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Business of the House

Volume 721: debated on Thursday 3 November 2022

The business for the week commencing 7 November will include:

Monday 7 November—Second Reading of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 8 November—Opposition day (7th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 9 November—Debate on a motion on the UK response to the human rights and economic situation in Sri Lanka, followed by a general debate on levelling up rural Britain. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

The House will rise for the November recess at close of business on Wednesday 9 November and return on Monday 14 November.

The provisional business for the week commencing 14 November includes:

Monday 14 November—General debate on the Australia and New Zealand trade deals, followed by a general debate on Ukraine.

Tuesday 15 November—Opposition day (8th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 16 November—Remaining stages of the National Security Bill.

Thursday 17 November—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make his autumn statement, followed by business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 18 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 21 November includes:

Monday 21 November—Second Reading of the Seafarers’ Wages Bill [Lords].

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

My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, who is on a Bill Committee, reminded me that it is the 183rd anniversary of the Chartist uprising in her city of Newport. Working people marching against an ineffective Government, high prices and low wages, and demanding more frequent elections—does that sound familiar? The Chartists knew how precious democracy was. Sadly, we have not had an election yet this year, but we have had three Prime Ministers, and I wonder what the Chartists would have made of that.

I am glad to see the Leader of the House in her place and not joining the former Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) down under for any bushtucker trials. We know that she enjoys business questions far too much for that, but we also know that she is a bit partial to reality TV, so perhaps I can suggest something a little closer to home. I hear that Channel 4 might be commissioning another season of “Make Me Prime Minister”. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) fancies his chances on “A Place in the Sun”. The whole Government really ought to get themselves on to something that they are actually good at; I understand that applications for “Pointless” have now opened.

Last week, I asked the Leader of the House to wake up the Environment Secretary and warn her that she had just three days left to set the targets on air quality, water, biodiversity and resource efficiency. Unfortunately, when the Leader of the House did not manage to wake her up and she hit the snooze button, she missed the deadline. Is it too much to ask that Cabinet Ministers actually do the job that they are paid to do? When will the Leader of the House get the Secretary of State to meet those legally required targets?

The measures in the Energy Bill are essential for reaching net zero. I understand that much of that Bill has been consulted on and agreed, so why is there more delay? Last week, the COP26 President lost his place at the Cabinet table, and the Prime Minister has finally given in on the hokey-cokey COP27 saga and is grudgingly popping over briefly. Labour is serious about green economic growth, energy security, bringing down people’s bills and winning the race to net zero. We have a plan for all that, but the Tories clearly do not. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether they are planning to drop the Energy Bill—yes or no?

I have raised concerns about the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip ripping off taxpayers by making them pick up the bill for his legal advice in relation to the Privileges Committee’s investigation into him. The Cabinet Office said that it is okay because he was acting as Prime Minister. No—he is being investigated as an ordinary Member of Parliament by a parliamentary Committee for possibly misleading Parliament. Does the Leader of the House think that the former Prime Minister should pay back the £129,700 of taxpayers’ money?

I was surprised to see Scottish National party Members claiming that yesterday’s 38-nil vote on their motion gave them a mandate for a referendum on independence. Even the Prime Minister got more votes than that—just. The recent instalment of the Scottish Government independence papers has been slammed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies as even worse than the Tories’ mini-Budget. Perhaps the SNP ought to focus on sorting out its spiralling A&E waiting times and its struggling-to-function transport network, instead of pursuing its obsession with a referendum. That word did not even appear in the motion.

This morning, we expect the biggest interest rate rise in decades. Under the Tories, we have rising mortgages, rising rents, supermarket prices up by 17% and the price of a basic bowl of pasta up by a fifth, yet the Government still refuse to bring in Labour’s windfall tax on oil and gas giants, despite energy profits doubling. No one voted for this Prime Minister; he has no mandate. Tories are on the side of the richest 1%; Labour is on the side of working people, pensioners and communities. So it is not just the former Health Secretary who ought to be screaming, “I’m a Tory...Get Me Out of Here!” It is time that the public had the chance to vote the rest of them out. When will the Government give the country the choice between their failing trickle-down economics of the past and a fresh start and a bright future with a Labour Government?

The Chartists were right: democracy is very important, which is why this Government will implement the manifesto on which we stood in 2019, for which we received an overwhelming mandate from the British people.

I send my good wishes and, I hope, those of everyone in this House to our sportsmen and women for their upcoming matches: the men’s cricket team, the rugby league team—I know you are interested in rugby league, Mr Speaker—and especially the England women’s rugby team, who have a semi-final coming up.

The hon. Lady mentions the latest adventures of the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock). When I heard that a colleague was volunteering to be squeezed into small spaces with slippery creatures, that they would have to swallow unpalatable things to achieve their goals, and that their credibility and dignity were in jeopardy, I assumed that people were talking about a Member on the Opposition Front Bench, not the right hon. Member for West Suffolk.

The hon. Lady kindly reminisces about my time on “Splash!”. Hon. Members may find it hard to believe, given that the elegance of my performance was compared at the time to that of a paving slab being pushed off a scaffold, but I did actually have training. None of my time was spent away from this House. I have helped to save the Hilsea lido, which is currently being restored to its 1930s glory with help from the levelling-up fund.

The hon. Lady refers to policies and delay—high praise indeed from an Opposition who have no plan and no clue about any topic we might care to name. This is controversial stuff: Secretaries of State are going to be allowed to express their views on their departmental policy area. I know; it is radical stuff. Major investment decisions will be reflected on and discussed across Whitehall. In these volatile economic times, people will be thinking about how they can get the most for taxpayers for their money, but we are conscious that decisions on investment will need to be made and that decisions are needed to reassure people on fixed incomes in particular. Those decisions need to be the right ones: that is grown-up, joined-up, stepped-up government. I remind the Opposition that it took a mere two years for the Leader of the Opposition to ditch all his pledges—not so much a bonfire of the policies, more a puff of smoke.

The hon. Lady mentions the conference of the parties. I thank her for that, because it affords me and all Members of this House the opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the COP26 President, who has done a tremendous job. The UK should be proud of our record in the area: we are the first major economy to commit to a legally binding target of achieving net zero by 2030.

On the matter of legal advice, it is standard practice that Ministers would have legal advice under those circumstances.

I agree with what the hon. Lady says about our friends in the Scottish National party. One of the great joys of my job and hers is explaining our procedures and practices to people outside this place. SNP Members chose not to use their Opposition day debate to talk about health, education, care, opportunity, social mobility, business, farming or anything else related to the Scottish people. There were no surprises in the topic that they chose or in how they squandered their precious time on the Floor of the House. Their motion is not a mandate; it was not even a binding motion. What was surprising was that not all the SNP voted for it, but there we go.

I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not mention cost of living issues or the fact that this week we are celebrating the welcome £150 core council tax rebate, the second instalment of the £400 energy bills support scheme and the launch of the energy price guarantee in Northern Ireland. Nor did she have any word of sympathy for the travelling public, who will face further strike action on the railways. We will always speak up for working people and the travelling public. I still live in hope that the Opposition might support our legislation.

Further business will be announced in the usual way.

Earlier this year, I launched a work experience campaign for local young people, as placements had dried up as a result of covid. I am very grateful to companies such as Rebellion, Hachette and Astroscale for taking part. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking them? Does she agree that whatever arrangements employers make for their staff to work at home, they must not forget to provide work experience placements in the workplace, because they are a key way for young people to learn the skills that they need?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work to ensure that all young people in his constituency have access to good work experience, which is part of the journey in establishing norms that are sometimes not established at home or at school. We should be grateful that we have record low youth unemployment, but we want to do everything to ensure that such opportunities are available to everyone in our communities.

Last week the Leader of the House asked me a question, Mr Speaker—and I will answer it, now that I have the opportunity.

The Leader of the House quoted those anonymous but, of course, completely legit—I will pause for a knowing wink here—sources from the EU who apparently told eager journalists something that we have actually all known for a very long time: that countries applying to join the EU, as Scotland can once it regains its independence, must commit themselves to joining the euro at some point in the future. Now, the Leader of the House may not know this, but there are in fact seven countries that have been in the EU for between nine and 27 years and still use their own choice of currency—Sweden, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Romania —so that is not quite the gotcha that Unionists thought it was.

Given the slide in the value of the pound, from $1.64 in 2014 to just $1.13 today, and after the mad ride of the last few weeks, I am not sure that this Government think all that much of the pound anyway. For the purpose of further useful insights for both the Leader of the House and the Labour Front Benchers, enabling them to acquire some grown-up, stepped-up facts on the issues, I suggest that they look out the series of papers that the Scottish Government are producing on all things Scottish independence. A debate on those would, I think, be very useful to the House.

COP27 will take place next week. I was pleased to learn that the Prime Minister has relented and will now be joining our First Minister at Sharm El-Sheikh, but once the dust has settled on that world event, there really should be a Government debate on the outcomes of COP, examining the role that the UK Government played in negotiations and, crucially, how they intend to step up to their responsibilities in tackling the climate crisis. We cannot allow the terrible economic crisis that we face, or even Russia’s dreadful war in Ukraine, to deflect us from our climate obligations. UN reports have warned that the world is close to irreversible breakdown, with no credible path to even the 1.5° C global warming target.

According to a Public Accounts Committee report released on Wednesday, the UK Government’s commitment that the public sector should “lead by example” in meeting net zero is not being fulfilled. The report criticised the poor quality of emissions measuring and reporting, among other things. Just this week, we learned that parts of this place are apparently producing and leaking heat at an alarming rate. I hope the Leader of the House will be taking up those findings with the House services, and I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, will be taking an interest in them as well. The Prime Minister and his Ministers need to front up and reassure the House and the public that they are taking their climate responsibilities seriously. A debate on this in Government time is essential.

I thank the hon. Lady for doing the homework that I set her last week. I take it all back: she has had a really productive week, figuring out how to square the establishment of the Scottish pound with joining the euro. We appreciate that very much. However, I say to the SNP again that these are not the issues on the Scottish people’s list of priorities. They are worried about health, about poor education standards, and about their bins being collected. We had an amazing situation last night, when Madam Deputy Speaker had to include herself and the Tellers in the count to make the House quorate. The debate is so far removed from the reality of what is happening in Scotland that Members on both sides of the House are not even prepared to show up to disagree with the Scottish nationalists. I would just ask them to drag themselves back to the real world.

I am pleased to hear about the paper that is being produced. I look forward to its including the almost £1.5 billion that the UK Government have committed for 12 city and growth deals covering every part of Scotland, the £42 million for Scottish fisheries, the £1.9 billion for farmers and land managers over the next three years, the £52 million to support the establishment of two Scottish green freeports, the £179 million levelling-up funding for eight Scottish projects, and, of course, the support given for 1,700 jobs through the fantastic £3.7 billion type 26 shipbuilding programme at BAE Systems’ Govan yard, of which I particularly approve. I look forward to the inclusion of all those things in the paper.

A recent Home Office decision to house 400 asylum seekers in two hotels just 50 metres apart in Erewash is a prime example of Members routinely being cut out of decision making by Government Departments. Had I been asked about the accommodation centres, I would have opposed them, due to the unacceptable pressure they will place on services in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate an urgent meeting for me, the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister, so that I can put the case for the immediate closure of those centres? Will she also consider adding local Members to the list of statutory consultees when such decision are made, so that we have a formal say in key decisions affecting our constituents?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. Sadly, she is not alone; I think there are colleagues who have had similar experiences. She will understand that this is an incredibly difficult and complex issue that the Home Office is trying to manage. We want to bring forward legislation swiftly that will help us to tackle the issue, and I hope that all Members will support us in that aim. Clearly, it is unhelpful when Members are not made aware of what is happening, particularly as the local authority will need to prepare, and so will need as much notice as possible. Home Office questions are on 14 November, and I will also write on my hon. Friend’s behalf to the Home Office, and ask it to address the issue swiftly.

I thank the Leader of the House for the statement, and for announcing the Backbench Business debates that will be held next Wednesday. I am sure that we will also have the tasty morsel of a debate in the afternoon after the autumn statement. May I ask Members from across the House who have live applications for a debate registered with the Backbench Business Committee, and who are on the waiting list for a slot for debate, to please respond as quickly as possible when contacted by Committee staff about slots that become available at relatively short notice? It would really help oil the wheels of the machine if responses were more timely.

I have a special entreaty to the Leader of the House on behalf of two constituents, Mr David Shanley and Chelsie Scott. They have systematically and repeatedly been let down by the almost totally unresponsive Home Office visa application and appeal system. My office and I have received the same non-responsive treatment, despite making repeated requests on my constituents’ behalf over the past three years. Six months after their appeal, these people are still waiting for the paperwork confirming the outcome of the appeal. The outcome was in their favour, but they cannot tell anyone about it, because they do not have official recognition of the outcome.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful guidance on Backbench Business Committee admin, which I am sure all Members will have heard. May I say how sorry I am to hear about the case that he raised? He will know that I recently met the permanent secretary at the Home Office, in addition to having raised Members’ concerns with the Home Secretary, and if he gives us the details of the case, we will, immediately after the business question, facilitate a surgery for him with the Home Office to ensure that the case is brought to a good conclusion.

The Home Affairs Committee was hoping to visit Manston today, but the man from the Home Office, he say no. Hopefully we can go next week. As the Leader of the House has heard, most of the questions she has been asked so far have been about the migration system. The Home Secretary herself referred to it as dysfunctional. We have had occasional chances to ask questions of the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister, but is it not time for a full debate in Government time on the shambles that is the immigration system, which needs to take a holistic approach? We need a proper discussion on how we will tackle this urgent situation, which is filling up our email boxes and is the headline in all the media virtually every day at the moment.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue, various aspects of which are obviously of concern to all Members of this House. The Government have a good track record of trying to get ahead of these issues. I refer him to the work done swiftly after 2010, under the Cameron Administration, on conflict states, and the use made of expert advice from Professor Paul Collier. Clearly, we will also face challenges two years hence as a result of what is happening on global food security at the moment. These issues need to be debated. I will certainly raise the matter with the Cabinet Office, as well as the Home Office, and I encourage my hon. Friend to use the routes available to him to secure a debate on this very important topic.

Twenty-six per cent. of children in York are living in poverty. Ahead of the Chancellor’s statement, which we are expecting in two weeks’ time, York had a summit this week on the cost of living, where I launched my cost of living handbook to explain where people can both receive help and get help. We need the Chancellor to come forward with that help, because there is not enough money in the system to help the very poorest. Will the Leader of the House make representations to the Chancellor that he needs to increase benefits in line with inflation and to ensure that our civil society has the support it needs to help our communities?

I point to the Prime Minister’s record on this as Chancellor. He has been very clear that he wants to protect people as we face what will be a very difficult winter and beyond. I have just announced that the Chancellor will make a statement very shortly. There is a huge number of support schemes—we are doing a lot to support people—but they are quite complicated, so I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing them all together in her booklet.

The Leader of the House has revealed that the autumn statement on 17 November will be exactly that, a statement. That will possibly give the House only an hour and a half of questions to examine what we are told will be a profound statement with huge implications for our public services and our constituents. It is surely unacceptable that time has not been set aside for the House to properly scrutinise and debate the statement. Should we not learn the lesson of the late, lamented mini-Budget, when the House was not able to do its job of subjecting it to the scrutiny that might well have improved it and avoided the subsequent economic disaster? Will the Leader of the House please find time in the Government’s schedule for the House to do its job of properly scrutinising the statement?

I have learned something from that episode because we did have a debate and, actually, what people wanted was a statement. It is proper that the Chancellor sets out his statement. All Members of this House will have the ability to question him. If there is appetite for a debate, and my right hon. Friend makes a good case for one, it should be after people have seen the accompanying documents and assessments, which will be of most help to this House. However, I have raised this matter and, if colleagues agree with him, I would urge them to make representations to that effect.

When he was Chancellor, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would commit £100 million to the Taskforce on Access to Climate Finance, to make it

“quicker and easier for developing countries to access the finance they need”

to address the climate emergency. With COP27 taking place next week, can we have an urgent statement from the Government about progress on that pledge?

I will write to the Treasury to make sure it has heard the hon. Lady’s request. The UK has achieved much that we should celebrate, not just in our domestic agenda but in our global leadership. More than 190 countries agreed to ditch coal, and leaders representing 90% of the planet’s forests agreed to halt deforestation. Those are just some of the things that our leadership has enabled.

Too many communities in this country are having problems with transport infrastructure, not on a macro scale but on a significant community scale, with schemes that are too big for local councils but too small to draw the attention of the Department for Transport.

Mr Speaker, you will be familiar with Tarleton, a beautiful village in my patch. Up to 300 heavy goods vehicles a day are going past schools, for want of a small road so that they do not have to drive directly through the village. Can the Leader of the House advise on what we can do to better join up local and national Government structures to deliver transport infrastructure for our communities? Can we have a debate in Government time on how we can make what we invest and how we work, work for local people?

I thank my hon. Friend for that practical suggestion. I understand she is seeking to hold the Government to account on these issues and I wish her well with her campaign to be Chair of the Select Committee. The kind of schemes she is referring to would benefit from the integrated transport block funding, which is for small and medium-sized transport improvements. It is not ringfenced funding and it is channelled through local authorities. I take the point that larger schemes often would not qualify for that. I will write to the Department for Transport to ask it to contact her on its future plans.

In January 2021, Citizens Advice estimated that more than 3.5 million people were behind on their council tax, of whom 51% were not behind before the pandemic. As the cost of living crisis deepens, this will, sadly, only get worse. Many local authorities are using debt collection agencies, despite there being no evidence that bailiff use increases collection rates. These agencies and their methods cause additional stress for people who are already facing hardship. As such, will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time on tackling the root cause of missed payments and rising household debt across the nation?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising these matters, which are clearly going to be extremely stressful for his constituents and others across the country. I know that the new Secretary of State, who is back in that Department, is very much looking at this agenda and has had a huge focus on trying to get some practical things to happen for people, particularly those who have no hope of repaying those arrears. I will write to my right hon. Friend and ask him to contact the hon. Gentleman’s office.

Is it still possible for us to have a full debate in Government time on the threat posed by China, both domestically and internationally? After all, it was at the indulgence of the Speaker that three urgent questions were granted—twice when the Government failed to make a statement on the violent attacks on peaceful democracy campaigners in Manchester, and the other day on the appalling activities of Chinese police inside our country. It is thanks to the Speaker that we actually had any discussion of that here. Then there are the Confucius institutes spying on Hong Kong and Chinese students, on which there has still been no statement from the Government. All this depends on the integrated review, which the Government said they were going to change to make China a “threat” rather than a “strategic competitor.” Given that that country is guilty of genocide, arresting peaceful democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, trashing international treaties, slave labour, threatening Taiwan with invasion, attacking Christians, threatening its neighbours, taking over the South China seas and threatening us here domestically, do we not honestly think the Government should take this seriously and have a full debate?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising these matters and for all the work he has done to shine a spotlight on these appalling practices. It is bad enough to watch human rights abuses, intimidation, violent assault and other things taking place on their soil, but these things should never happen on our soil. I will certainly write to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Cabinet Office, because this will be of concern to a number of Departments, and ensure that his well-made points, which I am sure are supported by many in this House, are heard by those Departments.

The Leader of the House will have been at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, when the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry) asked a question about the disparity in parental leave systems. It is far too complicated to go into at the moment, but it is probably coming up in most constituencies; it certainly is in mine. May we have a statement or debate on that? Secondly, may I support everything that my neighbour, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), has just said?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting his support for what my right hon. Friend has said on the record, and I think all in this Chamber agree with those sentiments. I did hear the particularly tragic case that was raised yesterday, and of course I am aware of the wider issues involved in this anomaly. Obviously, the Prime Minister will have heard that too and will be looking at these matters.

On Sunday 20 November, the annual parade of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women will take place at the Cenotaph. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting me an Adjournment debate on the subject. This year’s event is special—it is the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the parades. I have attended them every year since I was elected, but unfortunately a Minister has never been present. It will be too late by the time of my Adjournment debate, so will my right hon. Friend prevail upon her Cabinet colleagues to ensure that a Government representative is at the centenary parade?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important anniversary. It is right to mark such events with all due respect and courtesy to the people involved in those efforts. I cannot give him the assurances he seeks today. If he had given me a bit of notice, I might have been able to do so, but immediately after this session, I shall follow up and see what we can do to fulfil his request. I thank him again for raising the matter.

We know that every second counts when someone suffers a cardiac arrest and that access to a defibrillator can literally mean the difference between life and death. Does the Leader of the House therefore share my disappointment that East Renfrewshire Labour and Tory councillors failed to support their SNP colleagues’ motion calling for a plan to install defibrillators at every local school? May we have a debate in Government time on why the Chancellor must scrap VAT on defibrillators to make that vital, life-saving kit available in a more accessible way?

I hope that all Members have undergone defibrillator training. If I can use a defibrillator, anyone can—I am renowned for being totally cack-handed. I call on all Members to undertake that training, which ambulance services and others provide, and to encourage their constituents to do so.

There are many ways in which we can install defibrillators. We should work with the ambulance service to ensure that they are registered, too, so that people know where they are. I am happy to write to the relevant Department to ascertain what organisations we can perhaps put the hon. Lady in touch with so that she can meet her objectives.

We are a nation of animal lovers—I believe you are an animal lover, too, Mr Speaker. Conservative Members stood on a manifesto that included commitments to tackle several animal welfare issues, such as puppy smuggling and pet theft. Can my right hon. Friend give me an indication of when the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will return to this place?

My right hon. Friend knows that I am going to say that future business will be announced in the usual way, but I reassure her by pointing to our record. We introduced the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 and the Glue Traps (Offences) Act 2022, and provided for an Animal Sentience Committee. We have reformed the damaging and bureaucratic common agricultural policy. We have banned exports of live animals for fattening and slaughter and we have built animal welfare into our independent trade policy. My right hon. Friend should be reassured by that and I hope to be able to announce future business on the matter soon.

We have seen the shambles that the Home Secretary is presiding over at Manston immigration centre. A solution to the problem cannot be to dump busloads of asylum seekers in the centre of London, reports of which we have seen. May we have a statement by the Home Secretary about how she will improve the system, and not just an attempt to cover up her errors by imposing injustices on people and leaving them desolate in the centre of London?

I will certainly ensure that the Home Office hears the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but the Home Office’s plan to address those pressures is clear. We need to legislate to give ourselves more options, and particularly to return those who do not have a claim to asylum here. I hope that Opposition Members will support the Government in those efforts.

Can my right hon. Friend turn her attention to fish—dead fish, hundreds of them, floating down the rivers of the Levels as a result of excessive pollution by Wessex Water. If that was not bad enough, the company’s polluter in chief has just been appointed to represent the county at every state ceremony. The recommendation came from Mr Jonathan Hellewell, the Prime Minister’s appointments guru, who must have a screw loose to do that. Picking a serial polluter to be Somerset’s flagbearer is like putting Dracula in charge of blood transfusion. This is a disgraceful mess, and, on behalf of all those dead fish, can we have a debate in Government time, please?

I thank my hon. Friend for getting his views on record. I am sure that he has met his objective today. I cannot comment on the individual case, but what I can say is that this Government have been doing a huge amount to combat pollution ever since 2018 when my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, fired that first shot across the water companies’ bows. Since privatisation, there has been £150 billion of investment and £25 billion to reduce pollution from sewage. In 2021 alone, the Environment Agency concluded six prosecutions against water companies, with fines totalling more than £100 million. He will also know that there is an infrastructure plan that water companies will be held to account on.

Our brave NHS staff never fail to sacrifice so much, especially during the pandemic, yet many health professionals across our country are suffering from work-related issues of stress, anxiety and burn-out. Will the Leader of the House ask the Health and Social Care Secretary to come to the House to make a statement on the urgent need for the Government to pay and compensate healthcare staff at a much higher level than is currently on offer?

I know that my right hon. Friend the Health and Social Care Secretary is very concerned about services, dealing with the backlog and all the pressures that the NHS will be under this winter. Part of that is the wellbeing and robustness of the workforce, and I know that he cares about that deeply. I will certainly pass on the hon. Lady’s sentiments. Clearly, there is a very clear timetable and process for pay awards and so forth, but I am sure that he will keep the House up to date.

Please can my right hon. Friend explain who is managing the dispersal of asylum seekers to hotels? Having raised this matter previously, I know that it is not the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and it does not seem to be the Home Office either. I have it in writing from officials just two weeks ago that the Dilkhusa in Ilfracombe was not suitable to be used and would definitely not be used. Last night, the hotel filled up and there was security on the door, which is not normal for tourist hotels in North Devon. Can my right hon. Friend help me to secure details of what is actually going on at the Dilkhusa right now, and will she ensure that whichever Minister is responsible for these decisions comes to this House to update Members and explain why these decisions seem to be taken without any information reaching the councils or their MPs?

I am always happy to hear from the hon. Lady, but sorry to hear another similar such case being brought to the House—my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) spoke earlier on the matter. I can confirm that it is the Home Office. I will certainly raise this particular case with the Department on the hon. Lady’s behalf.

I reiterate that the only way that we will take pressure off the system and that we will have the resource to deal with those very genuine cases that we want to look after and protect is to ensure that those who do not have a genuine case to be here are returned and are not putting additional pressure on the system.

The Government profess that their priorities are to improve education and to level up. I certainly agree that the best way to level up is to improve education. May I impress on the Leader of the House the plight of Russell Scott Primary School in Denton, which was the subject of a £2.7 million refurbishment by Carillion that went wrong? Since then, £700,000 has been spent by Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council patching it up to make it safe. Assessments show that a further £5 million minimum is needed to put right all the defects that Carillion has caused. Even then, it cannot be guaranteed that that will fix the problem. We seemed to be getting somewhere with the Department for Education before the merry-go-round of Ministers. Can we have a statement on school building conditions, so that I can reiterate to the new ministerial team the importance of good-quality school buildings and, particularly, the plight of Russell Scott?

Across the UK there is a huge programme of not only improving schools but building new ones and introducing new types of education setting; 500 schools will be included in that over the next decade. The circumstances of the case the hon. Gentleman raises are pretty unique, and I am sorry to hear about it. I understand the points he makes about ministerial churn and I will write on his behalf to make sure that a Minister picks this case up quickly. It clearly needs to be put right, and I shall do my best to help him to achieve that.

Last week, I visited the construction site of the new Knaresborough swimming pool and leisure centre, which is a £17 million investment by Harrogate Borough Council. The building will be powered solely by air source heat pumps and solar panels. Against the backdrop of concerns about our energy security, please may we have a debate to discuss the timing and implementation of new building regulations to ensure that these new technologies are much more widely used in domestic, commercial and public buildings?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting what sounds like a really fantastic project. I know he is passionate about this subject and sharing good practice and design to ensure that we have modern, sustainable buildings. We have done a lot to cut our emissions as a country—more than any other G7 nation. What he describes is part of the solution to the problem, and I shall make sure that the Department hears of it.

I thank the Leader of the House for her assistance with the constituency cases I raised last week, but I do not think that business questions should be turning into an alternative Home Office surgery. She advised my office team to get in touch and make a Home Office surgery appointment. They have been trying to do that since July, and several times every day this week, and they simply cannot get through. The best they have been offered is a roadshow in Aberdeen, 300 miles away. As other Members have said, please can we have a Home Office Minister come to the House to answer our questions about the absolutely chaotic immigration backlog and how it will be resolved?

I am sorry to hear that. I do not want this session to turn into a Home Office surgery. Clearly a debate is the proper place for general questions about how these systems are being managed, but I know from my meeting with the permanent secretary that the Department is keen to ensure that Members with individual cases get what they need. The offer from the Home Office is greater than the hon. Gentleman describes: for example, it is possible for him to have a Zoom or Teams call with a caseworker to discuss cases and get them resolved. If he is not getting that offer or is unable to secure such a meeting, my office will facilitate that happening.

When Tony Blair stepped down from office, the unemployment rate was 5.3%. By the time Gordon Brown stepped down, it had gone up to 10%. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) stepped down, it was only 3.5%. It seems that Labour likes to talk about creating jobs, whereas Conservative Governments get on and create them. Could we have a debate in Government time in which we congratulate the former Prime Minister on his remarkable achievement and discuss why every Labour Government leave office with unemployment higher than when they came in?

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. It is true: since 2010, we have got nearly 4 million people into work. That is 4 million people who have the dignity of a pay packet; half of them are women and a quarter are disabled people, who did not have many such opportunities before. There are 1 million fewer workless households. Every time our party has left office, we have left the country in a much better position than when we inherited it. The complete reverse is true of the Labour party.

My constituents living at APT Parkview apartments in Brentford are experiencing shocking treatment from their freeholder and managing agents, including John James Collins, Eight Asset Management, SW4 Management and Paradigm Land—just part of the list of interconnecting directors and companies involved with a single block. The residents face increased safety risks, the withdrawal of services they are paying for and a retrospective charge for air conditioning of which they had no prior notice in their tenancy or lease. I am increasingly hearing from constituents in blocks of flats across my constituency who face the worst of this new breed of landlord, exploiting loopholes in tenancy and leasehold law. Will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on how we can protect and support those tenants and leaseholders?

I am sure all hon. Members will have experienced similar cases, where the situation is incredibly complex and it is not clear who the tenant can get redress from. Governance structures and local residents’ associations can only be effective if they know who they are dealing with. These are important matters, and I will ask the Department to provide the hon. Lady and her office with some advice on them. I know, because measures will be brought forward in the legislative programme, that there will be opportunities to talk about these issues on the Floor of the House.

After Sally Challen became the first woman to have her murder conviction quashed under our coercive control laws, the then Justice Secretary appointed Clare Wade KC to carry out a review of sentencing laws where women are forced to kill their partners after a lifetime of domestic abuse. The very serious issue involves cases in which a woman may need to take a knife to kill her partner, which in itself attracts a higher sentence. The domestic homicide sentencing review is looking into that. Can we ask the Ministry of Justice to provide a debate and come forward with important recommendations, so that we can look at the sentencing laws and have justice for these women, who have been forced to endure an appalling situation?

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work she has done in this area and put on record my thanks to Clare Wade KC for her work. My understanding is that that report has now been received by the Ministry of Justice and I know it will want to keep the House informed when it has reviewed it and decided what action it will take. This is an incredibly important area, and I am proud of our Government’s record on protecting women: we have outlawed upskirting, created the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour, outlawed the so-called rough sex gone wrong defence to murder and non-fatal strangulation, created the offence of stalking and then doubled sentences for that, among many other things. However, as my hon. Friend points out, there is more to do.

In my constituency and across south-east London there is significant concern about the impact of the new December train timetable, which Southeastern drew up without any consultation with passengers, local rail user groups or elected representatives. Can we have a debate in Government time about the role of the Department for Transport in this planned alteration to the services my constituents rely on?

It is vital that passengers are consulted on any changes to services, whether timetabling or other changes, and I shall raise the matter with the Department for Transport. I do not think the date for transport questions has yet been set, but I encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise it directly there too. In the meantime, I shall write on his behalf.

The introduction of the £400 energy bill support scheme was extremely welcome. On 29 July, the Department issued a press release saying that that would include holiday homes. Tingdene, which operates a holiday park in my constituency, has a different interpretation and is refusing to pass on the £400. Could the Leader of the House please arrange for a Minister from the Department to come and make a statement to clarify the situation?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right and Tingdene is wrong, but I understand that the Department has to bring forward some more detail about how the scheme will work. That should clearly be done swiftly in order to reassure his constituents, and after this session I shall write to the Department to ask it to bring forward its plans and communicate that to him and other Members of this House.

On Tuesday it was announced that 132 McColl’s stores were to close as a result of the merger with Morrisons. Three of those are in my constituency—in Great Sutton, Whitby and Elton. I should declare for the record that my son works in a McColl’s store, albeit not one of those affected by the announcement. It is a real blow to the communities that rely on those local stores, but the other concern is that 55 of the stores, including two in my constituency, have post offices associated with then. Certainly, in Elton we waited for over a year for a replacement post office the last time it closed. I think that deserves a statement from the relevant Minister about what we will do to ensure that those communities do not lose their post offices permanently.

The hon. Gentleman is right that those stores, whether or not they have a post office, are desperately important facilities for communities, particularly people who are less mobile, and potentially provide a community hub as well. I will make sure the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy hears his particular concerns about the post office and provides his office with some advice about what he can do.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a statement on the application process for the UK city of culture 2029? People in Southend West feel totally let down by the proposed decision of the Labour-led Southend-on-Sea City Council not even to consider bidding for that coveted status in 2029, despite our world-famous theatres, the longest pleasure pier in the world, the internationally acclaimed Music Man project and international archaeology. Does she agree that the Labour-led council should stop splashing £5 million on agency staff and instead invest in a legacy that would make Sir David proud?

I know the city of Southend, as it is now, very well and it has a huge wealth of cultural organisations, venues and schemes—my personal favourite is, obviously, the Music Man project. What it seems not to have enough of, however, is Conservative councillors.

Following the catastrophic Trussonomics, we are told that on 17 November we are likely to face bigger cuts to public services than we saw after 2010. Hull suffered enormously during that decade of austerity, including having Ministers turn down our plans for the electrification of the railway line to Hull. Now that the Government have backtracked on the former Prime Minister’s promise that we would get Northern Powerhouse Rail, could we please have a debate on what levelling up means for cities such as Hull, and how these measures will affect the GDP and growth of this country?

The right hon. Lady will not have long to wait, and I ask her not to speculate on what might be in the Chancellor’s statement. Since the mini-Budget, the economic situation and the issues that the Treasury is grappling with have been changing and improving. She will not have long to wait to hear the Chancellor’s statement. Rail investment is vital and there are many schemes in the north of England that need to be progressed. There will be ample opportunity to discuss those, both at the time of that statement and in other statements that will be made by the Department for Transport.

The case for a train station at St Athan on the Vale of Glamorgan line is overwhelming, and the demand among the community is unprecedented, yet the Welsh Labour Government have failed to recognise that and to respond. May we have a debate on rail infrastructure spend, so that we can tease out the data to prove the case, and so that I can get to the next stage of the feasibility study and get a train station in St Athan, as has been demanded for so long?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his vigorous and needed campaign to deliver these important services to his constituents and the wider region. I know that the new Secretary of State for Transport is looking at all these things as a priority. The date for the next Transport questions has not been confirmed, so I will write on his behalf and ask that he is updated.

In October 1984, 37 men tried to stop the closure of the Cammell Laird shipyards. They were sent to prison, sacked and lost redundancy and pension rights. I understand that the remaining men and their families have no records of the court proceedings taken against them at the time. Will the Leader of the House encourage Ministers with responsibility for national and local court archives to be sympathetic to requests for assistance to find those records?

The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that is clearly of great importance to his constituents. We do not yet have a date for the next Justice questions, so if he wants to give me the details or any correspondence he has had with the Ministry of Justice, I will be happy to ensure that Ministers get in touch and give him advice on where such records might be found.

Over the last few months, I have been inundated with correspondence from constituents regarding retaining the triple lock. It is inconceivable that we would abandon our manifesto pledge on this issue, not least because senior citizens, unlike people of working age, have no means of increasing their income to support themselves with the cost of living. I appreciate that the Government will outline a way forward in two weeks’ time, but may we have a debate in Government time on how we can best support older people with the cost of living?

I thank my hon. Friend for his efforts to highlight the importance of the triple lock. We know that the older people are, the higher their cost of living. The Chancellor will be making a statement about that shortly, but I thank my hon. Friend for getting his views on the record today.

My constituent Linda suffers from vestibular ear disease, deafness and vertigo, and she has associated mobility issues. She was awarded the standard personal independence payment rate for 10 years, but she cannot get the mobility element, which would contribute to a mobility car, because she is above state pension age. Can we have a Government statement outlining why pensioners are not deemed worthy of a mobility car to allow them to get out and about, and whether the Government will consider a change of policy?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that. Clearly, life is changing for pensioners. Many want to be very mobile, and many want to carry on working. I know that the Department for Work and Pensions is always reviewing its policies and looking to improve not only access to schemes such as Motability, but the schemes themselves. I encourage him to raise this in questions. We had Work and Pensions questions earlier this week, but I will write to the Department with his suggestion, and he knows how to secure a debate on this topic if he wants to.

Although bonfire night is just around the corner, and quite rightly many will wish to enjoy fireworks at organised events, the unfortunate reality is that many of my constituents are plagued by fireworks being let off at all hours of the night throughout the calendar year. That causes distress to many residents and their pets and puts additional pressure on our emergency services, who have to deal with fires or antisocial behaviour. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on licensing provisions on the sale of fireworks, as well as a frank discussion about how local enforcement can clamp down on this antisocial behaviour?

I thank my hon. Friend for that timely question. There is a comprehensive regulatory framework in place to control the sale, availability and use of fireworks, and we can all encourage our constituents to attend organised bonfire night firework displays. When people do what he describes, it causes distress. I know that he has been campaigning on this issue, and I encourage him to continue to raise it with the Department, but one thing we can all do as we approach bonfire night is encourage people to attend public events.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you are aware of this, but I hope the Leader of the House is also aware of the devastation of sea life off the north-east coast that started 13 months ago and, contrary to the statements of the Tees Valley Mayor, continues to this day. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee held an evidence session into the tragedy last week, and the Chair, the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill), has since written to the Secretary of State demanding a thorough investigation into the deaths, which may or may not be linked to dredging of the River Tees. I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that it is time for Ministers to be held to account in this House for a year of failures on this issue. Will she encourage them to make a statement?

From what I understand of that case and the research that has been done on the cause of those deaths—largely of crustaceans, but other sea life as well—the Environment Agency and others have not come to the conclusions that the hon. Gentleman suggests. There would be serious consequences for economic activity in the area and particular schemes if dredging were to cease. I think we would all be concerned about the impact on local sea life and wildlife, but this has to be science-based and evidence-driven. I am not in a position to make that judgment, but that is my understanding of the situation. The hon. Gentleman has put his views on the record, and I am sure he will continue to correspond with the Department on the matter.

This time next week, Doncaster may or may not have an airport. Peel, which owns Doncaster Sheffield airport, has had a second substantial offer laid in front of it that will secure the future of aviation in Doncaster and the many jobs directly and indirectly associated with this industry. I believe in capitalism and the good it can do, creating prosperity and jobs, but I do not believe that greed is good, and I do not want Doncaster Sheffield airport to become 800 acres of tumbleweed either. I understand that there have been 13 ministerial meetings regarding this issue, but will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Transport to speak with Peel directly and ask it to do the right thing: accept this offer and save our airport?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising yet again this very important issue. He is right that there have been 13 meetings since 21 July. The Government continue to support Peel Group to work with local leaders to find the solution that will benefit local people and, critically, the region’s economy. This is incredibly important. That is why we have the regional airport and ground operations support scheme—we are investing £161 million in these facilities because they are vital to the local economy. My hon. Friend has done everything within his gift to get the right outcome, from securing Adjournment debates to tabling urgent questions, with a huge amount of correspondence and pressure on all parties, and I congratulate him on that. I understand how frustrating it is for him to watch a potential solution not being seized. I urge him to continue in his efforts, and he has the full support of the Government in doing so.

May I take the Leader of the House back to the answer she has given to a number of Members, including her hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton)? Since we heard the Home Secretary’s statement on Monday, we have seen reports of a bus full of asylum seekers being dumped at Victoria station. The Guardian today reports that there have been incidents of rape and sexual abuse of children in the asylum system. The Immigration Minister last night on television appeared to accept that Manston was not currently operating legally, in contradiction of what the Home Secretary told the House on Monday. Surely we need a debate on this in Government time. We know that the Government control the business of the House, but that is a privilege not to be abused, and when a Department is failing as badly as the Home Office is at the moment, it should be possible for the Government to make time for the House to examine what is happening.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members for raising these issues. I know that people are concerned about a system under great pressure. They will want to ensure that refugees are being treated with dignity and that the provision that is needed for those people is in place. He will know that the system is under great pressure. He will also know that the Government and the people of this country are incredibly compassionate and have a fantastic track record of supporting refugees, as in the work we did together on extracting high-needs lone children from camps in Syria and elsewhere, and on the recent scheme for Ukrainian refugees, whom many hon. Members and their constituents are supporting in their homes. We know what good looks like. The situation is that the system is under immense pressure, and we have to find solutions. The Government will bring forward some solutions and I hope that all hon. Members will consider and support those motions.

In a week when BP saw its quarterly profits rise to £7.1 billion, it is long past time to extend the windfall tax and reinstate the cap on bankers’ bonuses while we are at it. Meanwhile, households continue to struggle and pensioners genuinely fear freezing this winter—a fear that has been exacerbated by the fact that the triple lock commitment has been abandoned. Will the Leader of the House make a statement to set out her concerns about a UK that is increasingly unequal? It is already the most unequal state in Europe.

On the issues that the hon. Lady mentions, I ask her to wait until 17 November when the Chancellor will bring forward his statement. We want to ensure continued stability and make sure that we are balancing the books and protecting the people who need it through what will be a very difficult winter. The Chancellor will do all those things.

Last month, Chanda Maharaj, a Hindu girl from Hyderabad in Pakistan was kidnapped and forcibly married to an older man. She is one of an estimated 1,000 under-age girls kidnapped from Christian and Hindu minorities in the last year in Pakistan. She was rescued from her abductor but is still in legal limbo. Will the Leader of the House join me in expressing concern for her and the many hundreds of girls in similar situations? Will His Majesty’s Government work with Pakistan to help to tackle that abusive issue?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that appalling case. I understand that the initial trauma and tragedy of what Chanda Maharaj has been through will be exacerbated by the legal wranglings that he points to. In such cases, where hon. Members are unable to support their constituents, they should raise them with the FCDO, which will clearly be speaking to the high commission. We must do everything we can to ensure that people can start to rebuild their lives and to reduce the number of times that such appalling things happen to young women and girls.

My local authority, South Lanarkshire Council, has submitted a bid to the levelling-up fund. It is an excellent proposal to remediate the hexavalent chromium issues at the brownfield site at Shawfield. As part of Clyde Gateway’s continued redevelopment, it would see untold economic and environmental benefits for my constituents, and it has my full support. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to provide an update to the House on the fund’s progress?

I thank the hon. Lady and wish her well in that bid. Clearly, decontaminating land is key to unlocking its use and her community will be keen to see that happen. Round one delivered more than £170 million for eight projects and I am sure that further funding will be brought forward. I thank her for championing her project today.