Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 9 September 2021

The 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.

Tuesday 14 September—Consideration of a business of the House motion, followed by all stages of the Health and Social Care Levy Bill.

Wednesday 15 September—Opposition day (5th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. The subject is to be announced.

Thursday 16 September—General debate on the role and the response of the devolved Administrations to COP26, followed by a general debate on proposed reforms to the criminal justice system to respond better to families bereaved by public disasters. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 17 September—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 20 September will include:

Monday 20 September—Consideration of a business of the House motion, followed by all stages of the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.

After a two-year, one-month and 14-day build-up, the Prime Minister bounced his Cabinet into accepting his so-called social care plan and yesterday bounced Parliament into accepting it by calling a vote, and now on Tuesday they want to ram the Bill through in just one day. I know the Leader of the House will say that this is not unusual, but why the urgency for a plan that does not even come into effect until next year? Is it because the Prime Minister’s so-called plan is nothing more than a Tory tax rise? It is the third Tory tax rise on working families in recent months—a hat-trick of broken Tory manifesto promises.

And it is not a plan. There is nothing on workforce, nothing on how to help people stay in their own homes, which is what people prefer, and no vision for what social care should be. The Prime Minister knows that this would never get through Parliament unless the Government rush it through. This a meagre attempt to fix the NHS funding gap, which it will not, and nothing more than a statement of intent that in a few years’ time the money will be moved to social care. The NHS funding gap predates the covid crisis, so I will not take that as an excuse. That gap happened under successive Tory Governments over the last decade, and no Minister can guarantee that the money raised from the tax hike will actually go to social care. It will not fix the NHS funding gap and there is still no route to fix social care: it is a tax rise, not a plan.

This is on top of the forthcoming cut to universal credit, hitting working families yet again. I thank the Leader of the House for rescheduling Labour’s debate and vote on this that was planned for yesterday. Will the Government use the extra week to reconsider this callous cut, which is set to plunge even more people into hardship? Let us not forget that the pandemic is not over. We cannot forget that more than 150,000 people have died of covid. Bereaved families are still waiting for a public inquiry, and the work on this by my deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), is really sterling. They want us to learn lessons now to plan for the future so that others will not suffer as they are, and I ask the Leader of the House again: when will the Government’s inquiry be brought forward?

The Government have not only failed on the home front; they have also trashed Britain’s proud global reputation. It is 20 years since British troops went into Afghanistan, yet in just weeks we have seen the complete roll-back of the gains for which 150,000 of our brave soldiers fought and 457 died. The Government’s failure to plan an exit strategy means that not only thousands of Afghans are still at risk, but now our national security is at risk. We do not have eyes on the ground. They are failing at the first, fundamental duty of Government—keeping citizens safe.

We have a Foreign Secretary who could not even pick up the phone when Kabul fell, even though the sea was closed, whatever that means. His Department was completely unprepared, as we can clearly see, and he thinks that just one statement to the House will make up for all this. If this is not a resignation matter, can the Leader of the House tell us what is? I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for his urgent question. I can categorically state from the Dispatch Box that emails sent to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office before 30 August have not even had an auto-response in my own inbox, so I wonder how many other people have been put on the line to the crisis team to respond to them.

Can the Leader of the House confirm when the Home Secretary will come to this House to set out her plan for the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme? Despite the Government’s complete failure to plan over the last few weeks, the heroic effort of our troops involved in Operation Pitting is not in any doubt, so will the Government officially recognise their bravery with a medal?

Finally, this afternoon the House will debate the legacy of our dear and much missed colleague, our friend Jo Cox. This afternoon I will be thinking of Jo, as I do every day in this place, and I will think about the impact she made on us all as Kim, her sister and her successor, takes her place and makes her maiden speech. I know that all hon. Members will be cheering Kim on as she, like Jo, makes her own unique and inspirational contribution.

May I agree with the hon. Lady about how important this afternoon’s debate is, and wish the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) extremely well in making her maiden speech? That is a difficult occasion for all Members, but doing so in memorial to one’s sister must be a particular pressure. I am sure it will be a brilliant speech, and I wish her extremely well in doing that in an important debate.

On the other issues raised by the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), the argument about bounce is simply ridiculous. When we have a Budget, that Budget is announced when the Chancellor stands up to speak. The Budget resolutions to provide for the immediate implementation of tax increases under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968 take place at the end of the day, and mostly happen to go through on the nod. We have a seven-clause Bill, including the clauses on commencement and so on, and including the debate yesterday, it will have had more than an hour per clause. If we had an hour per clause on every Bill, we would never have time to discuss all the Bills we have going through. This is being done in a completely proper and sensible way that is respectful of procedures within this House.

I am intrigued that the Opposition do not want the NHS to get more money. They seem to oppose that, and think that giving more money to the NHS is a bad idea. That does prove the point nowadays that the Conservative party is the party of a good health service, and the Labour party has run away from its historic background. There will be £12 billion more each year for the NHS and the catch-up programme, to provide funding for up to 9 million extra checks, scans, and operations over the next three years, with the NHS running at 110% of pre-pandemic levels by 2023-24. Some £5.4 billion was announced earlier this week in addition to that, and it is the most extraordinary injection of money to ensure that the NHS can catch up after the remarkable service it provided during the pandemic. I am sure that people up and down the country, and constituents in all constituencies, will note that the Labour party does not want the NHS to have this funding, that it wants people to wait longer for their hip and knee operations, and that it wishes there to be no catch up. No doubt we will find out more of that next week when we debate the Health and Social Care Levy Bill.

The hon. Lady referred to the uplift in universal credit. That was intended to be temporary to help people through the worst of the pandemic. It provided £9 billion in additional support, but it was intended as a temporary measure. We cannot always keep temporary measures forever; we have to balance the books. That is why a Bill is coming forward next week—it is about ensuring we are able to pay our way. This is typical socialism. The magic money tree comes back to mind, which Labour Members still seem to think exists somewhere, although it is odd that at the moment they do not want any of their magic money to go to the NHS.

The hon. Lady raised the important issue of Afghanistan and what is going on there. The evacuation of 15,000 people, including 8,000 British nationals and 5,000 people through the Afghan relocations and assistance policy is a remarkable mission. It was carried out well and competently, and that is something we should note and approve of. Of course the withdrawal from Afghanistan was not a decision taken exclusively by Her Majesty’s Government. I sometimes get teased for valuing our imperial history and being proud of it, and thinking what a great country we were when the Pax Britannica was across the world. But it is not the Pax Britannica any more; it is, if anything, the Pax Americana, and if the United States does not want to stay in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that we could stay there by ourselves. In that context, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is someone in whom we can all have confidence. He was working hard when he was on holiday, and he has attended to his duties.

Mr Speaker, may I bring people up to date with modern technology? The hon. Lady seems to think that to speak to the Foreign Secretary, someone has to go through an operator, who will pull out plugs and put them through. Nowadays, there are things called mobile telephones; they work internationally, and people can get through. Even more amazing, correspondence can arrive through electronic means; the “e” in email is for “electronic”. Lo and behold, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was working extremely hard and effectively and is a great man. That is why he is also the First Secretary of State.

Over the whole issue of Afghanistan, the Government have been doing remarkable work with local councils. I am very proud that the council that covers the area I live in, Bath and North East Somerset Council, has already volunteered to take people from Afghanistan. I know that Stoke Council has done the same, and other councils across the country are showing the natural good will of the British people in helping a nation that is in great difficulties.

May I urge my right hon. Friend to arrange for a debate in Government time on public health? This is an issue of great concern in my constituency, particularly in matters of funding allocation, education, child obesity, type 2 diabetes and healthy diet. We do not have enough time to debate those general issues of public health, and I urge him to find some time.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. Of course, Public Health England is being reorganised and will be changed in due course. We have in front of the House the Health and Care Bill, which will be an opportunity to raise some of these matters. In terms of an additional debate, I point him in the direction of the Backbench Business Committee.

Can we have a debate about what exactly is going on in this Chamber? Our constituents are beginning to notice what is happening here, and they are dumbfounded at what they see: on one side of the Chamber, nearly everybody with a face mask; on the other side, practically no one. It is as if keeping our workplace and colleagues safe has become an ideological and political position, and that somehow being a Tory MP makes someone exempt from contracting and spreading covid.

The Leader of the House knows the score. He was at a meeting with me on Monday, where we heard from Public Health England that there are high levels of carbon dioxide in this Chamber. That means the air that we exhale is being confined in here, leading to an increased risk. And those Division Lobbies are an absolute and utter disgrace—Members of Parliament trapped in confined spaces for several minutes, with card readers that are next to useless, as this bizarre and time-wasting headcount continues to go on. Come on, Leader of the House; help us keep the staff and the people in this House safe.

At that meeting, the Leader of the House said that he would wear a face mask to encourage the rest of his colleagues. Put that face mask on, Leader of the House. We have heard from doctors again today that the face mask is the most effective means to stop the spread of this virus. Tory MPs can be as cavalier as they want with their own health, but when it comes to their colleagues and the people who work in this House, that should be a matter for all of us.

We have to stop playing politics with covid. It is going on again today. Yesterday, this House quite rightly said that there would be covid vaccine passports for nightclubs in England. Today, in the socially distant, virtually inclusive Parliament in Scotland, there will be a vote on covid passports in Scotland. The Conservatives will support them down here and oppose them in Scotland. Has the Leader of the House got a word for that type of behaviour?

I had a feeling that the hon. Gentleman would be a bit grumpy this morning, because it is the anniversary of the battle of Flodden, which was not, it has to be said, Scotland’s finest hour.

As regards the wearing of face masks, the Government guidance is completely clear on when people should wear them and when people should not. It is said specifically in the guidance that a person might want to wear one when they are in a crowded space with people they do not—[Interruption.] Patience; listen to the end of the sentence—in a crowded space with people they do not normally meet. We are not in a crowded space with people we do not normally meet, and people are right to make a judgment for themselves as to whether they will wear a face mask or not. As I said before, there are circumstances in which I will wear one; I went to the excellent Thomas Becket exhibition at the British Museum, which was very crowded and in a small space, and I had a face mask in my pocket and put it on. But look around—the ceilings are high, the doors are open and the Benches are not particularly full; it is perfectly reasonable not to wear a mask in this Chamber and on this estate, in accordance with Government guidelines. The House authorities have done a great deal of work, consistently, throughout the pandemic, to keep everybody safe. This is how it should be. So I think we should allow people to make choices for themselves; I do not think we should always be told what to do by politicians. Allowing freedom and liberty, and encouraging freedom and getting back to normal, in a society that is primarily double-vaccinated, seems to me to be extremely sensible.

Yesterday, we rightly voted for more money for the NHS and for social care, but in lots of the trusts around the country the unaccountability of the senior management, many of whom are earning more than the Prime Minister, is completely unfair to those working with them within the NHS. May we have a debate on why, for instance, the Prime Minister was able to go to my trust and say that we can have a brand new hospital, only for my community and my constituents to be told that we are not going to get one and we will get a refurbished hospital because that is what the trust management want to do? It is not what the people of my constituency want.

My right hon. Friend raises a point that should concern us all; democratic accountability to this House is fundamental. I am glad to say that the Health and Care Bill, which is working its way through Parliament, will restore some elements of direction that may be given, because it seems to me that he who pays the piper should call the tune.

I am very grateful, as always, Mr Speaker. May I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business and for announcing the Back-Bench business for next week, on 16 September? This year, Baby Loss Awareness Week, on which we have regularly had a debate, will fall towards the end of the conference recess, so we are proposing, if we get the time, to try to allocate that debate on Thursday 23 September, before the conference recess. We would really appreciate it if that were to be facilitated.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Sir Brendan Foster and his team on, and encouraging all the participants in, this year’s—the 40th—Great North Run in Newcastle and Gateshead this coming Sunday? It is almost a unique event, which showcases Tyneside at its very best. We wish everyone taking part every success.

Yes, I would happily join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Sir Brendan Foster on the 40th Great North Run, as long as nobody expects me to do any running. I offer my warmest and most enthusiastic congratulations. I absolutely note the hon. Gentleman’s point about the importance of the Baby Loss Awareness Week debate. I cannot promise anything at the moment, but I have heard what he has asked for.

On a day when we remember colleagues, Mr Speaker will be fully aware that in the summer recess we heard the sad news of the loss of Austin Mitchell, my predecessor and the longest serving MP for Great Grimsby, with 38 years. Will the Leader of the House suggest something we could do in this place to remember the amount of work that Austin did, in the House of Commons and for Great Grimsby?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend because, like many Conservative Members, I knew Austin Mitchell with great affection. I first met him when we both spoke in a debate in the Oxford Union, which must have been in the late ‘80s.

Thank you so much—Austin was not quite that old. He was a man of absolute, firm principle, enormous charm and great humour. His ability to entertain in this House and elsewhere was second to none. Like all of us aim to do, he fundamentally stood up for his constituency. He was a model of a constituency MP. Regardless of party politics, he put his constituents’ interests first, even to the point of changing his name—was it to Mr Haddock?

Austin Haddock, yes. So he is remembered with great affection. Perhaps, Mr Speaker, we should have an Adjournment debate—that is in your bailiwick, not mine—to celebrate a great man.

I just say to the Leader of the House that in all my years in the House of Commons, I have always found it very sensible to listen to what the Speaker says, and he has advised that masks should be worn around Parliament. I put that gently to the Leader of the House.

This week, the Transport Secretary very proudly tweeted out that old Pacer trains were being used for healthcare and school facilities for communities in the north. I very much doubt that Conservative Ministers would be proudly tweeting out that those clapped-out, knackered Pacer trains were being used for classroom facilities at Eton or Winchester or for healthcare facilities in the south of England, so can we please have a debate on what the levelling-up agenda that this Government talk about actually means for communities in the north?

I think the right hon. Lady has wrenched from its context what my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary was saying—that reusing old trains can be an enjoyable thing to do. People like seeing old train carriages. There is a former station in my constituency where a railway carriage is used as a cafeteria. It is part of the history of the railways to reuse old carriages. The levelling-up agenda is absolutely fundamental to what this Government are doing. There is the high street programme that is going to help high streets, the improvement in infrastructure, and the reversal of some of the Beeching cuts, as a railways matter. All these things are part of levelling up. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, in the House of Lords at the moment, is a further part of that to provide real opportunity across the country.

Can we have an urgent statement on the planning system and specifically on consultation with residents? An enormous 15-metre-high warehouse has been erected just metres from residents’ back gardens in Bynghams in Harlow, blighting their gardens and homes and having a devastating impact on their lives. The planning application was passed in 2017 and 2021 with little objection because the consultation process is weak and not fit for purpose. It should never have been allowed to pass and it can never be allowed to happen again.

Obviously, detailed planning approvals are a matter for local councils, not for the Government, unless they are called in. A planning Bill in this Session will provide plenty of opportunity to discuss and debate these issues, but it is of fundamental importance that we restore and reform our planning system so we have one that provides the houses and homes that people want to live in, that can restore our levels of home ownership in this country and that fairly represents the views of local people.

I have constituents whose son is at present in a critical condition in the intensive care unit at St George Hospital in Sydney. They have visas and an exemption on compassionate grounds to enter Australia but cannot find flights. They have tried a number of airlines with no success. Although there has been confusion as to who is responsible, the Australian Department of Home Affairs said that it would be possible for an MP to put some pressure on the airlines to help. Will the Leader of the House urgently speak to his Cabinet colleague at the Foreign Office to see if they can assist this family?

I am always willing to help right hon. and hon. Members with constituency issues of this kind, if they feel that they are not getting the support they need from other Government Departments, and I would be more than happy to do that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can send me written details so that I can look into it carefully.

The Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal was one of the worst scandals in our history, encompassing crimes across the spectrum of exploitation. That is why I have joined brave survivor and whistleblower Sammy Woodhouse to campaign for a criminal and sexual exploitation commissioner for children who will oversee all elements of supporting child victims to rebuild their lives. Can we have a debate on the creation of a child criminal and sexual exploitation commissioner? Will my right hon. Friend lend his support to our campaign for that and make representations to the Government so that we have a stand-alone statute definition of criminal exploitation and a joined-up approach to dealing with the legacy issues, so that women, boys and girls are protected from all types of illegality and abuse and that the Rotherham sex scandal can never happen anywhere else again?

I agree that the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal was one of the worst scandals in our history. My hon. Friend is right to raise the matter; what has happened in his constituency has been appalling. Child criminal exploitation is one of the most heinous crimes, and the Government are determined to do what we can to tackle it. As there is already a Children’s Commissioner for England whose remit is that she

“promotes and protects the rights of children, especially the most vulnerable, and stands up for their views and interests”,

I encourage my hon. Friend in the first instance to put pressure on the Children’s Commissioner to focus time on this very important issue, because it is sometimes easier to use the tools to hand than to create new tools.

Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day. Will the Leader of the House continue to draw attention to this really important issue, as he has done in the past, and encourage colleagues to raise it and share it on social media?

As so often at business questions, I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who raises the most important and sensitive issues that have widespread support across the House. Yes, of course I will help in any way I can to promote World Suicide Prevention Day. It is the greatest blow to families and those left behind when a suicide takes place, and so many can be prevented with the right support, care and knowledge. Charitable bodies including the Samaritans do wonderful work to help, but if there is anything that I can do, I will work with the hon. Lady to do so.

Much of what we consume is delivered to us by heavy goods vehicles, yet the Leader of the House will know that hauliers are suffering a driver shortfall of 100,000. Robert Louis Stevenson said:

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”,

but goods cannot travel at all, let alone arrive, without skilled drivers. Will the Leader of the House therefore arrange a statement to the House explaining the absurdity of the Government’s cancellation of the delegated training scheme to allow firms in my constituency and elsewhere to train drivers themselves, and letting the House know what the Department for Transport intends to do about the crisis, so that the fine Lincolnshire produce demanded across the country can be delivered quickly and efficiently?

I have had the privilege of visiting my right hon. Friend’s constituency, whose fine produce is absolutely remarkable. I think that he introduced me to the largest pumpkin grower in England—by which I mean that he grows the most pumpkins, not the biggest pumpkins.

He is not the fattest pumpkin grower either, no.

On 20 July, the Government announced a further package of measures to help industry to tackle the issues caused by the HGV driver shortage. Those measures include support for the recruitment and retention of drivers, such as proposals to streamline the process to obtain a licence, offering financial assistance for training, and backing industry-led initiatives to improve the working conditions for driving. I have also noticed reports that wages for HGV drivers are going up. This is, as so often, a market solution.

I wonder whether I could crave your indulgence, Mr Speaker, and take the Leader of the House to Scotland once again, on a slightly different topic. An awful lot of people in Scotland are having huge difficulty in accessing confirmation of their two inoculations, either in hard copy or by email. Rather worse, where they have had one inoculation and then another via the armed forces or in another part of the UK, there is chaos. Does the Leader of the House agree that it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make a statement regarding the availability of this information? No citizen should be disadvantaged by reason of where in the UK they live.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that where someone lives in the UK should not make it more difficult to get confirmation of a vaccination. I point out that the SNP, in coalition with rather fanatical Greens, is in charge of the Government in Scotland and is not very good at running things. That is a problem, but obviously it is difficult to interfere in matters that are properly devolved. However, I will take the matter up with UK Ministers so that we can have a UK solution.

Recently published figures show that just over 3,500 people are currently claiming unemployment benefit in my constituency—about 2,000 more than before the pandemic. Every job lost as a result of the pandemic is a matter of great concern, but virtually every business that I have spoken to in recent weeks is struggling to fill its current vacancies. That is true particularly in tourism and hospitality, but also across the sectors of transport, food processing and construction. Could we ask for a statement on the action that the Government are taking to help businesses to recruit the staff they need so that we can boost our economic recovery?

My hon. Friend has raised an important point. It has also been raised by the Governor of the Bank of England, who has pointed out that quite a number of people seem to have left the workforce during the course of the pandemic, and it is important that they should be brought back in—should be encouraged to get back in.

The Government have a plan for jobs to give people the skills and qualifications that they need in order to take up roles in key sectors quickly. We have begun to see wage growth: for instance, Costa Coffee is hiring an extra 2,000 people, but is also increasing their pay by 5%. The Government are inviting employers from a range of sectors, including farming and hospitality, into local jobcentres, because one of the most effective ways of promoting vacancies is for employers to market their opportunities directly to work coaches and jobseekers. This is about encouraging people to look for work and showing them that the work is available, but also about helping people to gain the right skills for the jobs that are available.

My constituent Maryam Amiri contacted me on 20 August about her sister, who has five young children, her cousin, who is eight months pregnant, and her elderly father. They are all stuck in Afghanistan. The women have no husbands because, I understand, they were murdered by the Taliban for their role in the Afghan armed forces. Can we have an urgent debate in Government time on the Government’s resettlement scheme, so that I can find out whether families like Maryam’s can find sanctuary and be reunited and safe in the UK?

We had two statements on Afghanistan earlier this week, one from the Prime Minister and the other from the Foreign Secretary, and we have just had an urgent question on the subject. The hon. Lady has raised a very difficult specific constituency case, but, as I have said before, if answers have not been coming through to her, I should be more than happy to help her to obtain a specific answer.

My strong view is that the proposal set out yesterday could be substantially improved with some imaginative additions and developments. Will my right hon. Friend say a bit more about when the Bill proposed for debate on Tuesday will be published, so that we can look at it and work constructively on what I hope he agrees—I dare say he does, in his heart of hearts—would be useful amendments?

I think that the Bill is already available. I see some very helpful nodding among the wise men in the Box, so it has clearly already been published. However, the Health and Care Bill is currently going through Parliament, and in respect of any changes to any of the social care proposals that my hon. Friend thinks would be a good idea, it would be right to table amendments to that Bill rather than the Bill relating to the national insurance increase, which is a very simple and straightforward piece of legislation.

Even by this Government’s standards, it has not been a great first week back, has it? We have had chaos and misinformation regarding Afghanistan, attempts to impose vaccine passports, and the breaking of manifesto commitments, with the Government scrapping the triple lock and rushing through the biggest tax rise of 50 years, as well as pulling an Opposition day debate on the scrapping of the universal credit lifeline. May we please have an urgent debate on probity in public office?

I wish to put on record my admiration and support for the Samaritans and the work that they do, and to congratulate my local Derby branch, which is celebrating 60 years of operation. Derby Samaritans help more than 6,000 people each year and respond to about 15,000 calls for help. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Derby Samaritans and their incredible, selfless volunteers on the crucial work that they do?

I am very pleased to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Derby branch of the Samaritans on its 60th—its diamond—anniversary. She is right to thank the Samaritans for the remarkable work that they do, which saves so many lives, and to recognise the commitment of Samaritan volunteers up and down the country who, inevitably, are on call during difficult, unsocial hours and have to deal with the most emotionally wrenching problems. At the beginning of the year, as part of my “Commons Mentions” series, I spoke to Keith Leslie, the Samaritans’ chairman of trustees, about the fantastic work that they do. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to thank him personally, via Zoom.

I am sorry to have to take the House back to the statement that we have just heard on Afghanistan, but the Minister was very forceful in telling us that all emails received within a certain period had been responded to. A quick straw poll in my office tells me that four emails to the Home Office have had no response, along with two to the Ministry of Defence and two to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. That is after just a quick look, so can the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time or a statement on the accuracy of responses given by Ministers, so that Members of the House can get to the facts of these matters and not the fiction?

Ministers do give accurate answers, and that is always important. What Mr Speaker said at the end of the urgent question was absolutely right: Members have a right to seek redress of grievance for their constituents, and Ministers have an obligation to respond as helpfully and efficiently as they can. Every day since 24 August, the call handlers have answered more than 94% of the calls that were made, and the average wait time since 20 August has been under a minute. The FCDO replied to all emails from MPs received by 30 August asking for an update by Monday evening—[Interruption.] Well, that is the information that is collated: emails received by 30 August have been replied to. [Interruption.] I would say to people who have not received a reply: resend your email—[Laughter.] I am appealing to people’s sense of realism. We all know from our own constituency email inboxes that emails do not always get through, so if anyone is in any doubt about an email, I would say that they should resend it. Hon. and right hon. Members have a right to a response, and the Foreign Office is working very hard to get those responses, but if Members are not getting a response, they should resend their emails, and if they do not get a response to that, they can come to my office and I will help them to get a reply. I have said many times that, as Leader of the House, I will always do my best to facilitate Members’ correspondence.

May we have a debate in Government time on the Government’s response to the ongoing issue of the increasing numbers of illegal migrants crossing the channel? I welcome the actions that the Government have taken and are proposing to take, but an update in the House and a wider debate to explore additional solutions to this serious issue could well be helpful to the Government.

The dangerous and unnecessary small boat crossings that we saw again last weekend are wrong, and the Government are determined to crack down on the criminal gangs that drive that activity and profit from it. I can tell my hon. Friend that there have been nearly 300 arrests and 65 convictions, and that we have prevented more than 10,000 migrant attempts. I was pleased to see that efforts are going to be made to send the boats back. That policy has been used very effectively by our friends in Australia. It took the profit away from the people smugglers, who are the real cause of the problem and who trade on the distress of unfortunate people.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for doing what you can to keep this House safe. May I just say kindly to the Leader of the House that wearing a face mask is not about personal choice; it is about protecting the health and safety of other people?

I want to ask a question about correspondence that has not been replied to by the Minister for Care, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately). I wrote to her four months ago—and have continually chased that correspondence—about fault lines in the social care regulation of domiciliary care companies that are consistently breaking the law by setting themselves up and then failing staff by not paying wages or pensions and failing to turn up to appointments. This is a very serious issue. It is a fault line in social care, and it is exactly what the Government will be funding through their new levy. Can the Leader of the House get a response for me, and can we also have a debate on the quality of social care?

In answer to the second part of the hon. Lady’s question, there will be a number of opportunities to debate social care because the Health and Social Care Bill is going through this House, but a more specific debate may be asked for from the Backbench Business Committee. As regards the slow response to her correspondence, I will of course take that up after business questions and try to get her a reply. The issue she raises concerning abuse and fault lines in domiciliary care and the non-payment of employees is clearly a very serious one.

May I add my own tribute to Austin Mitchell? I agree with what the Leader of the House said earlier. Austin was my MP for 38 years. It was always a pleasure to work with him, both as a councillor and, subsequently, here in Westminster, although I have to say that I never voted for him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) and I visited Franklin College in Grimsby last week. It is a further education college that does a great deal for young people who want to enter the new and emerging industries in the renewables sector, which is important for the area. Can we have a debate on the work of FE colleges, which are particularly valuable in areas such as the one I represent?

My hon. Friend is the Austin Mitchell of our time in his assiduous and tireless work for his constituents. There is a model on the Opposition Benches and a model on the Government Benches for looking after constituents and arguing the case for one’s constituency.

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is going through the House of Lords at the moment, and when it comes to this House there will be an opportunity to debate further education, including further education colleges. If my hon. Friend wants a specific debate on Franklin College, it will come under Mr Speaker’s purview in an Adjournment debate.

My constituent is suffering mental health problems as a result of a crippling £15,000 debt. Worse, it is a universal credit debt that the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted was caused due to its maladministration, misdirection and misinformation, yet DWP Ministers want to collect that debt from my constituent. Why have this Government removed the discretionary option not to collect debts in exceptional circumstances? Will the Leader of the House make arrangements to reintroduce the guidance so that the DWP can do the right thing by my constituent?

Following what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) is also somebody who always stands up for his constituents. On any number of occasions at business questions he has raised such issues on behalf of constituents who are seeking redress of grievance.

I cannot promise to change the policy of the DWP—it is not within my authority to do so—but I can promise to help the hon. Gentleman get an answer in relation to this specific constituent.

At the Harron Homes Amberwood Chase development in Shaw Cross, Dewsbury, and at a site in Lindley located within the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), home owners are experiencing major issues with the developer not completing the two sites, leaving roads and pavements unfinished and major snagging problems outstanding. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House consider a debate on tackling rogue house builders who entice people to buy their dream home, only for it to become a nightmare as they are left abandoned once they have moved in?

This is an important matter, and it is quite wrong for developers to sell substandard homes. Developers must meet their responsibilities to resolve issues quickly and treat home buyers fairly when things go wrong. They must also meet planning conditions agreed with the local authority. The Building Safety Bill includes provision for the new homes ombudsman scheme to provide strong and effective redress for new build home buyers and to hold poor developers to account.

Furthermore, our future planning reforms will inject real competition and quality into our construction market, with new builders entering the market to challenge incumbents, and we hope that a wave of self-built houses and a focus on beauty and quality will follow. Members will have the opportunity to raise these issues as the legislation makes its way through the House.

Is it not great to be back properly, with all of us here?

One of the saddest stories I heard this week was about Sarah Harding, the Girls Aloud singer who died of cancer—partly, her family said, because she chose not to go to the doctor early enough due to covid. The cancer was not detected soon enough.

My concern about getting over the massive backlog is that lots of people are already choosing to go private. Even people of very meagre means are spending £3,000 or £5,000 on new hips and knees, which seems massively unfair. Should we not be buying up all the capacity in the private sector, at cost, so that people are dealt with on the basis of need rather than their financial position?

Secondly, there is a real problem with staffing. We have a shortage of pathologists and histopathologists—the people who check whether something is a bad cancer—and a shortage of radiologists and radiographers. Can we have a debate on how we get staff numbers, not just more managers on £270,000, into the NHS as fast as possible?

I find myself in a great deal of agreement with the hon. Gentleman that it is so important that people go to their doctor if they have any suspicions. He has been an example of that and I know has recovered. It was to the great relief of the House that he had the sense to be checked out early. If there is any message one could ever give to anybody who listens to these sessions it would be to go to see their doctor if they have a concern, and I remind GPs that they are meant to be offering face-to-face appointments again. The money is being provided to deal with the backlog. I think I said earlier that it would deal with 9 million cases, but, yes, shortages of staff are an issue and it is of fundamental importance that the money goes to where it is needed in the NHS: supporting paying for the staff who will be carrying things out rather than paying very large bureaucratic salaries, which does not seem to be the best application of funds.

My right hon. Friend has mentioned that we have had urgent questions and a statement on Afghanistan as well as a very important debate, but would it be possible to have another debate on the future of our role in Afghanistan and our relationship, if any, with the new Government?

Obviously, the Government are held to account, and quite rightly so, for their policy in Afghanistan, and that has been a matter of interest to the House and it has been covered quite fully. A general debate, however, is more a matter for the Backbench Business Committee. It has the time available for these debates and I encourage my hon. Friend to go to that Committee and seek one.

May I briefly associate myself with the comments regarding the late Austin Mitchell? It was my privilege to work with Austin for many years on matters pertaining to the fishing industry. I know that his passing will be felt not just by his friends and family, but in fishing ports around the coast of the United Kingdom.

May I recommend to the Leader of the House that, if he has not already done so, he reads my urgent question on vaccine passports in yesterday’s Hansard? The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) opened the bidding for the Conservative Back Benchers by saying:

What a load of rubbish.”—[Official Report, 8 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 307.]

What followed was three quarters of an hour that was not quite as polite and nuanced as that. Of most concern, however, was the fact that the Minister was asked three times whether this House would be given the vote that it was actually promised by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and three times he refused to give that commitment. Can the Leader of the House tell me now whether, in the time that remains unallocated, we will be allowed to debate and vote on the Government’s proposals?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that important question. The Government were quite clear—and this was agreed with the Department of Health and Social Care last year—that any matters of national significance would come to this House for a vote before the measure was implemented. That was a commitment made by Her Majesty’s Government and I assume that any Department that wishes to bring in a statutory instrument that meets that test would ask for time for a debate first. That is something that the House ought to expect.

I hope that the Leader of the House shares my concern and that of so many colleagues across this House that in the other place an eighth of the seats are effectively reserved for men, because of male primogeniture and the hereditary peerages. I wonder whether he would timetable a statement in Government time about what the Government are planning to do to end this anachronism?

There are some titles that go down the female line by special remainder, but my hon. Friend is quite right that it is not very many. The law in relation to the Crown was changed by this House a few years ago. The 90 remaining hereditary peers who are elected and the two who are there ex-officio, as she rightly says, do mainly pass through the male line. If anybody wishes to change that, it is open for them to bring forward proposals. There is a campaign to change it, but I cannot say that the Government have any immediate plans to adopt that campaign.

Despite a so-called partnership of equals, Scotland is subjected to a Tory Elections Bill that is an assault on the democratic process, constant attempts to shift the goalposts on an independence referendum, a UK Government seeking to legislate on devolved areas and the imposition of a regressive tax hitting low-paid workers. Will the Leader of the House make a statement explaining whether he thinks those measures are strengthening or weakening the Union?

I am glad to say that the Union seems to get stronger and stronger. We have seen how important it has been during the course of the pandemic, with the enormous sums of money that have come from the UK taxpayer to help every corner of the United Kingdom, with £407 billion so far, of which I think £15 billion has gone to Scotland.

On the national insurance increase, people in Scotland will get more money than they pay and they will get more money for healthcare. Is it now the policy of the SNP, along with the policy of the Labour party, that it does not want extra funding for healthcare—that it wants longer waits for hips, knees and other operations, and fewer treatments to take place? The Union is getting stronger because people are beginning to see the failures of the nationalist Government in Scotland, as Lady Mona Lott herself just goes on and on about a second referendum, rather than dealing with the problems that Scotland faces and the backlog of issues that have risen from the pandemic.

Rugby Community Ambulance Station is a valuable base for ambulances covering Rugby, yet West Midlands Ambulance Service University NHS Foundation Trust proposes closing it without any consultation with either the local community or staff. In doing so, it will be removing the last ambulance from a fast-growing town of 80,000 people. My constituents have real concerns about future response times to urgent calls. May we have a debate about decision making in the NHS?

There will, to some extent, be an opportunity for that as the Health and Care Bill passes through Parliament, but the optimal placement of ambulance stations is an operational matter for NHS trusts to decide; that decision has been delegated to them. West Midlands ambulance service says that it has carefully considered the matter and has set out that the closure would not affect the number of ambulances in the area available immediately to respond to 999 calls as they arise, but one always understands the concerns of people living locally when they feel that a service is being removed from them.

I will reveal my face to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have been called worse, so not to worry.

The chaos of Brexit becomes clearer on a daily basis, as reality dawns. Foreseen in the legislation is the establishment between the European Parliament and this place of a parliamentary partnership assembly. The efficient, dynamic, orderly European Parliament has done its bit in establishing this important forum. Will the Leader of the House give us some insight on when the UK will match its ambition and speed?

Brexit has been a triumph, I am glad to say. We saw that not least with the vaccine roll-out; if we had done what the Opposition had wanted, we would not have been vaccinating people so quickly and opening up so soon. We have regained our freedom so we are able to make decisions for ourselves, but there is the eccentricity of the SNP, which wants to have independence only to hand it over to the European Union and to be told what to do by Brussels. If that is what SNP Members wish to campaign for, I do not think that they will be successful. The matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers is working its way between the Lords and the Commons, and I am sure that it will be set up at a suitable time.

It is evil, wrong and unacceptable that people are being trafficked across the English channel for the purpose of making huge sums of money for evil gangs, with what is certainly perceived to be the help of the French Government. The Home Secretary is totally right to introduce legislation to turn those boats back, because that is the only way that we are going to end this evil trade. I have a serious suggestion to the Leader of the House. My private Member’s Bill, the Asylum Seekers (Return to Safe Countries) Bill, does exactly that. It has had its First Reading and has its Second Reading tomorrow. I would undertake in Committee to change the wording of the Bill to that which would be acceptable to the Government. I think it would be a speedy way of moving the matter forward. Does the Leader of the House support that idea?

My hon. Friend is right to say that the people traffickers are evil. They are the cause of the problem and they trade on people’s distress, which is fundamentally wrong. The Nationality and Borders Bill is also going through the House—it is going off to Committee next month—so other legislative measures are being introduced, but my hon. Friend is extremely helpful in bringing forward good ideas as to how we can make things work. I note, again, that turning boats back was a policy followed extremely successfully by the Australians and has had the benefit of stopping the evil trade there.

The historic tall ship Glenlee is of great cultural importance to Glasgow and, indeed, Scotland. Although it sits in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), all of us Glasgow MPs know how important it is to the citizens of Glasgow. As the Glenlee sits within the COP26 exclusion zone, it has been forced to close for not just the duration of the conference but a number of weeks before and after. As such, it is missing out on lucrative business opportunities that would quite literally help to keep it afloat. Will the Leader of the House please issue a Government statement on how businesses such as the Glenlee are going to be compensated for COP26?

Obviously, when the Government do things that prevent business from taking place, a responsibility falls on the Government to ensure that businesses do not lose out. COP26 ought, though, to be a huge success for Glasgow, attracting many visitors to go there and a considerable amount of expenditure, and I hope that the overall economic benefit will be good. This is a further example of the benefits of the United Kingdom, because COP26 is taking place in Glasgow because Scotland is part of a strong and powerful United Kingdom.

The Leader of the House said he believed that the hybrid procedures we adopted during an earlier phase of the pandemic somehow diminished scrutiny of the Government, but today’s urgent business was announced just minutes before the House sat and then changed after the House had begun to sit. I do not know how that enhances Back-Bench Members’ opportunity to scrutinise the work of the Government. At the very least, may we have a debate on the lessons that might be learned from the procedures that previously we had in place during the pandemic, and perhaps on what better practice out of all that might be adopted, or re-adopted, for the longer term?

It seems to me to be completely obvious that scrutiny is much better, much tighter and much more spontaneous in this House when we are all present. If Members are in the Chamber, they will know what the business is.

Last but not least. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Rather than investing in green hydrogen, the Government are loudly promoting blue hydrogen made from natural gas, which will never get us to net zero. The Government say that green hydrogen is too expensive. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the long-term cost differences of investing in blue hydrogen versus green hydrogen, and on whether the Government are considering setting an end date for blue hydrogen?

A Somerset MP, even one from the Liberal Democrats, could certainly never be least. In my view, those from Somerset always take a primary place in the nation’s affairs, and so they should.

The hon. Lady raises an important and interesting issue. The technology is developing and evolving. It seems to me that one of the fundamental things we should say in the argument about getting to net zero is that we want to improve people’s living standards—we want people to have a better standard of living, with economic growth—and we can do that by technological innovation. Hydrogen is such an exciting part of that, because if we have cars running on hydrogen, we no longer need to be so mean to the motorist, to make it so difficult for them and to put in all those roadblocks and tiresome things that some local councils are doing—the hon. Lady will know of a local council that is currently doing just that. We will be able to get back to allowing people to do more of what they want and in a green and friendly way. Technology will be the solution to that.