Before I do so, may I put on record my thanks to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Leader of the House of Lords for facilitating the visit of President Zelensky yesterday, and my thanks to all Members for giving him such a warm welcome? May I also join the many people who have expressed sorrow at the terrible events unfolding in Turkey and Syria, and urge everyone to donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal today?
The business for the week beginning 20 February will include:
Monday 20 February—A general debate on Ukraine.
Tuesday 21 February—Second Reading of the Social Security (Additional Payments) (No.2) Bill.
Wednesday 22 February—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill.
Thursday 23 February—A general debate on the future of the NHS, its funding and staffing. The subject of this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 24 February—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week beginning on 27 February includes:
Monday 27 February—Second Reading of the Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business.
This week the news has been dominated by tragic scenes from the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. It is impossible to put into words the scale of human suffering, with people left out in the cold without food, shelter or medical supplies, and digging through the rubble with their bare hands to search for survivors. Earlier this week the Foreign Secretary seemed to be unable to answer questions about the reported cuts of between £6 million and £8 million in aid to Syria. Can the Leader of the House tell us now whether the Government plan to press ahead with them, and will she encourage the Foreign Secretary to return to the House and announce a longer-term plan for tackling this crisis?
I welcome the Leader of the House’s announcement of the debate scheduled for Monday week marking almost a year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As she has said, it was an honour to be in Westminster Hall yesterday for President Zelensky’s historic address to both Houses of Parliament, and I, too, want to put on record my thanks to all the staff who were involved. President Zelensky said that our two nations were together on a mission to defeat evil and secure peace. That reminds us all that we have a duty to stand by Ukraine, and we must. Perhaps a debate on the seizure of frozen sanctioned assets would therefore be timely. Labour supports plans to repurpose frozen Russian assets and use them to rebuild Ukraine after the war, and to provide much-needed humanitarian aid to the country. The EU has already set out a plan to do so, and Canada has passed laws for this purpose. Why, then, are the Government lagging behind? May we have a debate on the steps that are still needed to ensure that Britain can never be a soft touch for corrupt oligarchs and warlords wishing to hide their ill-gotten wealth?
The Government’s announcement of a holocaust memorial Bill is welcome. It will allow the building of a new memorial and learning centre, which will go such a long way in educating future generations about the holocaust. I offer the Government Labour’s co-operation in getting the Bill through as quickly as possible, because there must be no delay.
Last week I raised the Public Advocate (No. 2) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle). It would be the first part of a Hillsborough law and would introduce an independent advocate to represent bereaved families and survivors of public disasters. The Leader of the House said then that the issue was “a huge concern” to many in this House and to many outside it, and she was right. Why, then, 24 hours later, did her own Tory MPs block it for the 12th time? My hon. Friend will not give up. She and the Hillsborough families will have Labour’s full support when she brings the Bill back in March; will they have the Government’s?
Finally, the Leader of the House should not be surprised to hear me raise the long-delayed football governance White Paper again. The Government committed to an independent regulator of English football in the last Queen’s Speech. We have had promises from numerous Culture Secretaries that it would be published—ahem—“soon”. Wednesday’s reshuffle seems to have delayed it yet again. This simply is not good enough. Labour has supported the introduction of an independent regulator for years. Clubs, players, staff and fans are fed up waiting for the Government to get on, do their job and actually govern. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the White Paper will be published?
Is it not the case that the Tories’ tactics are not working? They lack skill, they are tired and they simply cannot keep up with the reds any more. They have tried changing the squad around but the never-ending transfer window just is not helping. There is certainly no suitable Tory substitute for the captain, as we have seen all season: changing the Tory at the top does not work. This week, they have even tried changing the formation, but it will make no difference: they have no game plan for Britain.
But there is still everything to play for. The Tories might be relegating themselves into opposition, but they will not relegate Britain. The next Labour Government —a team with a brilliant captain—will restore Britain’s hope and optimism and help people through and beyond the cost of living crisis, repair our public services and support communities that have suffered from the sticking-plaster politics that has defined the past 13 years of Tory government. I say to the people of West Lancashire today, and the rest of the country whenever a general election may come: Labour’s coming home.
I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks about Turkey, Syria and Ukraine. She will know that we have contingencies in our aid budget. On our ODA score, it is not scored by us—it is an international definition. Although we have given some immediate support, that will be under review and we will of course look to see what more we can do. The Prime Minister has made direct contact with those involved in organising that.
On Ukraine, I have announced a general debate on Ukraine, at which I am sure that many issues, including those raised by the hon. Lady, can be raised. I welcome her remarks about the holocaust memorial and am glad to have her support for that. I will ask the relevant Department again about Hillsborough, which I know is extremely important to many, and I am also glad to have her support for the football governance review—
It is coming soon. Members, who I know care about it greatly, will not have long to wait.
I am very sorry that the hon. Lady does not welcome the machinery of government changes. She draws a comparison between both parties with regard to modernisation and being what this country needs. I believe that those changes were right—any organisation that wants to be its best has to modernise—and I thought they might be something that Labour Members would be trying to understand, given that their team captain, the Leader of the Opposition, has been channelling the modernising zeal of Neil Kinnock. The thing is, he is no Neil Kinnock, because Neil Kinnock knew what the problem was: a few well-paid union leaders and their destructive ideology—outdated, rigid political dogma that is irrelevant to today’s hard-working people.
Labour has been peddling the line to those hard-working people that what they care about and everything that is precious to them will be helped by going out on strike. The hon. Lady talks about the cost of living. What possible merits could come from trying to suggest that, by making ends meet, we drive those ends further and further apart? It is political cynicism of the worst order to encourage strikes, even if people do so by wringing their hands and avoiding being photographed on the picket line.
Those striking workers will lose pay from their pay packets. Even if their demands are met with an inflationary pay rise, they lose: inflation becomes embedded; every single taxpayer—every single household—pays an extra £1,000 in tax; learning for their children is lost; hospital appointments for their loved ones are lost; and investment into the UK is discouraged, affecting the very economy on which our NHS depends.
On every possible outcome, strike action hurts people and it hurts public services. The only beneficiary is the red team, the Labour party, but that is the point, is it not? Labour wants power at any price and it is happy that union members are collateral damage in that. It is the same old Labour that took the miners out on strike at the start of the warmest summer on record. It is the same old Labour that asks people to face huge hardships for no gain, and asks them to pay for that privilege through political donations via their union subs. Kinnock knew that this ends with the grotesque chaos of a Labour union handing out hardship payments to its own members with their own money. Britain’s workforce deserve better. I say to the hon. Lady: do not lecture us about modernisation and being fit for purpose to lead this country. Her party’s vision for the future looks very much like its past.
Local football clubs such as Southend United are the beating heart of their communities, but many local lower-league clubs are struggling with the after-effects of covid and the cost of living crisis, leading to consequent tax liabilities. Like me, Southend United fans are deeply concerned about the club’s financial viability. Please, can we have a debate in Government time on the future of community football?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of community football. I know that she is an avid supporter of Southend United, and that she has been working closely with the Shrimpers Trust to ensure that the voices of the fans are heard going into those negotiations with His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. I shall happily support her with the experience that I have from Portsmouth. We had such a debate earlier this year, and as I announced earlier, the fan-led review on football governance and what will follow will not be far away.
My thanks go to Mr Speaker, the Deputy Speakers and staff of the Houses for the wonderful visit of President Zelensky yesterday. He is right: freedom will win.
I, too, extend deepest sympathies to all those affected by the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria and the humanitarian emergency. I have been contacted by constituents with loved ones in those countries who have asked me to encourage the Government to consider any possible means of help, including offering even temporary refuge here.
We have heard a wee update on last week: HS2 is now rumoured to be facing even further delays of up to four more years, which means that it will be 12 years later than originally planned and the overall costs have gone stratospheric from its original £33 billion estimate up to £100 billion. Meanwhile, the Government are apparently replying to press inquiries with a snotty, “We do not comment on speculation”. Many in Scotland are furious to hear of this staggering overrun on a rail scheme that will offer us virtually no benefits. Surely the alarm bells are at ear-splitting levels, even for this Government. What can the Leader of the House do to encourage her colleagues in the Department for Transport to open up with a statement so that we can satisfy ourselves that it is only speculation and not cause for serious alarm? Can they come to the House before the Chancellor’s announced plans for HS3, 4 and 5 get anywhere near the drawing board?
Let me turn now to yet another Government project that is really not going very well: Brexit Britain. Polls show a huge rise in the number of folks realising that the brilliant Brexit bulldog they were sold is, in fact, just a poor, sick pup on life support. The evidence is stacking up wherever we look. I see that a reformed Remainer has just been persuaded to take on what must be one of the least desirable jobs in politics—chairing the Conservative party. Well done to the Leader of the House for giving that one a body-swerve, particularly now that we hear of the deputy chair’s views on capital punishment.
I wonder, though, whether in the wee small hours of the morning any of them ever think back on Brexit with a tiny tinge of regret, particularly when we hear that biometrics will likely render those precious blue passports redundant and the giant poll today—in The Daily Telegraph, no less—suggests a next general election will see their party in third place? Can we have a debate, definitely in Government time, on Brexit buyer’s remorse, where we might all finally take a good, clear, honest look at the many problems it has caused and the Government can tell us what they are doing to sort them out before everything swirls down the Brexit plughole? Thankfully, Scotland has a clear escape route available to us before then.
I thank the hon. Lady for what she says about Syria, Turkey and Ukraine. I am sorry she did not welcome the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) to the deputy chairmanship of the Conservative party. I am sure that many in her party like to refer to him as “30p Lee”, but I can tell her that his constituents and many people across the whole of the United Kingdom refer to him as “He stands up for me Lee”. I think it is a tremendous credit that he sits in this House with his background and experience and I wish him all the luck in his new position.
I congratulate Scotland on its Six Nations victory over England and thank both teams for a blistering game of rugby, which I very much enjoyed despite sitting next to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), who is not a gracious winner. It was a pity, though, to learn this week that we may never see The Famous Grouse on their jerseys again or even the Guinness Six Nations tournament; indeed, the multi-million pound Johnnie Walker development in Edinburgh may be seeking a new name. I hope the Scottish Government will consult those iconic brands and distilleries and related industries, which are so important to the Scottish economy, and find a sensible way forward.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) made a double complaint, surpassing her usual complaints, about a scheme she does not want but very much wants to see happen and stories of an overspend on it. I am not going to deviate from what the Department has told her, but I would gently point out to her again that a little self-awareness goes a long way, because today we have learned also that the modest ambition of the Scottish people to have a few miles of the A9 dualled is unlikely to transpire, despite their having waited 11 years. I understand that the Minister responsible has blamed Vladimir Putin for the delay.
The hon. Lady talks about delayed projects and overspend, but this week we had to have the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions write to the Scottish Government, urging them to take up the powers on welfare that have been available to them since 2016. At the time, they said they could create an independent state by spending just £200 million, yet the assessments of their taking over the benefit system now sit at £685 million. Also this week—perhaps because the Scottish Government have difficulty managing projects and budgets—we have learned of the need for the Scottish National party to receive loans that breached electoral rules.
We have seen more unexplained loans, the 19 complaints from SNP supporters currently being investigated by the police, allegations of fraud for around 600,000 missing donations, the former treasurer who quit due to the murk of the SNP’s finances, along with three others on the Finance Committee, and, more recently, an SNP-led council that has called for another police investigation into those ferries. The SNP wants to raise tax, but not to spend it on public services; it wants to represent the people of Scotland, but does not listen to them, their views or their priorities; it wants to take authority, but with no responsibility. Scotland deserves better.
The Department for Education announced in November 2020 that the new secondary school for the Hanwood Park development in Kettering would be a new free school, but for boys only. Understandably, there is much local support for the secondary school to be open to boys and girls. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Orbis Education Trust and North Northamptonshire Council on launching a fresh public consultation—under the guidance of the Department for Education—on the make-up of the new school, and in encouraging residents to submit their views by the consultation deadline of 5 March?
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business and Backbench Business debates in her statement.
In early March, we anticipate a day of debates on remaining departmental estimates. We will welcome applications from Back Benchers for those debates immediately after the February recess, so Members may want to have a think about that. We are still very much open for applications for debates both here in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall.
Could we have a statement on what the Government might do to support Syrian refugee communities and Turkish communities, among whom there are significant levels of shock and distress following this week’s dreadful events in their homelands?
Lastly, although I very much welcome the suggestion from the Leader of the House that a White Paper on football governance will soon be announced, I think it needs to be more urgent than that because, in football, a spectre is haunting Europe. Yet again this morning, we have seen reports of the European super league being talked about in vigorous terms. It was in response to the previous iteration of the European super league that the whole question of remodelling football governance came about. I agree with earlier comments about the state of our lower-level game. I think it is more urgent than a White Paper; we need to get on with it.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a moment ago. I know that this is an important matter. I very much understand the concern that many Members have, given my constituency and the experiences of Pompey. The White Paper will shortly come before hon. Members, and clearly, we will look to see if we need to legislate after it is published.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we have a great track record as a nation of supplying help and support, and we have some really quite unique expertise to help in the situation faced by Turkey and Syria at the moment. The emergency response teams— search and rescue, medical teams and so on—have already been dispatched, as he knows. There will be an ongoing assessment of need and asks. That is all being co-ordinated by certain non-governmental organisations working with those states. We will listen to those needs and see what more we can do, but as the Prime Minister has indicated, we will assist.
Yesterday’s visit by President Zelensky was magnificent. For me, it showed the very best of politics, as politicians from all sides, and from the House of Lords, came together to sit and stand in Westminster Hall listening to that great man. Of course, we wish him and the brave people of Ukraine every success as they face the challenges ahead.
Yesterday was also a reminder for me of the fantastic work that is done here to keep us safe: the security effort by the police and the Doorkeepers, and the work of our clerical staff, catering staff, and everybody involved in keeping this place running. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking everyone for making yesterday happen and, more broadly, for keeping us all safe in Westminster?
I thank my hon. Friend for placing his thanks on record. A huge amount goes into organising such a visit, and this one was at comparatively short notice. I thank him for providing all of us in the Chamber with the opportunity to put on the record our thanks to all the staff of the House, not just for what they did yesterday, but for what they do for us all every day.
Over the past few nights, I have lost sleep after hearing about and seeing a horrific incident that took place in which a young black child was physically assaulted and abused by three young white children. I understand that a police investigation is taking place and that, because of parliamentary protocol, we cannot go into too much detail, but this incident has torn through the heart of so many communities, and they are in pain and outraged because of what is happening.
It is the responsibility of local government and central Government to make sure that this situation, which cuts across so many Departments, is being investigated fully. Will the Leader of the House speak to her Education colleagues to look into what safeguarding practices are and are not taking place in that school? Will they address the professional performance of the school’s teachers? Will she ensure that justice has been served by speaking to her Home Office colleagues to make sure that the victims and their families are being protected and are receiving all the support they need? Finally, will she agree to come back to the House, after speaking to her colleagues, and make sure that a statement is given to update the House on exactly what has happened and what is happening with this case?
I am very sorry to hear about this shocking case. The hon. Lady correctly says that it is being investigated. Those investigations are separate from Government, and rightly so. The next questions to the Department for Education—the matter affects other Departments as well, but that is the prime Department—will not be until the 27th of this month, so I will write on her behalf to raise her concerns with the Secretary of State.
Will the Leader of the House please set aside time in this House for a debate on the international socialist concept of so-called 15-minute cities and 20-minute neighbourhoods? Ultra low emission zones in their present form do untold economic damage to any city. The second step, after such zones, will take away personal freedoms as well. Sheffield is already on this journey, and I do not want Doncaster, which also has a Labour-run socialist council, to do the same. Low emission zones cost the taxpayer money—simple as. However, 15-minute cities will cost us our personal freedom, and that cannot be right.
Whatever the motivations for this new policy that some councils are adopting, the lives of the hard-working people of this country are complicated enough, especially at the moment when we are trying to boost the local economy and to enable tradesmen and sole traders to boost their income. It is right that people raise concerns about this kind of policy, and where such policies are brought forward, local communities ought to be properly consulted.
The prepayment meter scandal this winter was entirely avoidable. I have been contacted since the summer by Bath constituents with heartbreaking stories of confusion and hardship. According to Citizens Advice, 3.2 million people were left in the cold and dark after running out of credit. Can we have a statement from the relevant Minister about when the Government knew about the scale of the forced installation of prepayment meters, what they did about it, and why they are still opposed to an outright ban?
I know that this is an issue of concern to many Members across the House. Certainly we have seen, from the volume of warrants being issued at magistrates courts, that it has affected a large number of people. Anticipating that hon. Members would want to be able to provide good advice and support to their constituents who may have wrongly been put on a prepayment meter, I have already raised the issue with the relevant Department and asked it to put together a “Dear colleague” letter, so that where we find that vulnerable individuals have been forced on to prepayment meters, Members have the right information to ensure that the situation can be rectified swiftly. I shall make sure that the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero has heard the hon. Lady’s comments today.
I place on the record my concerns and condolences for all of the people affected by the terrible earthquake in Syria and Turkey.
Domestically, Royal Mail is reviewing customer service points to reduce markedly the number available. That will affect us all and constituents across the country, making it more inconvenient for people who are not at home when deliveries arrive to go to a customer service point and collect their parcels or post. Apparently, Royal Mail will not consult the public, just Ofcom, and will ask if it can reduce the service from six days a week to five. Can we have a debate in Government time on this vast reduction in service, which will be inconvenient for all our constituents?
I thank my hon. Friend for getting his concerns on the record. He is absolutely right that many people, especially the most vulnerable in our society, will be dependent on those services. I will make sure that the relevant Department has heard his concerns. Royal Mail often writes to Members when such concerns are expressed. I hope it will be in touch with my hon. Friend later today.
You will remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, that for many years I had the great pleasure of sitting next to Ann Clwyd, our former colleague in this House, who is now my constituent. She has written to me once again, you will not be surprised to know. Due to a difficulty with her leg, she recently had to purchase an electric bed in order to elevate it. Subsequently, she found out that it could have been be subject to a VAT exemption. However, the shop that she purchased it from, Dreams, does not grant that VAT exemption on its beds, classifying them as entertainment rather than medical devices. She went on to survey all the shops in Cardiff and found that half of them offer VAT exemptions and half do not. May we have a statement from the Treasury on how people in that position can take advantage of the VAT exemption when they have medical needs, so that they can rest easy in their beds?
Two weeks ago today, 14-year-old Josh was killed while walking along Laughton Road between Laughton Common and Thurcroft. I know that the whole House will join me in sending our prayers and condolences to his friends and family. Sadly, such accidents are becoming more common. This morning, there was another accident on the same stretch of road. That road, like many connecting the towns and villages of Rother Valley, has no footpath or street lights, and is subject to the national speed limit. There are entire villages without lighting or footpaths, such as Morthen, which vehicles may legally drive through at speeds of 60 mph. May we have a debate on giving local committees and parish councils the powers they need to force local councils to put in place appropriate traffic calming and speed restriction measures, so that Rother Valley can avoid any more road-related deaths?
I am very sorry to hear about this tragic case. I am sure that all Members will want to send their condolences and sympathies to Josh’s family and friends. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that many measures can be put in place. If local authorities do not act, it is very concerning to our constituents. The next Transport questions are on 2 March, but in the light of the circumstances, I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend’s comments.
The long-awaited energy bills support scheme alternative fund is expected to open for applications on 27 February, but there is no clarity about whether the 200,000 park home residents who pay for their energy through an intermediary—the park home manager—will be eligible. Will the Leader of the House make a statement to provide clarity about the eligibility of park home residents to support with their energy bills? I have asked umpteen written and oral questions, and I am still unclear whether they will be eligible.
Outdoor learning centres are an important part of my constituency, contributing jobs and visitors to the local economy. As importantly, they provide a unique and effective setting for young and old to learn not only about the outdoors but about themselves and to develop skills for life and work. These centres now find themselves squeezed by post-pandemic reviews, rising energy costs and tightening education budgets. What advice can my right hon. Friend give me about bringing the opportunities and challenges facing outdoor learning centres and the outdoor learning sector before the House and to the attention of Ministers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that, although skills are vital, all the other things that such facilities boost, such as attitude and confidence, are incredibly important to people. I would suggest two things. He has already done the first, which is to get his concerns on the record. I also know that he is the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on outdoor learning, and if his APPG were to do a report highlighting the concerns of the sector, that would be an excellent subject to have a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate about.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) and I have petitioned the High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill Select Committee in respect of the impact that the Bill will have on the Metrolink line to Ashton-under-Lyne, where it will be severed and mothballed for the years of construction of the High Speed 2 rail line. We have had our petition to the Committee challenged by HS2 Ltd and now have to go before the Committee in March to argue why we should have our petition heard. I refer the Leader of the House to Standing Order No. 91B, “Right of Members of Parliament to have petition considered”:
“Any Members of Parliament whose constituencies are directly affected by the works proposed by a Bill shall be permitted to have their petition against the Bill considered by the committee.”
Why do we therefore have to argue our case?
I am in danger of completely agreeing with the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. It would be very unusual if Members were prevented or discouraged from doing that, and I would be interested to see what HS2 Ltd’s grounds are for trying to block the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues from doing it. I will check the Standing Orders and ask my team to come back to his office with some advice.
This week is National Apprenticeship Week. Across Keighley and Ilkley we have some fantastic businesses that go above and beyond to make sure apprentices get the best educational journey within their business. I have been lucky enough to visit a few—Spooner, A1 Roper, Fibreline, Teconnex, West Yorkshire Spinners and, of course, the mighty Byworth Boilers—but there are many more. We all know that investing in skills and development and helping young people discover their career path is so important, and the business sector plays a key role in that. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the business sector for the role it plays, and will she permit Government time for a debate on apprenticeships, which are so important in driving the skills agenda that this Government are so dedicated to?
I thank my hon. Friend for his timely question and congratulate all those organisations in his constituency that are delivering on this agenda. He will know that the Government are increasing investment in apprenticeships to £2.7 billion. Since 2010, there have been more than 5.3 million apprenticeship starts, 3 million of which were among under-25s. We have also seen year- on-year growth of degree-level apprenticeships, with over 170,000 starts since their introduction.
I share the Government’s concern about vulnerable women in the Scottish prison estate who are required to be incarcerated alongside men who self-identify as female, and who often have convictions for rape and other sexual offences. I disagree with their use of a section 35 order, but I would like a Government statement or a debate on the situation south of the border, which predates and dwarfs the situation in Scotland. According to the latest statistics from the UK Ministry of Justice, 230 such transgender people are in prison in England and Wales, 97 of whom have a conviction for a sexual offence, 44 of them for rape, and they are incarcerated in the women’s estate. Can we therefore move from a constitutional question to the fundamental question of how we protect vulnerable women prisoners from abuse by predatory males?
I am very glad to hear the hon. Gentleman’s position. If memory serves me correctly, the UK Government strengthened their position on this matter about four years ago, but I will ask the Lord Chancellor to look at the issues he raises.
On the use of section 35, there are many issues, including social issues, on which we should have regard to the whole United Kingdom when we legislate. The social fabric of the United Kingdom, and what it is to be a citizen of this country, is incredibly important. I wish the SNP had listened and thought about the consequences of its legislation, as it was warned before the legislation was passed.
Residents of the hamlet of Askett are dumbfounded by a perverse Planning Inspectorate decision to permit illegally developed plots on a field between Askett and Meadle, contrary to two previous Planning Inspectorate decisions, leaving the door open for a dangerous precedent to be set on open countryside that everyone believed to be a protected buffer zone next to the town of Princes Risborough. A petition put together in the past few days already shows that 84% of residents are opposed to this decision. Can we have an urgent debate in Government time on how we can much better hold the Planning Inspectorate to account, get consistency in approach and put residents first?
I am sorry to hear about these circumstances. My hon. Friend has clearly been able to identify the tremendous strength of feeling in his community on that point. This would be an excellent topic for a debate, and he will know how to apply for one in the usual way.
Next week our fantastic Angel of the North sculpture turns 25 years old. Will the Leader of the House join me in wishing the Angel of the North a happy 25th birthday? I pay tribute to the vision of Gateshead Council leaders, including my constituent Alderman Sid Henderson, who were so instrumental in making sure the Angel of the North came about.
I also congratulate the schools that are taking part in a heritage project on the Angel of the North, including, in addition to the schools in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), Birtley East Community Primary School and Kibblesworth Academy in Blaydon. Can we have a debate on the importance of public art to our communities?
The Angel of the North will need one big birthday cake. I am sure all Members will join me in wishing the Angel of the North a happy birthday. The hon. Lady is right to give credit to all those who enabled the creation of this incredible piece of public art, and to all those educators and arts groups that are using it to inspire new generations.
The Padiham greenway in my constituency is used by hundreds, if not thousands, of residents for leisure and to get to work. However, since June 2021, the Padiham greenway bridge, which crosses the Calder, has been closed because of concerns over structural damage and mineshafts underneath it. I have been working with Sustrans, the Environment Agency and the Coal Authority to try to find a resolution so that the bridge can be reopened and residents can use it, but to date we have not managed to find one, and more inspections are necessary. Could I enlist the Leader of the House’s help and also ask for a debate in Government time on the importance of local greenways for leisure and commuting to work?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. The bridge sounds like a vital route for his constituents, and I shall happily raise the issue with Ministers to see what assistance and advice they can give him. His assiduous campaigning has resulted in the chief executive of the Coal Authority offering to meet him to discuss the issue further, and I wish him luck in those discussions.
Can I add the alternative fuel payment to the Leader of the House’s list? She has answered questions over a number of weeks, as have Ministers, about how constituents who are off the grid—particularly those who use oil—will receive the payment through their electricity companies, who will know that they are not on the gas network. I have received a number of complaints from constituents and businesses saying that their electricity companies have no idea that they use oil rather than the gas network for heating. Will the Leader of the House either arrange for a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement about how these payments will work practically, or add it to her “Dear colleague” letter so that we can keep our constituents updated and, crucially, get them the money the Government have promised them?
In addition to raising these matters with the Department, as I mentioned before, I have looked at some of the statistics about who has had these payments. The bulk of people are getting them, but many constituents clearly are still in the dark about what they should be doing. I shall certainly add that to my list of things to talk to the Department about, and I hope we will be able to give colleagues the detailed information they need on the many schemes, so that they can give their constituents confidence.
As a former regular customer of Brittany Ferries, I am very familiar with the Leader of the House’s constituency, and a fine corner of England it is too. Although she will agree that it cannot compete with the garden of Scotland that is Angus, one thing that links those two lovely constituencies is the problem of littering from cars. Her constituency in the bottom of England, mine in the north-east of Scotland and every constituency in between is blighted by littering from cars and by fly-tipping. Can we have a debate in Government time about how we can use the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database to take much more severe action against littering from cars and particularly fly-tipping, which is a huge problem for my constituents and, I am sure, those of the Leader of the House?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue, which upsets enormous numbers of people. Of course, the bulk of the public are very responsible about not dropping litter, but new ideas are coming on stream about how we can better find the offenders who are largely responsible, particularly for fly-tipping. The next Transport questions are on 2 March, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to raise the issue then. Of course, he should also raise it with the local authorities concerned, as they will often be best placed to look at what camera infrastructure and so forth currently exists.
I represent a rural community with 23 separate villages, and there are 24,000 people in households with no access to a motorised vehicle. We are totally dependent on public transport, so yesterday’s announcement in the media by the bus companies—which was not discussed first with me, as the local MP—that they intend to again cut services in Rthe communities I represent will send a shudder of fear through all those villages. Does the Leader of the House agree that the deregulation of buses has been a disastrous mistake for rural communities such as mine and many others throughout our country? Can we have a debate in Government time to see whether we can find a different way of operating public transport services, and particularly buses, in the future?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and he is absolutely right: for many people in rural communities, those bus services are a complete lifeline and allow them to go about their daily business. He will know that we are providing up to £60 million over the next few months to assist with running those services and to keep fares down so that people can still use them, and we have also invested another £3 billion in such improvements. There are particular challenges, in part because of the fall-off in bus use during covid, but I shall make sure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.
Some 300,000 people are missing out on the warm home discount to which they are entitled. Would it be possible to have a debate in Government time to discuss that, and also the confusing and failing Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which has not given the decent homes standard another funding uplift to cover the deep problems with damp and mould across the whole of the housing estate in the UK? If there was decent homes funding and we could unlock those 300,000 applications for warm home discounts, we could have more people experiencing a better winter during which they do not freeze.
Again, I shall certainly add the hon. Lady’s name to my letter over to the Department concerned. A lot of this is about giving hon. Members detailed information about the many and quite complicated schemes, so that they can help their constituents and we can also best identify those people who may not have got what they are entitled to at the moment. Of course, we want to future-proof homes and make them as energy-efficient as possible. She will know about the schemes the Government have put forward for improving standards and insulating homes. Again, her local authority ought to have a plan for the particular housing stock that needs such attention.
A constituent of mine, Keith, was born in the United States, but was brought to the UK by his British parents at 15 months old, and he has lived, worked and retired in the UK as a British citizen. So imagine his horror when he was opening a new bank account, and the bank told him he might be liable to pay taxes in the United States. If he does not provide the bank with a certificate that costs over £2,000, it will report him to HMRC. I am all for clamping down on tax avoidance, but can we have a Government statement on why UK banks are so beholden to the United States and on what steps the Government are taking to protect law-abiding British taxpayers?
I am sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s case. This is a classic situation in which Members of Parliament can make a difference, and I Rhope the hon. Gentleman will intervene and help his constituent. If he has any difficulty in doing that and needs help from the UK Government, we will be very happy to assist him.
The Healthy Start scheme is a vital source of income for low-income families with young children, particularly newborns. The price of food has increased by 16% in the past year, while the cost of the cheapest milk formula has risen by some 22%. There are distressing stories of parents desperately mixing flour into milk formula to make it stretch further now that the cost of that formula exceeds the weekly Healthy Start allowance. Could the Leader of the House tell us when the Government will advise whether they intend to freeze the Healthy Start allowance yet again this year, and will she agree to a debate in Government time on the merits of the Healthy Start allowance and the need for an increase at least in line with inflation?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I hope he will have noticed the announcement today on family hubs and the local authorities that are particularly being focused on in that announcement. I would encourage all colleagues who have particular concerns about budgets to make representations to the Chancellor in the usual way, and I shall make sure he has heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns today.
I raised a point of order last night, and the Deputy Speaker advised me to bring this forward as a business question, so I am doing so. Dáithí’s law in Northern Ireland has the potential to save hundreds of lives of people desperately in need of organ transplants. All political parties in Northern Ireland agree on the need for this lifesaving legislation. The only thing stopping it is the mechanism for introducing the legislation, due to the current impasse caused by the Northern Ireland protocol. Twice now, the Government have taken action in this House to enact legislation—the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Act 2022 and the abortion legislation relating to Northern Ireland—despite the opposition of political parties in the Northern Ireland Executive. Dáithí’s law on organ transplants has the full support of all political parties in Northern Ireland and it will save lives. As our House’s representative in Cabinet, will the Leader of the House raise this with colleagues and urge action on an issue that will benefit all of the people of Northern Ireland?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I know that he cares passionately about this issue and will continue to campaign on it. He did note in his point of order yesterday that the UK Government had acted to put in place legislation on other matters when there was no Northern Ireland Assembly. This is clearly a positive and proactive thing, and the fastest way to get it to happen—he knows what I am going to say—is for the Northern Ireland parties to use the power they have to recall the Assembly, and they could then have the legislation in place in a matter of days. I know that the Secretary of State and the Minister in the Northern Ireland Office know about the hon. Gentleman’s campaign—I know he will continue it—but that is the answer for how to get this to happen in the swiftest possible way.