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Business of the House

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 25 November 2021

The business for the week commencing 29 November will include:

Monday 29 November—Second Reading of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords], followed by a motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Animals (Penalty Notices) Bill, followed by a motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Approved Premises (Substance Testing) Bill.

Tuesday 30 November—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party, the subject to be announced.

Wednesday 1 December—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 2 December—Debate on a motion on stability and peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, followed by a debate on a motion on economic crime. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 3 December—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 6 December will include:

Monday 6 December—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Armed Forces Bill, followed by the Second Reading of the Dormant Assets Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 7 December—Remaining stages of the Nationality and Borders Bill (day 1).

Wednesday 8 December—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Nationality and Borders Bill (half day), followed by an Opposition day (7th allotted day— 2nd part). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, the subject to be announced.

Thursday 9 December—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 10 December—Private Members’ Bills.

Right hon. and hon. Members may also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will return from the Christmas recess on Wednesday 5 January 2022. The House will rise for the February recess on Thursday 10 February and return on Monday 21 February. The House will rise for the Easter recess on Thursday 31 March and return on Tuesday 19 April. The House will rise for the May Day bank holiday on Thursday 28 April and return on Tuesday 3 May. The House will rise for the Whitsun recess on Thursday 26 May and return on Monday 6 June. Finally, the House will rise for the summer recess on Thursday 21 July.

First, it would be churlish of me not to thank the Leader of the House for letting staff, in particular, know that they can now book their holidays with their families; a lot of them have been waiting a long time to try to get those booked in. I thank the Leader of the House both for the forthcoming business and for the recess dates.

Yesterday, we heard the tragic news that at least 27 people died crossing the English channel, including one young girl and five women, when an inflatable dinghy capsized near Calais. This tragedy reminds us of the risk to life in those perilous waters. My thoughts and I am sure those of all Members are with those who died and with their loved ones. Some of us are already wondering if they are relatives of our constituents who have been trying to be reunited with them, and that is quite hard to take. This is the most poignant of wake-up calls to the UK Government, and I really urge them to act—to take this matter seriously to prevent people from dying in those dangerous waters. Safe and legal routes, tackling the traffickers, reversing the cut on overseas aid and working constructively with our overseas partners are four things the Government could and should be doing today, and I very much hope they will be part of what the Home Secretary speaks about in her remarks later this morning.

On the theme of Home Office failures, yesterday the Home Affairs Committee published yet another report on the Windrush generation compensation scheme. It was a damning indictment, again, of the Home Office’s inability to right a grievous wrong. Four years after the Windrush scandal emerged, just 5% of the people concerned have received their compensation, while 23 individuals, including a constituent of mine, died before they received a penny, still haunted by being wrongly deemed immigration offenders. The Committee recommends that the scheme is passed to an independent organisation and, frankly, we can see why. This is a Government departmental failure, and the Home Secretary should acknowledge that victims of the scandal will understandably have no confidence whatsoever in her Department. Will the Leader of the House urge his colleague to tell us what she will do to rebuild shattered trust in the Home Office?

This week, we learned in a written statement that British Airways was not told of the known danger that the passengers on the 1991 flight BA149 to Kuala Lumpur via Kuwait, who were taken hostage by Saddam Hussein’s forces, were flying into. The UK embassy in Kuwait was aware of that, but as a result of not being notified the passengers on the flight were held hostage by Saddam Hussein’s forces for months. A Government’s first duty is the safety and security of its citizens and a written apology is not good enough. I urge the Leader of the House to ask the Foreign Secretary to do the decent thing and come to this House to apologise and explain to the people of this country how she will ensure that this sort of failure can never happen to British people again.

This Government’s waste of public money is a theme of business questions and this week is no different: I have two examples that the Leader of the House can perhaps help with. Will he ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to explain why her Department has, according to a Select Committee report, only attempted to recover 10% of the £8.4 billion lost to fraud and error over the past year? Will he also ask the relevant Minister to come to this House to explain the loss of just shy of half a billion pounds on Randox contracts? That was briefly discussed this morning but this is still a House of Commons motion not yet complied with. Do the minutes even exist? I cannot imagine spending half a billion pounds and not keeping the receipt. Labour will not let this waste of taxpayers’ money go, because that sum would pay for hospitals, perhaps some of the mythical 40 hospitals, or schools, or help for people struggling with fuel bills this winter.

On Monday, the Standards Committee will report on its proposed changes to MPs’ code of conduct. That will be a significant step in untangling the mess that the Tories have forced this House into. I see from the business that the Leader of the House has not yet allocated Government time for a debate on this report; will he do so before the end of the year so that we can properly scrutinise it?

My final request is not to the right hon. Gentleman but to all the men in this place and beyond, because today is White Ribbon Day, the international day to end violence against women and girls, and the White Ribbon Campaign is a challenge for men to take on male violence. I urge all men listening to take this challenge seriously and do everything they can to end violence against women and girls. It is wonderful to imagine a world where that is eliminated, and I urge all men to help us go out and create it.

I endorse what the hon. Lady said at the end of her remarks and will highlight some of the things that the Government are doing to tackle violence against women and girls, which is obviously a top priority for the whole Government. The tackling violence against women and girls strategy is being refreshed, building on the £100 million already spent on tackling this issue since 2016. It includes establishing new police leads for violence against women and girls reporting to the Home Secretary, spending £30 million through the safer streets and women at night funds, a multimillion-pound communications campaign targeting perpetrators and misogynistic attitudes, and plans to commission a new 24/7 rape and sexual assault helpline and online support. The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue and I think the whole House agrees that everything possible should be done to stop violence against women and girls, and men must recognise that they have an important responsibility within that.

I am delighted that the hon. Lady will now be able to find bargain holidays for herself for next year and that this pressing issue has now been answered. It has to be said that our dutiful staff so enjoy being in the House of Commons that they never come up to me and ask for the recess dates, but hon. Members do from time to time as they wait to book their flights on easyJet or their private jets, depending on their predilection. But I am delighted to have cheered up the hon. Lady.

The hon. Lady rightly mentioned the terrible situation in the channel yesterday, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be at the Dispatch Box later. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that the Government’s priority must be to take every step possible to prevent deaths. The main way of achieving that is to stop the boats setting off; that must be the priority and it is why the Government have offered to help the French in any way that we can to try to stop those boats launching. Under the Nationality and Borders Bill, which the Opposition opposed, we are trying to make it easier for people to make legal claims for asylum, and harder for people who come into the country illegally to make claims. That must be right, because the evil of what happens is the people traffickers and smugglers who are entirely unconcerned about human life and take large amounts of money to put people on unsafe boats and push them out to sea at the risk of their lives. We must deal with them and make their business model fail, and that way we will save lives. I announced that the borders Bill will be coming back, and I hope that the Opposition will seriously consider supporting those many measures and supporting the Bill’s Third Reading, which will help us to ensure safer borders.

On Windrush, the Government are committed to ensuring that those compensation payments are paid. Everyone recognises that that was a great injustice and that the hostile environment policy did not succeed. Ensuring that those who are now quite elderly of the Windrush generation are properly compensated is the priority of the Government. I think changing the structure now would probably delay things more rather than speeding them up, but they have been sped up in the last few months and over the course of the last year, and that will continue.

As regards BA149, that happened some time before I was Leader of the House. Of course, Governments over many decades learn from the failings of previous Governments, but I do not think what happened in 1991 is immediately topical today.

On the issue of Government expenditure, I have warned the hon. Lady before about people in glass houses throwing stones, and I remind her about the £13 billion spent by the last socialist Government on the NHS supercomputer and the incredible failures with working tax credits, which led to masses of waste of taxpayers’ money. The whole approach to money when the socialists are in power is to be irresponsible and loose with other people’s money. As somebody once said, the problem with being socialist is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. The Government are committed to tackling fraud—to dealing with it and reducing it. That is a major priority, as it is for all sensible Governments.

As regards the purchase of personal protective equipment, this was an emergency. The Opposition cannot have it both ways. The vaccine programme, which was an absolute triumph, was based on shortening purchase arrangements, getting things done quickly, moving ahead swiftly, and spending the money that was necessary then, rather than waiting three to six months and finding that we were as behind as some other places have ended up being. The same was true with PPE, but of course the Humble Address, an important constitutional process, will be dealt with properly.

Finally, the hon. Lady mentioned the Standards Committee report. I think she is being a little previous in asking for something to be debated before it has been published.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] Sorry—Mr Speaker. Apologies. I will be well down the bottom of the list next time.

Elements of the recently opened consultation on conversion therapy deal with how to treat children with gender dysphoria. This is a complex and sensitive area, and proposals risk criminalising clinicians and parents who encourage children to take time before embarking on a potential lifetime of medical treatment. It also cuts right across the Cass review reporting early next year. Will the Leader of the House confirm that, given these complexities, and as is commonly indicated by the words “draft Bill”, it is the Government’s intention to ensure significant prelegislative scrutiny?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was here when you were elected to that role from being Mr Deputy Speaker, on that auspicious occasion in 2019.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting prelegislative scrutiny, which can be extraordinarily effective. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which was passed earlier this year, benefited from it very greatly, and if one thinks back to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, one will see that rushed legislation very often does not work. I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Government continue to consult with all interested parties and those who have been involved with conversion therapy, in addition to the public consultation, which is designed to hear the views of the wider public. The consultation follows the Cabinet Office consultation principles of 2018. It is always important in sensitive areas that proper consultation is carried out so that something of this kind can be carried forward with considerable consensus.

I am sure that we are all appalled by the scenes we witnessed from the channel yesterday. I know we have a statement later from the Secretary of State, but can we have a full debate where all the issues around this tragedy can be explored and can we have it urgently? Top of those issues must be securing safe, secure legal routes to the UK, and the UK meeting all its obligations and its fair share of accommodating those fleeing violence and oppression. I think we can all agree that this cannot happen again.

Will the Leader of the House tell us exactly what is wrong with the Prime Minister? The delusional, gibbering stream of consciousness that we got this week—absolutely hilarious—was excruciating in the extreme: from Peppa Pig, to those weird car noises, to quoting Lenin, to his inability to read notes directly in front of him. If aliens had landed in Westminster last week, requested to be taken to our leader and found that dribbling wreck, they would have immediately asked to be transported back to the planet from whence they came. Surely, the days of this unfunny faux buffoonery are coming to an end. The nation is not laughing with him anymore; they are laughing at him. Perhaps it is time for this “Looney Tunes” Government to say, “That’s all, folks!”. [Laughter.] They liked that one, Mr Speaker.

We need a debate about the Metropolitan police. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to them to investigate the recent cash-for-honours scandal, after it was revealed that all recent Tory treasurers had been given places in the House of Lords following £3 million donations to Tory party coffers. It took the Met less than three days to refuse to investigate, giving no reasons why. Along with the Good Law Project, I have written to the Met requesting that they give the reasons why they refused to investigate, or we will ask for that decision to be judicially reviewed. Surely the Leader of the House will agree that every whiff of corruption must be properly investigated? If the Met will not do it, maybe the Prime Minister could get his good friend Inspector Gadget to do it for us?

When anyone is reminded of the Good Law Project, one of course remembers that it is led by an infamous fox murderer who goes out in a kimono and bashes poor harmless foxes to death in a cruel and unusual fashion. I seem to remember that that did not lead to a prosecution—I may be wrong. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should take that to a judicial review to consider more serious sanctions. I am glad to say that the Government are toughening up on laws on animal cruelty, which may be of interest to the Good Law Project leaders.

On the very serious issue the hon. Gentleman raises about the channel crossing disaster, we are having a day and a half of debate on that on Report, which will cover legal routes of entry and toughening up on illegal routes of entry. It is a United Kingdom-wide policy, so I hope we will have the support of the SNP in doing that.

On the mainstay of the hon. Gentleman’s question, this time he got so furious that he started giggling at his own fury. I have found out why he is so upset this week. It is not because he is waiting in eager anticipation for St Andrew’s Day next year, which will of course be a proper celebration for him and his right hon. and hon. Friends. The reason he is so grumpy today is a new opinion poll that shows that the proportion of voters who ranked the constitution in their preference for the Scottish Government’s top three priorities fell by eight points to 13%; and fewer than one third of SNP voters, 28%, ranked independence on their hierarchy of priorities. It is a sad day for him today. I will not tease him for being grumpy. He is justifiably being grumpy, because his sandcastles are gently being washed away by a tide of Unionism.

Given the outrageous information emerging from a Sheffield Hallam University study on the slave labour used in the mining of rare-earth materials that are used here in our solar array supply chains, and the Chinese Government’s terrible record on the Uyghur genocide, Tibetan slave labour, and the threats to Hong Kong and Taiwan, will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on whether this Government—any Government—should boycott the winter Olympics, which should never have been awarded to that despotic regime? May we have an urgent debate, please?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise these issues. The Government have been very clear about the human rights abuses against the Uyghurs, and about what has been going on in Hong Kong and the failure of the communist Government of China to follow the joint declaration that was agreed in the 1980s. The whole issue of religious toleration—so not just the Uyghurs, but what has happened in Tibet—is rightly raised very regularly in this House, and it is right that the communist Government are reminded of their moral obligations. However, the UK Government have long had a policy of thinking that sporting boycotts do not work and that it is a matter for the International Olympic Committee to decide whether the athletes go—[Interruption.] As regards whether Government Ministers would wish to go to the People’s Republic of China, I can tell my right hon. Friend that no tickets have been booked.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Beauty Banks is a fantastic charity dedicated to tackling hygiene poverty. Colleagues across the House, working with the charity, regularly redistribute products to community groups and refuges. This Christmas, it has launched its “Make a Wash” appeal, encouraging the public to pledge a gift of giving. Every pledge enables even more personal care and hygiene products to reach those in need. Will the Leader of the House join me in championing that appeal and in congratulating the amazing Jo Jones and Sali Hughes for their relentless hard work and commitment to tackling hygiene poverty?

May I join you, Mr Speaker, in congratulating the hon. Lady on being campaigner of the year at the Spectator awards? It is a well deserved award because, as I have confessed as Leader of the House, when she asks me questions, she tends to achieve what she wants because she charms everybody across the House into submission. Even the hardest-nosed Government Minister melts when she asks for things in her characteristically charming way, as she has done again today.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting the work of Beauty Banks, an excellent charity, and I pay tribute to Jo Jones and Sali Hughes. Having realised that they could make a real difference by leveraging the kindness and generosity of others in the beauty industry, they have shown their own kindness and generosity in devoting so much time to a cause that they feel strongly about. I also thank the hon. Lady and many other hon. Members on both sides of the House who distribute the packages to refuges, hostels and other locations in their constituencies, and I certainly voice my support for Beauty Banks’ “Make a Wash” campaign. The festive season is almost upon us and there is no better time of year for giving generously so that Beauty Banks can continue to distribute personal care and hygiene products to those who cannot afford them.

As I am sure even you are aware, Mr Speaker, there is much opposition from Southport residents about the proposed liveable neighbourhood scheme that could be imposed despite strong local opposition. I have deep reservations about the way in which Sustrans has led the consultation process and would welcome an opportunity to relay the concerns of Chantelle and the wider community group. Would my right hon. Friend agree to have a debate in Government time to scrutinise this and other such schemes across the country?

I think liveable neighbourhood schemes can easily become “bash the motorist” schemes, which I think are a very bad idea. Motoring is something that gives people very great pleasure and may be essential to their lives. The problem really for my hon. Friend is that Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council is a socialist council and is not run as well as it would be if it had good Conservatives in charge who took the interests of their constituents to heart. But this is a locally determined matter, so I encourage him to keep on campaigning and to stand up for his residents against the red tide.

As chair of the all-party group on White Ribbon UK, I welcome the comments from the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), the shadow Leader of the House, on White Ribbon and violence against women and girls. I urge the Leader of the House to make the pledge and, indeed, to join the all-party group.

On Sunday, I attended a fantastic service and highly impressive exhibition at Renfrew Trinity church to mark the centenary of 2nd Renfrew Trinity scout group. The beavers, cubs, scouts and explorers groups were a credit to their leaders and parents. Just a few years ago, I loved my time in the beavers and the cubs and cannot for the life of me remember why I did not graduate through to the scouts—perhaps I was too much of a tearaway. Can we have a debate in Government time on the importance of the scout network and the values and skills for life that scouting seeks to provide?

I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman was ever a tearaway. In this House he is a man of such dignity, and I am sure that that has always been the case.

I absolutely agree that the work of cubs and scouts is so important for children: it gives them a happy and safe environment in which to grow up. I pay tribute to the Trinity cub and scout group for its work. The hon. Gentleman uses business questions to highlight the wonderful work that goes on in his constituency, which is typical of many constituencies across the country; I am grateful to him.

Yesterday, I received a three-page letter from the leader of Dudley Council. A designated Traveller site in Dudley has been occupied by Travellers who have overstayed the terms of their licence. After due process was followed in the courts in co-operation with the police, the police commander refused to support the council to give cover to bailiffs, citing the European convention on human rights, as Travellers may have rights.

Will the Leader of the House agree to look into the matter and arrange a statement from the relevant Minister? This sets a terrible precedent for councils across the country, which may find that they have wasted taxpayers’ money by following legislation set out by this place to invest in designated sites. It can provide indefinite leave to stay illegally, with no protection for landowners. It implies that the police can “woke interpret” and choose to follow laws other than this country’s and its courts’ instructions. Does that not give further credence to the need to repeal the Human Rights Act, as I have been calling for for many months?

My hon. Friend asks an excellent question. It is really important that we are all equal under the law, and it is fundamental that the law is carried out by the police. We police by consent; the police are us, and we are the police. For that to work, people have to have confidence that the law will be enforced. Having said that, I do not know the specific details of the case or the reasons for the police decision, but the Government are taking more action to deal specifically with the issues around illegal campsites and associated criminality. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s comments to the Lord Chancellor, and I note with great interest what he has to say about the Human Rights Act.

More than 2,000 autistic people and people with learning disabilities are being held in inappropriate hospital units, 10 years after the Government promised to close them. Yesterday, we learned that an autistic man with a learning disability, Tony Hickmott, has been detained in care for 21 years, breaking the hearts of his elderly parents Pam and Roy.

That could change if the Government lived up to their promise. Indeed, in our report on the treatment of autistic people and people with learning disabilities, the Health and Social Care Committee has urged the Government to do so. The Government have not responded to that report, although a response was due on 13 September. Will the Leader of the House please take action to press the Secretary of State on the urgency of responding to the report and of acting to make sure that people like Tony Hickmott can live in their home, not in a hospital?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the matter. I think that anyone who has seen the press reports will be as deeply concerned as she is. I point to a lot of cross-party work that has been done to raise the profile of autism, not least by my late right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), who has been very committed in the area.

It is important that the Government respond to Select Committee reports in accordance with the Osmotherly rules. I will take the matter up to ensure that those rules are met.

Last Friday I was joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) and for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) in a “Ready Steady Cook” event in Ashfield. With the help of the local food bank, the college and local top chef Dave Marshall, we were able to produce 175 meals for just 50 quid. This is our fight against food poverty. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need a debate in this place on food poverty, so we can help people to cook on a budget and feed the nation?

I commend my hon. Friend for his amazing achievement and his hard work. I have a friend who teaches people to cook on a budget and runs something called Bags of Taste, which is a very successful way of encouraging people to cook on a budget. My hon. Friend is leading by example.

Over a month ago, my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) tabled a named day question asking about the state of ambulance services. Not until two days ago did she receive a response, which said that all regional ambulance services had been on the highest alert level since 22 October. Recently, however, we have heard from ambulance leaders that, according to their reckoning, 6,000 people a year are dying unnecessarily because of service problems, including ambulances waiting for too long at A&E centres. More recently, West Midlands ambulance service said that for a period 999 calls could not be answered owing to a lack of available ambulances. Will the Leader of the House, out of the goodness of his heart, grant us a debate on the state of the UK’s ambulance services?

The Government are aware of the pressures that occur in many winters but, particularly after covid, have been higher than normal. The NHS will receive an extra £5.4 billion over the rest of this year to support its response, including £2.8 billion to cover related costs such as those of enhanced infection control and £478 million to continue the enhanced hospital discharge programme, which frees up spaces so that when the ambulances arrive, the throughput of the hospital will allow them to be emptied and then get back to work. This builds on work that was done last year. However, I do not think that anyone is underestimating the seriousness of the problem.

I have good news from Kettering. To highlight that, may we have a debate in Government time on private enterprise? So many new businesses have opened in Kettering that this week it was named the UK’s second most entrepreneurial town by the business insurers Superscript. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of firms in Kettering is now 4,475, up from 4,120 last year, and in the past three years there has been an explosion of independent shops opening in the town centre.

Is it not clear that as Britain bounces back from the pandemic, Kettering is leading the way? People are setting up exciting start-up businesses providing new products and services for local customers. Does that not make Kettering a beacon of hope and optimism for the future?

I think that all those people are going to Kettering and setting up businesses because they want to see the local Member of Parliament. That is the great draw for businesses and shops, and all that is going on there.

To go from 4,120 small businesses to 4,475 in a year is a great triumph, and it shows that free enterprise is the way in which we pay the bills for everything else, because without the private sector, the public sector has no money. There is no Government money, only taxpayers’ money.

I know that the Leader of the House is interested in children’s issues. May I press him for an early debate on dialysis, and particularly on how it affects children? Dialysis at home is very important for many children, but there is a real shortage in some parts of the country, including Leeds and Huddersfield.

Obviously the treatment of children is crucially important, and dialysis is a remarkable, successful and now well-established treatment. The specific issue raised by the hon. Gentleman sounds very suitable for an Adjournment debate, so I would point him towards you, Mr Speaker.

Tomorrow will see the star-studded extravaganza that is Worksop’s Got Talent, and we even have a member of S Club 7 coming to be one of the judges. Worksop’s Got Talent has raised about £40,000 so far for Retina UK, which helps to support people with inherited progressive sight loss. The organiser, James Clarke, himself has retinitis pigmentosa. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on inherited progressive sight loss, and will he wish Worksop’s Got Talent all the best for tomorrow?

I am delighted to wish Worksop’s Got Talent every success and every good fortune for tomorrow, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will tune in to find out what happens. I hope that everyone involved experiences an enjoyable as well as a successful event. £40,000 is a great deal of money to raise for an extraordinarily worthy cause. I note from what my hon. Friend said that James Clarke, who is organising the event, is affected by retinitis pigmentosa, and therefore has a strong interest in ensuring its success. I think I understand, Mr Speaker: people have to reach for the stars.

Thank you so very much, Mr Speaker. I appreciate the comparison.

The report of the Prime Minister’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, otherwise known as the Sewell report, was published in March to almost universal condemnation because of its shoddy research and contentious conclusions. As well as denying the existence of structural racism, it proposed that the answer to bias in algorithms should be to define fairness mathematically. Having some familiarity with statistical and mathematical methods, I can say that I find that absolutely laughable, but despite having asked numerous questions, I have yet to find out the Government’s view. I was told that there would be a response to the report over the summer, but given that even the most optimistic among us must now agree that the summer is over, could we have a debate in Government time on the Sewell report?

I do not accept the way in which the hon. Lady looks at the report. It was a very respectable commission that came to interesting and important conclusions, which were received by the Government. It pointed out that some of the disparities were not where we might expect them to be, and that some of the people who had the least chance of success in life were people from white working-class backgrounds. That is something that it was important to say. I notice a sort of chant of, “Can there be a debate?” In the initial stage, I would suggest that the hon. Lady ask the Backbench Business Committee for a debate.

I am sure the Leader of the House knows that there are three Mansion Houses in the country, in Doncaster, York and London. He will also be aware that only one of those places is not a city. Given that Doncaster is home to a Mansion House, a minster, the Yorkshire Wildlife Park—which I am sure is equally as good a day out as Peppa Pig World—and two castles, at Conisbrough and Tickhill, does he agree that Doncaster surely deserves to be granted city status on its fourth attempt, and its only attempt with a Conservative MP?

So deep was my ignorance that I did not know that there were only three Mansion Houses in the country, so I am grateful for that nugget of information. I wish my hon. Friend well in his campaign. Perseverance in this area can be very successful, but I cannot make a promise because I have to remain independent in this area until a decision is made. A competition is being held on behalf of the Queen, which people can enter until 8 December. It opened in June 2021, and the results will be announced next year. City status will be awarded, or is intended to be awarded, in celebration of the platinum jubilee celebrations. If my hon. Friend keeps on campaigning, he may well find that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Last winter, a number of my constituents had problems with postal deliveries because of covid. I am sure that other Members have heard of similar experiences from their constituents. With Royal Mail now doing so well, with its £400 million profit, could we have an early debate on the effectiveness of its delivery service, at the same time as thanking our postal service for the Christmas deliveries we are yet to receive?

I know that many MPs like to visit sorting offices during the Christmas season to thank them for the incredible work that is done by Royal Mail at a busy time of year. It is of course nowadays a private company and therefore not answerable from this Dispatch Box, but if the hon. Lady has any points that she wishes to raise with Royal Mail and is not getting answers, I take the broad view that my role is to try to help Members to get answers to whatever questions they seek to ask, and I will do my best to help.

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the incredible work being undertaken by hospices throughout the country? Helen, Nicola and the whole team at Bury hospice provide a wide range of clinical, medical and support services, together with their fundamental work and duty supporting local people and their families to achieve the best quality of life at a time when that matters more than ever. The whole town of Bury is rightly proud of them.

This country should be proud of the hospice movement. The fundamental point is that every life is valuable up to the point of natural death and should be preserved, helped, aided and kept free of pain as far as possible. The hospice movement does truly heroic work, and the people who work in hospices are such noble and good people. I join my hon. Friend in thanking the people working in Bury Hospice and in the hospice movement across the country.

On Sunday I marched with midwives in my constituency and heard their stories about the real pressures bearing down on their services. Babies cannot wait, and it is emblematic of the real crisis facing our NHS at the moment, ahead of even worse conditions over the winter. At this time of year, surely it is right that the Government schedule a debate on the winter crisis facing our NHS so that we can discuss some of the solutions that are urgently needed across all our constituencies.

The NHS recovery plan is taking place, and funding is being provided. In 2018, NHS England was given a historic settlement that sees its budget rise by £34 billion by 2023-24—I think that was the £350 million on the side of a bus. We have made around £97 billion available to help frontline services tackle coronavirus, and in September we announced an additional £36 billion for health and social care over the next three years.

Staffing will obviously be crucial, so there are now almost 5,500 more doctors and almost 10,000 more nurses than this time last year, with record numbers of undergraduate medical students and nurses. The funding is being provided and the employees are coming into the health service, but winter is always a difficult time of year for the NHS.

Yesterday’s tragic event in the English channel has saddened us all. The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke get very angry when they see French police standing and watching small boats beginning that perilous journey. Frontex, although it is tracking boats, is not being deployed in the channel to turn those boats around, while the French continue to demand more UK taxpayers’ money and are refusing the assistance of our UK Border Force expertise.

I am aware there will be a statement later, but unfortunately I will not be here due to business back in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Mr Macron and the French Government have to stop talking the talk and start delivering on the ground to make sure that no more lives are lost?

As my hon. Friend mentioned, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will shortly be making a statement on this tragedy. As I mentioned earlier, it is the evil work of ruthless criminal gangs that is at the heart of this problem.

It is obviously important that the boats do not set out to sea. That is how lives will be saved, and it is how the flow of illegal asylum seekers into this country will be stopped. That requires co-operation between us and not just France but Belgium, the Netherlands and other continental friends. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s comments to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary but, yes, if the boats do not take to sea, the problem will be eased significantly.

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, so will the Leader of the House make a statement on the UK Government’s progress towards ratifying the Istanbul convention? Does he share my deep concern that, 10 years on, progress towards the UK’s ratification has been shamefully slow and the UK Government have still not given a clear commitment to deliver ratification, even after passing the Domestic Abuse Act 2021? Does he further share my disquiet at the alarming development of countries such as Turkey and Poland withdrawing from the convention altogether?

The reality is that what matters is what we do domestically. It is much more important that we get on with the work I have already set out to the shadow Leader of the House. Under the violence against women and girls strategy, £100 million has been spent on tackling this since 2016. There is a national police lead, the £30 million safer streets fund and the communications campaign to target the perpetrators and to get the message across that violence against women and girls is wrong, full stop. What we do domestically has an effect. Just signing up to things internationally may sound very nice, but it does not necessarily help people here in the United Kingdom.

My constituency has been subjected to one of the highest rates of house building in the country. One problem that has brought with it is so-called “management companies” charging higher fees. Sometimes they are doing nothing for those fees. Sometimes they are increasing them—sometimes doubling them—year after year, with no justification for what they are doing for this money. May we have a debate on the role of these management companies, because our constituents are being subjected to some truly bad practices?

I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency recently and noticed that there had indeed been a considerable amount of building going on there. The Government are bringing forward a programme to reform and end unfair practices in the leasehold market. I announced that on Monday we will have the Second Reading of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill; there was a particular problem there, with ground rents doubling quite rapidly and affecting people who had bought newly built properties. Other things have been done, with regard to 990-year leases, removing the retirement sector exemption from zero ground rent measures, and commonhold. However, it is obviously important that consumers are protected from abuse and poor service, and are treated fairly, and I am grateful to him for campaigning on this issue.

Over the past decade, many charities have been forced to fill the gnawing gaps left by the state. The Government’s neglect has led to people such as my constituent Peter Bennetts devoting up to 100 hours per month of their own time just to help others. After 11 years, he was then told that his services were no longer required. As a volunteer, he had no right to appeal as an employee would. The Charity Commission does not have the powers to help him. May we have an urgent debate on protections for volunteers such as Peter?

First, I disagree with the hon. Lady’s characterisation of charitable work. Every week, hon. Members from across this House talk about the wonderful work done in their constituencies by people who support charities. We should be so proud of the charitable sector. The state is not there to do absolutely everything; there is always a role for charity. The people who get involved are worthy of praise and not of censure. We should be proud of what goes on, as MPs always are individually about the work in their constituencies. Obviously, I do not know about the individual case she raises, but I would happily take it up with the relevant Department if she were to send me more details.

I was interested to hear the Leader of the House’s response to the interesting question from the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly), because the Marie Curie Hospice in Bradford has announced that it is pausing admissions on a temporary basis, due to staff shortages. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is a completely unacceptable situation? May we have a statement on the staffing crisis in our health and care sector?

I did speak earlier about the extra number of people who have been going into employment in the health sector in the past year. I reiterate that we are talking about 5,500 more doctors and 10,000 more nurses. Crucially, the record number of undergraduates—medical students and nurses—means that the supply pipeline will be increasing, which will be key. I also reiterate that the work done by hospices is of fundamental importance. Comforting the dying is a fundamental duty that is incumbent on us as individuals and the country at large.

The tragic loss of life in the channel yesterday underlines why we need to do everything possible to make these dangerous routes unviable. There is nothing compassionate or moral about allowing criminal gangs to exploit vulnerable people. The Leader of the House has already mentioned the Nationality and Borders Bill, but I fear that we will not be able to gain back full control of our immigration and asylum policy unless we scrap the Human Rights Act. Will he find time for a debate on alternatives to the HRA?

I notice a theme across questions today: raising concerns about the HRA. We must be able to govern ourselves in this country in a way that secures safety and wellbeing for people trying to come here and people who are already here. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that this place is sovereign and we are always able to amend any and all Acts of Parliament if we can get a majority for it in both Houses. That is of fundamental constitutional importance.

This week, I received an email from one of my local headteachers in Putney who said she has had a letter from the Secretary of State for Education that went out to all headteachers throughout the country. She is extremely concerned about the implied criticism of schools in respect of attendance. The primary school in question is battling with 56 positive cases, three members of staff having tested positive and attendance running at around 50%, despite the staff having put in all the measures asked of them and more. Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for us to debate support for schools, to undo the damage done by what has been seen as a veiled attack by the Secretary of State for Education on the fantastic staff in our schools?

There will be Department for Education questions on Monday 6 December, so there is time for the hon. Lady to put in for an oral question or, indeed, a topical question. It is always right for the Government to hold public bodies to account and to say, “Please explain why attendance is only 50%.” If schools have a good reason, they can send that in, but the Government would be remiss if they did not ask the question.

The Moira Anderson Foundation, based in my constituency of Airdrie and Shotts, is aimed after Moira, who was 11 years old when she went missing in 1957. It is believed that she was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered. Her body has never been recovered. The foundation is dedicated to supporting children and adults affected by childhood sexual abuse and is headed by Sandra Brown, who was a childhood friend of Moira, in whose memory the organisation was founded. Sandra believes that her own father was involved in Moira’s disappearance.

Last week, I was delighted to hear that Sandra was the gold winner in the lifetime achievement award at the National Business Women’s Awards. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Sandra and make time on the Floor of the House for a debate on the impact of missing people?

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing the sad case of Moira to the House’s attention and, yes of course, I am honoured to be able to congratulate Sandra Brown on being the gold winner at the National Business Women’s Awards. It sounds like what she does has served great moral purpose and the campaign that the hon. Lady talked about deserves wider publicity. I cannot promise the hon. Lady a debate in Government time but it would be well worth while having a Backbench Business debate on the issue. I remind the House that at the end of business questions last week the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), asked for debate requests; I encourage the hon. Lady to be in touch with him.

May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to the recent Public Accounts Committee report on the benefits system during the pandemic? Among other things, it highlights how the Department for Work and Pensions lost control of universal credit fraud, including in respect of a reported £68 million mass identity hijacking by organised crime groups that meant that 10,000 genuine claimants—we all wanted to see the money go quickly to genuine claimants—had their benefits stopped or were asked to repay, at huge cost to the taxpayer. Given the Leader of the House’s earlier remarks, when will we have a chance to debate the report?

What was achieved at the beginning of the pandemic was to make sure that people who needed money got it, whether they were on the furlough scheme or universal credit. The numbers of people the universal credit system was dealing with on a daily basis were multiples of what was ever expected. It was so important to make sure that people in potentially desperate situations got money. Of course, that increased the risk of fraud—everybody knew that at the time and they knew it was a risk with the furlough scheme as well—but what were we supposed to do? Were we supposed to sit idly by and let people have no money? Were we supposed to sit idly by and let people worry that their jobs were not going to exist? It was a fundamental urgency.

Everybody knows that with any accounting mechanism speed and detail do not go hand in hand, but the urgency was fundamental. I therefore defend what was done by the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Treasury in dealing with a very urgent situation. Just imagine, Mr Speaker—cast your mind back for a moment—what the noise would be from those on the Opposition Benches had the situation been the reverse and we had said that we could not hand out money to people who had no money because we had to go through some massive bureaucratic system. They would have rightly howled us down.

EU documents that define the best available techniques under the industrial emissions directive published since the beginning of this year no longer have direct legal effect. Can we have a statement from the Government to give certainty to businesses in my constituency that are concerned that the timescales and the requirements needed to meet the mechanisms for complying with the new regulations that will come in force remain unknown despite having been anticipated from early autumn?

One of the joys of our current situation is that we have left the European Union and therefore what the European Union says about regulations is no longer binding upon us. We have our own effective parliamentary system to ensure that things happen. We have just passed the Environment Act 2021, which sets up relevant systems. We should have confidence in our ability to do things for ourselves, because we will do it better.

Over the course of six weeks, more than 8,500 people in Rutherglen and Cambuslang in my constituency participated in the Beat the Street campaign. Collectively, they walked more than 118,000 miles—a huge achievement. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating everyone who got involved and schedule a debate in Government time on the benefits of exercise to physical and mental wellbeing?

I will certainly congratulate the 8,500 people who walked 118,000 miles. I am always a bit nervous about encouraging too much exercise because I take so little myself.

Will the Leader of the House provide an update on the case of Maira Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Christian Pakistani girl who was abducted, raped, forcibly converted and forcibly married. On Red Wednesday last year, more than 12,000 people signed a petition calling on the Prime Minister to give asylum to Maira Shahbaz. One year later, having escaped her abductor, Maira is still living in one room unable to leave for fear that she will be killed as an apostate. Will the Leader of the House provide an update and remind the Prime Minister that there is an urgency when it comes to the safety of those who are persecuted and that more delay will not suffice?

As always, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising such important cases. This case, following the appalling suffering of Asia Bibi a few years ago, shows that Christians in Pakistan often face terrible treatment for practising their faith. The Government condemn forced marriage and forced conversion of women and girls in Pakistan and regularly raise our concerns, including in individual cases, at a senior level with the Pakistani authorities. Her Majesty’s Government fund projects in Pakistan to help to address child and forced marriages, gender-based violence and discrimination and intolerance, especially against minorities. Obviously, the Government are aware of Maira Shahbaz’s situation. As a request for asylum goes through a normal process, I cannot say what the outcome would be, but the aim of our Nationality and Borders Bill is to ensure that asylum requests that are brought in a lawful way by people who have come here properly will be treated more favourably, and we are trying to get a better system through the Bill. In the meantime, I will pass on to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what the hon. Gentleman has said as a matter of urgency.