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Business of the House

Volume 742: debated on Thursday 14 December 2023

The business for the week commencing 18 December will include:

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.

The business for the week commencing 8 January will include:

Monday 8 January—Second Reading of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill.

Tuesday 9 January—Opposition day (2nd allotted day) debate on a motion in the name of the Leader of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 10 January—Committee of the Whole House on the Finance Bill, followed by Third Reading of the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill.

Thursday 11 January—Debate on a motion on SEND—special educational needs and disabilities—provision and funding, followed by a debate on a motion on Jewish communities and the potential merits of a Jewish history month. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 12 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 15 January includes:

Monday 15 January—Committee of the Whole House on the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill.

Colleagues will also wish to be aware that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the February recess on Thursday 8 February and return on Monday 19 February, rise for the Easter recess on Tuesday 26 March and return on Monday 15 April, rise for the May bank holiday on Thursday 2 May and return on Tuesday 7 May, rise for the Whitsun half-term on Thursday 23 May and return on Monday 3 June, and rise for the summer recess on Tuesday 23 July. Further recess dates and business will be announced in the usual way.

May I first put on record our gratitude to Mark Drakeford, a model of public service and public duty? Mr Speaker, I wish you, House staff, Members’ staff, colleagues, journalists, security staff and our public service workers a very merry and restful Christmas. I thank the Leader of the House for finally announcing the recess dates. One thing we do know about next year is that it will be a general election year. I say—bring it on.

This is our last business question of the year, and there is a number of outstanding commitments that were promised before we broke up. First, on the infected blood scandal, can the Leader of the House confirm that the Cabinet Office will update the House on the compensation scheme before the House rises, as promised? As we discussed last week, the Government got things badly wrong by voting against the amendment from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), and breaking another commitment to update us on progress would add insult to injury. Given her previous personal and ministerial commitments on this issue, can the Leader of the House ensure that that statement is made next week?

A new process of risk-based exclusions from the parliamentary estate of Members under investigation for serious violent or sexual offences has finally been published this morning. I thank the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, for the sterling efforts in getting us to this stage. Given that we have now missed the original timetable of a motion on it before Christmas, when can we expect this to be scheduled?

Not only did the Prime Minister promise to stop the boats this year, which he has not done, he also promised to get his emergency legislation through in record time, yet there is no sign of the coming Committee stage in what the Leader of the House has announced today—some emergency. It is no surprise, however, because the Prime Minister is too weak to push it through. Yet again, the Conservatives are tearing themselves apart, with star chambers, the five families and so on, but they are not starring in a mafia saga. They are supposed to be running the country, but they are not fit to govern. While real families struggle to heat their homes, put food on the table and afford Christmas, this lot are just playing at politics. Can the Leader of the House even confirm that the Committee stage will come in January? In all their desperate attempts to persuade their colleagues this week, reports have emerged of enticements of Government funding to constituencies in exchange for votes, and not for the first time. Can she put on record that this is absolutely not the case?

The Prime Minister’s emergency reshuffle has left us with no disabilities Minister. Given the Women and Equalities Committee’s damning report on the Government’s disability strategy just last week, can the Leader of the House confirm that someone will be appointed to this position before Christmas?

It has now been a full month since we have had a statement from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, despite major global conflicts. That is unacceptable—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are saying that there is one today, but that was thanks to Mr Speaker granting yet another urgent question to bring Ministers to this place. The Leader of the House and I are both appearing before the Procedure Committee on Monday, so I will not raise the issue of the Foreign Secretary coming here now. Last time I raised the lack of accountability, she assured me that the Government would regularly update the House, and that the Foreign Secretary was “forward leaning.” Will she ensure that we get a proper update on the unfolding situation in Israel and Gaza before the House rises, and regularly thereafter, so that Ministers do not need to be dragged here via urgent questions?

Today also looks like “take out the trash day”, with a large number of written ministerial statements on important matters. Will the Leader of House ensure that there is proper scrutiny of those issues, with no sense that the Government are ducking accountability to this place?

Finally, would the Leader of the House like to take this opportunity to apologise to 11-year-old Liam Walker for the disdain and tone deaf response that the Prime Minister gave to his plight yesterday? The Prime Minister’s sneering, angry response made him look small, and disregarding of Liam’s plight. Liam’s family do the right thing, yet through no fault of their own, they are homeless. Their story is the story of thousands of other families this Christmas. Will the Leader of the House do what the Prime Minister failed to do, and show some empathy and humility, and apologise for how her Government have failed working families who are facing destitution and homelessness this winter?

May I also take the opportunity to wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year, especially all the staff who work on and off the estate to help us do our jobs and keep us safe, and all those who will be working over the festive period to serve our nation and their communities? 2023 has been a hard year. The British people have faced many challenges, and I am proud of their stoicism and grit in getting through it. Thanks to them and their efforts, the economy is turning a corner and inflation is coming down. Despite the challenges, we have stood by our allies, in particular Ukraine. We have taken care of each other, and we have crowned our new monarch. I wish everyone a peaceful and restorative Christmas, with good wishes and hope for the new year.

Let me start with the hon. Lady’s final point about young Liam. I deeply regret her choosing to paint Conservative Members as uncaring and non-empathetic. She knows that is not the case. Indeed, I pay tribute to one of our colleagues, who I think is in The Telegraph this morning, who made heroic efforts to prevent harm from being done to a young man who was homeless on London’s streets.

I can give the hon. Lady that assurance on infected blood, and I am expecting the House to be updated on that important matter by the Minister for the Cabinet Office. She is right that the Minister with responsibility for disabilities is important, and I am sure that that reshuffle announcement will be made imminently. I also remind the House that every Department has a disability lead in place. I echo the hon. Lady’s thanks to all Commission members for the work done on risk-based exclusion. I think Mr Speaker has written to Members today, and we will of course bring a motion to the House early in the new year. I will also ensure that Members are kept up to date with the ongoing and tragic situation in Gaza over the festive period. I know, as I hope do all Members, that FCDO consular services are there 24 hours a day for any hon. Members who have constituents who need assistance.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of our further legislation to stop the boats. I always find it amusing that Labour Members are keen to see this legislation brought forward so that they can stop it. They say that they have changed, but they have not, and I am afraid their actions speak louder than words. They talk tough on borders, but they have voted every time against our measures to strengthen them. They talk about equality while not paying women a fair wage. They talk about a charter for workers while siding with strikers and eco-zealots who prevent them from getting to work. They talk of fiscal responsibility, but would borrow a further £28 billion more. They talk of opportunity, but would tax education and halve apprenticeships. The hon. Lady has talked empathetically on the cost of living, yet is very happy to clobber hard-working people who can least afford it with higher taxes, the ultra low emission zone and lower tax allowances. They talk of hope, but they would bring despair, as many in Wales are now having to endure. I put on record my thanks to Mark Drakeford for his service, but I remind people of Labour’s record in Wales.

It is a good job that the nativity did not take place in Labour-run Wales. Mary and Joseph would have been clobbered for an overnight stay levy. She would have had poor maternity services. The shepherds would not have been able to take the time off to bear witness due to cuts in the rural affairs budget, and the three wise men would have arrived post-Epiphany due to the blanket 20 mph speed limit and the poor condition of the road network. Do not fall for what Labour says; look at what it does when in power. Not all men who wear red and promise free gifts are to be trusted. Further business will be announced in the usual way.

My right hon. Friend has announced that there will be an Opposition day debate on Tuesday 9 January. Have the Opposition told her that they want to make it on the Leader of the Opposition’s claim that he will bulldoze through local objections to development?

May I draw her attention to the website of a man called Chris Dixon, who says he is in favour of building on the Goring gap in my constituency? He says that people who want to stop that development should vote for me, and those who want to have it built on should invite Angela Rayner to come down and see it. Will the Leader of the House say whether the Labour party is willing to expose its desire to build on green gaps to public debate in this Parliament?

Order. I am not sure that the Leader of the House is responsible for the Labour party. I know that the Father of the House must have told the Member who he has brought into question that he would name her today.

Mr Speaker is always right, and I am not responsible for the scheduling of topics for Opposition day debates. I know that my right hon. Friend will have sent a message today that if that is what Labour is minded to do, he will be there and spoiling for a fight.

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr a th’uile daoine—[Translation: “Merry Christmas and a happy new year to everyone.”]

Last week, the Leader of the House was unwilling or unable to answer my question about her Government’s latest immigration mess. Instead, she gave Scots another lecture from Westminster, this time about morality and her own global leadership. A lecture on morality from this Tory Government: pantomime season is truly upon us. Was she talking about the morality of her “pile the bodies high” Government, or perhaps recalling the time her Government said, “We are breaking the law, but only in a limited way”? Is it the morality that allows water companies to make a fortune in profits as children get sick swimming in raw sewage off the coast of England, or the morality that forces families of service personnel to live in quarters so riddled with damp and mould that they are judged too poor for human habitation? Perhaps that is the morality she had in mind. Could it be the morality of the return of near-Victorian levels of destitution across the UK? Perhaps she was thinking of the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign. Perhaps she could lecture them about morality and see what they have to say to her.

Before the Leader of the House launches into—mercifully—her last video nasty of the year, I hope she can answer my question today. It is the same question I asked last week, which remains unanswered and mired in confusion thanks to her Prime Minister. This morning’s statement on “Citizens’ rights” might well address it, but we should have debated such drastic changes before now in this place anyway. It is supposed to be the season of goodwill, but so many of our constituents are now deeply concerned and frightened by the announcement, so I will ask again on their behalf: if the spouse or partner of a British citizen is currently living in the UK on a leave to remain visa, can they be deported if their salary is less than £38,700? Yes or no?

Let me start by wishing the hon. Lady and her SNP colleagues a very happy Christmas. I point her to what the Prime Minister said yesterday in Prime Minister’s questions about further information coming forward in the new year. I said last week that I fully understand that people in particular professions, including the armed forces, will want answers. My office stands ready to facilitate any particular cases or requests in the meantime. Transition arrangements will be announced shortly, as the Prime Minister put on record loud and clear yesterday.

I do not know where to start with the hon. Lady’s lecture on morality. She mentioned vulnerable people, yet this week the SNP announced that Scotland’s national care service will be pushed back three years. She mentioned the armed forces, but her Government are insisting that they pay higher tax, and this Government are compensating them for that. If she wants to find Victorian levels of rats and rickets, she should go to SNP-run local authorities.

I think we should have a festive round-up on SNP morality: 12 hours of police questioning, 11 grand in roaming charges, 10 years without school inspections, nine sham embassies, eight years of poor child mental health, seven years without ferries, six years shirking welfare, five hundred million overspent on Edinburgh’s tram, four million to install a heat pump, three high-profile arrests, two overseas jollies, and a dodgy Jaguar EV. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I have succeeded in bringing a smile to the hon. Lady’s face. I must thank her for being the gift that keeps on giving at business questions. I hope that in 2024 better things are destined for the Scottish people: better education, health, transport and opportunities, and better value for the taxes they pay. I hope that all their MPs will come here, represent their interests and take responsibility for the authority that they are given. That is my Christmas wish.

In the new year, can we have a series of debates celebrating all the positive things happening in our constituencies? They include the £64 million of levelling-up cash for Marsden Mills and the Huddersfield-Penistone line in my area; a brand-new A&E unit; the west Yorkshire investment zone investing in Huddersfield university; the trans-Pennine upgrade; and wonderful community groups such as those in Milnsbridge Village Hall and the Friend To Friend group, where I will join pensioners tomorrow for a Christmas lunch. Can we please celebrate these positive things happening in our communities?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the considerable achievements that he and his constituents have secured over the past year. I am reminded of the, very sadly, late Benjamin Zephaniah, who as guest editor on the “Today” programme insisted that it be just about good news. We could all do with that occasionally. My hon. Friend knows how to apply for a debate in the usual way.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the Backbench Business for the first week after the Christmas recess and for the extensive list of recess dates, which we will fill up our diaries with. I mentioned that last week, so it is welcome to get the dates in the bag.

I am afraid to say that I am of such an age that I have been a school governor for 40 years continuously. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I am the chair of governors at a primary school in Gateshead, where 52% of the youngsters are entitled to free school meals. Holiday hunger is not a concept confined to the summer recess. Can we have a statement from the children’s Minister on whether the Government have plans to tackle holiday hunger in the winter break, when cold exacerbates the problem and adds to the misery of hungry children?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for this work on the Backbench Business Committee and for his question. He will know that it was the topic that the Youth Parliament chose to debate when they visited the Chamber. There has been huge focus on provision in schools, particularly during holidays. If he has particular concerns, I will be happy to raise them with the Secretary of State for Education, as the next questions are not until 29 January.

Hannukah semeach, Mr Speaker. This evening, of course, is the last evening on which Jews will light their hannukiah. It is normally the time of year for joy, but for many Jews we are frightened to show our Jewishness on the streets of this country, not least because of the appalling examples of Jew hate we have seen on some of the marches. But it is Jewish students on our campuses who have it the worst. At a recent Jewish Society event at Warwick University, its WhatsApp chatgroup was infiltrated and freshers were called, “effing dirty Jewish…”—I will not say the last word. Visibly Jewish students at St Andrews were egged and an emeritus professor at Bristol called for her followers to blow up the Jewish Labour Movement. May we have a debate on antisemitism on campuses, so that Members can hold vice-chancellors, some of whom are doing a good job on this, to account for what is happening on our campuses?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this very important point. This was also raised last week in the wake of the appalling testimony that was given in the United States from three of its universities. His question is very balanced, because many universities are doing a very good job on this front. I will just put on record my thanks to the noble Lord Mann, the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and my own fantastic Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards), for the work that they have done with others in producing a very good report on this subject. It is incredibly important that those universities that are not doing what they should do—we know there is no excuse, because the bulk of universities are doing a fantastic job—really get their act together. They owe it to this country and everyone in it, in particular the Jewish community, to get that right. I again pay tribute to the work of the Union of Jewish Students, who do so much work to combat the terrible antisemitism that is unfortunately lingering in some of our academic institutions.

This has been a very difficult week for Pontypridd and Taff Ely. Last night, a serious fire and explosion in Treforest occurred and sadly one person is still unaccounted for. On Monday evening, three young men tragically lost their lives in a car crash in my home village of Tonyrefail, and two people are still fighting for their lives in hospital. This awful news has hit our close-knit community very hard and all our thoughts are with Callum, Jesse and Morgan’s loved ones at this very difficult time, as well as all those still recovering. Our emergency services acted in an exemplary manner in both situations, and I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to everyone who ran towards the danger and tried to help.

Sadly, in the wake of these accidents distressing footage from both scenes and malicious, cruel posts about the victims have been uploaded to social media. Some platforms were quicker to act than others and did remove some of the offensive posts and footage. I know that the Leader of the House takes a personal interest in online safety, so will she be willing to meet me to discuss a way forward to close the gaps and tackle this issue?

I am sure that I speak for all of us when I say how sorry we are and how much our thoughts are with all those who have been affected by these appalling tragedies in the hon. Lady’s constituency. It is terrible when one terrible thing happens, and I know it rocks a whole community, but to have two such terrible events take place together is truly shocking. Of course, I will be very happy to meet her to discuss what more can be done. She knows I take a personal interest in ensuring that social media companies take their responsibilities very seriously. If there is anything we can do to assist her community, we stand ready to do so.

Abdul Wahid is the head of the UK arm of Hizb ut-Tahrir. He utters the most vile antisemitism possible and praised the attacks of 7 October as being a punch in the face for Israel. Not only is he uttering this vile abuse, but he is also an NHS GP in Harrow. There is a large Jewish community in Harrow and they will be fearful of going to their GP in case he is the one who sees them. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can root out extremists from public service? In my view, his right to be in this country should be cancelled and he should be deported. We must ensure that extremism is not allowed in our public services.

I know that many Members will be aware of this shocking case. My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on specific details of what might be happening with regard to an individual, but I can say that the Community Security Trust has been recording an increased number of antisemitic incidents and hate crime, notably since the start of the current conflict. Of course, these attitudes and actions are utterly indefensible and should not be tolerated regardless of a person’s walk of life, but it is all the more shocking when that person has been charged with carrying out a public service, especially one that requires the trust and confidence of the local community. I am sure that this is not the last we will hear about the case that my hon. Friend has raised.

Liberal Democrats have long supported a community-led rather than a developer-led planning system, and my constituents are waiting eagerly to hear what changes the Government may make to the national planning policy framework. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has indicated, both on air and in print, that an announcement is due to be made this week. I presumed that means an oral statement to the House so that Members can scrutinise any changes that might be forthcoming, but I note that no such statement is to be made today and that, as yet, there has been no written statement either. Can the Leader of the House please tell me whether there will be an oral statement from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on the changes to the framework before we break up for Christmas?

As the hon. Lady will know, the next oral questions to the Secretary of State will be on 22 January, and I will ensure that he has heard of her interest in this matter. In respect of legislative business, I will make further announcements, and the House will be updated on statements in the usual way.

The Leader of the House will have seen the statements made in May by the Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), about excessive rates of pay for Post Office executives. There is a real challenge in my constituency, in that residents are not receiving their mail on time, including medical notes and financial statements, which cannot be right.

I have written to those at Royal Mail asking them to address this problem as a matter of urgency. We are coming up to Christmas, and people, some of whom are elderly, cannot receive communications from their families. This is not only an issue for my constituency; it affects all of us over here. May we have an urgent statement on the Floor of the House about Royal Mail’s performance, and in the meantime will my right hon. Friend please ask the Under-Secretary of State to speak to Royal Mail, again as a matter of urgency, to ensure that the matter is addressed?

I am sorry to hear this issue being raised yet again. Many Members have already raised it, and I know that my hon. Friend is working very hard to secure a better service for his constituents. I will certainly make sure that the Under-Secretary of State has heard about his concerns, but I think that what we can all do locally is urge against actions that exacerbate such situations, such as industrial action.

On Tuesday, at the Premier League stakeholders’ meeting, discussions about the financial package deal between the Premier League and the English Football League broke down. The representatives of the Premier League cannot agree among themselves about what that package should be, let alone come to an agreement with the English Football League. We are waiting for the legislation that was in the King’s Speech, because we need a regulator with teeth and a backstop that can sort this financial package out. It is essential for the future of our national game that we have a strong and competitive English Football League as the foundation for the Premier League, sitting at the top, so when will we see that legislation?

I am aware that many Members will want the legislation to arrive very swiftly, and they will not have long to wait. The hon. Gentleman knows what I am about to say: namely, that I will announce it in the usual way. But I can reassure him that we are committed to introducing both a regulator and the legislation in good time.

May I again raise the issue of potential job losses at the Scunthorpe steelworks? As the Leader of the House will know, it has been raised a number of times, but this would not just affect those who will potentially lose their jobs; given the importance of the supply chain, the whole northern Lincolnshire economy would be threatened. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the House is kept up to date by means of a statement, perhaps early in the new year?

I thank my hon. Friend for the diligence with which he defends the interests of his local community and this sector, which is very important to the United Kingdom and our sovereign capability. He will know that questions to the Secretary of State for Business and Trade are on 25 January, and he may also wish to raise it with the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero on 16 January. I thank him for his ongoing work on behalf of his constituents.

Many families in my constituency will struggle to heat their homes and put food on the table this Christmas, and some will worry about whether they can even afford their home next year. Business should be booming, but owners are crumbling under soaring costs and business rates, yet the business of this House after the Christmas recess looks vague and out of step with their deep worries and frustration. Can the Leader of the House provide some clarity for the year ahead?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She will know that, with the autumn statement, we have done a raft of things to support small businesses in particular, from freezing business rates for the fourth consecutive year to particular support for the most vulnerable sectors. The autumn statement took our cost of living package to over £104 billion. We stand ready to assist her with any specific needs, but we made sure to take care of both households and businesses for the winter ahead.

May we have a debate in Government time on improved education in England? I was elected four years ago this week, when one of the top priorities in my inbox was Hinckley Academy, which was inadequate and close to closing. Fast forward four years and, with Government investment, the Futures Trust coming forward and Lisa Hickman’s stewardship, Hinckley School is now rated good by Ofsted on every level. It is a fantastic success for my community. This is exactly what a Conservative Government can bring to education. Can we have a debate to highlight that fact?

I think that debate would be very well attended. We have an excellent record on education, and we have been right to focus on how we can have the greatest effect on social mobility and improved life chances. There are 30,000 more teachers and 10% more good or outstanding schools. We have soared up the international league tables on literacy and, of course, we have transformed the further and higher education landscape with an enormous uplift in apprenticeships, which are now world leading. That is in stark contrast to what is happening in Labour-run Wales and SNP-run Scotland.

In all parts of Northern Ireland, planning applications are subject to scrutiny by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, as is right and proper. However, delays in planning are often blamed on planning officers when the delay appears to rest elsewhere. The chief executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has written to tell the head planners that he will no longer provide indicative response times for consultations, that he will no longer accommodate prioritisation requests and that he will no longer provide a response to any requests by telephone from chief planning officers. He is effectively saying, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” How can I best get this on the record and have a debate to make the Northern Ireland Environment Agency subject to proper timetabling?

The hon. Gentleman has found his own solution: he has got it on the record. I agree that hold-ups, delays and the inability to rely on fundamental services are huge problems that prevent people from investing to get on with developments. He has found his own answer, and I thank him for his diligence on this matter.

May we have an urgent statement on speeding up the Government’s delivery plan on sustainable aviation fuel? I have spoken to global businesses, including Boeing and Airbus, and there is a very live and real risk that we will lose the race to secure vital international investment as these aerospace giants take their intellectual property elsewhere. Will the Government seriously speed up their delivery plan? Their so-called revenue certainty mechanism is not due for completion until the fourth quarter of 2026. If we do not act faster, we will lose this vital global investment.

My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. Of course, we have done a huge amount and are currently considered to be world leaders in this space. All credit goes to the RAF, for some of the pioneering work it has done, and to the Virgin-led coalition that led to the first transatlantic flight on sustainable aviation fuel. He will know that the next Energy Security and Net Zero questions will be on 16 January, and Business and Trade questions will be on 25 January. I will make sure that the relevant Ministers have heard his interest today, but I also encourage him to raise it with them directly.

Yesterday, a brave group of women lobbied us in this House about lobular breast cancer. It is a much lesser known cancer, but thousands of women in our country suffer from it, and the diagnosis and treatment are still not perfected. The wonderful people who lobbied us yesterday told me that just £20 million on research would make such a difference to getting real answers in both treatment and diagnosis. Will the Leader of the House allow us an early debate on the matter?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and all right hon. and hon. Members who went to the drop-in that took place this week to raise awareness of this important matter. Good diagnostics are key to good health outcomes, which is why we have stood up an additional 160 diagnostic testing centres to ensure that we are getting through the remaining waiting lists. He will know that the reforms we have introduced in the life sciences sector—which enable people, whichever institutions they sit in, to work on problems jointly, as opposed to in competition with each other—have led to breakthrough drugs, and we have also had our investment and research missions for particular therapy areas. I can tell that there is an appetite to do more in this area. I encourage him to raise it at the next Health questions, but I will also make sure that the Secretary of State has heard what he has said.

Concern about dangerous cycling is becoming a major issue for my constituents across the Cities of London and Westminster, particularly with the increased number of e-bikes on our roads, which can reach 15 to 30 mph. My constituents are concerned about cyclists going up one-way roads the wrong way, cycling on the pavement, and cycling through red lights or over zebra crossings. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is time that the Government looked at regulating e-bikes, and can we have a debate in this place to discuss this whole issue?

I am sorry to hear about that issue in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I thank her for raising it. She will know that the next Transport questions are on 8 February. I am sure she will take that opportunity to raise the issue directly with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), but as that is a little time away, I will make sure that he has heard what she has said today. With respect to delivery companies that use these vehicles, the former Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), wrote to the major delivery companies to remind them of their obligations in this respect.

The Royal Free Hospital is a jewel in the crown of my constituency. The maternity unit holds a special place in my heart, because I had both my children there and received wonderful aftercare from the doctors and nurses there. I am very concerned to hear that there are now plans to consult on the closure of the maternity unit at the Royal Free Hospital. Will the Leader of the House grant us a debate in Government time to discuss the potential closure of the maternity units at the Royal Free Hospital and other hospitals across London?

I am sure that all Members would join the hon. Lady in singing the praises of the Royal Free, which has an incredible reputation. She will know that these are matters that must be consulted on locally, and it is for local commissioners to decide what needs to happen at a local level. However, I know that the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is keen to ensure that commissioners are doing their job well, so I will make sure that she has heard what the hon. Lady has said today. I would also encourage her to raise it with the Secretary of State directly, as she may be able to assist and ensure a better outcome locally.

I recently wrote to the then immigration Minister to raise concerns about an individual who had been residing illegally in my constituency for 17 years. After repeated asylum applications, rejections, appeals and abscondments, the Home Office failed to remove him. Last July, he suddenly disappeared and went to France, but when the French refused to accept his immigration appeal, he came back on a boat. Subsequently, the Home Office gave him the right to remain. Does the Leader of the House agree with me that that is an insult to all our constituents and to genuine asylum seekers? Can she help me to get a response from the appropriate immigration Minister about why that series of events was allowed to happen over 17 years?

I will certainly ensure the Minister for Illegal Migration has heard what my hon. Friend has said. This is a classic case of exactly what we are trying to prevent from happening in the future. There is no silver bullet for getting our system fit for purpose. Many things need to be done, and that is why we have brought through subsequent legislation to give us more powers and, concurrently, to stand up new operational systems to help us detect and deter such people.

I encourage everyone to support further legislation that comes forward, because it is having an impact. The number of small boat crossings is down by a third in the last 12 months and it is continuing to drop. We have frustrated the business model of the people smugglers. We are stopping them getting access to boats and many other practical things. Processing in the Home Office has increased over the last 12 months by 250%. I think the case my hon. Friend raises would be a good case study for the Home Office to look at. I remind hon. Members that the Home Office is providing bespoke one-to-one surgeries with all Members if they need them, face to face or online.

Order. Just a little reminder that we have several statements and then two debates, so questions should be fairly brief.

In 2018, I was approached by an elderly constituent who had fallen victim to a bank fraud because of an abuse of trust. It took six months for the bank to admit fault. I raised the issue with Durham Constabulary in 2019, but the case remains unresolved after nearly five years, mainly due to a severe lack of resources, with only one forensic accountant in the constabulary. Tragically, my constituent lost her husband during this time and her own health has suffered, more from the stress of the long investigation than from the initial crime. This is not justice—we are failing victims of crime. Will the Leader of the House intervene and give her advice on how best to seek a resolution?

I am very sorry to hear about the distress suffered by the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. He will know this is an area of huge concern, particularly at this time of year, and the Government and our agencies are running public information campaigns to try to ensure that people do not fall victim to this kind of crime. Every single crime must be investigated, and people brought to justice where possible. I will ensure that the Home Secretary has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said today, as Home Office questions are not until the new year, and see what more can be done on the particular case that he raised.

Can we have a debate on anti-Jewish business decisions in the United Kingdom? An advertising company called London Lites had a contract with families of Israeli hostages to display pictures of hostages on its electronic billboards in London. Under antisemitic pressure, the company has breached the contract and taken down the adverts, denying a voice to hostages and their families, and playing into the hands of terrorists. No doubt anything else whatsoever can be advertised on those billboards, apart from Jewish victims of terrorism. What can be done about this scandal?

That is so depressing to hear and I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for raising the matter. Businesses have to operate in complex environments. The situation in Israel and Gaza is highly complex and there are different views, across the House and the country, about what is going on, but some things are really simple. Standing in support of the hostages who remain in the hands of Hamas, nine of whom are children, showing them support and keeping them in the public eye is a good thing to do—it is not difficult to arrive at that conclusion. I hope that the company will reflect on what it has done and on the reputational damage I think it has done itself. I encourage all of us—businesses and individuals—to show some compassion, particularly over the festive period, and keep a spotlight on these poor souls.

Order. Just a little reminder that it is important to ask the Leader of the House about something that is within her responsibilities—whether a debate might be held, for example.

As confirmed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Office for Budget Responsibility, interest on the UK’s £2.6 trillion debt will be £22 billion higher this year than was forecast in March. It will now reach £116 billion, equating to £318 million of taxpayers’ money every day, or six times Scotland’s annual NHS budget. Will the Leader of the House make a statement explaining the impact on public services in Scotland and across the UK next year, given the UK’s need to service its growing mountain of debt?

We have just had the autumn statement, and the hon. Lady will know that the Office for Budget Responsibility said that we have more headroom than had originally been forecast. Only an SNP MP could ask such a question when we are about to hear the Budget of the Scottish National party—a Budget in which it has no plan to pay for the public pay settlements that it has committed to, and which is expected to have a massive black hole.

May I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all the House staff a very merry Christmas? Carshalton and Wallington residents are excited to see the progress that is being made on the improvements at St Helier Hospital and on the building of a second hospital in Sutton, protecting A&E and maternity services locally. Can we have a debate in Government time to discuss the progress of the new hospital programme?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on all his campaign successes in getting those new facilities. It is not just about the bricks and mortar, but about the healthcare professionals who will operate in them. Having a debate on this matter to look at progress against our capital programmes, and the fact that we have smashed our manifesto commitments on recruiting healthcare professionals, would be a jolly good idea.

The Leader of the House is probably unaware of this, but I am a special guardian to my four-year-old grandson. Lyle is not unique in being looked after by his grandparents; there are 180,000 children across the United Kingdom who are subject to kinship arrangements. I understand that the Government will publish their kinship strategy tomorrow. It is a shame that they did not do so today so that we could have a statement. May I ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a statement on the strategy on either Monday or Tuesday, before the House rises, because so many kinship carers are anticipating what is in that document?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good suggestion. I thank him for all that he does in this respect, and I will certainly make sure that the relevant Minister has heard his request.

Last week, we had the launch of Ceramics UK in Parliament. The sector suffers from a number of challenges, particularly due to energy costs and the need to decarbonise. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate a debate in Government time about the support needed for the ceramics sector and other energy-intensive sectors?

I thank my hon. Friend for all that he is doing to champion his constituency, and this sector in particular. Not only are an enormous number of jobs related to those products, but there is a knock-on effect on the tourist and hospitality sector in particular parts of the country. I congratulate him on raising the profile and the needs of the ceramics sector. He will know that the next questions to the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero are on 16 January, but I will write this afternoon and make sure that she has heard what he has said.

Back in February, the Prime Minister made a personal commitment to me on the Floor of the House that support would be made available for the bereaved classmates of Brianna Ghey. It was agreed in June between No. 10, the Treasury, the Department for Education and Birchwood Community High School that it would take the form of a package of funding for the school to cover the cost of mental health professionals working with students and staff. It is now December, the trial in the national media spotlight is causing enormous welfare pressures in the school community, and the funding has still not been received because the DFE is saying that, despite the funding being approved, it cannot work out whose budget it should be taken from. There has been no progress since October, despite the best efforts of the school and myself to raise it with the relevant officials. Will the Leader of the House please intervene and ensure that the Prime Minister’s promise is upheld?

I will certainly do that. I think the Secretary of State for Education will want to cut through what sounds like nonsense bureaucracy and ensure that people get what they need. I will do it immediately after business questions.

I suspect that my right hon. Friend has not been invited to the social event of the year, which is Councillor Rachel Gilmour’s yuletide knees-up in the village of Bampton in Mid Devon. She lives in a lovely house, which she shares with her husband. The chairman of scrutiny that she is, her party tonight is being paid for by local government funds, and that is not on. To be basking in the adulation of Liberal Democrat colleagues by public subscription is not a happy place to be. The head of scrutiny has also refused to scrutinise dodgy finances in Mid Devon’s doomed housing company, which we have mentioned before. Her failure to employ enough planning officers is a disgrace, and the whole Liberal Democrat leadership in Mid Devon is an absolute disaster. I just hope that she remembers to pay the rent on her rented accommodation. Can we be told, and could we have a debate on Mid Devon, please?

I think my hon. Friend has got what he wanted on the record. I hope that his local council will reflect on how it is using public funds.

What an act to follow! [Laughter.] Following the most amusing “Twelve Tartan Days of Christmas” from the Leader of the House, I rise with slight trepidation. Within the context of devolution, I have raised health many times in this place. At all times, the Leader of the House has been courteous and helpful in her responses. Nevertheless, the problems continue in Scotland. My constituents have to travel hundreds of miles to see a dentist, they can hardly get to see a GP, and now the A&E service at Raigmore Hospital is refusing all patients. It would be a splendid Christmas present to my constituency if the Leader of the House would grant a debate on NHS services in rural areas.

I am very sad to hear about the ongoing issues in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. It must be incredibly frustrating for him. It is incredibly frustrating for us. He will know that the previous Secretary of State for Health and Social Care offered England resources to assist with the backlog in Scotland, and the First Minister turned down that opportunity. I think that is a disgrace. I will continue to raise the issue. The hon. Member knows that health is a devolved matter, but we will do all that we can to improve the lot of his constituents.

My local authority in Stockport states that the average waiting time for a blue badge parking pass is 12 weeks, but my constituents tell me that in reality the wait is often much longer. In addition, the rigid criteria to quality for a blue badge laid out by the Department for Transport mean that people with genuine serious and complex medical issues are frequently refused. That leaves many people who are in genuine need isolated and struggling to find adequate support for car parking. The key issues are the long wait times, the need for additional resources for local authorities, and the need to extend the qualifying criteria for those with degenerative medical conditions. As such, will the Leader of the House allocate Government time for a debate on the blue badge scheme in England?

I am sure that all Members have had casework relating to that. It is a complicated system. Local authorities have some discretion in the scheme. If the hon. Member wants to give me the specific details of his case, I will try to get some advice for him from the Department.

Tomorrow marks a year since the fatal crush at the O2 Academy Brixton in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House join me in placing on the record Parliament’s condolences to the families of Rebecca Ikumelo and Gaby Hutchinson, who sadly died? A third victim remains in hospital, and the Leader of the House may be aware that the police have opened a corporate manslaughter charge. The families want justice. What steps can the Government take, and can we have a debate in Government time, to ensure that families get a timely response to tragedies such as that at the O2 Brixton Academy?

I am sure I speak for everyone in the Chamber and the whole House when I join the hon. Lady in her condolences and memories, particularly for Rebecca and Gaby, but also for all those affected by that appalling, tragic incident, which is still very vivid in all our minds. I shall certainly make sure that the relevant Departments—there will be a few that have an interest—have heard what she has said. It is obviously a live and ongoing case, so I am not able to comment further, but she has done a great service by reminding us of that anniversary and I shall make sure that Ministers have heard her words.

I am sure the Leader of the House will join me in my praise and thanks to London’s Community Kitchen and the Sufra food bank, which do such wonderful work in my constituency, but will she do more? In the new year, will she hold a debate in this place about the work of food banks across the country, not just so that we can praise and thank them for all that they do, but so that we can make them redundant?

I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman’s praises not only for that particular organisation, but for the many food banks across the country for the work that that they do. There are different models to how they work; some are sustainable, with a focus on using food that would otherwise be going to waste, and with some there would be merit in their continuing. But of course we want everyone in this country to be confident about their financial resilience. That is why we have stood up an enormous cost of living help package—over £100 billion now—and why we have done so much to focus on lifting people out of poverty, whether through the tax system, other local support grants or, of course, the uplift in benefits and pensions that we saw continued again in the autumn statement. He will know how to apply for a debate and I encourage him to do so.

Children with special educational needs in Leicestershire have unfortunately often taken two years to complete the education, health and care needs assessment process. That is, at least in part, due to the chronic underfunding of Leicestershire County Council over many years by central Government. I attended Education questions this week, where many colleagues raised concerns about special educational needs provision, so could we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Education on how we will resolve this unsatisfactory situation in Leicestershire and, I think, in many other places?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He may know that the Secretary of State for Education has a particular interest in this area, which was demonstrated during her stint at, I think, the Department of Health and Social Care. I will make sure that she hears what the hon. Gentleman has said with regard to his local authority area.

Many of my constituents are facing the toughest Christmas that they have ever faced, with rising food bills, rising energy costs, rising mortgages and rents—it goes on and on. They are facing a cold and difficult Christmas. Does the Leader of the House accept that this Government are too weak and divided to stand up for the British people, spending millions instead on failing policies and flying Ministers back from critical climate talks to prop up a weak Prime Minister? Is it not time to call a general election and put the record of this failing Government to the test?

I, of course, disagree with the hon. Lady. We have a £104 billion cost of living package. We have doubled personal tax allowances. We have increased the national living wage. After the autumn statement, those on housing allowance will be receiving an extra £800 on average, those on universal credit £450 on average and pensioners £900 extra. We will do all we can to get people through these tough times, but the most important thing we can do is to control public spending and bring down inflation, and I encourage those on the Opposition Benches to support us in that effort.

Again, I bring an issue of concern to the House—I am grateful to be able to ask an important question. On 28 November, Iraqi Christian leaders made an official statement noting that, due to the dangerous situation, it was clear that Iraq was not doing its job of protecting the rights of religious minorities. Furthermore, some churches have stated that they will not hold Christmas services because of the volatile circumstances. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the Leader of the House and right hon. and hon. Members will probably attend church on Christmas eve and Christmas morning without any fear whatsoever. In Iraq, that will not happen this year. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning the persecution of Christians in Iraq, and in calling for reform and greater protections for religious minorities in that country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman again for shining a spotlight on the plight that individuals in other countries face because of their religious beliefs. I am sure that, whatever our faith, when we attend our services over the festive period, those individuals who are less fortunate and find themselves being persecuted and threatened will be in our prayers. I thank him for the opportunity to say that from the Dispatch Box.

Yes, it is directly related to one of the comments that the Leader of the House made. On Report of the Victims and Prisoners Bill, the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), announced that there would be a statement to the House on the infected blood issue. It was not clear from what the Leader of the House said whether that would be an oral statement or a written statement. Of course, I think that the House is expecting an oral statement, so I just want confirmation that that is what will happen.

These matters are often left to be discussed on the very last day before we go into recess. I urge the Leader of the House not to allow the statement to be on the last day, if possible, because that sends a signal to people—to the infected and affected—that they are at the back of the queue again when it comes to the Government explaining what is happening.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The answer is yes, with the caveat that the right hon. Lady will understand: business is fluid, events happen and there is demand for particular statements. She will know from her meetings with the Minister for the Cabinet Office that he is a very diligent individual. He cares deeply about this issue, and I know that he will want to come to the House given the importance of the matter. I fully understand the optics that the right hon. Lady has described. She will know that I cannot give guarantees, but I hope that I have reassured her of our intent.