The business for the week commencing Monday 6 September will include:
Monday 6 September—Remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.
Tuesday 7 September—Second Reading of the Elections Bill.
Wednesday 8 September—Opposition day (5th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 9 September—Remaining stages of the Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill, followed by general debate on the legacy of Jo Cox. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 10 September—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 13 September will include:
Monday 13 September—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill.
I should like to take this opportunity to wish farewell to someone who has worked first in the House of Lords and then for the Government to support the legislative agenda. Talitha Rowland will be leaving her role as head of the Cabinet Office’s Parliamentary Business and Legislation Secretariat after the summer recess. For the past three years, in not always easy circumstances, she has been ensuring that this House has had a good, well thought through legislative programme. Her contribution as a civil servant to the business of this House has been formidable. It was, of course, Talitha and her team who worked so hard behind the scenes to prepare for the state opening and Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech, delivered on 11 May.
So, having been busily digesting the end-of-term report cards prepared for my children by their excellent teachers, I thought I might attempt one of my own for the House on the progress made in delivering the Government’s legislative agenda. The Government remain committed to delivering their ambitious legislative programme, which will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, supporting jobs, businesses and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services.
Between the end of the Easter recess and Prorogation, seven Government Bills received Royal Assent. Six Bills were carried over from the previous Session, including the Finance Bill, which has received Royal Assent and is now the Finance Act 2021, and 25 Government Bills are currently before Parliament, including the Health and Care Bill, the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Building Safety Bill and the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill. That is not to mention the more than 200 statutory instruments laid before the House since we returned from the Easter recess.
The Government’s legislative programme is about unleashing the potential that exists in every part of the United Kingdom. It is a principal function of Parliament to deliver for voters by making laws—a point that I hope is fully grasped by all those who have worked so hard to keep the House operating this term.
As we come to this recess, I join you, Mr Speaker, in thanking all the members of the staff and, as we end the virtual proceedings, in thanking the virtual Parliament team—the broadcasting team—who, from a standing start, worked absolute wonders. It is worth remembering that when we went away for the recess at Easter 2020, people wondered how Parliament would be able to sit at all, yet we were back just a few weeks later. That was a terrific achievement. Keeping Parliament going, although it mainly seems seamless, in fact requires a great deal of work behind the scenes.
I also want to thank everyone else who works here for all they have done to keep the parliamentary show on the road. I thank the distinguished Clerks, who keep their knowledge for us and present it to us in a way that ensures that we legislate properly. I thank the Doorkeepers, those founts of knowledge—as long as the Whips are not listening, I advise any Back Benchers present that if they ever want to know whether there will be a vote on a particular day, they should ask the Doorkeepers, because they will tell you and they will almost always be right.
I would like to thank the cleaners. It is amazing that they have been here the whole way through the pandemic: they have been going round sanitising everything every single day, and they do so without our normally seeing them. They do their work discreetly and quietly and they deserve our gratitude. I also thank the facilities team and the catering staff—it is true that, like Napoleon’s armies, politicians march on their bellies, so we are very lucky to be so well catered for.
I thank the security staff, the police and Hansard—I am always grateful to Hansard because it takes the stuff that I unleash and turns it into pearls. I am very grateful for the grammatical enhancements, improvements and terminological additions that ensure that all our speeches are so elegantly phrased, although it is worth remembering that Dr Johnson got so fed up with writing better speeches for Whigs than they had actually delivered that he gave up reporting on Parliament. I hope that when my speeches are transcribed they will not have that effect on the current generation of Hansard reporters.
I thank everybody and wish everybody a most enjoyable recess.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I will come to my own thank you list shortly, but I turn first to his report card. He really sounds as if he has been marking his own homework—or perhaps he has been on a creative writing course, I don’t know. Contrary to what he says, the Government’s past year has been so chaotic that if I were going to give them a report that covered any more than the past week, we would have to sit through recess. If they wanted to be graded, it would be Fs across the board. It would take a lot more than summer school and their own lacklustre education catch-up plan before we saw any improvements.
The Government are clearly desperate for a summer recess, but I am afraid that for the rest of us it is another summer of chaos, thanks to them: 1 million children off school last week, businesses facing closure, supermarket shelves empty, millions forced to isolate over the summer— and they will not be able to do so from a country residence—and now more chaos in the sporting arena, as Australia and New Zealand have pulled out of the rugby league world cup on safety grounds. Can the Leader of the House please confirm that it will go ahead and it will be safe?
All this, and the Government still cannot make up their mind about whether to follow the NHS app or about who is exempt. On Sunday, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor clearly thought that it was one rule for them and another for everyone else. The Minister for Investment wrote to businesses saying that the NHS app was an “advisory tool”, and the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) said the same on Tuesday morning, but then No. 10 came out and said that it is crucial people isolate when told to do so. Yesterday, the Prime Minister—the Chequers one, Zooming in for PMQs—offered no answers, so for the avoidance of doubt, will the Leader of the House please clarify what the Government’s position actually is?
On mask wearing and social distancing, which is still Government guidance, people outside and inside this place have noticed the difference between the Government and Opposition Benches at Prime Minister’s questions. Clearly some people on the Government side do not seem to note that the Government’s own rules are encouraging us to wear masks and socially distance in enclosed spaces—it is clearly one rule for them and another for the rest of us.
Amid all this chaos, we must not forget that more than 150,000 people have died of covid. I met some of the grieving families yesterday and saw the photographs of 650 people—one for every constituency, just a fraction of the total number of deaths. The families are still desperately waiting for a public inquiry. The Government’s mistakes throughout the pandemic must never be repeated. The former Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), certainly has the time to appear before an inquiry. Will the Leader of the House please schedule time for a debate on that in the first week back?
I turn to the Government’s missing-in-action social care plan. All we have had is rumours of a national insurance hike to pay for it. I have heard one argument that that
“will hit…public sector workers…and someone earning £32,000 will pay exactly the same as someone earning £132,000.”—[Official Report, 17 April 2002; Vol. 383, c. 667.]
Those are not my words, but the words of the Prime Minister. Why has he changed his mind? The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Health Secretary have not denied the reports of a national insurance hike, but there was more chaos this morning when the Business Secretary seemed to be saying that he did not see how there could be one. Two years after the Prime Minister first promised the social care plan, will the Leader of the House confirm when it will finally be published?
The Nationality and Borders Bill had its Second Reading this week. We have heard lots about a broken asylum system from Conservative Members, but they are the ones who have broken it. In the past year alone, 33,000 people were waiting more than 12 months for an initial decision on their asylum claim, and many were in my constituency—10 times more than in 2010. The appalling crime of people trafficking must be stopped, but the Bill will not do that. It fails on its own terms because there are no commitments on refugee resettlement or family reunion and, despite a lot of rhetoric, safe routes have not been properly reopened. The Dubs scheme closed after having settled just a fraction of the 3,000 children promised. In March this year, just 25 refugees were resettled—so much for safe and legal routes. We have already had the cuts to international aid rammed through. The Bill further undermines the UK’s efforts to tackle the forces of poverty, war and violence that drive people from their homes. It criminalises those who had no other choice. The Home Secretary should think again.
Over the past year, the Leader of the House has kindly committed to ensuring that Members receive timely responses to ministerial correspondence. I thank him for that, but so far there seems to have been little improvement. Will he commit to sorting it out by September?
Finally, I would like to wish Team GB the very best of luck as they begin their Olympic campaign in Tokyo. My constituent Lily Owsley will be playing for the women’s hockey team. We are all very proud of her, and I will be cheering her on.
I would like to thank all the wonderful staff who have kept this place going in exceptionally difficult circumstances. It has been a very difficult year, and I hope everyone can have a peaceful and safe summer.
The hon. Lady makes a very important point about the number of deaths from covid. It is right that the House should pause briefly to pray for the repose of the souls of those who have died, and to think of those who have lost family members and friends:
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.
On the hon. Lady’s political points, it really is the pushmi-pullyu Opposition. We have complaints about the Government’s immigration policy from an Opposition who opposed the Nationality and Borders Bill. We have complaints that we are not being tough enough on stopping people coming into this country, yet our efforts to make it tougher are opposed.
This country has a proud record on ensuring that there are routes for refugees. We have settled 25,000 refugees over the past five years, and a further 29,000 refugees through family reunion. We have to make our borders safe. We have to have safe routes for those who have a genuine fear of persecution, but we have to stop the people traffickers.
The Opposition have become the party of people traffickers. They do not want to do anything effective, and they cry crocodile tears while opposing the Government’s efforts to be effective in dealing with our borders. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] They are the ones who should be ashamed. They chunter on the Opposition Benches, but they could not even find enough speakers to fill up the time available for debate. We ended up with only Members on this side of the House speaking because the Benches on the other side were empty, aside from the most distinguished hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who he is always in his place and always doing his duty, unlike some others I could think of.
As we come to the summer, we still have an ongoing pandemic. Yes, the restrictions have been reduced, and yes, we are able to make decisions for ourselves, which is quite right, but it is also right that people who are pinged should isolate. That is the Government’s strong advice. If you are rung up by Test and Trace, Mr Speaker, which I hope you are not, it is the law that you must isolate. If you are pinged by the app, it is the strong advice of the Government that you should isolate. Advice and law are different, but the Government are right to give a very clear indication of what ought to happen.
On the wearing of masks, I have one in my pocket, along with a handkerchief. It is here in case the Chamber is full, but it is not. There is a good deal of space—an amazing amount of space—on the Opposition Benches, as some Opposition Members may have gone on recess early, but on the Government Benches even my hard-working, enthusiastic fellow Conservatives are not squeezed in, and nor were we at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. At a normal PMQs, we are squeezed in with hardly an inch between us, but yesterday there was space. It was therefore a reasonable decision for individual Members to take for themselves, in accordance with Mr Speaker’s guidance.
The hon. Lady asked for debates and, as she has an Opposition day coming up in the first week back, she will be able to choose the topics of debate as she wishes. She mentioned that the Australians and New Zealanders have pulled out of the rugby league world cup because they think they will lose. I must confess that it is rather sad. I always thought the Australians, of all people—one of the countries that we in this House love most—would never be ones to pull out of a competition. But they think they are going to lose, so they are staying at home. That is a pity, and I am sure the rugby league will run the competition with enormous effectiveness, ensuring that covid security is followed.
Finally, regarding gossip on social care, the Government have consistently said that it will be announced by the end of the year. Therefore, reading tittle-tattle and coming up with bits and pieces of gossip is not necessarily particularly helpful to the House.
I echo your words, Mr Speaker, but very much include you and your brilliant team in the praise that has been handed out. This is the finest Parliament in the world and that is in no small measure down to the people who run it. I wish everyone a very happy summer.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on delays at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which are having an impact on drivers and businesses in general? The DVLA works terribly hard but I understand that the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on staffing levels. Constituents are complaining about it. I hope that during the course of such a debate we would try to address those urgent issues.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this, because it has been raised with us all as constituency MPs. The DVLA’s service is currently not good enough and it has been hindered, unfortunately, by industrial inaction by members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which has made the problems of the pandemic worse, by the Welsh Government’s additional social distancing requirements, which have reduced the number of staff on site, and by an increased demand for its services, which has led to delays in dealing with paper applications. Her Majesty’s Government are working to put that right and the DVLA has, for example, leased an additional building to accommodate additional staff. Driving licence applications made on paper are likely to take six to 10 weeks to process, although there may be additional delays in processing more complex transactions, for example if medical investigations are needed. I will obviously pass on my hon. Friend’s concerns to the Secretary of State and there will be the end of term Adjournment debate to raise any further issues of this kind later today.
As you have rightly noted, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am participating virtually in what will be the last opportunity for me to make use of these simply amazing facilities. There was no way that I was venturing down to covid central this week in the middle of a raging pandemic. These facilities have been a great parliamentary innovation, allowing all Members to participate equally during the pandemic, and ensuring that all our constituents, regardless of where they are in the UK, have a voice and are being represented. It almost feels like democratic vandalism now to tear them down, but it also feels like madness to remove them when infections and hospitalisations are doubling weekly with the out-of-control Johnson variant. We have absolutely no idea where we will be when we come back in September.
Freedom day, of course, became farcedom day when the Health Secretary caught covid on freedom eve and half the Cabinet ended up as casualties of the pingdemic. This is the Government who could not organise a drunken event at happy hour in a nightclub where people may or may not need to be double vaccinated. Does the Leader of the House agree that the first thing we need to do when we return in September is have a debate to take stock of exactly where we are and what facilities we might require so that we can continue to represent our constituents?
With shops throughout the country reporting empty shelves due to a combination of covid, pingage and Brexit, a serious shortage crisis is coming and we might need at some point to recall this House. What provisions are in place if that is required, particularly as we might have a predicted 100,000 cases per day?
Let me follow Mr Speaker in paying tribute to the technical staff who delivered this facility at almost unprecedented speed. I wish all the staff—the Leader of the House has mentioned them all, although I do not have time to do so in the time available to me—a well-deserved break. We simply have an amazing team on this estate. I know that he is off to see the rugby league representatives, but I also commend Mr Speaker for his leadership during this past year. When this House needed someone to get us through, it got the man from Chorley. I thank all his deputies, including your good self, Mr Deputy Speaker, for all the work you have done to ensure that order continues in this House. We will see you all in September—have a great break, everybody.
Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Mr Speaker has been the pilot who weathered the storm, and we should raise a toast to him in that capacity. I am delighted to see that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has started his holiday early, and clearly seems to be enjoying it already from his fastness in Perthshire. I thought he might be in mourning today, because it is of course the anniversary of the battle of Falkirk in 1298, which was not one of the most glorious events in Scottish history. The victory of Edward I on that occasion is one of which we are all aware.
On the hon. Gentleman’s points on this House, let me say that this House works better when people are here; we do a better job of representing our constituents and of holding Ministers to account. Speaking as a Minister from the Dispatch Box, I can honestly say that remote participation is a doddle. It is so much easier than having that immediacy and spontaneity that we get from someone in the Chamber coming up and aiming to catch us out. Having the call lists makes life much easier for Ministers. We are here—I say this as a Minister, from the Dispatch Box—to make Ministers’ lives testing, so that we hold them to account to seek redress of grievance for our constituents, and to check that Government policy is as well thought through as it should be. That leads to better government, because policy is then better thought through, better known and better argued for. We have a duty to be back for the good of democracy. I am sorry to tease the hon. Gentleman for going on holiday a day early, but actually that is the effect of virtual participation.
Cash is used by many people to buy essentials, and constituents of mine such as Joseph from Drayton are very concerned that with the expectation now that people will pay with contactless cards, both their access to cash and their ability to pay with it will be restricted. My right hon. Friend will have seen the Telegraph Money “Keep Cash” campaign, which I warmly welcome. May we have a statement from the Government that makes it clear that people who want to be able to access and use cash will always be able to do so?
I thank my hon. Friend, whose constituency I much enjoyed visiting last week. He has a fine and beautiful constituency, with some of the greatest technological innovation in the country going on in it. I am also grateful for his question and for his support for the campaign by Telegraph Money. I reiterate what I said last week to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight): the Government indeed recognise that access to cash remains important to millions across the UK, and we are committed to legislating to protect access to cash and ensuring that the UK’s cash infrastructure is sustainable in the longer term. So there is a one-word answer to give my hon. Friend: yes.
I am afraid to say that today is the second of two days running that are sad days for the Scots. As the Leader of the House has said, today is the anniversary of the battle of Falkirk, and yesterday was, sadly, the anniversary of the death of Robert Burns in 1796. Being a Scotophile, I know of these things. I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for the return after recess and for writing to Ministers in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on my behalf following last week’s business questions. Applications for Backbench Business debates continue to come forward, and I assure him that he will have willing takers for any time he can furnish us with after the recess. I also add my thanks to all the staff of the House for everything they have done in the last year to keep us all going. In particular, I thank our Clerk of the Committee and all the Committee staff who help the Backbench Business Committee to function so very well.
Button batteries are found in many household items, from hearing aids and LED lights to birthday cards. My constituent, Harper-Lee Fanthorpe, tragically discovered the devastating effects of ingesting a button battery when her life was recently cut short at only two years old.
In 2019, the US recorded 3,467 ingestions of button batteries, with 53% of those by children under six. The data in the UK is unknown, but button battery ingestions pose a significant and considerable health risk for children. The effects of ingesting button batteries and what we can do as parliamentarians to make them safer merit a full debate in this House, so will the Leader of the House ensure that parliamentary time is made available?
My hon. Friend raises a very important and sad issue, and I know that the whole House will want to send its condolences to Harper’s family.
The Government are working with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, the Child Accident Prevention Trust and the British and Irish Portable Battery Association. The Office for Product Safety and Standards has produced safety messages on how to keep children safe. It is obviously important that children are kept safe and that this risk is understood more widely by parents. I note that my hon. Friend presented her Button Batteries (Safety) Bill yesterday, and it will receive its Second Reading, according to the will of the House, on the first sitting Friday after the recess. I will, of course, pass on her comments to my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
I once said in a debate on the 1950s-born women’s pension issue that wasps are a nuisance. They are pests and they buzz around. If we bash them away, they get angry, and when they get really angry they sting us. The WASPI women are nuisances; they are pests; they will not go away; and they are stinging. This week, the ombudsman found maladministration in how the Department for Work and Pensions treated those women. Today, the House rises for the summer recess with no statement on this issue or an opportunity for Ministers to be questioned. There is great interest and support for this issue across party lines. I am co-chair of the all-party group on state pension inequality for women, along with the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). Will the Leader of the House please guarantee that, in the first week back, DWP Ministers will come to the House and make a statement specifically on this issue? If not, what mechanisms does he think will be available to ensure that we make it happen?
The WASPI campaigners—they are in all constituencies—have campaigned hard and long in the cause that they support, and, as with all our constituents, they do so with the right to do so as part of parliamentary accountability. The ombudsman’s report yesterday is part of a process. It is not the end of the process, as there is more to come from the ombudsman. It is worth remembering that both the High Court and the Court of Appeal have supported the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions under successive Governments, dating back to 1995, and the Supreme Court refused the claimants’ permission to appeal. It was a move towards gender equality that was decided more than 25 years ago to make the state pension age the same for men and women, and that seems to me to be a good and justifiable policy objective.
As regards how to achieve this matter being debated on the Floor of the House, there is, of course, the pre- Adjournment debate later today. Otherwise, the hon. Gentleman knows very well how to get debates in this House: through the Backbench Business Committee; Opposition days, of which one has been announced; and, of course, Adjournment debates.
I am working with South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, Business West, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, the Wildlife Trust, the Conservative Environment Network, and Onward to highlight the green skills emergency. We know that 3.2 million workers will need to boost their skills if the UK is to meets its 2050 climate targets. Will my right hon. Friend grant me time to debate green skills so that we can explore how innovative Stroud businesses are rising to meet this challenge and how others areas are doing the same to get what they need to go forward?
My hon. Friend is right in so much of what she says and is aligned with Government policy. The 10-point plan has laid the foundations for a green industrial revolution, creating and supporting up to a quarter of million jobs by 2030. It is innovation and technology that will deliver net zero while maintaining and, indeed, improving the public’s living standards. Our lifetime skills guarantee will equip people with the training they need to take advantages of opportunities as they arrive, and we will need engineers, fitters, construction workers and others engaged in harnessing British science and technology to create and use clean energy. We have done great things already of which we should be proud. We were the first major economy to commit in law to net zero by 2050, and we have managed to reduce emissions since 1990 while growing the economy. That is a fantastic achievement and must be the model for what we go on to do in future.
Next week will mark two years since the Prime Minister promised to build Northern Powerhouse Rail connecting Newcastle to the north’s other major cities, yet in the past few days the Government’s integrated rail plan for the north and midlands has been delayed yet again, and we have heard that construction on the eastern leg of HS2 has stopped. Delivering HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full, alongside upgrades to the east coast main line, are all essential parts of a transformational project to connect the country by rail. Please can we have a debate on this as soon as possible so that we can convey to the Government that building 21st-century rail links between London and Birmingham while passengers in the north are left behind makes a mockery of levelling up?
The integrated rail plan will soon set out exactly how major multi-billion-pound rail projects, including Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver reliable train services. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary has published the Williams-Shapps White Paper. The Government will make railways the backbone of a cleaner, more environmentally friendly and modern public transport system across the country, and £40 billion of taxpayers’ money will be devoted to that. The Government’s record on rail infrastructure is an excellent one.
This morning I met the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust, which will be running a campaign in the autumn to encourage black communities to donate blood. This campaign will be in honour of my constituent Richard Okorogheye, who sadly died earlier this year. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a worthy cause, and would he consider a debate on how we can encourage black and ethnic minority communities to donate blood, organs and stem cells?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the campaign that she is leading and supporting on behalf of the memory of Richard Okorogheye. It is an inspiring thing for her to be encouraging people of all races to give blood, because it is an essential part of a functioning health service. I congratulate her on the work she is doing with the leukaemia trust. I suggest that she carries on raising the issue in the House through all the usual mechanisms; Westminster Hall and Adjournment debates are the best first port of call.
May I add my sincere thanks to all parliamentary staff across the estate, including our own staff, whether they worked remotely or not, for their incredibly hard work? They all deserve a very good break.
The Government say that they are committed to net zero, and that will require a doubling or tripling of the capacity of the UK’s electricity grid. The grid is all privately owned and these private companies look to Government if they are to invest. We need to achieve the network capacity for new renewables and installations, the replacement of fossil fuel transport with electric vehicles, and increased electric-powered heating. Can we have a debate in Government time, as soon as we come back from recess, on the Government’s plan and timescale to increase electricity grid capacity as a matter of urgency?
I reiterate what we have achieved already: since 1990, emissions are down by 44% and we have grown the economy by 78%. That has required changes in electricity supply which have been carried out very successfully. We are on the way to becoming the Saudi Arabia of offshore wind, which is a great achievement. We will not have any camels wandering through the offshore wind turbines, because camels do not manage to walk on water, but we may have porpoises and heaven knows what sorts of sea creatures and sea urchins frolicking through them. We have done a lot. We have more to do—of course we have—but it is all about growing the economy and making our constituents’ standard of living higher while at the same time making energy production cleaner.
Does the Leader of the House agree that, while it is rightly a matter for the Boundary Commission, it is important that constituencies reflect the history and geography of this great nation? Let me highlight just one example—the communities of Pulborough, Coldwaltham and Amberley. Despite being in the Arun valley and sometimes sitting literally in the middle of that river when it floods, as it too often does, they would find themselves in the constituency of Shoreham, 40 minutes’ drive away. Does he agree that local residents should take advantage urgently of the opportunity to write to the Boundary Commission, which, in fairness, has said that it would welcome such representations by residents?
Yes. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Boundary Commission is independent, and it is important that boundaries are equal, but the Boundary Commission will not have got everything right. I cannot pretend that I am best pleased that the report for our area—I am looking at the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire)—keeps on referring to Avon. Avon was abolished in the late 1990s. What sort of planet were the people writing the report on, thinking that that excrescence still existed, and chopping up the historic counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire and thinking that Dorset is more important? Dorset is a lovely place, but it is certainly not more important than Somerset. So there are issues, and I think it is very sensible that people should put in their suggestions, both for and against, but I must say that I am particularly irked by the Boundary Commission thinking that Avon still exists. It really ought to be a bit more up to date—and I am not the most modern person in the world.
I recently met Adam, who owns and runs The House of Botanicals, an award-winning small business in my constituency. The reason I met Adam is that exports to the continent that were taking just a couple of days are now taking almost six weeks. The Leader of the House was, of course, one of the leading proponents of leaving the European Union, but what message does he have for a business in my constituency that is being battered by his Brexit?
Brexit has already proved to be a great success. We are already doing extremely well by not being tied in, for example, to the European Medicines Agency, which the Opposition would have liked but which would have prevented us from getting our vaccine roll-out going so quickly. Businesses have to meet the requirements of foreign Governments. Therefore, if the French have decided that they wish to be difficult, which is not an unprecedented habit of the French, then that is a matter that the hon. Gentleman should take up with the auld alliance.
Southport is under attack from the vindictive policies of Labour-controlled Sefton Council, which is trying to impose a cycle network on my constituency. Residents, businesses, disability groups and safety campaigners are against it. Revenues are already down because of an existing scheme, and the inaccurate data used to support this scheme is truly shameful. Will my right hon. Friend make time available to debate these schemes, which I know concern many across the House?
I hear gossip that my hon. Friend is actually working in collaboration—whisper it quietly—with the Liberal Democrats in his area against these schemes. It shows how completely lunatic they must be that they have created an alliance between my hon. Friend and the yellow peril. I congratulate him on his broadmindedness. We have to remember the convenience of motorists and the need to have capacity on the roads for motorists, and cycle lanes need to be safe and take into account the views of locals. I understand that my hon. Friend has extended the consultation period to 25 July. I am sure that many people will want to send in their views to this terrible socialist council.
I have asked the Leader of the House this question before, but I will ask it again. Hammersmith bridge is still closed to vehicles, which is pouring between 500 and 4,000 extra vehicles a day into Putney, increasing congestion and air pollution. The £141 million bill to restore that historic suspension bridge is unaffordable for Hammersmith and Fulham Council and unaffordable for Transport for London; only the Government can now fund it. Will the Leader of the House make Government time available to debate the ownership and funding of all London’s bridges, so that we can get the capital city moving again?
The hon. Lady is right to campaign for this, but wrong to focus on the Government. The Conservative candidate, Shaun Bailey, had a proposal for dealing with it really quickly and getting on with things, had he been elected. Unfortunately, a socialist Mayor and a socialist council cannot run a whelk stall, let alone keep bridges open.
I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, that many of us in this House are looking forward to the possibility of catching up on some reading for pleasure during the recess, and with this in mind I have been working with the UK Publishers Association to compile a summer recess reading list for parliamentarians and note that your own submission is “God save la France” by Stephen Clarke, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s is “Scoop” by Evelyn Waugh, the choice of the Speaker of the House is “The Prime Ministers” by Steve Richards, and my own is David Baddiel’s “Jews Don’t Count.” Will my right hon. Friend welcome the publication of the reading list and provide us with his own book recommendations?
“Scoop” is such a wonderful and amusing book, so I am very tempted to crib from the Prime Minister, but, as I expect is the case for many Members, I have a number of books on the go, some in Somerset and some in London. I would particularly recommend “The Anglo-Saxons” by Marc Morris which is a terrific read. I am currently also reading Ellis Peters’ “The Holy Thief”, one of the Cadfael novels, so that is not a bad choice for those who like a whodunnit from the middle ages, and in the middle ages theme there is also Walter Hilton’s “The Ladder of Perfection”; it is perhaps not the most popular book in the world at the moment, but it is still in print and has been since the middle ages. But over the summer how can one resist reading anything other than P. G. Wodehouse? So I will give two suggestions: “Love among the Chickens”, Wodehouse’s first novel, which explains the complexities of compound interest, to anyone who is unaware of how compound interest works, in relation to the breeding of chickens; and, as always, there is “The Code of the Woosters”, and I am particularly thinking of that at the moment because in one of London’s leading silver stores a Schuppe cow creamer is on offer, and I must confess I am quite tempted.
Forest Hill in my constituency is one of the highest points in London yet there are multiple flight paths over the area, meaning my constituents are subject to incredibly low flying aeroplanes. As we move out of lockdown and airports bring forward expansion plans again, we will have more noise, pollution and disturbance for our constituents. Please may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport because communities up and down the country are being blighted by this?
I am not unsympathetic to the hon. Lady because as airports get back to normal there will of course be more flights, but this has to be balanced: flying gives an enormous number of people an enormous amount of pleasure as they go abroad on their holidays, but there is some disadvantage to it. The House has legislated for the expansion of Heathrow airport, but it is a private project that is in the hands of the private sector. As with so many things, there are competing interests, but I would not wish to see the airports remaining as unused as they currently have been.
I am sorry I am not in the Commons today to thank the staff personally and also particularly to thank Mr Speaker for putting Parliament first, but unfortunately I, like many others, have been pinged.
Yesterday there was a statement updating the House on the NHS. The Minister refused to comment on the pay rise for NHS staff; in fact, she said that discussions were still going on. Yet just a couple of hours later the Government announced the pay rise to the media. Yet again the Health Department has shown contempt for Parliament; yet again Mr Speaker has told off the Health Department; and yet again a Minister has come to the Dispatch Box to apologise on its behalf. The Leader of the House is an exceptional Leader of the House and parliamentarian; he must be as concerned about this as I am. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make a statement on this in the first week back after recess, and if he fails to do that, will he consider summoning the Health Secretary to the Bar of the House to apologise?
The last person summoned to the Bar of the House—the gift of Jamaica, if one inspects it closely—was an editor of the Sunday Express, Sir John Junor. He had had the temerity to say that Members had been abusing petrol ration coupons, and the House was very upset about that. Unfortunately, it made the House look ridiculous, which is why we have not done it since. So I am not going to take up my hon. Friend on his suggestion, but I do take what he says very seriously.
Yesterday, the fact is that the decision had not been completed through Government channels at the point at which the statement was made, but a written statement was laid in the House with the information concerned. It is sometimes the case that a statement by the Government that is being made at one point has other information that is still in the pipeline, and I know the House is aware of this. However, I take what my hon. Friend says seriously. I am concerned about issues—because of the pandemic, so for excusable reasons—of responsiveness to correspondence and written questions, so I am aware that this is a problem. I will of course pass on his comments to my right hon. Friend Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
In recent weeks, nations across the globe, from China to Germany, have been hit by flash flooding, while here at home we have endured a summer heat wave, and parts of the UK have recorded their highest ever temperatures. The Leader of the House must agree that we can no longer sit back and ignore the impacts of climate change—a topic close to my heart given the impact of the devastating flooding that hit my constituency of Pontypridd last summer. Will he therefore join me in supporting the need for a debate in Government time on the devastating impacts of climate change and its links to flash flooding?
May I reiterate the sympathy that everyone in this House feels for people whose homes are flooded? Even a year later, people are probably still suffering from the effects of that, and it is the disruption, the loss of treasured possessions and all that goes with flooding that makes it so difficult for people and their families. The Government take climate change more seriously than I think any predecessor Government—we are the first major economy to commit to net zero and have continued ambitious climate change targets. We also recognise that the way to deal with this is through technology that will improve people’s standards of living, and to ensure that the technology is there so that people can do more, but cleaner.
May I welcome the decision by the Government to implement a single unitary local authority in the existing county of Somerset geography? This is a fantastic opportunity to improve economic development, placemaking and planning, service delivery and value for money for local residents. The single unitary proposal was clearly superior. Will my right hon. Friend please make time for a debate on how all parties can now come together to implement this in the most expeditious way to transform outcomes positively for local people and interact well with neighbouring areas?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for the proposals approved by my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. It is of course only part of Somerset that is included in this. The former county council area will become a unitary authority, but it does not, for better or worse, include the whole of the historic county. From a personal point of view, it is a sadness that the whole county is still suffering from the vandalism of the 1974 local government changes. However, his idea that we should all work together is a very beneficial one, and I think one that will be well received by all parties across both the old county council area and the whole historic county of Somerset—God’s own county.
The Leader of the House will be aware that cuts in fire and rescue services across the country have caused deep concern over many years on all sides of the House. In my case, we have lost 50% of our pumps in Leyton and Wanstead, and crewing per pump has also fallen from five to four and in some areas from four to three. Now, with the notably warmer weather, this is causing great anxiety. Could we have a statement from the Home Office in the near future?
On the subject of summer reading, or at least the Wodehouse summer reading, may I make two recommendations of my own? They are “Uncle Fred in the Springtime” and “Leave It to Psmith”, which are two of the very few books I have ever read that can make you laugh out loud.
“Leave It to Psmith” was my recommendation last time, and I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a book that does make one laugh out loud. “Uncle Fred” is one of PG Wodehouse’s greatest, although least known creations.
As regards the serious issue of fire brigades and their crewing, the number of fires has gone down in this country pretty consistently. We are very safe in terms of fire outbreaks, and the resources in the fire brigade need to be proportionate to the risk, but I will, of course, pass his comments on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
Parliament created the Greater London Authority deliberately with an elected Mayor and an elected London Assembly to act as a check and balance on the operations of the Mayor—a constitutional function. The current Mayor, for financial reasons of his own making, has arbitrarily decided to vacate the purpose-built City Hall, which is iconic in London, and move the Assembly’s scrutiny staff functions to a building in the east part of the capital—out of sight and perhaps out of mind—that has been described as “too small” and “unfit for purpose”, while he retains offices in central London for his own political appointees and staff. Can we have a debate on the governance of the Greater London Authority so that we can discover whether this behaviour by the Mayor is consistent with the intentions of the Greater London Authority Act 1999?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who was himself a distinguished member of the Greater London Authority. I cannot promise him a debate, because if we were to set out a debate on the failings of the Mayor of London, I fear I would have to announce business on that subject for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We would have even lost private Members’ Bills on the week that we are back.
We were lucky in our Mayor between 2008 and 2016. We had the greatest Mayor that London has ever seen, who knocked Dick Whittington into a cocked hat. Since 2016, things have gone sadly downhill. We have a socialist who is, as I said earlier, incapable of running a whelk stall—that stall that is so famously run by many competent people who are good at running things, but he cannot. He has failed in so many ways. He has failed in terms of planning and getting the number of homes built in London. He has failed in terms of Transport for London. He has failed in terms of bridges, so that part of Putney is disrupted by excess traffic. I am afraid that it is only a Mayor with that sort of record who would try to get rid of his scrutinisers. I note he has one rule for himself and one rule for his scrutinisers. There is a word for that, but it might be unparliamentary.
This time last week, I shared in the Chamber just a small snippet of the racial abuse that people of colour receive on social media. I, along with many colleagues, have previously asked for a debate in the House to discuss racism on social media. That request has been effectively ignored. Can we have a clear yes or no from the Leader of the House? When we return from recess, will he make time for a debate within Government time to discuss this matter? It is simply not enough for the Government to claim they are not racist; they must actively be anti-racist. On book recommendations, I suggest “The Boy at the Back of the Class”, by Onjali Raúf. It tells a child’s perspective of the refugee crisis. It might be an enlightening read for many on the Government Benches.
Following our exchanges last week, I wrote to the Home Secretary to inform her of what the hon. Lady had said to ensure that the Government know some of the shocking abuse that hon. Members are receiving. Yesterday, the House voted to put forward its members for the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, which will be the main way of dealing with online abuse. The process in the Joint Committee will be to consider the Bill line by line to ensure that we get these laws right.
The Prime Minister has already said that people who use racist abuse online in relation to football should expect bans from football matches, so the Government are acting. In terms of debates, Backbench Business debates and Opposition day debates—we had an SNP Opposition day debate recently— are available, where Members can raise this issue. The Government’s programme is pretty full with legislation, but there are many other opportunities for debates.
I apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to the Leader of the House for not being present in person to ask my question; I was asked to self-isolate last Friday. As we approach recess, may I offer my personal thanks to Mr Speaker, all his team and all House staff for the amazing support given during these fraught times?
A feature of my Dudley North constituency is the strong and humbling commitment of so many individuals towards supporting disadvantaged people. Will the Leader of the House join me in praising Paul Gough at the Priory Park boxing club, Wade Cooper at the wellbeing centre in Upper Gornal and so many others for the amazing work they do in their local communities?
I join my hon. Friend in very much commending the fantastic work that Paul Goff and Wade Cooper do in supporting young and the most disadvantaged people in their communities. Similar activities go on in my constituency, and I know how important they are in helping people who have had a difficult start to life. We should be proud of people like Paul and Wade whose heroic work to help others is such an important part of life in our communities and our constituencies.
On summer reading, may I recommend that Ministers read Members’ correspondence and respond to it? The latest figures show that across Government just 70% of responses are achieved within target. Ironically, the Cabinet Office, which compiles the figures, achieved only 58%, but the prize goes to the Department for Education, which managed to answer a pathetic 17% of Members’ correspondence on time. What can the Leader of the House do to help Members debate how they get timely answers to their correspondence? When will the Education Secretary be carpeted in the headteacher’s office for being the biggest dunce in the Government?
The hon. Gentleman has come up with the best summer reading list of all of us and makes his point well. I am concerned about this issue and have taken it up in Government with the previous Cabinet Secretary and with Ministers. It is a matter of the greatest seriousness that letters should be answered, and answered promptly. I will help any individual Member in getting answers to letters that are overdue. I have had some success with that. I fear that if I were completely overwhelmed by Members asking me to get a response from another Department, that system may not work so well, but, as long as it is a manageable number, I will do my best. I absolutely will take up his point with the Department for Education, because 17% is not where the figure ought to be.
I speak in my capacity as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women, alongside the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), from whom we have heard. I would be most grateful if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House emphasised to his colleagues in Government the need for them as quickly as possible to outline the action they will take in the light of the ombudsman’s report on the communication of changes to women’s state pension age. That should include how they will address the systemic shortcomings that date from 2005, the finding of maladministration and the failure to comply with the civil service code. Will he also ensure that they follow the ombudsman’s advice to be proactive in considering both the impact of those failings on hundreds of thousands of women and what remedies would be appropriate, with that work taking place in parallel with the ombudsman’s further investigation as well as the separate work programme that the APPG will be instigating?
My hon. Friend is an effective campaigner on this issue and is right to raise it. The Department for Work and Pensions will of course look carefully at the ombudsman’s report, which has only just been published, but it is, as I said earlier, part of a process and there is considerable commitment to the fundamental principle that it is right that there should be equality in the retirement age. This was accepted 25 years ago and I do not think that anybody is any longer arguing that there should be a different retirement age for men and women. The legal avenues have proved successful for the Government: both the High Court and Court of Appeal have supported the DWP’s actions since 1995, and the Supreme Court refused the claimants’ permission to appeal. Yes, of course, the Government will listen carefully to further information that comes forward, but the basic principle is a fair and just one.
On 8 July, civil violence and unrest became rife in South Africa after former President Jacob Zuma started to serve a 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has strong economic, historical and cultural links and contact with South Africa—there is a special relationship. Nelson Mandela’s election as President of South Africa offered hope; today, South Africa is in danger of slipping back into chaos. I know that the Leader of the House and others present share my concerns, so will he say what we in this House can do to offer support to save democracy and stability in South Africa?
We have been thanking people for their attendance and work for the House, and we ought to thank the hon. Gentleman, who is the most assiduous attender and is a model to all Members of Parliament in the seriousness with which he takes this Chamber, which is the beating heart of our democracy. I wish him an enjoyable summer, although I have a nasty feeling that he will suffer from what I believe is known as cold turkey during the month of August.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue—he often raises issues that no one else in the House raises but that are of fundamental national and international importance. I am grateful to him for that, because this should be the Chamber that debates such issues. Her Majesty’s Government are obviously concerned by the recent violence in South Africa, which has sadly resulted in the loss of life, injuries and significant damage to buildings and businesses. The Government continue to monitor the situation closely and our high commission remains in regular contact with the South African authorities.
Her Majesty’s Government strongly support President Ramaphosa’s emphasis on the importance of the rule of law and the South African Government’s determination to restore calm. The South African Government have put in place a number of measures that have restored calm, including the deployment of the South African national defence force to support the police.
As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, this country is a friend of South Africa and, as a friend, the UK works closely with the South African Government, businesses and civil society on a shared agenda of security, health, economic and social issues, and will continue to do so. I will of course pass on the hon. Gentleman’s comments to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
I wish that today we could all be at the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells in my constituency to celebrate the very best of Welsh farming and hospitality, but the rural community is deeply unhappy after the First Minister of Wales laid the blame for rising cases of bovine tuberculosis at the door of farmers by saying that they were deliberately moving infected cattle round the country. He also ignored the concerns of pubs and landlords when he told the Senedd that he was “not an agony aunt” for the hospitality sector. The First Minister clearly does not want to represent rural Wales, so will the Leader of the House please grant time for a debate on the ways in which the UK Government do want to support rural areas like mine?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I, too, am a rural MP with dairy farmers among my constituents, and they tell me, and have told me for some time, that TB is passed around not by farmers but by badgers. That has been the cause of TB in dairy cattle, certainly in Somerset and, I believe, in other places as well. It is shameful to blame the farmers, who may lose their whole herd with an outbreak of TB. There is not only a financial cost; most farmers have a feeling for their animals, so it is a personal distress as well as an economic cost.
To be so frivolous about the hospitality and tourism sector when it has been so hard hit by the pandemic is really very poor. The sector has suffered more than many other areas of the economy. I hope that Welsh publicans will decide to toast Conservatives rather than socialists as they try to get back to business and that they have noted what the First Minister had to say.
We want to work as a United Kingdom Government and to ensure that, as a United Kingdom Government, we level up the whole of our great nation and that that includes those parts with devolved responsibilities, because there are policy areas that are the responsibility of central Government.
May I add my thanks, as you did, Mr Deputy Speaker, to everyone in the House who has kept us going throughout the pandemic, with all the challenges that we have faced? My thanks go to everyone. Yesterday, the Government sneaked out their response to the Cumberlege report in a written statement. In that response, the Government have refused to implement many of the report’s recommendations, most importantly those relating to redress for those affected by Primodos, sodium valproate and mesh. The Leader of the House is well aware of Primodos, as he has been a long-standing supporter of our campaign. Does he think it fair that, despite the Government apologising for their wrongdoing, they will not compensate those families, who continue to suffer and struggle through life? Will he convey to the Secretary of State for Health that this is not acceptable, and that we will not let go of this until we have justice for those victims?
May I begin by congratulating the hon. Lady on receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Bolton? That is a well-deserved accolade for a most impressive constituency Member of Parliament and campaigner on the subject of Primodos. As she rightly says, I was a member of her all-party parliamentary group on oral hormone pregnancy tests when I was not in government, and the campaigning that she has done has been absolutely formidable. Working alongside her was, to me, one of the really important things that I have done as a Member of Parliament. There would never have been the Cumberlege report without the hon. Lady’s campaign, and there would never have been the written ministerial statement without the work that she has done. I will pass on what she has said to the Secretary of State for Health, and I will add a little note pointing out that the hon. Lady is a very effective campaigner.
May I, through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, add my thanks to Mr Speaker and every member of staff of the House who has enabled us to continue to function through the pandemic? But of course, as we have now protected the vulnerable and, increasingly, every adult through vaccination, we can thankfully go back to something close to normal in September. I welcome the Leader of the House saying that it was every Member’s job to test Government Ministers, and I can confirm that I will continue to do so. I enjoyed being tested when I was the Minister, and good Ministers bringing forward good policies have nothing to fear from that.
The Leader of the House will be aware that I raised a point of order earlier this week because a definition in the statement from the Health Minister appeared at least to raise the possibility that Members would be required to show proof of vaccination before attending the House later this year. That would clearly be an outrage. It is our job to come here to represent our constituents, so can I ask the Leader to confirm, first, that the Government—the Executive—have no power to limit the right of Members to come here, and also that the Government will not attempt to legislate to put in place any restrictions on our ability to come to this place to serve and represent our constituents?
My right hon. Friend touches on one of the key constitutional rights that we have as Members of Parliament, and it is of great antiquity. Unmolested entry to Parliament, whether Parliament is sitting or not, as long as it is not dissolved, has been our right since 1340, and the reason that it is our right is that we are here to hold the Government to account. There have been occasions when Governments have not wanted people turning up, and Pride’s purge obviously comes to mind, when force was used to keep Members out. That right is a very precious one, and it is not a right on our own account. It is not because of who we are or what we are; it is because of who we represent.
We represent 70,000 people—sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less—who have a right to have redress of grievance sought for them and a right to have the Government held to account on their behalf, and for no expenditure or taxation to be agreed without the agreement on their behalf by their representatives. No Government could get rid of this by any means other than primary legislation. Primary legislation can, of course, do anything, but it would require primary legislation to change any condition of membership. That is why, for example, the Valuing Everyone training could not be compulsory in this House: we cannot add new conditions of membership without legislation. Otherwise, the Government could decide that we needed, I don’t know, to have passed a maths exam before we come in or that we should have good handwriting, or heaven knows what obstruction that could be put in our way to come here to do our constitutional duty. We must protect that right—it is absolutely fundamental—and I cannot think that any Government, and certainly not this Government, would try to take away fundamental constitutional rights.