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Business of the House

Volume 724: debated on Thursday 8 December 2022

The 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.

Tuesday 13 December—Remaining Stages of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

Wednesday 14 December—General debate on Ukraine, followed by an Opposition half day debate (10th allotted day, first part) in the name of the Scottish National party, subject to be announced.

Thursday 15 December—Debate on a motion on self-disconnection of prepayment meters, followed by a general debate on rail transport services to the communities served by the west coast main line. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 16 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 December includes:

Monday 19 December—Second Reading of the Seafarers’ Wages Bill [Lords]

Tuesday 20 December—Debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

The House will rise for the Christmas recess at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 20 December and return on Monday 9 January.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I barely know where to start, but let us try with this morning’s chaos, which is not the only example but the latest example of a Minister failing in their duty to provide a copy of a ministerial statement to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Opposition leads, so that they are left listening to a statement that bears no resemblance to the one to which they were expecting to respond. It happened twice last week, and I asked the Leader of the House if she would drop her colleagues a note to remind them of their duty. I am dismayed at the absolute shambles we saw this morning. It is just not on.

In relation to the quality and timeliness of ministerial responses to correspondence from MPs, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) first contacted the Home Office on behalf of his constituent on 1 October 2021, and he received a response this week, 14 months later. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) waited 17 months for her response, only to find out that more information was needed before a substantial answer could be given. The civil servants do their best—an incredible job, in fact—in tackling the backlog, but it has been created by successive Tory Ministers. The Leader of the House has previously spoken to the permanent secretary about this, and I thank her for that, but it needs political leadership. Can she please speak with the Home Secretary about the importance of treating our constituents with respect and highlight the importance of meeting the 20-day service standard for responses?

In our successful Opposition day motion on Tuesday, we called on the Government to end the 200-year-old non-domiciled tax status, which costs taxpayers £3.2 billion a year. We would invest that in one of the biggest NHS workforce expansions in history, which is so desperately needed, but I know that the right hon. Lady seemed to side with non-doms over the NHS. What does she have to say to the 5,000 people in her constituency who faced a wait of 28 days or more to see a GP just in October, or the further 8,000 who had to wait more than two weeks? Does she not think that the great people of Portsmouth North deserve a guaranteed face-to-face appointment, which they would get with a Labour Government? Our motion called on the Government to implement Labour’s plan by doubling the number of medical training places, delivering 10,000 more nursing and midwifery clinical placements and 5,000 more health visitors, and training twice the number of district nurses. Our motion was successful, so when are the Government going to get on and deliver it?

Our Humble Address calling on the Government the same day to release documents relating to the awarding of Government personal protective equipment contracts was also successful. The VIP lane for PPE is a scandal of epic proportions and has encouraged a shameful waste of taxpayers’ money, and we want it back. Ministers have flushed billions down the drain on gloves, gowns and goggles that were overpriced, unusable or undelivered, and even now, the British people are picking up a daily tab of £700,000 for storage of PPE that is unfit for use. A Labour Government would get a grip on this, end the waste and provide sound management of taxpayers’ money.

Meanwhile, in the Lords last week, a high turnout of Conservative peers voted to keep the VIP lanes for direct award in procurement. When the Leader of the House brings the Procurement Bill back to this House, will she at least restrict the use of VIP lanes? Given that our motion was successful, can she tell us when, how and where the documents about these contracts will be released? It is really important, and I hope for a direct answer.

I return to Government chaos on the handling of legislation and their sofa down the back of which Bills seem to be disappearing at a rate of knots. Never mind Bills not making progress—some, like the Online Safety Bill, are heading back in time and going back upstairs. We hear that others are never going to happen at all. Just yesterday, the Government dropped two more. The Education Secretary confirmed that the Schools Bill is gone. Could the Leader of the House tell us why? The Transport Secretary admitted that the revolving door of Government Ministers in his Department was not “ideal” —quite the understatement!

Later today in the Adjournment debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, continues her fantastic campaign against the antisocial use of e-scooters. Despite a commitment from the Government in the Queen’s Speech this year, the Transport Secretary now says that there will almost certainly be no transport Bill in this Parliament.

As my hon. Friend says, there is no transport. The sofa just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Could the Leader of the House confirm whether that is true? Are the Government planning to break yet another promise to the British people? Is there any government actually taking place?

Whether it is the NHS or procurement, schools or transport, this Government’s incompetence and chaos know no bounds. Their inability to govern is quite literally bringing this country to a grinding halt. Nothing is working, and it is on them—ripping apart public services and crashing the economy, and working people are paying the price. The voters deserve a proper say on the country’s future and a Labour Government.

May I start by wishing everyone a happy Christmas Jumper Day and wishing England good luck on Saturday? I also wish Godspeed to the four Royal Navy submariners of HMS Audacious as they set off to row unsupported the 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to promote and fundraise for resilience, good mental health and wellbeing. I hope the whole House will wish them well.

I would like to give my apologies to the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), the House and you, Mr Speaker, for what happened this morning. I know that everyone is pulling together to ensure that a full statement can be made available to the Opposition and all Members of this House. I will certainly be following that up, as you would expect me to, Mr Speaker.

On correspondence, I agree with the hon. Lady: all Departments should be meeting those targets and hoping to exceed them. We are doing a lot of work with correspondence teams and parliamentary Clerks, as well as advisers, to ensure that this is in a better place. If anyone has correspondence that is outstanding, please flag it with my office and we will follow it up.

The hon. Lady mentions health and my constituency in particular. I have to tell her that in 2010, when I came into Parliament, my hospital was falling to bits and we had the worst MRSA rates in the country. Those things are vastly improved. We do not have to speculate as to what a Labour Government would do for the NHS; we have only to look at Wales to see that in action. One in 20 people are on a waiting list in England; one in four are in Wales. I am happy to rest on our record versus Labour’s.

The hon. Lady raises the serious matter of PPE contracts. I remind her that I spent a large part of the first year of the pandemic on the telephone to all hon. Members. She will know that, because she was a diligent frequent flier on those 10 am calls. I answered questions from every hon. Member who needed assistance, such as in getting PPE for their hospitals. I fielded questions and concerns, and raised matters with every Government Department on their behalf, particularly for the 2019 intake who had recently come into the House.

In my experience, hon. Members on both sides of the House flagged many companies that changed production lines to help to produce infection-control items, supplied those items at cost or donated them, or opened up unused factory space at their own cost to help the national effort. Those organisations that pulled together and did their bit to help us to get through that dreadful pandemic represent the bulk of British industry. It is important to say that because—God forbid—if we are ever in that situation again, we need such firms to step up and help us, so it is important not to fold them in with companies that were, frankly, profiteering and whose practices are under question.

The hon. Lady knows that investigations are going on, including fraud investigations, with regard to certain cases, as well as mediation and potential litigation, and that particular documentation cannot be released until those investigations are concluded. She will also know the Government’s stance on this from many debates in this place, including the Opposition day debate that was held the other day.

I question the hon. Lady’s characterisation of the Government. This week alone, we have heard announcements on £500 million for schools and colleges in England to spend on energy efficiency upgrades; an additional £50 million top-up to the homelessness prevention grant, which brings the total grant to £366 million; the launch of our first helpline for victims of rape and sexual abuse; the new elective recovery taskforce; gas imports; and new freeports being set up, as well as the Royal Assent to four Bills. Further business will be announced in the usual way.

Following business questions, we will return to the issue of planning in Cumbria. The only item in the future business read out by the Leader of the House is about rail transport services to the communities served by the west coast main line. There is no debate scheduled—obviously it could not be in advance—on whether it is right or wrong to give permission to the coal mine. In addition to the questions and answers today, however, can the Opposition and the Government get together to have a proper debate on whether we go on following planning guidelines, as we seem to have done in this case, or overturn them and go on importing coking coal?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He will know that the next Levelling Up, Housing and Communities questions are on 9 January, but obviously there is a more immediate way for him to put his question to the Secretary of State, who I think will be back in the Chamber shortly. I will certainly ensure that he has heard my hon. Friend’s comments, if he cannot stay for the statement.

It is a little frustrating that the procedures of this place mean that I have to wait a week before I can respond to comments that the Leader of the House makes in business questions, but the motto of Leith in my constituency is “Persevere!”, so persevere I shall.

The Leader of the House likes to play the schoolmarm, but last week’s efforts deserved 100 lines on context. For example, she said that Scotland has the worst A&E waiting times on record while failing to mention that England’s A&E waiting times are the worst on record too and that Scotland’s are nevertheless considerably better than England’s. Some context, as I am sure any schoolmarm would agree, is important.

I recognise that attack is the best form of defence, but I wonder if the time has come for the Government to install the independent House of Commons fact-checking service that some have called for—a real one, not the Conservative pretendy one we saw in 2019—with instant replay, an adjudication function, a claxon and perhaps a “Three strikes and you’re out” feature.

It has been such an exciting week, and not just for those of us in the Westminster SNP group. The Government are in a shambles again, with further revelations about Baroness Mone, VIP lanes and PPE contracts, and the release of Labour’s “Gordy Broon” commission report, which seems only to have left people wondering why Labour thinks it can impose its constitutional proposals on Scotland because of a democratic mandate it hopes to win at the next election but it will not recognise the democratic mandate for an independence referendum won by the Scottish Government at several elections. He is trying to save his precious Union, with assortments from his big bag of vows, so could the Government perhaps humour an old ex-Prime Minister and allow a debate on the devolution of powers to the so-called extremities—extremities being, of course, everywhere that is not London? Given the mood of current red-wallers on the Conservative Back Benches, it might prove a popular move.

Speaking of popular moves, lastly, I notice that the Leader of the House has been sharing her weekly contributions on the SNP on social media, but if she ever looks below the line, she will notice that the vast majority of comments are from people in Scotland absolutely infuriated by her remarks. And guess what? Just yesterday, a major Scottish poll told us that 56% of our people support independence, and that support for the Tories has crashed to a mere 14%, so I say to her: keep those media clips coming! Her unwitting but welcome embrace of the cause of independence for Scotland will not be forgotten.

The hon. Lady mentions the report produced by the former Prime Minister, and although I welcome debate, I think they are flawed ideas. I shall not call him yesterday’s man, but Labour is increasingly looking like yesterday’s party.

The hon. Lady has painted me as a schoolmarm this week, so I shall role play and give an arithmetic lesson. The Scottish Government have complained this week that they are having to make £1 billion of cuts, despite the fact that they have 26% more funding per head than England, and I just have some suggestions about how she might find that. She might cancel the £20 million on a referendum that is not happening, or the £9 million on the eight embassies they run. She could look at the £300 million they have spent so far on two ferries, which are five years late and £150 million over budget, or at the £52.4 million on the collapsed BiFab company or the £5 million on climate change reparations. She could look at the nearly £600 million they spent to bail out Sanjeev Gupta’s smelting business, or the half a million pounds wasted on a publicly owned energy company that never happened. That adds up to over £1 billion, but instead the Scottish National party is going to have to cut frontline services and capital projects to balance the Government’s books. As the Auditor General has pointed out this week, he has lifted the veil on the scale of the SNP’s financial incompetence. I think the people of Scotland deserve better than that, and that is why I will be putting this clip out later.

Can I ask my right hon. Friend why there is nothing in her statement about the disruption to lives and livelihoods being caused by strikes over the next month? We have heard rumours that the Government are going to bring in emergency legislation, but nothing in her statement refers to that, and we are now going to have a recess for about a month. Is she expecting these strikes to disrupt lives with impunity up until 9 January 2023, and what is going to happen after that? Is it not time that the Government got a grip on this?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that these strikes, particularly on transport, are going to be incredibly disruptive for people, especially those who do not have an alternative to using public transport. It is particularly difficult for people who may not be able to see each other over the Christmas period, when families want to come together. The minimum services legislation has already been introduced, but he will know that the Prime Minister is giving this his attention as a priority and is looking at what further things we can do to ensure that the public can rely on basic levels of service across these very important areas.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and announcing the Backbench Business Committee business for Thursday 15 December and Tuesday 20 December. Will the Leader of the House, via the usual channels, indicate whether the Backbench Business Committee will be allocated any time in the first week back after the recess, so that we can notify applicants in an appropriate amount of time for them to prepare?

Over the last few weeks I have received several items of correspondence from the Home Office—often containing responses to four, five or six different cases—which almost invariably are holding responses on cases that have often been registered with it many months ago. Can the Home Office give MPs’ inquiries timely, full and complete responses, rather than endless holding responses on cases that date back many months?

I will certainly give the hon. Gentleman the heads-up on Backbench Business Committee time; as he knows, I have been trying to give hon. Members time to prepare for potential debates, and I will carry on doing that.

The hon. Gentleman refers to Home Office responses and I know that is a concern for many Members. It offers a one-to-one service where Members can sit down with a case officer and work through their cases, but there is also the option to have individual letters; I have explained to the Home Office the admin burden on Members from not receiving individual letters. I have heard from some Members that they have had difficulty securing one of the surgeries offered by the Home Office, and I would be happy, through my office, to facilitate.

Will my right hon. Friend find time in this place for a debate on the consumer protections to householders when builders either go bust or simply disappear midway through a building project? I have a constituent who I would like to say has been left high and dry, but unfortunately he has been left low and cold and wet because a builder has simply not completed the work and has disappeared into thin air. A county court judgment cost him £2,200 to get but at no point was there any health warning that he may never see the money, so he feels he has paid into the court system as well as paying well over £20,000 to a builder, and he does not feel there is any consumer protection for him whatsoever.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this and the work she has done on the issue: she has been raising this matter on behalf of her constituent and I am sorry about the situation they are in. My right hon. Friend will know that the next Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities questions is on 9 January and I suggest she start by raising that issue there. As that is some time away, I will write to the Department on her and her constituent’s behalf and ask that the matter be addressed urgently.

Can we find time for a debate on what is happening at the Shelter charity? Many Members and constituents will be unaware that the Shelter management has imposed a pay cut on its workforce, which has produced industrial action. A debate may help put pressure on the trustees to recognise that they have significant reserves and could pay their staff an inflation-proofing wage increase. The staff are incredibly dedicated but ironically some of them are now struggling to secure a roof over their heads as a result of successive pay cuts in recent years.

That sounds like a topic for a Backbench Business Committee debate and the right hon. Gentleman will know how to apply for that. Charities are of course focused on putting as much money as they can into the services they provide, but what has happened at Shelter is very concerning, particularly at this time of year when we need all its staff to be doing what they want to do, which is help those who are most vulnerable.

Although the charity lottery sales limit for society lotteries was increased in March 2020, further reform is required to end the farcical situation whereby organisations such as the People’s Postcode Lottery are forced to cut ticket prices to comply with the current restrictions, which greatly reduces the amount of funds available to be donated to good causes in our constituencies. I am sure that all hon. Members know of some good causes that have benefited from such lotteries. Will my right hon. Friend bring forward a debate in Government time to discuss wider reforms of sales limits so that society lotteries can remain attractive to players while maximising the benefit to good causes in our constituencies?

My hon. Friend raises an important matter that would be the basis of a good debate, and she will know how to apply for one. Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions are on 26 January. As that is a little way off, I shall write to the Department on her behalf and raise those questions.

I recently met the Bath Philharmonia, an orchestra who work closely with young carers and who have been campaigning for a long time about the barriers preventing young people from engaging with music. Music is such a powerful tool that can be so healing for everybody, and particularly for young carers. Will the Government mention young carers in their plan for music education, and can we have a statement about that? So far, young carers are completely left out of that plan.

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that. It sounds like a wonderful organisation and, having been a young carer myself, I know how healing it is, as she says, to be able to take part in the arts. I would certainly want that experience to be available to everyone in that situation. I will write to the Department on her behalf and ask it to contact her office to ensure that it has a comprehensive view.

A reception is taking place in the House today for Team UK, who are back from the WorldSkills competition, where they obtained a top 10 place in the medals table. The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) is doing the House a service by hosting the reception. Could we have a debate to consider the importance of skills programmes and use that as an opportunity to highlight the range of skills programmes available as well as to explore where gaps may lie for the industries of the future?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that and thank all hon. Members who have facilitated and will be attending the reception later today. He is absolutely right that it is incredibly important that we focus on skills. We are also encouraging young people and giving them confidence, and the event will certainly do that.

Earlier this week, I met representatives of Greater Manchester Fire Brigades Union here in the Palace of Westminster. They are currently balloting for industrial action after an inadequate pay offer of 5% was put forward, which is well below inflation and underfunded, coming out of existing fire and rescue budgets. No firefighter wants to takes that course of action, but after 11,000 job losses, including 631 full-time firefighter roles in Greater Manchester since 2010, and a pay offer that will impact local services, what are they meant to do? As such, will the Leader of the House allocate Government time for a debate on increasing firefighter pay and properly investing in fire and rescue services across the country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising those points. It is deeply regrettable that any sector feels the need to go on strike, even though there will be minimum services and, of course, it is rightly the policy of the union that if there is a major incident, people will come in and attend that. I suggest that he raises that at the next Home Office questions on 19 December.

We have many things to be proud of in Scunthorpe, and we are very proud of Scunthorpe litter pickers and others like them who give up their free time to go out and collect litter to keep our area clean. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking them for the work that they do in the community? Will she support a debate in Government time on how to get rid of the scourge of littering, so that they no longer need to do that for us?

I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to thank Scunthorpe litter pickers. It sounds like they do an amazing job. Her question is timely, as Monday was International Volunteer Day. I think the last debate we held on this issue was round about May, so it is perhaps time for one and she knows how to apply.

Last week, the Leader of the House used the trope about how powerful the Scottish Parliament is, but the reality is that it is not even the most powerful devolved Parliament in the United Kingdom. Energy except for nuclear, pensions and even the Union are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. If those powers can be devolved to Northern Ireland, why not Scotland?

The SNP has done its best not to take up the powers given to it. I remember, at the Department for Work and Pensions, my frustration when it had powers to act on welfare. It would rather criticise the Westminster Government than take the responsibility and power offered to it, and actually do its own thing. I wonder why that is. It is because the SNP wants power, but it does not want to be held responsible or accountable for delivering services. I am afraid the people of Scotland are finding it out on that.

Very sadly, the number of rough sleepers has increased once again and people are being forced to sleep rough on our streets. The cold weather is once again upon us and organisations across the country, including Shelter, Crisis and others, will be opening shelters to accommodate people during the cold weather. During the pandemic, dormitory-style accommodation was quite rightly outlawed, but that meant separate rooms had to be provided for people who were rough sleeping. At the moment, I understand that no guidance is being given by the Department on what should happen now. May we therefore have a statement from the relevant Secretary of State on what advice is being given to the charities and organisations that give wonderful support to people who are forced to sleep rough?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. In the last few years, in part because of what happened during the pandemic, we have been able to halve rough sleeper numbers. There is, I understand, advice on relating to shelters and other facilities. I think there is advice on Shelter’s website, too. However, I shall write to the relevant Department and make sure that advice is up to date and that all such organisations are aware of it.

Further to the announcement of the debate on Monday on the code of conduct, there have been 50 MPs in the Chamber since the Business statement started. If all 50 of us were taken away for a plush weekend in a hotel, taken to the Brit Awards together, or invited by the Qatari Government to a football match later this week, 47 of us would have to register that in the House and declare it publicly within 28 days, along with all the details. According to the motion from the Leader of the House for Monday, however, three of us would not have to do that—the three who have been sitting on the Treasury Front Bench. The 1922 Committee, the Committee on Standards, the Institute for Government and all the transparency bodies in the country have called for us to end that exemption so that all MPs are treated identically. Would that not make far more sense?

The hon. Gentleman is being slightly unfair. In addition to the motion we are bringing forward on House business, he will know, because I have spoken to him on several occasions, that the Government are also planning to do something on ministerial interests. [Interruption.] We can talk about it now, but we have a debate on Monday so I might leave it till then. What is important is the principle he sets out: that there should be parity on such matters. What I do not think is reasonable is that should he become a Minister—I sincerely hope that is never the case—his parliamentary resources would have to be used to do things that are Whitehall’s responsibility. I am bringing forward a practical solution. On the principle, there should be parity both in terms of transparency and on timetable.

Local plans are the foundation of our planning system. In Barton-upon-Humber in my constituency, a major housing development is proposed, but North Lincolnshire Council has rejected it because it is not in the local plan. Despite that, the applicant is appealing. Bearing in mind the importance of local plans to our system, it is surely quite wrong that the applicant should be able to appeal when the local plan specifically states that this land is not for residential development. Can we have a debate on the importance of local plans and of local decision making in planning?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. If he is very clever, he may be able to shoehorn that into the statement that follows business questions. Failing that, he can raise it on 9 January at the next Levelling Up, Housing and Communities questions.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the cold winter is with us—I think she must be, because this is the first day of winter when people have had to scrape their car to drive anywhere? Can we have a debate on what I call the “nosy neighbour scheme”, which I would like all Members to adopt? I am frightened that little children will go to bed this winter with no food in their tummy and no heat in their home. Our nosy neighbour scheme in Huddersfield encourages people to spot whether a child is in trouble, whether an elderly person is neglected or whether a family is struggling. We would, of course, like more resources for local authorities to back such schemes, but will the Leader of the House endorse that nosy neighbour scheme of the very best kind?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that, and the scheme that he mentions sounds very good. Organisations such as the British Red Cross run similar schemes, which might involve young children who are walking to school checking in on older neighbours, and that is incredibly important. One benefit that came out of the awful pandemic was that neighbours started to take a greater interest in how people were in their local street. We should hold on to that, so I thank him for raising awareness of that scheme.

The latest round of rail strikes announced by the RMT will ruin Christmas for many people in Southend West. From our marvellous pantomime “Snow White” at the Cliffs Pavilion to our Age Concern Christmas party, even to our Music Man Project Christmas party, all will suffer as a result of the strikes. Please can we have a debate in Government time on minimum rail service requirements, and will my right hon. Friend condemn the Grinches at the RMT and help my constituents to get their Christmas back on track?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. As she will know, we have introduced the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, and the Prime Minister is looking at what more he can do on that front. It is incredibly important not only to the Music Man Project, but to the pantomime season in Southend, that we enable people to get there and spend money in local shops.

Can we have a debate on the future of the House of Lords, given that the former Prime Minister and the Lord Speaker have made significant interventions this week? Perhaps it would be an idea if those of us who were actually elected to Parliament got a chance to have our say.

That would be an excellent topic for a debate, and the Backbench Business Committee would probably be a good route to that. The hon. Gentleman can raise matters relating to the House of Lords and other subjects at Cabinet Office questions. Given that that is some time off, I will write to the constitution team and make sure that it has heard his request.

A group of Stroud GPs has recently raised with me the issues of medicine waste and sustainability in primary care. I am learning not only that we need big changes, but that small things will save taxpayers’ money and protect the environment. Do hon. Members know that if patients find an error when they check their prescriptions in the surgery building, the medicine can be saved, but that if they step foot outside and find an error when they check, the medicine has to be destroyed? It is completely bonkers to have that waste. I am hoping for a Gloucestershire-led NHS public awareness campaign, but will my right hon. Friend support a debate in Government time to raise awareness about that key issue?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the matter. It would certainly make a good topic for a Westminster Hall debate, and she knows how to apply for one. If people knew about these simple things, they would certainly do them, so the message today is, “Check your meds before leaving the pharmacy, to save the NHS money.”

I went along yesterday to Guide Dogs Open Doors event in this House, where I was quite shocked to find out that 73% of guide dog users have experienced an access refusal in the past 12 months. They told me that using guide dogs in taxis has been less of a problem since it was brought under the criminal law, but there is still a great problem with other businesses, including in retail. Could we have a debate about making access refusals to people with guide dogs subject to the criminal law for all businesses as it is for taxis?

I am sure that it was an excellent event. I was slightly nervous when I saw in the schedule that it was next door to a Cats Protection event—I thought that it could go terribly wrong very quickly. I will certainly raise the matter with the relevant Department. From transport to restaurants and other businesses or places of work, it is vital that everyone has access, including people with support animals.

The Office for National Statistics estimates that the net migration figure has reached more than 500,000 in the past year. The figure includes our resettlement of Afghans, the arrival of Hong Kong nationals and the temporary resettlement of Ukrainians, all of which demonstrate our hospitality as a country, but we must look at the broader picture. Since 1997, net migration has increased by a staggering amount and has had a significant impact on our public services and housing demand. Will the Leader of the House find time for a full debate in Government time on immigration, on its impact on society more generally and on how we can succeed in delivering the Government’s stated aim of reducing it to 100,000 per year?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising a matter of huge concern to many Members across the House. I shall certainly ask the Home Office whether it is planning such a debate. May I also flag up Home Office questions on 19 December, at which my hon. Friend may wish to raise the matter directly with the Home Secretary?

The Supreme Court’s recent findings on a matter of domestic law have been criticised by academics and others for straying into international legislation on the matter of self-determination. Last week, I tabled early-day motion 633 on the St Andrew’s day declaration, which was published on St Andrew’s day and which asserts the right of the sovereign people of Scotland to freely determine their political, cultural, economic and social status according to international resolutions and law.

[That this House welcomes and endorses the St Andrews Day Declaration of 30 November 2022 which states that we the people, elected members and civic organisations of Scotland assert that our nation has the right of self-determination to freely determine our political status and to freely pursue our economic, social and cultural development, mindful of the Scottish constitutional tradition of the sovereignty of the people, we will democratically challenge any authority or government which seeks to deny us that right.]

In Westminster Hall, I pressed for clarity on specific points, but I did not get an answer. Continued support for independence is increasing; among young people, it is up to 72%. The Government’s policy of continuing to refuse and deny democracy is not working. Is it not time that they brought forward a debate to get into the substantive political issues, which the Supreme Court recognised were separate from its legal ruling on the current devolution settlement, so that we can begin to progress this very important matter for the Scottish people?

Look, my understanding is that the Scottish National party’s policy is that it accepts the Supreme Court ruling.

It says that it respects democracy. It should stop unpicking the Supreme Court ruling while claiming that it supports it. It should also think long and hard about whether democrats should adhere to the result of a referendum.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman’s other point, if there were no route to having a referendum, we would not have had one.

Order. I note that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey) is trying to raise a point of order to the effect that he is not a Scottish National party Member. I think that is recognised, but it is not a point of order and I am not sure that it is relevant. He asked a question, he got an answer—the rest is irrelevant.

My constituent Stephen Harvey, a veteran, was due to spend his 100th birthday trapped on an acute cardiac ward, despite having been fit for discharge three months earlier. He has been failed by the Welsh Labour Government’s health and social care system, but thankfully, because of funding facilitated by my office, Wrexham Maelor Hospital is now Veteran Aware-accredited and has a dedicated healthcare co-ordinator in place. A birthday bash was thrown and we are now helping to facilitate a discharge, with his family looking to England for a suitable care placement. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Wrexham Maelor Hospital’s veterans team on their great work?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and her hospital on raising awareness of the issues that veterans face and on getting this gallant gentleman the care plan that he needs. We are facing a very difficult situation with regard to how Welsh Labour is running the health service, but everything we can do to ensure that patients are getting the care they need, including out in the community, is very welcome, so I thank my hon. Friend.

On Monday, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who I see is in his place, made a significant announcement about the future of short-term holiday lets. He is bringing in a registration scheme that will appease the industry and landlords, but it will not help our residents. Could we have an urgent statement on the matter so that we can scrutinise the proposals and ensure that the voice of residents is also heard in the debate?

The Secretary of State’s presence on the Front Bench has saved me a stamp, as he will have heard the hon. Lady’s request.

We have two outstanding Outwood academies in Worksop, and they are oversubscribed as a result. They are a testament to this Government’s policies, but we also have an outstanding independent school, Worksop College, which does excellent partnership work with many local schools. Many parents are concerned about Labour’s policy to add 20% VAT on fees, effectively mounting an attack on aspiration. Pupils leaving the independent sector will need places in state education, depriving more children of the opportunity to go to a local school. The Independent Schools Council’s report suggests that the policy, which Labour claims would raise £1.7 billion, would actually lose £400 million. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the benefits of independent schools to wider society?

The fact that the issue is being debated and that its profile has been raised as a result of Labour party policy is an opportunity for the independent sector. Some schools do a huge amount for other schools and for their community—this is their opportunity to talk about it.

At the last Justice questions, the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), admitted that

“convictions based on joint enterprise appear from some studies…disproportionately”—[Official Report, 22 November 2022; Vol. 723, c. 135]

to affect certain communities and minority groups. That admission was subsequently picked up and reported on by The New York Times. Does the Leader of the House share concerns about how the offence of joint enterprise in UK law is being applied? Can we have a debate on whether it could potentially be considered a miscarriage of justice in future appeals?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. He knows that the next Justice questions are on 10 January. I encourage him to raise the matter directly with the Lord Chancellor then.

Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the Justice Committee’s recent report, “IPP sentences”? Some 3,000 people are potentially trapped in prison indefinitely, even though their index offence did not warrant a live term and even though indeterminate sentences for public protection were abolished in 2012. Resentencing is the appropriate course, because we face the real potential risk that somebody with a two-year term could spend the rest of their life in prison.

That is an important point, and I thank my hon. Friend, who is a member of the Justice Committee, for raising it. The Government are considering the recommendations in the Committee’s recent report and will respond shortly. I expect Justice questions on 10 January to be extremely well attended.

Abdullah Ibhais was jailed in Qatar for whistleblowing and taking part in an ITV documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers. Shockingly, he was tortured on the eve of the World cup kick-off, and FIFA, disgracefully, has turned its back on his plight. Meanwhile, there is news of yet another migrant worker dying in the last 24 hours. Abdullah’s family are calling for the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention to intervene in his case. May we have a debate so that Members in all parts of the House can raise their concerns about his situation, and also condemn FIFA, not just for not raising his case but for not contributing to a fund to compensate the families of people who have died working on projects relating to the World cup, and those who have been injured?

The next Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions will be on 13 December, and I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to take up that case then. However, I will also write to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on his behalf, as I am sure that many Members will want an opportunity to talk about the tournament, FIFA and its future.

During Home Office questions on 14 November, I raised a case that my office and I have been dealing with for over a year. The Immigration Minister committed himself to looking into it, but despite my team following this up more than once, we have heard nothing since his office’s initial contact. Will the Leader of the House please remind her colleague about this case, so that my constituent can be reassured that it is being looked into as a matter of urgency?

I am sorry to hear that that has been the hon. Lady’s experience. If she passes the details to me, I shall make sure that someone from the Home Office is in touch with her office this afternoon.

Postal workers in my constituency and across the country do an essential job at the heart of our communities—they even worked through the pandemic to keep people connected—but they are threatened with worsening pay and conditions, and now their jobs are threatened by Royal Mail, which wants to cut 10,000 positions. May we have a debate on why and how the Government can allow Royal Mail to turn its back on hard-working staff during a cost of living crisis? The position is very unsatisfactory, and the Government really must do more to support postal workers in our country.

There will clearly be disruption as a result of the planned industrial action, and therefore, as Members will know, the last posting dates before Christmas have been brought forward. It is regrettable that this action is taking place, and I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise these matters at the next appropriate Question Time.

The cost of living crisis is hitting all our communities hard, none more than my own in Pontypridd. Meanwhile, the Government have wasted of billions of taxpayers’ money on unusable PPE, and are refusing to produce the documentation highlighting this corruption. I recognise that, as the Leader of the House has said, there are ongoing fraud cases relating to this matter, but may I press her further on when, how and in what format the documents will be published, given that the Humble Address proposed by the Labour party was passed earlier this week?

I refer the hon. Lady to what I said at the beginning of my response to the shadow Leader of the House. Obviously some companies are currently being investigated, but we have to see this in context: the vast majority of businesses—whether they were providing PPE on commercial terms, donating, or providing services or PPE at cost—did an incredible job in very difficult circumstances. If we are ever in this position again, we will want businesses to have the necessary confidence, and the message we should be sending from the House is that we want them to step up and help in the national effort.

As for the specifics, I will certainly make the Secretary of State aware that the House wants a clearer timeline, but the short answer is that those documents will be released as soon as is legally possible, which was our stance during the debate on this topic earlier in the week.

As the right hon. Lady will know, I have a great deal of respect for her. When she held the post of Paymaster General, she commissioned a review by Sir Robert Francis KC on a compensation framework for those infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal. That report was given to the Government in March. The House was told repeatedly that we would see a Government response and an oral statement would be made, but neither has been forthcoming despite months of waiting. Can the Leader of the House use her good offices to ensure that we are given that statement next week, before we rise for the Christmas recess?

I thank the right hon. Lady; the feeling is entirely mutual. I also thank her for her tremendous work with the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood to ensure that justice is done for those infected and those affected by this terrible situation. As she knows, the compensation study was designed to ensure that the Government were on the front foot when the wider inquiry was concluded, and also, as has been suggested, to ensure that interim payments could be made to those in particular hardship. I will certainly write to the Cabinet Office today to ensure that the hon. Lady’s request has been heard, and I will keep her up to date with what is happening.

Support for Scottish independence is now at 56%. In almost all age groups a majority would vote “yes”, and a majority supports independence in every region of Scotland. Like everyone else in the House, I am well aware of the Leader of the House’s views on Scottish independence, so she need not reiterate them now, but will she make a statement to the House setting out what she thinks are the reasons for that continued and rising support?

The hon. Lady’s claim is not borne out when we look at who people vote for across Scotland. The Scottish National party is now a single-issue party. It is not gripping the issues affecting people in Scotland, and there is growing disquiet about that. This week we heard from the Auditor General on the subject of financial mismanagement; there are hundreds of millions of pounds relating to the ferry contracts that he cannot even account for. As we come out of the pandemic and we want our public services to be able to recover, and that should be the focus of the Scottish nationalist Government.

The Leader of the House may know that yesterday, during discussions about biodiversity in Canada, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said that humanity was is in danger of becoming a “weapon of mass extinction”. In my constituency there is proposal for a major incursion into the green belt that would threaten 27 separate native species, including some ancient woodland. Will she find time to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to green belt land and biodiversity, and may we have a debate on this essential subject, which should provide the background for any planning decisions for the future?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard the Prime Minister express his commitment to the green belt during Prime Minister’s questions this week, and the 2030 target to halt species decline is one of the planks of the Government’s environmental strategy. I am sure that a debate on that strategy and its success to date would be popular, and the hon. Gentleman will know how to apply for one.

We have heard today that the final stages of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will be discussed on Tuesday, but Scotland wants to level out. We do not want any more Tory levelling up; we want to make our own future. As the dust settles on the Supreme Court decision that has triggered a shocking rise in support for independence to 56%, can we have a debate in Government time on the central elements of Scottish independence, not least of which would be the Leader of the House’s views on why Scotland has elected an SNP Government at four elections in a row and why the vast majority of Scottish MPs—two thirds—at three elections in a row have been either SNP Members or independence-supporting? Can we have a debate on this so we can find out what she thinks about the mindset of the Scottish people? Are they confused in their pursuit of independence? Should they just know better and listen to her?

I do not think the Scottish people are confused; I think the Scottish National party is confused. If it is not keen on levelling up, why is it applying for levelling-up funding from the UK Government?

Yesterday, the Taliban introduced public executions at a grotesque, evil ceremony in a sports stadium in Afghanistan. This came only a few weeks after the introduction of a harsh interpretation of sharia law that is increasing pressure on women, on religious minorities and on human rights defenders. Does the Leader of the House agree that more needs to be done to protect these vulnerable groups in Afghanistan? She is always very helpful, so may I ask for a ministerial statement on this increasingly worrying trend, which illustrates that Afghanistan is guilty of some of the world’s worst human rights abuses and persecutions of ethnic and religious minorities?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this extremely sad situation. I am sure many Members will have seen the escalation in public punishment beatings and executions, with particularly horrific examples levelled against women. The House has deep ties with Afghanistan and this will be of immense concern to many Members. I will write to the Foreign Secretary to make sure he hears what the hon. Gentleman has said today. He can also raise it directly with the Foreign Secretary on 13 December.