Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?
The business for the week commencing 5 December will include:
Monday 5 December—Remaining stages of the Online Safety Bill (day 2), followed by consideration of a motion for recommittal.
Tuesday 6 December—Opposition day (9th allotted day): a debate in the name of the official Opposition on a subject to be announced.
Wednesday 7 December—Remaining stages of the Financial Services and Markets Bill.
Thursday 8 December—General debate on the 12th report of the Health and Social Care Committee, on cancer services, and the Government’s response, followed by a general debate on the future of BBC radio. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee, with the first debate having been recommended by the Liaison Committee.
Friday 9 December—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 12 December will include:
Monday 12 December—Remaining stages of the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill, followed by a motion to approve the draft Voter Identification Regulations 2022, followed by a motion relating to the first and third reports of the Committee on Standards, on a new code of conduct and a guide to the rules.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I am pleased to hear that the Standards Committee’s recommendations to strengthen the code of conduct for MPs will come back to the House a week on Monday. I thank her for that, because I have been calling for it for months. I will study the motion carefully when it is published.
Perhaps the right hon. Lady can channel this apparent new-found momentum on standards in public life in the direction of the Prime Minister, who has still not appointed an ethics adviser. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) said yesterday,
“the Prime Minister…promised to appoint an independent ethics adviser as one of his first acts”.—[Official Report, 30 November 2022; Vol. 723, c. 903.]
We are still waiting. The Prime Minister says, “Soon.” The Leader of the House says, “Soon.” What does “soon” actually mean? Can we have a timeframe for how “soon” an ethics adviser will be in place? Could we have that timeframe soon?
It seems that my plea last week for Departments to send Ministers who can actually provide answers to urgent questions went unheard. As well as being unable to define “soon”, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, who answered my right hon. Friend yesterday, could not say how many candidates have already turned down the ethics adviser role. There are rumours that it is as many as seven. Is it any wonder, when the last two postholders resigned in despair? An independent ethics adviser is only as strong as the powers that they have. Labour’s independent integrity and ethics commission will stamp out Tory sleaze and scandal, and restore trust in politics. Will the so-called independent ethics adviser, whenever they are appointed, have the power to launch their own investigations?
Ministers are meant to give reasonable notice, and actual copies, of ministerial statements to the Chair and to us. I am afraid to say that again this week—at least twice, to my knowledge—that has not happened. It is unacceptable. It is our job to hold the Government to account and they must give us the opportunity to do so properly. Their disregard for this House cannot continue. Will the Leader of the House please make that point to her Cabinet colleagues?
Last week, the Leader of the House completely failed to address my concerns about the Government’s chaotic handling of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and the Online Safety Bill. She said that she would
“make an announcement…in the usual way.”—[Official Report, 24 November 2022; Vol. 723, c. 451.]
But there is nothing usual about this Government’s handling of their flagship legislation. I notice that today she did not announce the return of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. Dare I ask whether it will be coming back before Christmas—or will it also be “soon”?
The Online Safety Bill is another example. Never mind coming back “soon” with this one—the Tories are taking us back in time. By recommitting—sending back to Committee—a part of the Bill that we had already agreed, they are undoing the decisions of this House. While child sexual abuse and scams online skyrocket, along with content promoting self-harm and suicide, the Government are dragging their feet. Attempting to remove the crucial section that deals with legal but harmful content gives a green light to abusers, and takes away the framework that could deal with forms of harm that we do not yet know about. Why are the Government trying to do this? Last week the Leader of the House said that the Bill would
“be making progress through the House.”—[Official Report, 24 November 2022; Vol. 723, c. 451.]
Can she really look campaigners in the eye and say that the Government are not trying to kick the Bill into the long grass, perhaps in an attempt to prevent it from becoming law?
However, this is not just about legislation. Public strategies are a mess. There is confusion over whether the Government’s plans to deal with health inequality, tobacco and obesity have been shelved. The gambling reform White Paper is up in the air, despite high levels of problem gambling, and related mental health effects and suicides. May we have ministerial statements on these important matters, so that Ministers can clarify what on earth the Government are up to?
Reports unpublished, consultations unanswered—Whitehall must have an enormous sofa, given how much the Government are losing down the back of it. They have still not responded to the consultation on flexible working after more than a year, and meanwhile there are 100,000 fewer women in employment than before the covid-19 pandemic. Labour has a plan to help those women who want to return to work but are being held back: our new deal for working people will make the right to flexible working the default from day one. What is the Government’s plan? When will they be bothered even to respond? “Soon”, presumably.
There is a pattern here. With the Tories, psychodrama and grubby backroom deals come before legislation to protect children online. With the Tories, handouts to oil and gas giants come before public health. With the Tories, we have a weak Prime Minister whose poor judgment puts party before country. A Government who are unable to govern should make way for one who can: a Labour Government cannot come “soon” enough.
Let me first put on record my praise for, and pride in the performance of, Wales and England. I know that many Members have already paid tribute to their performance to date in the World Cup.
I note that later today we will have a Backbench Business Committee debate on World Aids Day, and I am proud of the fact that the UK is one of the largest donors to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. I pay tribute to all the healthcare professionals who have done so much in recent years to reduce infections, as well as the organisations with which they work—in particular, the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National AIDS Trust and the Elton John Aids Foundation.
The hon. Lady mentioned the debate on standards that will take place on Monday week. As well as supporting the bulk of the Standards Committee’s recommendations, the Government will take further action, which I hope the House will also welcome. We will publish the motion—soon? [Laughter.] Very swiftly.
The hon. Lady referred to urgent questions. We have just been given an excellent example of responses to urgent questions by the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), who was more than capable of answering the supplementary questions and whose approach to such challenges will, I think, have given Members a great deal of confidence.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Government’s record of supporting women, in particular, in the workplace. I am very proud of our record of getting 2 million more women into work since 2010, by means of a raft of measures, but there is more that we wish to do.
As I said in my statement, the Online Safety Bill will be returning to the House. This is a vital and world-leading piece of legislation. It focuses particularly on protecting children and stamping out illegal activity online, which are top priorities for the Government. It is groundbreaking legislation, and it delivers on our manifesto commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world in which to be online. We are tabling a recommittal motion, and the recommitted measures will come back to the whole House for a second Report stage. That will take place swiftly, allowing proper scrutiny. This is an established parliamentary procedure—it has been used before—and it will ensure that the Bill can be strengthened while also ensuring that Members have the opportunity to take part in a full debate on the changes to the Bill.
All other business will be announced in the usual way—soon—and I can tell the hon. Lady that that means 8 December.
I have made a series of freedom of information requests about the Government’s possession and use of Hikvision cameras, which security advisers have declared to be a security risk. I made an FOI request of every Department, and then requested a revision of any decision to refuse to answer. All bar three Departments answered by invoking section 24 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which protects information on grounds of security; that is, Departments said that it would put national security at risk to let me know whether they had any such cameras, how many they had, and what they were doing about them. However, that cannot be the case when three Departments—the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Wales Office—answered completely openly, and talked of getting rid of the cameras.
How can the issue not be a security risk for three Departments, but be a security risk for the rest of them? Surely Departments are hiding behind section 24 because they are embarrassed about having an awful lot of Hikvision cameras. Will the Leader of the House remind No. 10 and the Cabinet Office that they have an obligation to answer genuine questions, and to declare the number of such cameras that they have? As a result of those cameras, all of us are at risk when we enter those Departments.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this important matter. I know that he thinks deeply about such issues. Whatever the security policies of those Departments, I can see no reason why he, a Privy Counsellor, should not be briefed by the Departments on Privy Council terms. I will write on his behalf to the Cabinet Office to ask that that happens.
The Leader of the House does not seem to like answering any of my constitutional questions directly. Right enough, they are a bit tricky for her Government, but God loves a trier, so let us see if she can answer this. In the Scottish Affairs Committee this week, the Secretary of State for Scotland revealed that the head of the UK civil service is looking into whether officials in Scotland will be allowed to do work related to our next independence referendum, following the Supreme Court’s ruling last week. The notion that it is unlawful for the Scottish Government to pursue independence as a policy goal has been dismissed by legal academics, including former Tory MSP Professor Adam Tomkins. Aileen McHarg, professor of public law and human rights at Durham University, described it as a “ludicrous position”. There seems to be a new measure of Scottish independence support as well: the duck test. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing distinguished constitutional academics’ views on that.
The Supreme Court’s decision has exposed the undemocratic lack of a legal mechanism by which the Scottish Parliament can hold an independence referendum. Surely the UK Government’s attention should be on addressing that, not on inhibiting the work of the civil service. I received a muddled response from Scotland Office Ministers. The first said that money allocated to Scotland by the UK Treasury came with “no strings attached”; then another stepped in to say that this was a matter for the civil service, and that we would need to see “how this plays out”. Can the Leader of the House offer any clarity? Perhaps there could be a statement on duck tests to establish exactly who decides whether support for Scottish independence passes the appropriate avian measurements.
Lastly, why will the Chancellor not follow the lead of the Scottish Government and introduce a UK equivalent of the Scottish child payment? The Joseph Rowntree Foundation described the increase to £25 a week per eligible child as a “watershed moment”. It also found that if the payment were extended to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a further 5.3 million children would be eligible for that crucial support. As we approach a very difficult winter, perhaps Labour will join the SNP in urging Ministers to hold a debate or make a statement on what more the Government will do to tackle this shameful poverty. The UK Government have far more tools at their disposal than the devolved Governments, and it is high time that they showed the same political will as them.
As the hon. Lady suggests, I am a simple girl. I read the evidence from the Committee sitting to which she referred, and I understand that Secretary of State for Scotland will clarify the matter that she mentioned. I can tell her that the Scottish Government’s spending the unrestricted funds that they get on their project of a further referendum is a colossal waste of money. The Scottish Government and Parliament is one of the most powerful devolved Administrations in the world, with huge authority that the SNP has done its best not to take up, with responsibilities that the SNP has done its best to shirk, and with the largest budget it has ever had that the SNP has done its best to squander.
The reason Scotland has low job creation is that it has the lowest PISA—programme for international student assessment—ranking since that measure was created. It has 700 fewer police officers than a year ago and the worst A&E wait times on record. That the hon. Lady’s constituency has the lowest funding settlement per person in Scotland is not because of the UK Government, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Supreme Court, the good people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Brexit or Britain, but because of her party, the SNP, and its obsession with issues that the Scottish people wish it would leave aside to focus on what matters to them.
I know my right hon. Friend worries, as I do, about the cost to every family of filling their car. She will have seen media reports that, despite wholesale prices going down, the prices on garage forecourts remain stubbornly high. Will she allow Government time for a debate on FairFuelUK’s excellent idea for a new PumpWatch commissioner to monitor and stop bad practice on garage forecourts?
My right hon. Friend will know the Competition and Markets Authority published its road fuel report in July, and it recommended that the Government consider a scheme to increase transparency on fuel prices. The Government are looking at this, and I join her in commending the work of FairFuelUK, which has done a huge amount to champion the rights of motorists and to remind us that holding down fuel duty, and cutting it where we can, is good for the economy.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the Backbench Business for Thursday 8 December. If given the time, the Backbench Business Committee intends to table two debates for Thursday 15 December, the first on outlawing self-disconnection of prepayment meters and the second, following our exchanges on the urgent question, on rail transport services for communities served by Avanti West Coast. Many Members on both sides of the House will find that debate timely, particularly given that the new timetable will be published around that time.
May I ask the Government for a statement on the fitness and condition of accommodation in the private rented sector? That is a dangerous market and contains properties at both ends of the housing scale, but for many communities such as mine and those across the north-east of England, it is housing of last resort. Many properties are in poor condition, but they are still funded by housing benefit, which is public money. Can we have a Government statement on what has recently been happening in the sector?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful announcement of future Backbench Business. He is right to focus on the quality of accommodation in the private rented sector, on which the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is very focused. I will write to the Secretary of State on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf to ensure his concerns are heard.
Can we have a Government review, followed by a statement, on the desirability of abandoning the flawed annual ritual of putting our clocks back every autumn, plunging the nation into darkness and misery by mid-afternoon for several months? Is there not an overwhelming case for using summer time in winter, as it would boost tourism, cut the number of road accidents and reduce energy use? Why do we not try it?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this. There are many views on these matters on both sides of the House. Indeed, I remember that the opinion of the House was tested by the Daylight Saving Bill during the coalition Government. I encourage him to raise the matter at the relevant Question Time, but I will also write to the Cabinet Office, as it affects a number of Departments, to make sure it is aware of his concerns.
Last month, the retail union USDAW—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—marked Respect for Shopworkers Week, and I was pleased to visit the Co-op on Castle Street in my constituency to speak to branch staff about various issues. USDAW has surveyed almost 5,000 retail workers recently, revealing the high levels of abuse and violence faced by them: 71% experienced verbal abuse, 48% were threatened by a customer and 5% were assaulted. Yet a staggering 20% of assaulted shop workers do not report the incident. As such, will the Leader of the House allocate Government time for a debate on strengthening legislation to protect retail workers?
This important issue will be of relevance to all Members of this House, and it has been a continuing concern for convenience stores, newsagents and others. The hon. Member will be aware of the work that the high streets team at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has done in increasing security, and sharing best practice and what has worked in other places—warden schemes, for example. I will write to the Secretary of State, who is getting a lot of letters from me this week, to make sure that he is aware of the hon. Member’s concerns.
My constituent Lizzie has a minor blood clotting disorder that means she needs a referral to a consultant before she can be prescribed hormone replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms. That appointment has come back for June 2024. We will all recognise in this House that menopausal symptoms can be transitory and it may well be that she is through the menopause before the appointment comes, but please can my right hon. Friend find time in this House for a debate as to how the women’s health strategy is working, or in some cases not working, for women going through the menopause and what more we can do to make sure that the Department of Health and Social Care is taking these issues seriously?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that. As she will know, this issue is of huge concern to all Members across this House; we know that previous debates on such matters have been very well attended in the House. She will know that the Government are standing up new diagnostic centres to help to deal with that particular issue, which is taking up a lot of waiting list time. I will also flag this with the DHSC to make sure that it has heard her concerns.
My friend the shadow Leader of the House listed a number of areas that the Government are still sitting on— plans, documents and policies—but the one thing she did not mention was the round 2 bids for the levelling-up fund. We were promised that a decision would be taken by the end of the year. We are now in December and the recess is rolling near. Will the Leader of the House find time for a Minister to make a statement to the House to announce that Denton has got its levelling-up funding?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on continuing his lobbying campaign on behalf of his constituents, and I sincerely hope that they will be able to have that Christmas present this year. I understand that the round 2 fund is on track but, obviously, I will raise the matter with the Department on his behalf.
Can we have a debate on the old fish killer of Somerset, who at the moment is representing one of the foremost environmentalists in the world, on behalf of the good burghers of Somerset? He was operations director of Wessex Water until recently and the damage they have done has been incalculable. We have now finally made companies pay for the damage they are causing, but it is far too late and far too slow. So can we have a debate in this House, slightly quicker than soon, where Members can put forward what damage these water companies are doing to all our constituencies?
I know that this issue is of immense concern to my hon. Friend. He will know that some further announcements have been made this week by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as to what water company fines will be spent on to help repair the damage that the companies have done. He will also know that from next year 100% of storm overflows will be monitored and that those companies are now locked into a timetable to produce infrastructure plans to address all these long-term issues, which are vital in terms of getting water quality, biodiversity and other matters that our constituents care about in the right place.
On 5 August, the Prime Minister said that the UK should be a “beacon of talent” for the “best and brightest” and that access to talent was a “limiting factor” for companies looking to scale up here, and I agree entirely. But in my constituency, a business that was looking to recruit for a managerial post found a candidate in the United States, having been unable to recruit domestically for the best part of a year. That candidate, however, has been advised that the visa costs and the upfront health costs for him and his family will be north of £13,000. Can we have a debate in Government time on the real obstacles to coming to work in the UK, the bureaucracy and the outrageous costs, which of course are the real limiting factor in terms of access to talent and wholly the responsibility of the UK Government?
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be supporting measures in trade deals or our memorandums of understanding with the states of the United States to improve all of this—the mutual recognition of qualifications and the slashing of bureaucracy. I look forward to him, when those matters are debated on the Floor of the House, supporting the measures that the Government bring forward. I remind him also that the Home Office is offering all colleagues one-to-one surgeries to crack through any difficult cases, issues or obstacles that are proving difficult to get over. I remind him of that service. I am sure the Home Office stands ready to assist in any way that it can.
Today is Great Union Day, when Romanians celebrate the unification of what we now call modern Romania at the end of the great war. Indeed, Romanian is now the third most spoken language in the UK. Can we have a debate in Government time where we could celebrate not only Great Union Day, but the massive contribution that Romanian citizens make to the economy of this country?
I say to my hon. Friend, “mulumesc” — Romanian for thank you very much—for raising this important topic. He does a great service in reminding us of the importance of particular events. He has put that on record and I am sure that all Members would join him in the sentiments that he has expressed.
The Leader of the House might remember that, just before bonfire night, I raised my concerns about potential disorder and asked at business questions for a debate. In just one ward in my constituency on bonfire night, there were 18 arrests of young men, and more followed. Really tragically, one young man, a 17-year-old, lost his life having been fatally injured that night. Can I now ask her, with almost a year to go, whether she will consider pulling together a Government taskforce to consider the regulation of fireworks, protections for emergency service workers and our communities, and the proper resourcing of youth services, so that we can make sure that people enjoy bonfire night responsibly, and that we do not see these pockets of persistent and really quite violent disorder?
I am extremely sorry to hear of the disruption that was caused in the hon. Lady’s constituency and also of that tragic death. I am sure the whole House would want to share those sentiments. She is right. I understand why, around bonfire night, Members will raise the issue, but clearly more work needs to be done. I hear this from many Members across the House, so I will raise the matter with the Home Office in particular to ensure that people are thinking about what further things could be put in place, especially in constituencies that are facing a disproportionate amount of difficulty around that time of year.
Last Saturday, Ukrainians in Mid Derbyshire, and those in Ukraine and around the world marked the 90th anniversary of the Ukrainian Holodomor—a manmade famine in Ukraine caused by Joseph Stalin, in which millions of Ukrainians died. The Holodomor has been recognised as a genocide against Ukrainian people by 16 countries, including Ireland, Australia and Canada. Please can we have a debate in Government time on official recognition by the United Kingdom of the Holodomor and its parallels with what is happening now in Ukraine and Russia?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. She may also wish to raise it at Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions on 13 December. It was a horrific man-made disaster of unimaginable scale. We see parallels with what is happening today. I think my hon. Friend knows how to apply for a debate in the usual way. I am sure that, because of its relevance to what is happening in Ukraine at the moment, it would be a very well-attended debate.
My constituent Olly Stephens was just 13 years old when he was stabbed and brutally murdered. Legal but harmful pictures and videos were repeatedly watched by the boy who stabbed him. Eleven different social media platforms were used to share that legal but harmful content, and I am afraid not one of those platforms removed it. The Government plan to scrap measures to tackle legal but harmful content. How can I raise this matter urgently with Ministers?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Online Safety Bill is coming back to the House, as I announced in the business statement. The Home Secretary is keen to hear from all Members during the course of that debate, but her door is always open prior to that. Her focus is very much on protecting children. I am incredibly sorry to hear about the constituency case that hon. Gentleman raises. The purpose of the Bill is to make sure that these tragic events do not happen again and that we hold social media companies to account for the content that they publish. I will also flag what the hon. Gentleman said with her.
Since the tragic death of toddler Harper-Lee Fanthorpe in my constituency last year, I have been campaigning with her mother Stacy for greater awareness of button battery dangers. As we start the countdown to Christmas, shops everywhere will be selling products—not just toys but lighting and decorations—with button batteries in them. Will the Leader of the House join me in urging parents and grandparents to be aware of the dangers of button batteries if products are unsafe, and retailers not to sell them? Will she make parliamentary time for a debate on what we can do to raise awareness of button batteries and possibly to legislate for a minimum safety standard for all products?
My hon. Friend has provided, in part, an answer to her question, because by raising this issue she has provided information to those listening and to news outlets that people need to be aware of the tragedies that can happen if children eat and swallow those batteries. I will ask the Cabinet Office if any communications are going out on public information channels about this issue. I thank her for the service she has done today.
Like other Members, I have several cases of energy suppliers—in my case, Ovo and SSE—without consultation paying the energy bill rebate directly to bank accounts rather than deducting it from account balances. That approach keeps already high direct debits artificially higher. For some, that approach might not make any material difference, but for others, particularly vulnerable and elderly people—including my mother-in-law—who rely on family to deal with bills and admin, it is far from ideal. Will the Chancellor, or a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Minister, make a statement setting out that the support should go directly to balances, not bank accounts?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. I understand the BEIS Secretary of State made some announcements earlier this week and has met those companies to ensure that they are doing the right thing. I will ensure that he has heard the hon. Gentleman and that he will get in touch with him on the specifics of how we can ensure that those direct debits are not, through this means and others, being kept artificially high.
Many of my Telford constituents depend on Arriva buses to get to work, college or important appointments, and they are frequently let down. Hundreds of residents have contacted me to tell me about cancellations, delays, being left standing in the rain, being late for work, missing appointments and having to take taxis at their own expense, something they cannot afford. The bus service in Telford is not fit for purpose and we need urgent action. I am meeting Arriva on Monday, but I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent debate on the performance of Arriva buses to ensure that everything is done to improve the situation, which is making the day-to-day lives of my constituents and people across the country so difficult.
I am very sorry to hear again about this ongoing issue in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We recognise how important bus services are to people, which is why we have provided more than £1 billion in support to local authorities to help deliver bus service improvement plans. The next questions to the Department is not until 19 January, so I will write to the Secretary of State on her behalf and ask the Department to check in with her following her meeting with the bus company. I thank her for her tenacity and her determination to ensure that her constituents have a decent bus service.
Today we have a debate in Westminster Hall, as hon. Members will know, marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. To quote one example, women in Colombia are at the forefront of protecting human rights and fighting for justice, which we all welcome. However, they are experiencing an unprecedented wave of violence: in the first 10 months of this year, 156 women have been killed. Will the Leader of the House, and this House as a whole, join me in condemning these horrendous attacks and praising the incredible courage of these women, who are truly an inspiration to us all?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention both to the plight of those women and to the very brave women and organisations trying to alleviate that suffering. He will know that we recently hosted an international conference on preventing sexual violence against women, particularly in conflict situations. There is a further Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions before the Christmas recess, and I encourage him to raise the issue there too.
Today we mark World AIDS Day. I appreciate that we have a debate on that later today in this Chamber, but, given the huge success of the opt-out HIV testing scheme around the country, can we have a debate during National HIV Testing Week about the success of the programme and how we can expand it further?
I am proud that the UK was the first to pledge to end new HIV cases by 2030, and we are determined to be the first country to deliver on that. In just 100 days of this particular service being stood up in 33 hospital A&E departments, it diagnosed 102 people with HIV, as well as finding a further 60 people who knew they were HIV positive but were not engaged with services. We need to ensure that that is standard practice and I put on record my thanks to the healthcare professionals who have made it happen.
I too urge a debate on various issues around the Government’s support schemes for fuel payments. Many of my constituents have problems with not receiving their payment if they are not on direct debit and on the alternative fuel payment scheme. Many sports clubs have also written to me saying they are really concerned they will not survive, as they rely on their clubhouse to support their activities. Please can we have a debate in Government time to look at all these issues?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point. I will ensure that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has heard what she has said about sports clubs. I know that there are a plethora of complex schemes and I will encourage BEIS to ensure that it has surgeries and surgery time available for Members who have cases or difficult situations that they are trying to find an answer to. I will write to the Department on her behalf.
Lib Dem-controlled Eastleigh Borough Council is meeting tonight with a proposal to scrap the 30 minutes’ free parking in the small village of Hamble, which has happened elsewhere in the borough of Eastleigh. The move will stop footfall in that important village and harm small businesses that have already faced a tough time over the last year. Can we have a debate about the future of small village centres, so that I and other Members can highlight how such retrograde steps by local authorities will drive people away from our vital village centres?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. I urge all those Liberal Democrat councillors to take a look down the road at Portsmouth—particularly North End in my constituency—where the Liberal Democrat council did exactly what they propose to do to his local high street. It devastated North End and the council had to reverse the policy. That was deeply embarrassing and the Lib Dems lost control of the council. They might like to start thinking about small businesses as we approach Small Business Saturday, and about the services that high streets provide and their contribution to the economy and to quality of life.
As the Leader of the House well knows, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Scottish Parliament was established without powers to hold an independence referendum, under the powers of the Scotland Act 1998. In the wake of the UK Government’s intransigent and inflexible response to that ruling, she may be interested to know that support for independence—[Interruption.] Conservative Members can laugh if they like. Support for independence has soared in Scotland, with a majority in every single age group—save for the over-65s—in favour of Scottish independence. Will she make a statement setting out why she thinks that is?
I say to the hon. Lady that the Government’s position on the Supreme Court ruling is exactly the same as the SNP’s, which is that we accept it. What she and her colleagues have been saying with regard to the ability to hold a referendum is not true. The proof is that we had one on those terms. The difficulty that SNP Members have is that they do not wish to honour the result.
The Bill of Rights will be an important addition to the toolbox for tackling illegal immigration and the small boats crisis. I have met the Justice Secretary and I understand that the Bill is ready to move forward. Will that be before Christmas? The Bill contains important measures, and it would be good to get it in statute. Will my right hon. Friend also consider how we can make progress on the Seafarers’ Wages Bill, which is so important to the cross-channel operations in my constituency?
As Leader of the House, I must be fiercely neutral and not favour one Bill over another, but I am particularly keen for the Bill of Rights to come back swiftly to the Floor of the House. A huge amount of work has been done on it, and it will—among many other things—clearly enhance our ability to remove dangerous foreign-national offenders from the UK and better protect the public. I will announce business in the usual way. I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister will be pleased that my hon. Friend has raised the importance of the Bill of Rights.
The National Lottery Community Fund has allocated grants of up to £5.9 million over the last five years to a number of excellent community groups in my constituency, including Overton Tenants and Residents Association; Chatty Crafters; Project 31; People’s Past, People’s Future, and Whitlawburn Community Resource Centre, to name just a few. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on the need for funding streams for such essential community projects in our communities?
I extend my congratulations to all those organisations on their successful bids to the lottery and wish them well in spending that funding—it sounds as if they provide some amazing services. I thank the hon. Lady for raising the importance of those vital funding streams.
As the House and my Wrexham constituents will know, I have been running a campaign against unscrupulous parking companies, which reap billions from unfair fines. The Government were to lodge a code of conduct, but the firms challenged the Government, it has now been shelved and all has gone quiet. Can my right hon. Friend advise me on how to keep the issue at the forefront of Ministers’ minds?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue, which is clearly a priority for the Government. Early in the Administration, we brought through rules to end clamping on private land. We have continued to ensure that people are not abusing the rules that govern parking. I understand that the Department will be bringing forward measures, but because the next questions are not until the new year, I will write to the Department and ask it to contact my hon. Friend to give her some reassurance that her constituents will be able to park with confidence, especially over the Christmas period.
It has been reported that, for all its military prowess, the billions it spends and its track record on human rights, China is to receive nearly £52 million of British taxpayer money in the form of foreign aid. How do I justify that to my constituents who have to sofa surf? How do I justify it to my pensioners who will only be receiving £700 a month, or to my homeless veterans? In fact, in the current cost of living crisis, how can I even justify much of the foreign aid budget at all? Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate to explore how this aid to China specifically was approved, the suitability of aid to all other countries we support, Government intentions moving forward and specifically whether they still intend to spend £11 billion on such programmes while we have taxed people in this country to levels we have not seen in several generations?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter, and I will write to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and ask it to send him in detail what the overseas development assistance spend in China is doing. From memory, a lot of it is used on things that are of direct benefit to the United Kingdom, such as protecting the intellectual property of UK companies. I am sure there are things that the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues will be able to give my hon. Friend that would give him some comfort and reassurance. I would also say to him that we very much understand the pressures at home and the cost of living issues that people are grappling with. I always used to have a mantra when I was at the Department for International Development that it was not about the best way that the Department could spend the money; for every grant that we gave, we had to test that against what another Department could do with that money, and I am sure that is still the test.
As my right hon. Friend has alluded to, it is the 10th anniversary of Small Business Saturday this weekend. Can we have a debate please on what more the Government can do to support small and family businesses? In Leigh-on-Sea, we have the brilliant independent Fives Record shop, where this weekend I hope to buy the first copy of the Music Man and Royal Marines Band Christmas single. Will the Leader of the House use her super skills to get this dynamic duo to Christmas No. 1, raising essential funds for musicians with disabilities and honouring my amazing predecessor Sir David Amess?
Small Business Saturday is an opportunity for us to celebrate the good that small businesses do and how much we value them. If you will forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a plug for the Music Man’s first ever Christmas single, “Music Is Magic”, which will be available for pre-save from tomorrow on all major music streaming platforms. The single will be released on 16 December for download and on streaming services. The music video will be released tomorrow in support of International Day of Disabled Persons 2022, on 3 December. I thank my hon. Friend for the support for the Music Man, and to update the House, they want to play Broadway. In the new year, they will be playing their first US gig, hopefully with their Christmas hit, on the USS Midway in San Diego bay. I am sure the whole House wishes them luck.
That is the first time we have had a commercial break in business questions.
As we have heard, small businesses are the lifeblood of our nation and our economy, but one of the challenges they often face is red tape, particularly with procurement when there is an opportunity to grow their business. In the light of Small Business Saturday this weekend and with the Procurement Bill currently making its way through the other place, will my right hon. Friend please consider making time for us to discuss small and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs, who are the people who make this country what it is? It would provide an opportunity to see how we can support them through the procurement process, make sure the Government are hiring small businesses to deliver local government and Government needs, and ensure they can focus their time on transforming their business, not just filling out forms for their business.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As well as the work we are doing on trade deals and memorandums of understanding, which I spoke about earlier, the Procurement Bill will slash red tape, replacing 350 EU regulations with one simple, flexible framework for our SMEs. Just over the past year, they have won a record £19.3 billion in Government procurement spending. We want them to be able to do more, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue.
A few weeks ago, I asked the Leader of the House whether it would be possible to extend the time allocated for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, so that we can talk about food, farming, agriculture, fisheries, the environment and our rural communities. Could this possibly happen immediately—or sooner?
I would have said that I hope it will happen soon, but I can actually tell my hon. Friend that it will happen on 12 January 2023, because we are extending EFRA questions to a full hour. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign for that to happen, and I hope his farming community and others’ are pleased about that.
The Leader of the House knows how cruel and debilitating the condition of motor neurone disease is. I remind the House both of the recent diagnosis of MND for Gloucester rugby player Ed Slater and of the recent sad death from MND of Scottish rugby giant Doddie Weir. My right hon. Friend will recall that the Health Secretary committed to secure the first ever ringfenced pot of £50 million of funding for MND research, with a virtual institute. Many of us share his concern, and to highlight the cause and to secure the funding, can I ask my right hon. Friend to find time for a debate on MND, which—better still, with a funding announcement—would make a wonderful Christmas present both for Ed and his family, and for the huge MND family around the country?
I want to associate myself with the remarks that my hon. Friend has made about Ed and others. He will know that there is Health questions next week, and I encourage him to raise this with the Secretary of State in that session.
I thank the Leader of the House for responding to business questions for just short of an hour.