Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 742: debated on Thursday 7 December 2023

The business for the week commencing 11 December will include the following:

Monday 11 December—Second Reading of the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill.

Tuesday 12 December— Second Reading of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

Wednesday 13 December—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Thursday 14 December—A general debate on knife crime, followed by a general debate on the potential merger of Three and Vodafone. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 15 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 18 December will include the following:

Monday 18 December—Second Reading of the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill.

Tuesday 19 December—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill.

The House will rise for the Christmas recess at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 19 December and return on Monday 8 January 2024.

Let me first pay tribute to two Labour giants who have passed away in the past week.

Alistair Darling was one of the guiding hands in the last Labour Government. He was one of only three Ministers who served in the Cabinet throughout the entire period, most notably as Chancellor during the global economic crisis. His calm, decisive and comprehensive response helped to save our economy, and his leadership rightly earned him global and cross-party plaudits. Glenys Kinnock, whose later years were stolen by the awful effects of Alzheimer’s, will be remembered for her political leadership alongside Neil, but also, very much in her own right, for social justice, women's rights, and international development. Glenys was a true sister who supported and encouraged a generation of women into politics, including me, and our dear friend Jo Cox. Our thoughts are with their families.

So, Madam Deputy Speaker, what a mess: as the Home Secretary finally unveiled his Rwanda Bill, the Immigration Minister resigned in disgust. Emergency legislation, and now an emergency reshuffle—and, as we speak, an emergency press conference: it is total chaos. The Government are now in freefall, unable to govern, and all the while families are worried about paying their bills and affording Christmas. The Prime Minister is so weak that he cannot convince his own side, satisfying no one and inflaming them all. We all want to stop the boats, but many on the Government Benches now agree with us that this plan is unworkable.

Unlike the Home Secretary yesterday, perhaps the Leader of the House can tell us how the plan will work. How many illegal migrants will be sent to Rwanda? The treaty says that the number is capped, and the small print says that it is just 100 people. What is the extent of our reciprocal arrangement to take refugees from Rwanda? Will we take more from Rwanda than we are sending there, and when will this happen? The Northern Ireland Secretary did not have a clue this morning.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that anyone who loses the right to remain in Rwanda—for example, those who commit serious criminal offences—must be returned to the UK? We now learn that it was the Rwandan Government who insisted that international law must be upheld. Is it the Government’s view that international treaties did need to be overridden? The Home Secretary could not say how the treaty and the Bill deal with appeals and legal challenges. Can the Leader of the House assure us that this policy will not get clogged up in the courts all over again? The Prime Minister did not convince people just now.

Can the Leader of the House commit herself to publishing the Government’s estimates of the costs of this plan? The Prime Minister has just said at his press conference that he wants the Bill to be passed in record time, so why will it not go into Committee before Christmas? The answer is that he cannot persuade his own side.

Let me say this to the Leader of the House. The truth is that this plan will not work. I know it, she knows it, they know it. That is why the Immigration Minister resigned, and that is why he said that these measures were

“a triumph of hope over experience.”

That is why the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), said this morning that the truth is that

“it won’t work and it will not stop the boats”.

She also said:

“We can’t keep failing the British people.”

This is now the third piece of legislation in two years, all trying and failing to do the same thing. It is the very definition of flogging a dead horse. But it is not just the policy that is dead, but the whole sorry Government—failed, divided, defunct and incapable of governing.

Finally, in further evidence of the Government’s death throes, this week the Prime Minister suffered his first Commons defeat, over the infected blood scandal. So off is their judgment that they could not even support a measured, reasonable amendment from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) to set up a body to administer compensation immediately, as recommended by Sir Brian Langstaff, who led the inquiry. On reflection, does the Leader of the House not think that they have just got this one badly wrong, and will she now ensure that this amendment survives the passage of the Bill? In fact, the Government’s former Paymaster General told the infected blood inquiry:

“I believe it to be inevitable that the Government will need to provide substantial compensation... I believe we should begin preparing for this now, before the inquiry reports”,

adding that it is “a moral obligation.”

That Minister wrote to the now Prime Minister, then the Chancellor, twice to press their case, never to get a reply. That Minister is now the Leader of the House, so can she tell us: does she still agree with herself?

I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute and sending my sympathies to the families of Alistair Darling and Glenys Kinnock. I did not know Glenys Kinnock, but I did know Alistair a little, and we will miss his very dry sense of humour. I am sure that all our thoughts are with their friends and families. I also wish Mr Speaker a speedy recovery.

I will also take this opportunity to wish Jewish people around the world a happy Hanukkah. It is a festival of light overcoming darkness, and that is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. I know the celebrations will be more difficult this year for everyone, but I also know that Jewish people across this country will celebrate over these eight days as a symbol of Jewish pride. I am sure all in this place will want to wish everyone celebrating “Chag Hanukkah sameach.”

The hon. Lady raises the important matter of the infected blood scandal, and she is right: I was the Minister who set up the compensation scheme. I felt it important that it run concurrently with the inquiry, rather than having to wait until the inquiry reported and then set up that piece of work. Sir Robert Francis has done a very good job and the Minister for the Cabinet Office is now doing the heavy lifting on putting the scheme together. I have met with him on several occasions, and I know he is completely committed to that and is working hard on it. I point out to the hon. Lady that I could not have got the compensation scheme study established without the blessing of the Chancellor at the time. That person is now Prime Minister, and I know that he is committed to delivering on it.

I want to reassure all those who are infected and affected by the scandal that this Government have not only established an inquiry, after many decades of this injustice being done, but established a compensation study. We have done that for a reason, because we wish to deliver and bring justice to this group of people. We are the first Government to have done that and, if we can do that in short order, I think that would be something to be very proud of.

It is great to see the Labour party channelling the right of the Conservative party—channelling Mrs Thatcher recently on borders, on fiscal responsibility and on her crusade for workers, wealth creators, carers and protectors. Unfortunately, the party is simultaneously plotting to destroy all that she built and stood for. I knew Margaret Thatcher, and I can tell the hon. Lady that the Leader of the Opposition is no Margaret Thatcher. It will take rather more than a light perm, pearls and a handbag for him to pull off that look. He will need to get a backbone. He will need to get some principles. He will need to rethink the Labour party’s stance on our Rwanda policy and our border controls. He will need to rethink borrowing £28 billion more. He might also like to stand up for the public and support our minimum service levels agreements. He might like to reject the demands of the TUC, which wants to repeal all the reforms that Maggie brought in. He might like to call out the British Medical Association’s cruel plans to cancel operations and cancel Christmas for thousands of elderly people in care. He might like to call out the immoral ask of unions to transport workers, who will have to forgo pay over Christmas. In fairness, the great lady did say:

“You turn if you want to”,

and Labour’s leader has jolly well done so, several times on his leadership pledges and on almost every policy announced since he became leader. If she was the iron lady, he is the ironic man.

The hon. Lady asked about Rwanda. I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick). He helped the Prime Minister reduce boat crossings by a third in the last year—more than any Minister and Prime Minister have achieved. We must ensure that our asylum and immigration systems are fit for purpose, and we must protect and control our borders—the public are right in their demand that we do so. The treaty and the legislation will enable us to operationalise the Rwanda policy. Will they be enough to do all we need to do? No, but we will have other tools as well. Will they help to give us more options and to deter people from making the terrible crossing across the channel? Yes, they will.

The Opposition have put forward no alternative plan. My question to them is: what is the objection? It cannot be a legal one, because the policy does not break international law, and nor does it blur the distinction between lawmakers and those who interpret the law. It cannot be a moral objection, because it is a moral crusade to use every tool that we have to end the trafficking of human beings. It cannot be a policy objection, because the Labour party has no alternative policy. It has voted against every single measure that we have introduced to protect our borders. It voted against the last Bill more than 70 times. Labour has fought us on ending free movement and the deportation of foreign criminals, and it has said it would take an additional 110,000 people per year from Europe. As I said, ironic.

Last night, the Labour-led administration at Staffordshire Moorlands District Council voted to increase council allowances by 44%, at a cost of £400,000 to council tax payers. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate about local authority spending and how we can make sure that council tax payers get value for money?

As my right hon. Friend asked her question, there were audible gasps across the Chamber. That is an incredible lack of local political leadership. Council tax payers in her district will be disappointed to hear that news. If she were to apply for a debate, I am sure that it would be well attended. I am sure that everyone would urge restraint and want to ensure the best value possible for people’s hard-earned cash.

It is tempting to forestall and dismantle now any spin that the Leader of the House may be inclined to bring up on Scottish education issues, given Westminster’s shocking record. Following her outburst against Scotland’s health service workers last week, I must clear up some things. Scotland watches her “odd” weekly rants, as the Scottish press dubs them, with concern and alarm. Let me give some useful facts for her and Scotland about the Scottish NHS: health funding is at record highs; staffing levels are also at a record high, with far more staff per head than England; we have the best performing A&E units and the highest number of GPs per head in the UK, no prescriptions charges, and still not a single day lost to industrial disputes in the Scottish NHS. There is always room for improvement but, as the Leader of the House reaches for her latest penny dreadful script, she can rest assured that I will be happy to set the record straight, wherever her imagination takes her.

Meanwhile, the Government plumb new depths with their immigration panic measures, which are so damaging to Scotland in particular. The Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Stanley has written:

“A friend has messaged me in a blind panic”.

If they fall in love and marry someone from overseas, must they have an income of £38,700 to settle here? He went on to say:

“Something like 75% of us earn less than that. Is it fair to limit family formation to the rich? Is it conservative…to divide families?

Of course, it is fine if someone is rich, so maybe it is.

If we, our children or our grandchildren fall in love with someone from another country—many of us do so on our travels; I am living proof of that—they will not be able to join us here unless we have guaranteed earnings nearing £39,000. Cue a further exodus of our young people from these shores to other countries with a more enlightened approach to migration and their citizens’ human rights. Even worse, those who have already gone through the process and who thought that they had won the right to live here in peace will have to come up with that figure the next time their visa is extended. Should Parliament not have debated these extreme measures first? Can the Leader of the House defend this shameful policy, or are she and other Ministers threatening to resign?

I thank the hon. Lady. I would ask her to go and have a look at the SNP’s record on education. I have spoken about that in the last two business question sessions, so I shall not detain the House any longer on it. I think everyone in this Chamber is aware of the SNP’s appalling record on destroying the education system in Scotland—the only people who are not are those in charge of it.

The hon. Lady mentioned the NHS and pay settlements, and the theme of her question is really values and morality. Does she think it would be moral if a Government denied faster NHS treatment to its citizens post covid because they did not want to send them to an English hospital? I understand that the former Health Secretary made that offer to the First Minister and it was rejected. Is it moral to offer a pay deal, as she boasts, to public sector workers, including NHS workers, without a plan to pay for it? Come to think of it, is it moral to withhold funds designated for business rate relief from businesses? Would she describe it as moral if a Government denied their citizens the ability to have a civil partnership—she speaks of relationships—with their opposite-sex partner for a year, including those who were terminally ill, because they did not want the UK Government to legislate on their behalf?

While the hon. Lady is looking up the SNP’s record on education, I would ask her also to check how many concurrent police investigations there are into the SNP’s antics. Owing to her party’s antics, I am afraid her quest to take the moral high ground is stuck at a subterranean level. But given that she has, as is standard SNP operating procedure, played the man as well as the ball, I will set the record straight on my own record with regard to refugees. I spent time over two years looking after the most desperate and vulnerable people in the eastern bloc after the Romanian revolution. More recently, I have spent time on the water in the Mediterranean and northern Libya tracking migration and people-trafficking routes. When I was in Greece and Italy, I saw how the EU’s biometric scanners in its southern ports had not even been uncovered and unwrapped, and how Europe’s security was being failed. I have opened my home to refugees: I have been hosting a Ukrainian refugee since May last year, and before that I offered my home to Afghan refugees.

I can tell the hon. Lady that migration is one of the most critical issues facing our country and the world, and that the global rules on it are broken. I have made it my business to understand how we can fix them—that is our duty—and it will take global leadership to build the tools to rewrite those rules. If we do it, I think other nations will follow. I would ask her to really check what her duty is in this manner and consider supporting our legislation.

Yesterday the Welsh language broadcaster S4C published the most damning and shocking report about bullying within the organisation and the fear in which staff had to conduct their duties and responsibilities. That is a publicly funded organisation. May we have a debate on this issue and on the report so that we can properly consider how we can offer the best stability for the channel, as well as offering a bright future for those who work for it? It is extremely important for Welsh culture, the Welsh language, and Welsh jobs and industry in this vital sector.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this shocking situation. S4C is an incredibly important service to culture and education, and we want that organisation also to enshrine UK and Welsh values at its heart. Given that Culture, Media and Sport questions is not until 11 January, I will write this afternoon on his behalf and ensure that the Culture Secretary has heard of this appalling situation. I hope that it will swiftly become a happier one.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the Backbench Business for next Thursday. Before those two debates, there will be a Select Committee statement on a Home Affairs Committee report on human trafficking, which will be published tomorrow. I also thank her for our meeting earlier this week and reiterate my request that she gives us an early indication of any Backbench Business Committee time in the week beginning 8 January so that we can allocate that business prior to the Christmas recess.

In my role as Chair of the Committee, Members from across the House often ask me questions, thinking that I benefit from a level of inside knowledge or political insight. One question that I am repeatedly asked is, “Do you know the recess dates following Christmas?” On behalf of Members across the House, I ask that question of the Leader of the House; possibly she will let us know next week, before the Christmas recess.

I have been contacted by a number of constituents regarding the new proposed earnings threshold of £38,700 to be eligible for a spouse visa. Will that new threshold apply to new applicants only or to existing visa holders already resident in the UK and validly here, looking to extend their stay? It could jeopardise families who are legally here, gainfully employed and making a positive contribution if they are possibly having the rules changed underneath them.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his always helpful adverts for future Backbench Business debates. As he knows, I will endeavour to give him early warning of when other time can be scheduled; I will endeavour to do that shortly.

I completely agree on recess dates and hope to be able to update colleagues very soon. That point is well understood not just in terms of people’s ability to organise family life but for its particular significance for those right hon. and hon. Members who are farmers. I will therefore endeavour to do that very shortly.

I had anticipated the type of questions that the hon. Gentleman would ask. I am sure that there are particular sectors on which people will want to focus, such as armed forces personnel, so I have asked the Department to produce some further briefing on this matter and to share it with all hon. Members.

Order. I will be prioritising those who did not contribute to the earlier urgent question and statement.

Can we have a debate on antisemitism in higher education? This week, the presidents of Harvard, MIT and Penn appeared before the United States Congress, and when asked repeatedly about whether calling for genocide of Jews breaks the university code of conduct and was harassment, they said that it “depends on the context” and whether the speech turned into actual genocidal conduct. It is impossible to imagine a call for mass murder of any other minority group being said to depend on the context. A call for the mass murder of black people or gay people would rightly not be tolerated for a moment. This is top-level institutional Jew hatred at the highest levels of academia, and sadly universities in the United Kingdom are also infested with antisemitism. Does the Leader of the House agree that British students must be protected from such poison?

I completely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. The individuals from Harvard, MIT and Penn who gave that jaw-dropping evidence earlier this week have done the academic community a favour: this should be a wake-up call on how abhorrent some of these policies are and how they are being interpreted. It is amazing that it needs to be said, but if a code of conduct permits the advocation and promotion of mass murder, it might need a redraft.

There is a wider point here: we look to these academic institutions to be the guardian of the values that we hold dear. Freedom of speech and freedom of thought are very important to academic inquiry and our democratic values, but we cannot in any way tolerate the promotion of genocide and the extermination of a group of people. It is absolutely abhorrent. I commend the work of the Union of Jewish Students, which does a huge amount on our campuses. It has delivered more than 100 anti- semitism awareness training sessions to about 3,000-plus campus leaders in the UK. We should support its work, and I hope that every vice-chancellor and university board will be asking to see these policies to ensure that they are in good shape.

Sellafield is one of our most sensitive sites for energy and national security. New reports in The Guardian have revealed a damaging and potentially ongoing cyber-security breach by groups linked to Russia and China. They call into question the management and workplace culture, the performance of senior staff, who are now under investigation by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and the response and performance of the regulator itself. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate or ministerial statement on those deeply worrying revelations?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the reports that have been in the press, which I know are of concern to her. As the date for the next Home Office questions has not yet been announced, I will write on her behalf to the Security Minister and ask whether he and his officials can update her.

Sometimes there is a sporting achievement that simply cannot go without comment. Over the last year, Red Bull Racing smashed through every record in the Formula 1 season, winning 21 of the 22 races. That magic can happen on track only because of the incredible British business, based up the road from my constituency in Milton Keynes, and its innovation, excellence, skills and engineering superiority. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Christian Horner and the whole Red Bull team on their success this year, and can we have a debate on the value of motor sport and those skills to the wider economy?

I am sure that the whole House will join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Red Bull team. We should be proud that this country is the home of motor sport. It is not just the many businesses in his local area, but the incredible supply chain across the whole of the UK. He will know how to apply for a debate. I am sure that many Members would wish to attend. I shall borrow from the legendary Murray Walker in saying that the request for a debate on this very important topic is go, go, go!

Moles, Bath’s wonderful grassroots music venue, was sadly forced to close its doors last week. It was an incubator for many new talents and gave many household names their first chance on stage. Without grassroots venues, there will be no music industry. More than 100 small music venues were forced to close their doors in the UK last year due to cost pressures that they could not meet. Can we have a debate in Government time about the importance of our small music venues?

I am very sorry to hear about that, and I am sure the hon. Lady speaks for many of her constituents who will miss that facility. We have managed to get a lot of organisations through the terrible few years that we have had, particularly with the pandemic, but we need to build back what we have lost and organisations that are fragile. She will know that the next questions to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport are on 11 January. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend is very much looking at ensuring that we are disbursing all the available support right across the country, and that it reaches every constituency. I encourage the hon. Lady to raise the matter with her then.

Last week, for Small Business Saturday, I crowned the winner of my new independent shop of the year competition. On The Brakes is a fantastic bike shop in Leigh-on-Sea specialising in bike maintenance, custom builds, and education and bike repairs. It stormed to victory. Given that 98% of businesses in Southend West are small and micro, is that not living proof of the importance of independent businesses to our economy? Could we have a debate, please, in Government time, on the importance of independent businesses to our high streets and to our national economy?

I pass on my congratulations, as I am sure does everyone in the Chamber, to On The Brakes for all its work. It is clearly valued by its local community. I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who took part in Small Business Saturday last weekend. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: such businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, locally and nationally. They also provide amazing community facilities and support for so many in our constituencies. She will know how to apply for a debate, and I am sure it will be well attended.

Many famous people have been born at the Whittington maternity unit, including the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). This summer, I had the joy of visiting the maternity unit with my good friend my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), but we noticed that the facilities are desperately old and crumbling. Does the Leader of the House agree that we desperately need a debate on maternity units across the UK and that we urgently need more funding, so that the buildings can come up to a really good standard to match our aspirations, as outlined in the Care Quality Commission reports, which say that 55% of our units across the UK are not up to scratch? We need those crucial amounts of funding, so that we can bring up the standard of those crumbling buildings to match the aspirations of women giving birth in our maternity units.

The hon. Lady will know that the quality of maternity care, which is not just about healthcare practice but about the facilities, has been a particular recent focus of the Department of Health and Social Care. We have a capital programme that is regenerating our facilities and building new ones, too. Health questions dates have not been announced yet, so I will write on the hon. Lady’s behalf and flag this matter with the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Every single week, I receive correspondence from and meet parents who are simply exasperated by the wait they face for a child and adolescent mental health services assessment for their children. For children to be educated properly and looked after in the best possible way, it is paramount that children receive their assessments as soon as possible and that families do not face unacceptable waits of up to three years, as many do in Darlington. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must speed up CAMHS assessments? Can we have a debate on that important issue?

A three-year wait is a truly shocking statistic, and my hon. Friend’s constituents should not find themselves in that situation. I thank him for what he is doing to campaign on this issue. He will know that we are investing an extra £2.3 billion a year by March next year to support an additional 2 million people, which includes 345,000 children and young people. The situation in his constituency sounds acute, and I will write to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on his behalf this afternoon and ask that her officials and Ministers get in touch with his office to see what can be done in the interim to bring that waiting time down and ensure that every child and young person is getting the support they need.

May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to the career of Geraldine Bradley, the catering services manager at Ballykeel Primary School in County Antrim in my constituency? Geraldine Bradley has worked there for 42 years, without a single absentee day or sick day. That is an absolutely incredible contribution to public service. She caters currently for 430 pupils in that school, and has done so with excellence. Over the years, she has fed and nourished thousands of pupils across the constituency. How can I best encourage other people in the public sector who engage in public service with such enthusiasm to look at the example that Geraldine has set and apply it to their own careers?

I am sure we will all join the hon. Gentleman in sending our thanks, congratulations and good wishes to Geraldine. What an incredible public servant, and what a life of service. She should be held up as an example to all in the public sector, and I am sure that as well as providing the nutrition that the pupils at that school need, she has provided many happy times and happy memories. We wish her well, and the hon. Gentleman has provided the answer to his own question by putting that on the record today.

The headline of Christina Lamb’s article in The Sunday Times at the weekend was

“First Hamas fighters raped her. Then they shot her in the head”.

In the light of the profoundly disturbing revelations in that article about sexual violence committed by Hamas on 7 October, may we have a ministerial statement so that the Government can set out the action they will take to raise this issue in international fora such as the UN, some of which have been far too slow to recognise and condemn that aspect of the Hamas atrocity?

I thank my right hon. Friend for allowing us to state on the record the appalling atrocities that many women—many of whom did not survive those attacks—had to endure at the hands of Hamas, including rape, but also the most horrific torture and mutilation. I think we are all very disappointed that organisations to which we look to show leadership on these matters were not swifter and more robust in their condemnation of those appalling atrocities and acts.

We spend a great deal of time thinking about our own aid allocation in this respect, and fund many schemes around the world that have had huge success in reducing violence against women and girls. I will ensure that the Minister with that responsibility in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has heard what my right hon. Friend has said, and we will reflect on what more we can do and what more we can say we expect from the organisations that we work with on these matters around the world.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Government have rightly made time in this Chamber to debate that terrible conflict. The Israel-Gaza war is equally horrific, from the killing of Israelis on 7 October to the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians that continue daily. No doubt the Backbench Business Committee would look sympathetically on a request for a debate, but should this not be debated in Government time? May we have a day’s debate on it as soon as possible?

I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s request. On his first point, he will know that the Foreign Secretary has been in Washington talking with our partners both about Ukraine and the ongoing situation in Israel and Gaza. I will certainly ensure that both he and his Minister in the Commons, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), have heard the hon. Gentleman’s request.

Our hard-pressed and hard-working police have had their leave cancelled, have been required to work overtime and are at breaking point just policing organised protests. To make it even worse, the Just Stop Oil brigade refuses to engage with the police about its protests. The Metropolitan police says that it has now cost taxpayers £20 million to deal with those Just Stop Oil protesters, so may we have an oral statement on police funding and what will be done to stop those protesters bringing London to a halt?

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all the work that the police have done. Since we have given them some new powers, they have done an incredible job ensuring that activists do not disrupt traffic or stop emergency vehicles and keeping areas running, including our major motorways and, in particular, our capital city. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that those protests are costing taxpayers and using police resources—if he were to found a campaign called Just Stop It, Just Stop Oil, I think it would be very well supported. I will ensure that the Home Secretary has heard his concerns about resourcing.

First, may I associate myself with the comments of the shadow Leader of the House about Alistair Darling? He was someone I knew. He was a huge figure in Scottish politics, and the perfect example of a public servant. I also wish to pay tribute to Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the former Conservative MP for Edinburgh West, who was always the perfect gentleman and another example to us all of public service.

A constituent of mine recently raised the issue that he and a number of other marines had been exposed to asbestos during a training exercise. They are currently trying to pursue an adequate response from the Ministry of Defence on this potential breach of health and safety. Can the Government find time for us to discuss both this issue and the general issue of how we better protect our armed forces on training exercises?

May I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Lady about Lord Douglas-Hamilton? I am sure that all Members would join her in that.

The hon. Lady raises a very important matter. I know that, in recent years, the Ministry of Defence has been looking at how it can mitigate things that happen and injuries caused on training exercises, from its joint service publication to ensuring that people have the right equipment and that it is all in good order. The issue that she raises would be of most interest to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. I will make sure that he has heard what she has said, and I think the topic would be an excellent one for an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate.

Barrow and Furness recently celebrated 150 years of naval shipbuilding, supplying the submarines that keep us safe now and long into the future. As the shipyard delivers Dreadnought and now leans into the opportunity of AUKUS, it remains pivotal to the UK and the world’s security. Given that position, I have joined a campaign to try to secure for Barrow and Furness the title of royal town. The initiative is supported by the Lord Lieutenant, BAE Systems, the local council, CandoFM, the Rotary Club and local arts and community groups. I wonder whether the Leader of the House might be able to advise me on how we can gain Government support for this initiative.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign, which sounds like a very good initiative. I know that he is doing a whole raft of things to put the town of Barrow on the map. He is right to say that this contribution provides security not just to the UK, but to the world, particularly because of the AUKUS agreement and our work with our Five Eyes partners. He will know that royal title applications are run through the Cabinet Office. Each decision is made on a case-by-case basis. I would be very happy to meet him and give him any further information that he needs as his campaign gathers and generates support.

The Government claim to be on the side of business. Mayphil Industries, a global company with headquarters in Merthyr Tydfil, has been trying, with my support, to secure a visa for essential training for a senior executive from Sri Lanka. The visa was approved on 3 October, but has not been issued. Two months really is not satisfactory. Perhaps, if the Government have an Immigration Minister, we could have a debate in Government time to discuss what can be done to support situations such as this and to make progress and improve the service for constituents.

I am sorry to hear about that situation. That should not be the case at all. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Home Office is providing individual surgery opportunities for Members of Parliament, either face to face or remotely, so that Members can chase up these issues. If he gives me the details, I would be very happy to do that immediately after this session. This business should not be held up getting in the person that it needs. As the House has had my undivided attention, I do not have the latest news on appointments, but I shall also ensure that the Minister for Immigration has heard his concerns.

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to look at early-day motion 114?

[That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Dangerous Dogs (Designated Types) (England and Wales) Order 2023 (S.I., 2023, No. 1164), dated 31 October 2023, a copy of which was laid before this House on 31 October 2023, be annulled.]

If so, is she impressed by the fact that the motion has the support of not only Conservative Members but quite a lot of Opposition Members, including the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell)? The motion calls on the Government to bring forward a debate before the ban on XL bully-type dogs is implemented at the end of December. She will know that some 650,000 people across the country have already signed a petition against what the Government are proposing, because it is not only unfair but very vague. Many dog owners do not know whether their dogs will be included. This is most unsatisfactory legislation. Should it not be debated in this House before it is implemented?

I thank my hon. Friend for putting that on the record, and I think that is very helpful. He will know the motivation for bringing in the legislation, but of course we need to provide clarity and reassurance to pet owners. Given that the date of the next DEFRA questions has not been announced, I will write on his behalf to alert the Secretary of State to early-day motion 114 and to ensure he has heard what my hon. Friend has said.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope you will allow me to pay a short tribute to Alistair Darling. Alistair and I worked together in home affairs throughout Roy Hattersley and Neil Kinnock’s leadership. He was a great colleague and friend, and of course did a magnificent job as Chancellor in our darkest days. Glenys Kinnock was also a long-term, old friend. My daughter worked for her as a special adviser. She was family, and we miss her terribly.

This is something of a personal appeal to the Leader of the House. I am a pretty robust individual, and I think everyone in the House knows I am quite resilient. However, about 18 months ago I had a death threat from a gentleman who said he was coming to London to kill me. Over these last 18 months, this has absolutely haunted me. My home is now a fortress, my office is well protected and everything physically has been done to support me, but there is very little support, or not enough support, when a Member gets into this sort of situation.

The gentleman who was coming to do nasty things to me was sectioned, but when he came out of the mental health hospital, all the administration told me was, “He is out, and he knows where you live”. I have to say that this 18 months has been a time of dreadful personal stress, and if it had not been for the support of my family and friends, I do not think I would have got through it. I have experienced at first hand what it is like to be frightened to stand close to the railway station platform or on the tube, and to be looking behind you all the time. My mental health, and I am a robust individual, has been very much put under stress, but this should not happen to Members of the House. May I make an appeal to the Leader of the House to look at this kind of support—not just at the huge amount of money that has been spent on my fortress home, but at individual support—because I think every Member deserves better?

I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure I do so on behalf of everyone in the Chamber and all colleagues, for saying that. Of course, he will know that Mr Speaker and the House authorities have done a huge amount of additional work, including some more recent things, to ensure that all colleagues are protected and have the physical security and support they need. However, he is absolutely right to put on record that this has a toll on an individual’s wellbeing, resilience and mental health. It is a terrible thing to have to endure. Of course, right hon. and hon. Members endure this in relation not just to harm to themselves, but to their families, their children and their staff, which is a very great weight to carry.

I will certainly ensure that the House authorities, and Mr Speaker when he returns, have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said, and we will see what more we can do to support Members. I add that we have concluded the largest survey of Members on this, and I know many Members filled it in with their staff. For mental health and resilience, whether because of threats or the other issues people have to deal with—I know my staff were traumatised when we were dealing with Operation Pitting, for example—additional mental health and pastoral support is very much needed. I know there is an action plan following the survey, and I thank all Members who took part in it.

May I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) for his brave contribution? That was difficult to do, and I am sorry to hear what he has been going through.

To segue inelegantly from that, in Oxfordshire I have been contacted by residents who rely on their pets for their mental health, who are concerned that when they go on walks, their pets go into rivers and then get sick. I can understand their concern because discharges in Oxfordshire are up 18%. We heard just this week that the water quality at Port meadow in Oxfordshire has been rated poor for the third year in a row, which means it risks losing its bathing water status. Will the Leader of the House help me press the Government to take this threat to pets seriously? In answer to a parliamentary question, they say they do not measure it. How can we get them to?

I am sorry to hear about the situation in the hon. Lady’s constituency and local area. The date of the next Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions has not been announced, so I will write to the Secretary of State to make sure that he has heard what she has said. She will know there has been recent debate about what the Environment Agency and other monitoring bodies are actually monitoring, how it is being monitored and what is in the public domain, and about making sure that the monitoring systems of individual water companies are really fit for purpose. I will write on the hon. Lady’s behalf today.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to an emerging problem? The Department for Work and Pensions requires an estimated 5,000 net increase in staff every quarter if it is to undertake the increased workload arising from recent Government announcements, including some very recent ones. Yet the shocking new dossier published this week by the Public and Commercial Services Union warns that the target is nowhere near being met. Staff morale is at rock bottom due to excessive workloads, real-terms pay cuts and new restrictions on home working. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on the staffing crisis in the DWP, and will she urge her ministerial colleagues to meet the PCS trade union as a matter of urgency to try to find a way forward?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this to the House’s attention and mine. I will certainly raise it with the Secretary of State. It is incredibly important for the general public that staff are able to answer their inquiries. There may be more we can do in this place in providing swift answers to people in the DWP who will want to know what recent announcements mean for them, and I think we can also provide a great deal of reassurance to members of the public in that respect. The next Work and Pensions questions will be on 18 December, and he can raise the matter then, but I shall also write on his behalf.

Punitive disciplinary policies in schools are significantly harming children’s mental health, particularly neurodivergent children. It seems that multi-academy trust leaders are not accountable for their actions and are impossible to hold to account, not least at South Bank MAT, where children are experiencing significant harm, school refusal and an escalation in issues with their mental wellbeing. Can we have an urgent debate on calling the leadership of multi-academy trusts to account and ensuring that governance structures are fit for purpose?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. On the general point, I shall make sure that the Secretary of State has heard what she has said, and she can raise it directly with her next week. If the hon. Lady wants to pass on to me the specific details of the academy trust she is speaking about, I shall make sure that the Secretary of State has also heard about that. There are mechanisms for holding trusts to account on certain things, and ensuring that they are meeting children’s special educational needs is one of those things. I shall make sure that the Department has heard about it.

I thank the Leader of the House for the opportunity to ask a question on the state of freedom of religion or belief. Many events in the House this week have rightly celebrated the 75th anniversary of the universal declaration on human rights, including a debate in Westminster Hall this afternoon in which I will be participating. However, in the Philippines this week at least four people were killed and many more injured in an attack on a Catholic mass, for which Islamic State has claimed responsibility. An investigation into that attack is ongoing. Will the Leader of the House join me in denouncing the attack, calling for care and justice for the victims and assuring them that they have the support of the House of Commons, the greatest seat of democracy and the mother of Parliaments, and that we are doing our best for them?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for again affording the House the opportunity to send our thoughts, prayers and good wishes to everyone who has been affected by that appalling attack. Every week, he brings the attention of the House and the world to such events, which perhaps do not grab a lot of headlines. It is important that we send a clear message that we are focused on these issues and will do everything we can to ensure that everyone in the world is allowed to exercise their religious freedom. I thank him again for enabling us to do that this week following the appalling atrocity in the Philippines. I thank him also for the advert for the important debate this afternoon.

It is, Madam Deputy Speaker. In answering my question about early-day motion 114, the Leader of the House said that she would write to the DEFRA Minister about it. However, when the subject was debated on 27 November in Westminster Hall, I asked the DEFRA Minister whether he would facilitate a debate on the statutory instrument, saying that it is

“obviously of great concern to many Members of Parliament and even more so to our constituents, before it comes into force on 31 December”.

The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), responded:

“I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course he will be fully aware that it is for parliamentary business managers to arrange such debates, but I will certainly have a conversation with those business managers following this debate.”—[Official Report, 27 November 2023; Vol. 741, c. 223-24WH.]

I wonder whether that discussion ever took place. We are now in a situation where the Leader of the House says she relies on DEFRA to organise a debate, and a DEFRA Minister says it is for parliamentary business managers to organise. Who is in charge, Madam Deputy Speaker?

I think that was a slight extension of business questions rather than a point of order. Is the hon. Gentleman’s point of order that he wishes to know how to gain further clarification on the matter?

The hon. Gentleman is lucky that the Leader of the House is still here, and she indicates that she wishes to make a response to his point of order.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) is a very experienced and diligent parliamentarian. He has done everything right: he has pursued the Department and not had satisfaction from it, and when right hon. and hon. Members do not have satisfaction from a Department, they must bring their issues to business questions. I hope they know that I will always follow up on their behalf, and I will do so in the case of my hon. Friend. I will ensure that conversation takes place and I will put pen to paper this afternoon.