the Committee, but I understand the importance of bringing these things forward swiftly and undertake to do so.

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind advice on House business. We will be announcing business in the usual way. On today’s debate, I think it is incredibly important that we will have debate time today on this most pressing issue. Members of this House will have been speaking to their constituents and businesses over the summer, and will want to get on record their views about what can happen. I just point out the care that the Prime Minister has taken to be able to give Members of this House information at the earliest possible occasion but not to breach the rules, as Mr Speaker would want—he would want this House to know first. [Interruption.] Hon. Members cannot have their cake and eat it. They cannot ask for information not to be disclosed prior to a debate and then criticise us for exactly that. Nick Robinson said on the “Today” programme this morning that he did not have the details of this. A written ministerial statement has been tabled and will be published shortly, in plenty of time for the debate this afternoon. As I said yesterday, that will not be the only occasion when Members will be able to comment on the measures being brought forward by this Government.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her position. It was an honour to serve with her in the Ministry of Defence, and I know she will apply the same due diligence to this role.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are committed to investing in new hospitals around the country. Leeds has an ambitious plan for a new general infirmary and children’s hospital, which will also have a new innovation hub, bringing £11.5 billion to the local economy. May we have a debate in Government time about the progress that project is making, so that I can sell the merits of the Leeds bid to her and our colleagues in government?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work he has done to progress that capital build. I encourage him to talk to the new Health Secretary—I am sure he has already written to her on the matter. He is very good at representing his constituents and will know all the means by which he can secure a debate on the Floor of the House on this important matter for them.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome the Leader of the House to her new position and look forward to working with her and the shadow Leader of the House. I pay tribute to my energetic and witty predecessor, who enlivened many a session in this place over many years.

I welcome the news of the Government’s general debate on energy costs today, where the Prime Minister will finally detail the support to be offered to our many constituents who are struggling at this time. I believe she will also detail exactly what the Government plan to do about fracking and increasing oil and gas extraction, while remaining committed to their manifesto commitment to net zero by 2050.

Exciting times, eh, Mr Speaker? We have an exciting new Cabinet packed with exciting new talents: hard-line Brexiters, climate change sceptics and free marketers. We have a new Justice Secretary infamous for being prepared to break international law in a “limited and specific way”, and a Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy whose desk apparently does not boast a computer and who is on record as being a climate change denier. Obviously, they are raring to go and get stuck in—keen as mustard, like kids in their first week at school. And there are more announcements to come. Who knows what fresh delights await us?

I have a couple of questions, Mr Speaker. First, can the right hon. Lady confirm whether the newspaper reports are correct and the so-called Bill of Rights is, to the relief of so many, finally being booted up into the Back Benches with the former Justice Secretary—its biggest fan—or whether it is only simmering on the Government’s back burner until the new PM decides once again that just what the long-suffering people of these isles really need is politicians fiddling around with basic human rights that do not need to be fiddled around with?

Finally, other newspaper reports caused quite a stir in Scotland over the weekend by stating that the Government plan to introduce a referendum Bill setting out the rules under which they will permit the Scottish people a choice in their future again. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that is their intention? I remind her that if the arbitrary threshold suggested had been applied to the Conservative leadership election, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) would not be Prime Minister, and that under it both the campaign to leave the EU and the Conservatives’ 2019 election bid would have fallen well short in England, let alone in Scotland. Clearly the Government have not learned anything from the last time Scots were cheated out of a result in a referendum in—[Interruption.] In 1979. The good news for us is that such desperate attempts to rig our independence referendum expose the desperation in Unionist ranks. They know that when we hold that referendum, we are going to win it.

I gently say—everybody is doing it, but it is a new day—that the limit is two minutes and we were almost at three there.

I have made a schoolgirl error, I am afraid, because in my diligent preparation for these questions, I expected some questions relating to things that matter to the people of Scotland. Never mind—I hope for some in the coming weeks.

I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not feel able to celebrate the diversity of the new Cabinet. Despite her criticism of certain Members, the one thing that all members of the Cabinet believe in is holding to the results of referendums, which is an encouraging thing and something that I would recommend to her. We remain committed to our manifesto, and future business will be announced in the usual way.

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend to her position, which I am sure she will enjoy, and I am sure she will serve with great distinction.

Global awareness day of aortic dissection is on 19 September this year. Aortic dissection is a terrible and all too often preventable condition if it is diagnosed, and it has affected my family. It affects more than 2,000 families whose loved ones die every year in this country. Please will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time to mark this date and also ask my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary what her Department will do to educate health professionals so that aortic dissections are not misdiagnosed, including working closely with the Aortic Dissection Charitable Trust?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and commend the work that she has done in the wake of a terrible tragedy to spare other families what she has had to suffer. I will bring this matter to the attention of the new Secretary of State and Deputy Prime Minister. Some encouraging work has been done by the Royal Colleges of Radiologists and Emergency Medicine to help spot and diagnose this condition in emergency departments and I thank her again for her work.

I welcome the new Leader of the House to her place and look forward to working with her in the coming weeks and months. It is refreshing to see that the Deputy Leader of the House is still in his place.

May I also apologise, Mr Speaker, for being slightly late? I have just been meeting a delegation of United States congressmen and women.

We have an extensive queue of debate applications waiting for Chamber time—quite a long list—but we are very much still open for business particularly for applications that are seeking time for debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so we would welcome such applications. Some Members are already particularly helpful in this respect—some might say a little too helpful! But we are very much open for business and looking forward to those applications.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. The work of the Backbench Business Committee is absolutely critical to enable Members to bring forward issues of concern to them. He will know from our conversation yesterday that I am looking at giving him early assurance of time both on the Floor of the House and in Westminster Hall and I will undertake to do that as swiftly as possible.

May I press the Leader of the House a little bit on the energy debate, which is starting in probably less than an hour’s time? I asked her yesterday about what information we would have. The written ministerial statement has not yet been laid; I hope that that will happen shortly. Furthermore, it is usual with a statement that, immediately the Minister making the statement sits down, a hard copy of that statement is distributed to Members. Can I have her assurance that, at the minimum, as soon as the Prime Minister has concluded her speech opening the debate, a hard copy of that speech will be circulated to MPs? It is a very significant announcement. We are expecting tens of billions of pounds, and Members need at least that level of detail to be able to debate it properly in the three-hour debate today.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this question both today and yesterday. I am very keen that Members of this House are given all the information they need to be able to fully participate in debates and to scrutinise Government policy. My understanding is that, because it is a general debate, that convention does not apply. However, we have raised this issue with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and that is the reason why a WMS will be tabled imminently, in good time for the debate this afternoon, and that will contain all the information that colleagues need.

I thank the Leader of the House for her positive response yesterday to my point of order. Will the Government consider having a debate on the private rented sector? It is one of the other key pressures on the cost of living crisis. I am pleased that the Government are—hopefully—about to deal with the energy crisis, but unless we deal with spiralling rents and ongoing evictions, people will suffer this winter. Will the Government bring forward a debate on this matter in Government time?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I would be happy to raise that matter with the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman will know from the Prime Minister’s statement that the cost of living and related issues are a priority for this Government, and I will certainly take that up with the relevant Department.

I apologise for being slightly late because I had to hobble here as the result of a sprained ankle.

I hugely congratulate my right hon. Friend on her new post. I speak from experience when I say that it is the most brilliant job, and I am sure she will serve with great distinction. I also say a huge thank you to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). He was brilliant and funny as the Scottish Nationalists’ spokesman all the way through, and I wish his successor much luck, Can my right hon. Friend assure us that she will give them no possibility of doing anything to tear apart our great United Kingdom while she remains Leader of the House?

I hope that is my reputation. On the Government side of the House, we respect the results of referendums.

Last week in my constituency I visited an Afghan family who have been in a hostel for more than 10 months. My constituent has been prevented from earning a living and providing for their family. They have progressed with help from the health service in the form of antidepressants. What they need is the ability to work and to live in a home rather than two rooms. They do not wish to remain dependent on the state and at its mercy. Will the Leader of the House urge the new Home Secretary to make a statement on the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that issue and I am happy to raise it with the Home Secretary. Work has been going on in other Departments to remove barriers and enable people to get into work—for example, in the NHS—once their paperwork is sorted, and to see how Jobcentre Plus can assist people. All ideas from Members are always gratefully received.

I congratulate my fellow Hampshire MP on her new role. She will be aware that junction 9 of the M3 is a key piece of road infrastructure in our part of the world, from the docks in Southampton to the rest of the country. It has been held up while we make new plans in preparation—or not—for smart motorways. The new Prime Minister has been clear about her opinion that smart motorways will not be proceeded with. Should National Highways now proceed—as it had planned to do—with the junction outside the all-running motorway plan?

I thank my hon. Friend and fellow Hampshire colleague for his kind remarks. He will know that the Department for Transport has been reviewing the progress of that work, and it is right that we look at the genuine concerns that have been raised about that new technology. The Department will continue its plan as outlined, but I will raise the matter on his behalf with the new Secretary of State, because clearly his constituents and local business want some certainty on the timeframe.

Park home residents in Bath face soaring bills because their pitch fees are linked to the retail price index rather than the lower consumer price index. The previous Government committed to changing pitch fees in England if parliamentary time allowed. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that is still the case?

I will certainly raise the issue with the relevant Department and ask it to contact the hon. Lady. I take it that she has raised this issue with it before, and clearly she has a number of means to secure a debate. If she has any difficulty in getting an answer to her question, I will be happy to assist.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her new job. She follows in illustrious footsteps: Sir Robert Walpole, both the Pitts—Elder and Younger—Disraeli, Gladstone and Churchill. I want to bring up something to ask for her help about a historic appointment in Somerset. Mohammed Saddiq will soon take up an official role that was created by Henry VIII. He will get to wear fancy dress, represent our ancient county and welcome visiting dignitaries. However, his day job is director of Wessex Water, a company guilty of pumping thousands of gallons of human filth into my rivers and across the levels. Last year he received £422,000, including a bonus, for what was actually called “protecting the environment”. Somerset needs to be consulted about such appointments, and so does the rest of the country. We are not asked about them. Can we please have a debate in Government time on senior appointments so that MPs can have input into them across the United Kingdom?

On the issue of storm overflows, my hon. Friend will know that we are the first Government to have introduced legislation to reduce such discharges. He will fully understand the reason why they are done; the consequences of not doing them would be appalling for our constituents. Critically, since 2016, when only 5% of such overflows were monitored, monitoring is now at 90% and next year it will be 100%. That is not the solution, but it is incredibly helpful to the public. I think that background is helpful in the case he raises. Clearly, he will be as concerned as all of us in this House to get those matters resolved swiftly. Finally, I point out that last year we fined water companies £100 million for not following their obligations.

I warmly welcome the right hon. Lady to her new job, not least because she got to be leader after all; historically, the leader of the Government was the Leader of the House in the House of Commons, as was just pointed out. Her job is really important in terms of, as she has said, restoring the reputation of this House. Much of that started to fall apart with the Owen Paterson debacle last November. I hope we can put that behind us—although she voted, of course, for the wrecking amendment at the time—and work together to try to bring forward the new code of conduct as soon as possible. It is simpler, it tightens up the rules and it provides fairness for all Members. There should not be a higher standard for us than for anybody else in public life, but there should be standards in public life. I hope she will explain to us why she has pulled the debate that was meant to bring forward the new code of conduct next Wednesday.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and look forward to our first meeting, whichever one of us initiated it. I do take these matters very seriously—I hope that is my reputation—and I believe strongly that in this role, as well as serving my Government, I also serve this House. I understand the full importance of restoring trust and confidence in our politics. I want to have a conversation with him, but he will already know that we are very sympathetic to the measures in his report, and I am not looking to delay those matters; I want to fully understand them and get the background from him. I hope he will take that as positive.

I too warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to her new role. I thank Mr Speaker for agreeing yesterday to my request to hoist the Brazilian flag in New Palace Yard, because yesterday marked an important day in the Brazilian national calendar. I also thank him for receiving the Brazilian ambassador, Mr Fred Arruda. This is a moment of great pride for all Brazilians worldwide, but also for the large number of Brazilians who work on our estate. Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating yesterday’s anniversary of Brazilian independence, in which Britain played a significant part 200 years ago, as we look forward to growing a strong strategic and trade relationship between our two great countries?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks and for giving me the opportunity to echo the statement that he has made. I suggest that he might wish to secure an Adjournment debate on this topic, and I thank him for all he is doing to strengthen our ties with Brazil.

Supported businesses such as Highland BlindCraft in Inverness rely on transitional support grants to help them to employ a wide range of people with disabilities and to help them to become valued members of our workforce. The grants are due to end in April. There has been no word from the Government about their replacement or any information about what is happening, and this is a critical time for these businesses in trying to plan. May we have a statement on when the situation will be rectified and when detail on the grants will be given?

I would be very happy to raise that specific issue with the relevant Secretary of State. One of our achievements has been to halve the disability employment gap. This continues to be of huge importance to the Government, and we want to do everything we can to enable that employment and others to continue.

I welcome the Leader of the House to her new role and congratulate her. When will we see leasehold reform on the Order Paper? This is a difficult, technical issue. We need to get it right, we need time to debate it, and there are people suffering now as a result of abusive practices that need to be tackled. I do hope that we will see it on the Order Paper soon.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this important point. I will take it up with the relevant Department and business will be announced in the usual way. I would also encourage her to use all the means that she will be very aware of to secure a debate on the issue, but I shall certainly raise it with the Department.

Several small to medium-sized businesses in Battersea have told me how much they are struggling with the cost of living crisis. Energy bills are soaring and business costs are rising, and then there are the supply chain and staffing issues as a consequence of Brexit. These small businesses are vital to our local economy and they need help now, so the Government must come forward with a plan of support that includes a contingency fund for these businesses. We need to see a cut in business rates and the energy price cap implemented sooner rather than later. May we have a statement outlining the Government plan to support small and medium-sized businesses?

That is the reason why we have given time for a general debate this afternoon. Many Members will have ideas about what support is needed and they will have the opportunity to raise them later today. We have moved Government business around to allow that to happen, and to allow measures to help the hon. Lady’s businesses to be brought forward.

May I take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend on her new position? The Prime Minister yesterday agreed with the Father of the House that local authorities should be allowed by planning law to protect what matters most of them. I believe that should apply as much to Doncaster Sheffield airport as it does to the green belt. The land that our airport sits on has planning consent for use as an airport. Does the Leader of the House agree that the owners, Peel Holdings, should not be able to close our airport and use the land for anything else?

My hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner on this issue, and I know that he has raised it many times. There are commercial decisions, which sit with the owners, about what their plans are, but I know that he is doing everything within his power to ensure a good outcome for his local constituents, and I am at his disposal if there is anything I can do to assist him in that.

In the absence of today’s cancelled debate, will the Leader of the House speak to her colleagues in the Home Office about restoring the Home Office hub that we previously had in Portcullis House? The biggest thief of time in my office is when caseworkers have to listen to a message on the helpline saying that there are more than five people waiting ahead of them. The Home Office has written to tell us that it will have a series of regional walk-in initiatives. Can she perhaps explain to the Home Office that the nearest one to my constituency is in Aberdeen, and that it will only be a walk-in service when my caseworkers can walk on water? They do brilliant things, but I fear that is still a little bit beyond them.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point. My office has already had some discussions with the Home Office about what service it can provide to hon. Members, which is vital. Rather than being a burden on it, Members of Parliament can be of great assistance in getting cases resolved, so I will happily do that.

The Arctic ocean is heating four times faster than any other ocean in the world. The sea ice is melting and there is a whole range of other issues. The Arctic Council is not operating, and a whole series of issues is pending with regard to the Arctic, such as minerals and fisheries. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has promised a new Arctic policy document imminently—it says that it has been preparing it for quite a long time. Will my right hon. Friend, who I warmly welcome to her new post, find time for a Government debate on British relations with the Arctic, which could perhaps coincide with the launch of that new document?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue, which has always been important, but is even more pressing now because of what is happening with Russia. I will bring it up with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I encourage him—although I know he needs no encouragement—to do all he can to secure time on the Floor of the House to debate that important issue.

I warmly welcome the appointment of the Leader of the House. I particularly look forward to the exchanges that I am sure we will have in the Procedure Committee, particularly on proxy voting, in the coming weeks.

At the weekend, a group of cyclists from my constituency and the constituency of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Dr Wallis) were doing a fundraiser for Prostate Cymru, travelling from Wales to Portugal. When they arrived at customs in Santander, their bikes were seized and they were asked to pay in excess of €10,000 to release the bikes for the fundraising effort. Clearly, that has had a huge impact on the fundraising; the cyclists ended up paying €8,500 to release the bikes, which the whole House will agree is appalling.

It appears that it was to do with a post-Brexit form linked to importers trying to sell goods in Spain, but clearly this was a cycling fundraising event. I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could make representations to the Foreign Secretary about providing more support to charities such as Prostate Cymru about what forms need to be completed, and about working with the Spanish Government to ensure that does not happen again to much-needed funds for charities.

I am very sorry to hear of that. There is no reason why they should have had that difficulty—it is outrageous. I take this opportunity to remind hon. Members about the excellent consular service that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office runs. I had an incident where a constituent was in real danger. Through the consular service, within half an hour of me making that initial call, the local police force in the United States was on that individual’s doorstep. I encourage people to use that facility, and I will do all I can to help to resolve and get compensation for the group of cyclists the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her new position; I know that she will do a fantastic job.

Sadly, I was not shocked by Sandwell Council’s latest attempt to threaten and silence residents who are being let down by the Labour-run council. Residents who complain about their child’s special educational needs and disabilities travel service now face their transport provision being removed for good. The council’s latest terms and conditions reads:

“Please don’t use social media to make a complaint as it may result in your child’s transport being suspended or removed permanently.”

That is after the scandal around those contracts being awarded on the basis of friendships. We have really hit a new low. Can the Leader of the House advise me on whether we can have a debate on Sandwell Council’s ongoing SEND provision?

That is very shocking and sad to hear. It is absolutely the case that local authorities have a statutory duty to provide free home-to-school transport for eligible children of compulsory school age, and it would not be lawful for a local authority to withdraw transport from an eligible child on the grounds that a parent had complained—that is outrageous. My hon. Friend will know how to secure a debate, but I will raise the issue on her behalf with the relevant Department. It is a shocking indictment of that council.

I congratulate the new Leader of the House. I am personally very pleased for her and I wish her all the very best in this role.

This morning, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency produced statistics showing that Northern Ireland has had 340 excess deaths in the last 10 weeks, which is a 16% increase over the last five years. That is obviously devastating for those families and for those people, and it is largely because of delayed diagnosis. The cancer statistics are still not published, which means that this figure will be even higher in the next few weeks. I wonder at what point in the crisis in the Northern Ireland health service the Health Secretary here will be able to step in with emergency provision and emergency organisation. Can the Leader of the House raise that urgently with the Health Secretary?

That is very hard to hear. One of the strengths of our national health service across the United Kingdom is that it is devolved and run in slightly different ways. I know that the chief medical officers work together very closely to share good practice, to learn from each other and to strengthen the system as a whole. I will certainly raise the hon. Member’s concerns with the new Secretary of State, but he will know that we are doing everything we can to restore a Government in Northern Ireland so that these issues can be gripped and dealt with.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to her place, and I think she will be a fantastic champion for this House. I also welcome the speed with which the Government are bringing forward measures to address the energy crisis. Alongside that, the No. 1 issue in my inbox from constituents is the fate or the future of Worcester Warriors rugby club. Professional rugby has been played at Sixways for all of my adult life, but this is now under threat due to the dire financial situation at the club. Five Worcestershire MPs have together written to both the incoming and outgoing Secretaries of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I am delighted—thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker—that the Speaker has allowed an Adjournment debate on this issue on 19 September, but I fear that may be too late. We need urgent action by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as well as Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union to save the future of this club. Are there any opportunities for me to raise this issue even sooner than Monday after next?

I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he and his local colleagues are doing to secure the club’s future. He has done exactly as we would expect him to do in securing that debate, but time is of the essence. I will happily raise the issue on his behalf and ensure that the new Secretary of State realises it is a priority. We have previously assisted clubs, even if it is just by buying them a bit of time, and I know that the new Secretary of State will be keen to do all she can to assist.

The Government have taken £4.4 billion from the mineworkers’ pension scheme to date. The cross-party Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee report concluded that the Government

“should not be in the business of profiting from mineworkers’ pensions.”

I and 50 colleagues wrote to the two leadership candidates last month about this, but we are yet to receive a reply, so can we have an urgent statement from this new Government on this scandal?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this matter. She can clearly raise it as a question to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy or seek to secure a debate, but I would be happy to notify the Department that this is a concern to her and ask it to get in touch.

Before the recess, I raised the plight of Obaidullah Jabarkhyl, a young Afghan boy who became separated from his family when they fled Afghanistan. Very sadly, he ended up in Paris while the rest of the family ended up here. Over the last 12 months, his solicitor, the family and my office have been trying to get him reunited with his family. The good news is that yesterday he arrived at King’s Cross and was reunited with his twin brother. However, this highlights the problems there are for Afghan refugees and others who are separated from their families across the world. Equally, 11,000 Afghan refugees are still in hotels in this country. May we have a debate in Government time on the plight of refugees, and on how we can ensure that we can short-circuit this and get people into decent homes that they can make their own?

My hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner on these matters, and he continues to raise his concerns but also concerns shared by many Members of the House. I know that the new Home Secretary will be looking at these issues and asking other Government Departments to grip them. I would be happy to raise this issue on his behalf, and I will certainly encourage the Home Office, as I have mentioned, to be as helpful to Members of this House as possible in resolving these cases.

Marie Curie’s Dying In Poverty campaign is calling for urgent action from the UK to safeguard terminally ill people and their families against poverty at the end of their lives. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out her support for that campaign, and will she use her good offices to urge her Cabinet colleagues to do likewise, and put an end to the shameful indictment of our society where people die in poverty?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that issue. She will know that as part of today’s business, Members will be able to make some progress on that. I know it is connected to a whole raft of things, and I will be happy to point the new Secretary of State towards the hon. Lady’s concerns.

There are not really enough hours in the day to speak about fishing and farming. With that in mind, will the Leader of the House please give Members more time in questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ask questions on rural affairs?

I thank my hon. Friend for reminding all Members of the House of the vital importance of farming, fishing and rural affairs. I shall certainly talk to the new Secretary of State about his concerns.

I warmly welcome the new Leader of the House and look forward to our Thursdays together. I remind her that some years ago, the lovely Cheryl Gillan managed to get the Autism Act 2009 through this place. May we have an early debate on the fact that autism is an important issue for so many families in this country? Up and down the country, many local authorities are ignoring that Act, failing to put it into operation, and leaving families in a dreadful state of despair.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding the House about one of the many services that Cheryl Gillan performed for this House in introducing that Act, which was supported by many Members of the House. It has been in operation for some time, and we should look at how it is performing. I encourage him to apply for a debate in the usual manner, and I will be happy to raise the issue with the several relevant Departments so that they can consider his request.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and welcome her to her new position. Following the shocking fire 10 days ago at beautiful Baggy Point in my stunning North Devon constituency that was caused by a disposable barbecue blowing up from the beach on to the tinder-dry gorse, may we have an urgent debate in Government time to consider banning those dangerous and unnecessary items from our open spaces?

That was a particularly shocking incident. Natural fires are a tragedy in themselves, but it is very depressing when they are preventable and caused by such events. The Government are ensuring that disposable barbecues are safe and include clear instructions for use, but there is clearly a lack of awareness about what might happen. I thank my hon. Friend for raising awareness of that issue today. I know she will continue to do so, and I am happy to raise the matter with the relevant Department.

Keepmoat Homes built a new housing estate in my constituency, offering people dream homes. However, many constituents have had snagging issues that they have struggled to resolve. There was actually a land grab by Keepmoat, with some gardens being smaller than was shown in the title deeds of the houses purchased, and general upkeep of the estate is poor; it is strewn with weeds, and general maintenance is lacking. Adjacent land still owned by Keepmoat is effectively a wasteland. Keepmoat Homes keeps fobbing off my office and promising to get back to us, but it never does—of course it is making more money building houses elsewhere. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House about how we can hold those so-called reputable companies to account and make them fulfil their promises?

The hon. Gentleman has certainly raised awareness of the conduct of that company on the Floor of the House, and he has done his constituents a service in the process. As he will know, he will perhaps be able to secure an Adjournment debate further to discuss what that business is and is not doing.

Earlier this week, Stoke City football club was proud to host our heroines, the Lionesses, as they stormed to a 10-nil victory over Luxembourg in a World cup qualifier, in front of a 24,000-strong crowd. It was a tremendous boost to the city of Stoke-on-Trent, and a great showcase for women’s football. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Lionesses on their victory? Can we secure parliamentary time for a debate on how we can improve access and opportunity for girls and women across our country to get into football?

I thank my hon. Friend for reminding us again of the Lionesses’ tremendous and continuing track record in bringing glory to our nation. I am happy to say that this week it was announced that former England and Great Britain footballer Karen Carney MBE is to chair an in-depth review into the future of domestic women’s football that will look at how we deliver growth to both elite and grassroots level football. Next week, there will be a Westminster Hall debate on the 2022 UEFA European women’s championship and participation of girls and young women in sport. I encourage all Members to contribute to that.

On 25 August, my constituent Victoria Bowman and her husband were arrested in Myanmar for alleged visa offences as they returned to the city from Shan state. Ms Bowman served as the UK’s ambassador to Myanmar, and the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business said that she has

“dedicated many years…to strengthen social and economic development in Myanmar.”

She is an upstanding citizen who has served our country with distinction, and the charges appear to be politically motivated. Will the Leader of the House please discuss this with the Foreign Secretary and look at how we can urgently help my constituent and her husband?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the issue. I shall pass her concerns on to the Foreign Office, and I encourage her to make contact with the new Foreign Secretary to discuss the matter directly.

It is great to see my right hon. Friend in her place as she takes up her position; I warmly congratulate her. Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council was awarded £20 million by the Government for a family hub. We all know that a person’s start in life can, unfortunately, still dictate where they go. We need to change that, and a family hub can do that. I am working alongside local campaigners to ensure that a family hub is located at Harvills Hawthorn Primary School in West Bromwich in my constituency. It has the site, the connections and the networks by which to build the hub; we just need to get Sandwell council on board. Will my right hon. Friend give us a debate in Government time and perhaps make representations in Government to support the campaign to get a family hub at Harvills Hawthorn Primary School?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, a former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), who is in her place, has done a huge amount of work on early years and encouraging family hubs, and he is right to campaign so hard for one in his constituency. I would be happy to help him achieve that objective. This particular council is featuring greatly in today’s business questions, so perhaps hon. Members should club together in applying for a debate, whether on denying transport to people who have special educational needs or on the blocking of family hubs.

This week, I received a rather predictable response from the Home Office. It said, “Thank you for your further inquiry on behalf of X, about his application for Y. X’s application is under consideration and we will contact him as soon as a decision is reached.” It was predictable because I get the same response every time I contact the Home Office.

This week, the Home Office sent Members a letter saying that it will now contact our offices by telephone to update them, not by email. Call me a cynic, but with that we lose the paper trail of email updates. Can we have a Government statement on what is being done about the unacceptable delays in Home Office correspondence and applications from our constituents?

I am aware of the correspondence that the Home Office has sent out, and I very much doubt whether it had any ministerial oversight. I have raised it with the Home Office and said that our view is that that is not an acceptable service for Members. I think the Home Office does not understand how having a letter with a substantive answer is very helpful to Members in getting information to their constituents. I have raised that with both the Home Office and the Cabinet Office, and I will do all that I can to ensure that Members of this House get the service that they and their constituents need.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her new position on the Front Bench. Some 28,000 migrants have now crossed the channel this year. I am afraid that our inability to control our borders is becoming increasingly difficult to defend to my constituents. Can we expect a statement from the new Home Secretary on this issue and on the further measures the Government will be taking to address it?

I think we can expect to hear from the new Home Secretary soon on these matters. It is a key priority for her. In addition to statements, we will also see action.

I warmly welcome the Leader of the House to her important new role and I wish her well with it. I suspect she has been studiously looking at the commitments the Prime Minister made over the summer, so she will know that, in a speech in Leeds on 28 July, the Prime Minister committed to build the northern powerhouse rail link to join up communities and unlock potential right across the north. That is hugely significant for the north of England, and I know that the metro Mayor in West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, and in South Yorkshire, Oliver Coppard, are very keen to talk to the Government. Can the Leader of the House speak to the new Transport Secretary so we can get early sight of the Government’s intentions in this regard?

Like the hon. Gentleman, I was very pleased to hear that commitment from our new Prime Minister. The timing but also the sequencing of these various schemes will be of huge interest to many Members, and I think it is a prime topic for a debate. I encourage him to apply for one.

On 13 May, almost four months ago, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about a constituent who suffered a serious sexual assault at the hands of a medical professional. My research has shown that there is no support available for such people, no progress on implementing the recommendations of three inquiries and no systematic collection of data. I chased up the Secretary of State on 21 July, on 10 August and yesterday, on 7 September. Will the Leader of the House please confirm that she will now write to the new Secretary of State and ensure that my constituent, who has been incredibly courageous, will get a response to my letter of almost four months ago?

I am very sorry to hear about the case of the hon. Lady’s constituent. I shall certainly raise the matter and draw it to the attention of the new Secretary of State.

I wish the Leader of the House well in her new role—it is obviously an apprenticeship for the top job. On the steps of Downing Street this week, the new Prime Minister failed to mention Wales once. That has not gone unnoticed in Wales and in my constituency of Newport West. May we have a debate in Government time on the lessons the Conservative party can learn from the long-term and successful Welsh Labour Government, because there are plenty of them?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I would slightly take issue with the success rate of the Welsh Government on a number of fronts, but in the spirit of co-operation I encourage her to apply for a debate so we can have that discussion on the Floor of the House.

I have requested meetings with the Home Office to discuss the exceptional case of a young woman from Afghanistan who has been offered a place to study nursing at the University of Dundee. This is an urgent case, and it is vital that it is resolved prior to the start of her course this month. I also understand that it is on the ministerial desk awaiting approval. Can the Leader of the House advise Members on what they can do to raise urgent cases with Ministers, and will she help to facilitate a meeting for me with colleagues in the Home Office?

I shall be happy to facilitate meetings if the hon. Gentleman is having difficulty securing them. As I said today and yesterday, I am sure the Home Office will want to give clarity on precisely the support it will give Members to resolve such issues.

Given the new Leader of the House’s experience of the fantastic Inspire sports centre in Luton South, may I ask her to join me in congratulating Amy Rollinson from Luton Diving Club on her bronze medal at the Commonwealth games? In view of the devastating floods in Pakistan—a third of the country is under water, 35 million people are affected and over 1,200 people are dead—please may we have an urgent debate about UK aid to Pakistan?

I happily join the hon. Lady in her congratulations on the achievements in diving in her constituency. She will know that we have given many millions in aid money to help the situation in Pakistan. Our high commission there is doing all it can to assist the Pakistan Government with the very difficult circumstances they are facing. I encourage her and others to apply for debates in the usual manner.

A remedial order can take effect only 60 sitting days after it has been laid. We have been waiting far too long for a second remedial order to be laid for bereavement support payments for cohabiting couples. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government plan to lay that second remedial order?

I am very aware that, because this relates to sitting days, it is a longer period of time, and hon. Members have raised many issues today that need to be dealt with swiftly. I am having discussions with my team and the Deputy Leader of the House about how we can ensure that the measures that are urgently needed are brought forward in the swiftest possible time.

Delays to cancer treatment can be a matter of life and death, yet the Government are still not meeting seven of the nine urgent referral cancer targets. Can we have a debate in Government time about how we can improve the situation for those awaiting cancer treatment?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. Much of the waiting list pressure that the NHS is under is because of diagnostics, and I know that this will be a key focus for the new Secretary of State. I encourage him to apply for a debate in the usual manner.

I congratulate the Leader of the House on her appointment.

My constituency celebrates two very important anniversaries this year: first, the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the “Sons of the Rock”, Dumbarton FC, which two members of my family have played for; and secondly, of course, the 800th anniversary of the royal borough of Dumbarton, which was founded by our late king, Alexander II—by the grace of God, King of Scots. Will the Leader of the House congratulate not only Dumbarton FC, but the people of Dumbarton on their ancient history? Does she also agree that it is about time that we recognised the value of sport and our great boroughs across these islands?

I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in his congratulations on both those achievements, and I wish them well in future years.

Shamefully, unnecessary delays to the Online Safety Bill have allowed dangerous misogyny and right-wing extremism to perpetuate online for far too long. We know that young boys are especially susceptible to that, and more and more are turning to the dark web in an attempt to find a place of belonging and acceptance. Will the Leader of the House therefore commit to a debate in Government time to look at how we can tackle that way of radicalisation before it is too late?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that issue and point her to the remarks that the Prime Minister made yesterday about our commitment to that Bill. Its progress is very important and Members will be able to contribute to that. If she wishes to have a further debate, I encourage her to apply for one in the usual way.

I pay tribute to all firefighters in Stockport and across the country who work in very difficult conditions to keep people safe. Shockingly, data from the Fire Brigades Union shows that between 2010 and 2021, we lost 631 full-time firefighter roles in Greater Manchester. This is unacceptable and poses a real threat to the public where fire and rescue services may not be able to deal with every incident and fight all fires. As the new Prime Minister starts her term, there is a real opportunity to properly invest in the fire services again, so will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time on funding for the fire and rescue services in Greater Manchester in the light of the years of cuts?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that question. These matters are for local people to decide, but clearly, the shape of the fire service is changing. It is taking on additional roles, as well as its traditional ones, and that will be a concern for many Members across the House. I encourage him to apply for a debate in the usual way.

According to a UK Finance report, push payment fraud rose by 39% last year. That is no surprise to me, having spent the summer discussing this issue with affected constituents. More teeth are needed. We need to find a way to make sure that we have proper redress for the consumers and businesses affected and a way of dealing with the banks that are hosting the accounts that are benefiting from this high-value fraud. Can we have a debate in Government time on what more can be done here to make sure that we put an end to this very damaging and increasing fraud?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue that I know has been a focus for the Treasury in recent months. If she applies for a debate, I am sure that many hon. Members will wish to contribute.

This Sunday marks World Suicide Prevention Day. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and I met Matthew from If U Care Share, who has been raising funds to support the work of the charity by running from Durham to 10 Downing Street. May I ask for a debate in Government time so that we can discuss suicide and self-harm prevention and the Government’s revision of the strategy?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important issue. I wish her constituent well in his mission to raise awareness of and funds for this important cause. I will happily raise the issue with the relevant Secretary of State. I am sure that if the hon. Lady secures a debate—I encourage her to apply for one—many Members of this House will wish to contribute.

Over the summer, my office—like those of many hon. Members, I am sure—has continued to experience considerable delays in contacting the MP account management team at UK Visas and Immigration and the Passport Office. Twice in the past few days, my staff have spent more than two hours on the phone getting through to an adviser, and then the adviser has only been reading out from a screen and has not been able to give information or assistance with complex cases. Please will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time about what action the Government can take to ensure that hon. Members are provided with support so that we, in turn, can give that support to our constituents?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Home Office has done a huge amount to improve the service. In recent months, it has taken on more than 1,000 new staff to process such applications. However, he is right that there is no point in having a service and hotline for MPs if there are not answers at the end. I shall certainly continue to ensure that the Home Office can deliver the services that Members of this House need and would welcome.

My office is currently supporting several single mothers who continue to struggle with the child maintenance system, because support with chasing down parents who are avoiding paying and with enforcing repayment of large arrears just does not exist in a meaningful way in the current system. Will the Leader of the House ask the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make a statement to the House on improving the system for my constituents and for the many single parents across the UK who are single-handedly carrying the financial and emotional burden of raising their children?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the matter. I will happily pass on her concerns to the new Secretary of State. Questions to the Department for Work and Pensions are scheduled for 17 October; I encourage the hon. Lady to raise the issue then as well.

I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary groups for the Pakistani minorities and for international freedom of religion or belief. I note with concern the horrific floods, devastation and loss of life in Pakistan over recent weeks. I am glad to hear of the various initiatives from this Government to deliver aid to alleviate the impact of the damage on people’s lives. Will the Leader of the House allow a statement on the importance of that aid reaching all those in need in Pakistan, particularly those who belong to other religious groups such as Christians and Ahmadis, who face systemic challenges in receiving the aid that they very much need?

The hon. Gentleman will know that historically the largest share of our aid budget has gone to Pakistan. As a consequence, we have a deep and well-informed relationship with respect to how that aid money is utilised; I know that our high commission there will ensure not only that it is distributed to give the maximum positive impact for everyone, but that there is no discrimination in how it is distributed.

Business of the House


That, at this day’s sitting, the Speaker shall put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to UK Energy Costs not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order; proceedings may continue, though opposed, until any hour, and may be entered upon after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Joy Morrissey.)