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Business of the House

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 6 January 2022

The business for the week commencing 10 January will include:

Monday 10 January—Remaining stages of the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill, followed by a debate on motions to approve the charter for budget responsibility: Autumn 2021 update and the welfare cap as specified in the autumn Budget.

Tuesday 11 January—Opposition day (10th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 12 January—Remaining stages of the Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Bill, followed by motions to approve a money resolution and a ways and means resolution relating to the Glue Traps (Offences) Bill.

Thursday 13 January—General debate on the effectiveness of the Government’s education catch-up and mental health recovery programmes, followed by a general debate on the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 14 January—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 17 January will include:

Monday 17—Remaining stages of the Elections Bill.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business—and it was lovely to hear the dulcet tones of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) on the subject of private Members’ Bills. First, I would like to wish everyone a happy new year, and I hope that everybody had a well-deserved break over the recess.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said not once but twice that the warm home discount is £140 pounds per week. I checked, and it is actually £140 per year. There is quite a significant difference there, so will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to correct the record or, better yet, cut the VAT on energy bills—something that we on the Opposition side of the House, and now some of his own Back Benchers, are calling for? That would help with the soaring energy bills for working families.

Talking of working families and concerns about their bills, perhaps the Leader of the House is more socialist than he has hitherto let on, given that, according to the Financial Times, he is now asking his own Government to scrap the national insurance tax rise, which is something that we have been calling for since it was announced. I wonder whether he is about to cross the Floor, because there is space. [Interruption.] There is some space; I am happy for us to swap sides completely if that is what he would like.

I have asked the Leader of the House numerous times for the location of the Online Safety Bill. I see that it appears in the Backbench business, but last year the Prime Minister said that it would have completed all stages by Christmas; then it was just Second Reading; and then it was just a vague commitment that it would happen at some point during the Session. The pre-legislative scrutiny Committee has reported, yet nothing is forthcoming. Could the Leader of the House please confirm when the Bill will be brought forward?

As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, over four years ago his Government promised a crucial anti-corruption and anti-tax-avoidance measure, with a public register of beneficial ownership of overseas legal entities, yet the Government have dithered and delayed. Could he tell us which black hole in the Treasury the Bill has fallen into?

Before Christmas, the Home Secretary published a written statement on the Home Office’s record of delivery for 2021. I have read the statement, and there did not seem to be any mention of the fact that under this Tory Government there are 10,000 fewer police officers than in 2010, that a woman is killed every three days in this country, that less than 1.5% of all reported rapes are prosecuted, or that prosecutions overall have plummeted. Tens of thousands more criminals are getting away with their crimes under this Tory Government. Recorded violent crime is up, and antisocial behaviour is up.

In the Home Secretary’s statement, there were hollow words too on Windrush, as there has been no compensation for 95% of the victims. Some have died without ever seeing justice, including my own constituent Stanley. His cousin Trevor is still with us, and he is still waiting for compensation. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to do the decent thing by coming to the House and correcting the record? This Government appear to be soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime.

It is not just the Home Office that is failing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) has found that the Ministry of Defence has wasted at least £13 billion of taxpayers’ money over the last decade. The current Defence Secretary has presided over £4 billion of that wasted money. The Public Accounts Committee concluded last year:

“The Department’s system for delivering major equipment capabilities is broken and is repeatedly wasting taxpayers’ money”.

A staggering £64 million has been wasted on admin errors since 2010, including nearly £33 million in fines from the Treasury for poor accountancy practices. This Government clearly have no problem wasting taxpayers’ money and failing British troops. Without this careless wastage, funding could have been available to strengthen the UK’s armed forces, and the cuts forced by financial pressures to troops, planes, ships and equipment might not have happened. Will the Leader of the House please ask the Defence Secretary to come to this House and explain why his Department wastes so much public money?

So this year, for their new year’s resolution, it is time for this Government finally to put the people of this country above their own self-interests, to serve and protect the people of this country, and to stop wasting taxpayers’ hard-earned money, because all we have now is a Government who have lost their grip. It is working people who are paying the price, and they deserve better.

The hon. Lady’s seasonal wishes for a happy new year did not seem to last very long, but may I perhaps be more good natured and wish people not only a happy new year but a happy feast of Epiphany, which is an important day in our Christmas celebrations?

The hon. Lady thinks that I might be converted to her way of thinking, but that is wishful thinking. As her questions went on and on, it became clear that she was referring to taxpayers’ money, which is a good Tory principle. We always call it taxpayers’ money because we recognise that there is no money from anywhere else. Also, she is becoming a Eurosceptic; she has become a staunch Brexiteer. The only reason our socialist friends can advocate cutting VAT on fuel is that we have left the European Union. If we were still in the megalithic state that she used to campaign for—and that I think her constituents almost entirely voted for—we would not be able to cut VAT on fuel. I am delighted that she welcomes these flexibilities that come from Brexit. Not only do we have happy fish, having left the European Union, but we have increasingly happy socialists who realise that taking back control is a very useful thing to do.

The hon. Lady then complains—she moans and berates me—about there being no development in respect of the Online Safety Bill, when I have just announced a debate. This may have passed her by, because she quite likes to work remotely sometimes, but the amazing thing about debates in this House is that they are responded to by a Government Minister, so when we have a debate next week on the draft Online Safety Bill, if she listens carefully and bates her breath, she will be able to hear the views of Her Majesty’s Government on that Bill. I am grateful to the Joint Committee for its important work.

We then come to crime. The Conservative party has always been the party of law and order. I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you do not want or need a history lesson, but it is worth bearing in mind that the Peelers—the Bobbies—were founded by a former Conservative Prime Minister in his distinguished period as Home Secretary. Sir Robert Peel was a Conservative.

Actually, he was chucked out by the Whigs, who voted against him on an Irish coercion Bill. The hon. Gentleman is forgetting his history for once; he normally likes to burnish his historical knowledge for the erudition of the House. We have recruited more than 11,000 police officers since 2019 and are more than halfway to meeting the promise of 20,000 more by 2023. We have done a great deal to tackle violent crime: from 2019 to 2022, in the 18 areas worst affected by serious violence we have spent more than £105 million of taxpayers’ money to develop 18 violence reduction units, and more than £136 million to support an enhanced police response.

If we really want to compare crime, let us look at two Mayors. The office of the Mayor of London—once a noble office held with distinction when it was graced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—is now sadly traduced as we see the record number of teenagers stabbed over the past year because of the failures of the Mayor of London, who cannot run a proper police service. When we had a Conservative Mayor of London, homicide fell: we had safer streets in London when they were Conservative streets. Now, with the socialists in charge, not only can we not move about because the Mayor hates the motorist, but we cannot be safe because he cannot run a proper police force.

We then have the audacity: if you thought, Mr Speaker, that the Labour party now advocating Brexit so that we have the freedom to set our own tax rates showed a bit of gall, the hon. Lady talks about expenditure in the Ministry of Defence when there was a £35 billion—that is serious money—black hole when the Conservatives came into office because Labour could not get the procurement systems right. Procurement is now run by the Minister for Defence Procurement, my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), who is one of the most distinguished Ministers in Her Majesty’s Government.

Yes, we need new year’s resolutions, and our new year’s resolution is to welcome those who have now become Eurosceptics and those who have now become Conservatives and to keep on with good Conservative measures that lead to better government and the protection of the British people.

May we have a debate in the Chamber on the establishment of local flood control centres that residents can call directly, 24/7? Yet again we have had very heavy rainfall in Staffordshire this winter, and farmers in Penkridge have advised me that the clay soil is fully saturated. Stafford residents need to have somewhere local that they can contact at any time, day or night, to help them when flooding occurs.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend—actually, my hon. kinsman—for her question. I understand the devastation that flooding can cause for individuals, families and businesses. The Environment Agency operates the helpline and I will certainly bring her question to its attention. The helpline is a 24-hour service and covers the whole of England. The Environment Agency does have local knowledge of flood and environmental risks through its staff based in 14 geographic areas, but I will make sure that both the agency and the Secretary of State know of the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised for her constituents.

I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all the staff around the estate a good and happy new year.

Yesterday, the Scottish Parliament sat in an emergency session to discuss the omicron crisis in Scotland. It was all virtual, all elected MSPs could participate and the sitting provided absolutely no risk whatsoever to the staff on the Holyrood estate.

Yesterday, this House also met for the first time after the Christmas recess. It met entirely in person in a 19th-century building with practically no social distancing measures in place. All 650 Members could attend if they wanted to and a good proportion decided to come to a packed Chamber to listen to PMQs and a prime ministerial statement. Next week, we will find out the true consequences of that and how many people were infected on their journey down to the House of Commons.

It is estimated that one in 15 people in England, and one in 20 in the whole United Kingdom, now have covid. From my very bad arithmetic and calculations, I have come to the conclusion that some 50 MPs must now be off with covid away from the House, which means that 50 MPs cannot represent their constituents, participate in legislation going through the House, participate in the proceedings of the Glue Traps (Offences) Bill next week, question the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster or help the Leader of the House to destabilise his Prime Minister if they cannot come here.

With one simple measure, the Leader of the House could resolve all that: turn it back on. He should bring back the hybrid Parliament and proxy voting. For the sake of democracy, turn it back on. For the sake of keeping everybody on the estate safe and secure, turn it back on. For the sake of all of us being able to represent our constituents, turn it back on, turn it back on, turn it back on.

I thought genuinely that the needle had got stuck on the last bit of the question. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not like doing his job, that he wishes to enjoy himself sitting at home and that he does not want to do what Members of Parliament are expected to do, and turn up in the House of Commons to be here—[Interruption.]

Order. Can we just calm it down? We had enough yesterday—[Interruption.] No, you had your chance, Mr Wishart. That is the reply. Sometimes we have to accept the reply, even if we do not like it.

I remind the House that the SNP Government have decided to take a different route. They do not believe in trusting people to make decisions for themselves. They believe in constant perpetual lockdown which, as I understand it, the leader of the SNP has accepted did not go as well as anticipated, which sounds slightly like the comments of the Japanese Emperor at the end of the last war. What they have done in Scotland has not been a success. What we have done in the rest of the United Kingdom, in England, has worked better by trusting people. We should trust people and we should continue to trust people. People such as the hon. Gentleman should not be afraid to do the work that they have to do.

Can we have a Government review, followed by a statement, of the desirability of ending the ridiculous ritual of putting our clocks back every autumn, thereby plunging the nation into darkness and misery by mid-afternoon for a period of several months? Is there not a good case for keeping summertime in winter? It would cut the number of road accidents, cut energy use and boost tourism.

I invariably agree with my right hon. Friend, but not on this issue. As we all know, time was unified across the United Kingdom with the coming of the railways, otherwise my county of Somerset would be 10 minutes behind London. The way of doing things was to have midday when the sun is at its highest point, which always seemed to me to be a sensible principle.

I think that if we were to change, as we did in the late ’60s, we would simply change back again, because we cannot make the days any longer in the winter. They simply get dark. They are either dark in the morning or dark in the early afternoon, and whichever way it is, people will want it the other way round. Unless God is to give us more daylight, however, I think it is a problem beyond the competence of Her Majesty’s Government.

I wish you, Mr Speaker, Members on both sides of the House and all the staff of the House a very happy new year. We all deserve a better go at it this year than we had last year.

I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, and within that the Backbench business for Thursday 13 January. I give him advance notice that we have preliminarily filled slots for 20 January, with a provisional debate on the Chinese Government’s Uyghur tribunals, and a debate on the Committee on Standards’ review of conduct of Members of Parliament sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). On 27 January, we have lined up a debate on Holocaust Memorial Day. I give advance notice that I anticipate a request for a St David’s Day debate, which, if we are allocated the time, will probably occur on Thursday 3 March. May I also thank the Leader of the House for writing to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on behalf of my constituents and me, following our exchanges just before Christmas?

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am very grateful also that he has filled various dates. I will pay attention to all of them, but particularly to 27 January, which I know is so important for many people across the country.

From Belthorn to Haslingden and from Great Harwood to Oswaldtwistle, my residents in Hyndburn and Haslingden are still blighted by fly-tipping. They report it to the local council, but no action is taken. Will the Leader of the House allow for a debate in Government time on what more we can do with legislation to make sure councils are enforcing action on those who blight our communities?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. Fly-tipping is an absolute blight on society. It is illegal and there are penalties for it. Obviously, the primary responsibility lies with local councils. What my hon. Friend has done by highlighting the issue on the Floor of the House of Commons is to put pressure on her local council to get its act together. I hope her local newspapers will join her in campaigning to get the local council to do its job properly.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the four people who demanded racial justice with the removal of a slave owner’s statue in Bristol on being vindicated of charges of public dissent? We know that the Home Office has confirmed that records exist of contact between the Home Secretary, the Crown Prosecution Service, and Avon and Somerset police on this case. What we do not know is what is in those records. Given that it stands contrary to constitutional convention for politicians to be involved in legal matters while they are going through the courts, will the Leader of the House ensure that those records are shared with the House and allow time for Parliament to scrutinise this matter further, because our constituents want answers?

One of the great glories of this nation is the jury system. It is worth bearing in mind that Magna Carta was viewed as a reconfirmation of rights, not a creation of rights. Juries must be free to come to the decisions they choose to come to on the facts that are in front of them in relation to a specific case, and on what they hear from the prosecuting counsel, the defence counsel and the judge. We should always glory in the jury system as one of the foundation stones of our liberties in this country, whether we like individual judgments or not.

Energy costs are not a luxury; they are a necessity. They cannot be avoided: we need to heat our homes. My right hon. Friend will have heard that the official Opposition are now adopting Conservative views. They believe in lower taxation and in leaving the European Union. Would it be possible for this Government to believe in Conservative views? Will the Leader of the House lay a statutory instrument next week removing VAT on energy?

My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that that is a matter for the Chancellor and not a matter for the Leader of the House. What I would say is that Conservatives have always believed in fiscal good sense. We have always recognised that taxpayers’ money must be spent wisely. There is not an unlimited pot of other money and if we wish to provide the public services the country expects then that has to be paid for somehow. There is no magic money tree. It is very easy in opposition to point at any individual tax and say that that one should be cut, because there is no overall responsibility for ensuring that things are broadly in balance or heading towards balance. The responsibility of the Government and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to put all taxes and all expenditure together in a way that ensures that the country is able to live within its means. That responsibility sometimes means that individual taxes have to exist even though the Opposition may call against them, because they think there is short-term political advantage in doing so.

Both of Barnsley’s levelling-up bids were rejected. In answer to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), the Leader of the House said that there is no magic money tree—which is curious, because a millionaire hereditary Tory peer received £330,000 to level up the potholes in his mansion driveway. Can we have a debate in Government time about how levelling-up funding is allocated?

Levelling-up funding is allocated to help level up. Great things are happening: £4.8 billion in the levelling-up fund is being spent to help regenerate town centres and high streets, upgrade local transport and spend money on cultural and heritage assets; £2.4 billion of taxpayers’ money has been provided for 101 town deals, with a £150 million community ownership fund to protect valued community assets; and freeports are being opened up, which will be an incredibly good way of helping economic activity and helping to level up. I am sorry that not every application for funding will be successful, but I say to the hon. Lady, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.”

I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind good wishes for Epiphany. If he and you, Mr Speaker, wish to join us on Margate seafront on Sunday for the blessing of the seas, I am sure that you will both be most welcome.

Shortly before Christmas, the Government reaffirmed their decision to introduce legislation to ban the import of the products of trophy hunting. Next Friday, the House will debate the Hunting Trophy Import (Prohibition) Bill, a private Member’s Bill with cross-party support. Will the Government consider giving that Bill their support? Alternatively, will they announce when they propose to introduce their own legislation?

The Government are committed to a ban on trophy hunting, which was a manifesto commitment. I will therefore ensure that my right hon. Friend’s comments are passed on to the Secretary of State. I can assure him that it is Government policy to proceed with a ban.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) and hon. Members across the House wrote to the Leader of the House this week to tell him how they have been affected by the lack of proxy voting or virtual participation and how they are looking for their reintroduction. This is not just a covid issue, but we can see now why it is so needed. The Leader of the House’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) just now was woeful: he suggested that people do not want to do their work. The opposite is true, as I am sure the Leader of the House knows, so can I ask him for a statement in Government time on how he intends to remedy the issue so that all Members can represent their constituents fully and equally?

A few minutes ago, the Leader of the House referred to knife crime across London. He will be acutely aware that 30 people died in knife attacks in London last year—an all-time record. Knife crime has certainly affected my constituency profoundly, but it is not just a London phenomenon; it is a curse across the country, and has been raised across the House by Conservative and Labour MPs and those of other parties. Is it not time that the Home Secretary came to the House and gave a statement on the increase in knife crime?

That is a serious issue. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is in the House of Lords at the moment, which should help to give the police more powers. It includes provision to ensure that stop and search can be used effectively, and we have announced the relaxation of voluntary restrictions of stop-and-search powers under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 in all forces across England and Wales. We are also introducing a new court order that will make it easier for officers to stop and search those convicted of knife crimes. Stop and search has continued to remove more weapons from the streets as its use increases: almost 16,000 weapons were seized and almost 79,000 criminals were arrested in the year to March 2021. It is a question of effective and determined policing and supporting the police. The additional 11,000 officers will obviously be an important part of that, as will supporting the legislation that is going through the other place.

Further to that point, just a week ago a 15-year-old boy was stabbed in my constituency, but non-fatally. A few hours later in Hillingdon, a 15-year-old was fatally stabbed and, a few hours after that, a 16-year-old in Croydon was fatally stabbed. The problem that I and seven other London MPs in this Chamber have is that we cannot scrutinise the Mayor of London, whose responsibility knife crime in the capital is. I therefore call on the Government and the Home Secretary to take back the powers so that she is able not only to scrutinise the Metropolitan police, but to ensure that we have a proper knife crime strategy, as we did under previous Policing Ministers and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he was Mayor of London.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is important that this House retains its right to hold to account people who exercise power in the land. It is surprising that with the rise in knife crime and the terrible incidents that he refers to, we are seeing at the same time a relaxation of drug laws. The two do not seem to me to go together.

I hope that the Leader of the House will join me in sending condolences to the family and many friends of my constituent Karl White, who died just before Christmas. Karl spent 32 years as a youth worker, including running the Meadows youth centre in my constituency. He was Mr Meadows—a role model, mentor and friend to hundreds, if not thousands of young people in Nottingham. Even after he retired, he was as busy as ever, volunteering for local community organisations and setting up free football sessions for local children just last summer. There could be no more fitting tribute than a debate in Government time on the urgent need to reverse cuts to youth services, which are so vital in supporting our communities.

I hope that the family will be comforted by the wonderful tribute that the hon. Lady has paid to Mr White, the 32 years of service that she mentioned and his continuing to inspire people, even in his retirement. I think it is right that Members honour their constituents and their families in this way. I suggest this may be an opportunity to seek an Adjournment debate and I hope that in that debate, the hon. Lady will expand on her moving tribute.

In North Devon, an ever-growing number of residents are unable to see a NHS dentist. Wait lists are now many years long. Although I recognise that work is going on through the Department of Health and Social Care to increase the number of home-grown dentists, that is at least five years away. Will my right hon. Friend allocate Government time to debate how we can rapidly take full advantage of Brexit to ensure that international dentists, particularly where they are plentiful, as in India, can more easily come and work here as NHS dentists in areas of severe shortfall, such as North Devon?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In my constituency, I visited a dental practice in Peasedown St John, which has a brilliant Indian dentist providing fantastic service to the local community. The Government recognise that the registration process for some internationally qualified dental professionals can be bureaucratic and inefficient. The NHS is working with the General Dental Council on legislative proposals that will allow greater flexibility to expand on the registration options open to international applicants, including the overseas registration exam. The proposals will be subject to public consultation, and the Department is also working with NHS England to reform the NHS dental system to improve patient access and oral health and offer value for money for the NHS, and it will be designed with the profession in mind. Health Education England’s “Advancing Dental Care” review programme has recently started and seeks to develop dental education and training infrastructure to produce a skilled, multi-professional oral healthcare workforce that can better support patient and population needs.

The Government finally published the national disability strategy last July, but it has been met with disappointment by a number of my disabled Vauxhall constituents, and there were no practical measures or funding outlined within it. The Leader of the House will be aware that the strategy was released just before recess, so there has been no parliamentary time for it or scrutiny of it. Given its importance, will he commit in this Chamber to our having a debate on it?

The Government are committed to ensuring that disabled people have the support that they need. It is worth pointing out that since 2013 we have reduced the disability employment gap by 4.9%, helping to get 1.8 million more disabled people into work. There is also extra taxpayer support of £780 million a year for special educational needs and disability education. Things are being done, and the health and disability Green Paper proposals will be detailed in the White Paper that is set to be published in mid-2022. I assure the hon. Lady that things are taking place. If she wants a debate, I suggest that she refers to the Backbench Business Committee, because there is a great deal to be said about the subject and that would help contribute to the White Paper’s development.

The Grimsby Telegraph website currently shows an article headed, “Free NHS prescriptions ‘to be axed’ from April”, which I believe to be misleading. My understanding is that Ministers are considering whether to charge the 60 to 65 age group for prescriptions that they get for free at the moment. Could a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to clarify what is proposed? Many of my constituents are emailing me because they are confused and worried.

As always, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Clearly, when local journals run with such stories, they create concern among people who are most unlikely to be affected, and my hon. Friend is right to give them the reassurance that they need and expect. I encourage journals of record to be more responsible and accurate in what they produce. I will ensure that he gets a full answer from the Department for Health and Social Care about exactly what may be proposed.

May I also wish everybody in the House a happy new year?

In Bath, our fantastic Royal United Hospital declared a critical incident over the new year—it is ongoing—due to covid and non-covid patients, staff sickness, absences and the availability of beds because of the social care crisis. The Government have clearly been asleep at the wheel. may we have a debate in Government time—not just covid statements—on the acute crisis in our hospitals to ensure that our hospital leaders are heard? Their experience at the frontline of the hospital crisis does not chime with the Prime Minister’s assurance that the NHS is not overwhelmed.

I agree with the hon. Lady that the RUH does terrific work. I went to see it recently, and it is a well-managed hospital that does its best under difficult circumstances. However, I think that her charge against the Government is ill-founded. Taxpayers have provided an extra £5.4 billion to the NHS to respond to covid-19 over the next six months, which takes the total this year to £34 billion. We have also given ambulance trusts an extra £55 million, as ambulances have been one of the issues. When I visited the RUH, I was conscious that it has an issue with the number of people who ought to be released into social care being considerably higher than normal. That pressure often occurs in the winter, but the very competent management at the RUH is doing a first-class job.

May we have a debate on the impact of NHS covid protocols on cancer sufferers? I was disturbed when a constituent got in touch to say that she needs weekly vital life-saving treatment at a hospital, but she has been told that if by any chance she comes into contact with someone who has tested positive for covid, she will not be allowed that treatment.

I always say to right hon. and hon. Members across the House that if they raise specific constituent issues at business questions, I will always take them up directly afterwards with the relevant Department. Treatment rates for cancer are now back to usual levels, and since the pandemic began more than 480,000 people have started treatment for cancer, but there is record spending of £2 billion to deal with the backlog and £8 billion over the next three years to deliver an extra 9 million checks, scans and operations for patients across the country. I reiterate my offer to take up my right hon. Friend’s specific case directly.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Children with disabilities often require specialist equipment to meet their needs but, because of lengthy delays in assessments, their conditions may worsen, resulting in complex surgery or interventions that could have been prevented. In a survey carried out by the charity Newlife, 68% of families reported that their child is living without the essential equipment they need right now. May we have a debate in Government time on the desperate situation in which disabled children find themselves because of delays in getting the equipment they need right now?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I have already set out what the Government have been doing in our disability strategy. I think it is better to deal with the individual cases, which we as MPs are well positioned to take up when they come to our attention. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), I am always happy to try to facilitate that. Sometimes citing the headline figures from surveys is not particularly illuminating.

Since coming to this House two years ago I have raised on numerous occasions my concerns about the level of borrowing by Warrington Borough Council. The Labour council now has debts of about £1.6 billion. Today there are reports in the national newspapers that Together Energy will be the 26th energy company to enter administration. That is particularly relevant to people in Warrington because £52 million of public money has been invested in that loss-making company by the borough council, and there would potentially be a catastrophic impact on local services were the company to enter administration. Can we have a debate in Government time on how councils are using public money to invest in private companies? I again urge the Government to launch an inquiry into this gambling by local councillors.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this question. Just before the 2017 general election I was on the Treasury Committee, and I lobbied the then Chairman for an inquiry into exactly this subject. Councils are not there to speculate; they are there to run public services and to handle taxpayers’ money well. I have a great quibble about using the word “investment” for local government expenditure, because actually it is spending taxpayers’ money. Local government should not be talking about investing; it should recognise that it is using other people’s money and therefore has a great fiduciary duty to spend it wisely. Councils that do not spend it wisely should be held to account both by Members of Parliament and, as they ultimately will be, by their electors.

During yesterday’s covid statement the Prime Minister made certain assertions, in response to the shadow First Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), about the UK Government’s support for the domestic diagnostics industry that were patently untrue. In my Adjournment debate last night, the Paymaster General failed to answer any of my questions other than to demonstrate his enthusiasm for profiteering. The UK diagnostics industry only wants a level playing field. That is all it is asking for. Will the Government bring forward a debate in their time to set out in detail the support they claim to be giving to the domestic diagnostics industry?

The purpose of business questions is to ensure that Members have the opportunity to raise the issues they wish to raise for debate. The hon. Gentleman tells me he has had the chance to question the Prime Minister and the Paymaster General on exactly this question. The fact he does not like the answers does not mean that the answers have not been given and that satisfactory parliamentary time has not been spent on the issue.

I am working hard with key partners in Wolverhampton to secure all the funding for the Wolverhampton city learning quarter. We still need some of that funding to come through, but we are delighted with what we have received so far. Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate to ensure that all Wolverhampton children have the right start in life by setting up the city learning quarter?

I commend my hon. Friend for the brilliant work he is doing on behalf of his constituents in Wolverhampton. As I understand it, the city learning quarter is a most impressive project that supports the council’s objective to boost adult learning in the area with new facilities. The Government appreciate the importance of adult education to improving people’s life chances, so this project supports our wider aims to boost adult learning and reskilling, which we are doing through the adult education budget, the skills bootcamps and free level 3 courses for jobs, which are funding by the new national skills fund. We are spending taxpayers’ money on education across the country to give every child the best start in life, and we are targeting support at the most disadvantaged so that no one is left behind.

My hon. Friend asks when the money will come, and he is right to ask that question. I will make sure he gets an answer from the Department for Education on when the cheque will clear.

My constituents and many others have been incorrectly subjected to large fines, have incurred debt and are being chased by bailiffs for alleged non-payment of the toll at our Tyne tunnel since it changed to an open-road system. Last year I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport and was advised that these problems had nothing at all to do with the Government, yet some of these issues relate to byelaws that can only be changed by statutory instruments. Will the Leader of the House please explain if, as the Secretary of State indicated, the Government are no longer responsible for changing this legislation, who is?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I have enormous sympathy on the issue that she is raising. There is nothing more vexatious for our constituents than being fined by officious bodies for doing things that are perfectly normal to do, whether they are private road or private parking companies, who seem to specialise in this, or people chasing for tolls. She is quite right to stand up on behalf of her constituents on this. It would be most helpful if she would set out to me in writing precisely what byelaws need changing and then I can take that up with the relevant Department.

Can we have an early debate on the operation—or should I say the lack of operation?—of the vaccine damage payments scheme? In the year in which it has been operating, not a single payment has been made in respect of any victim of covid-19 vaccine. We know from recent inquests and from other detailed material from professors at Bristol University of the link between damage caused by vaccines and the need for compensation for those who are in the unfortunate minority of having so suffered. Is that not fundamental to improving vaccine confidence?

There should be huge vaccine confidence. What has happened with the vaccine programme and the booster programme has meant that this country has been able to get back to normal faster than almost any other country in the world. My hon. Friend and I would particularly note that it is thanks to the fact that we are not in the European Union that we were able to move so quickly. I encourage him to indicate his own confidence in the vaccine and support the vaccine roll-out, because that really has been essential to our economic reopening, to the health of the nation, and to the ability of the NHS to cope with covid. Of course everything else will be looked at in due course, but the success of the programme is fundamental.

Happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to everybody across the House.

Before Christmas, Virgin Care, which had contracts to deliver a number of NHS services, was taken over by a private equity firm called Twenty20 Capital. Yet we know little about the company’s priorities or strategic approach to delivering services other than the statement on its website that says that it looks for

“significant returns in 2-5 years.”

That will sound alarm bells for people working for it. What is more, the Health and Care Bill will allow integrated care boards to delegate functions, and even devolved budgets, to non-statutory bodies that could include such private equity firms. This has huge implications for patients and staff. So will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate on the impact of the Government’s NHS privatisation agenda, and will he ask the Prime Minister to come to this House and be straight with people in England by explaining to them that he is in fact dismantling the national health service as a public service and handing it gift-wrapped to big business? [Interruption.]

Last June, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood) and I submitted a bid to the levelling-up fund to upgrade the Penistone line. This would result in much-needed improvements in train services between Huddersfield and Sheffield and double the number of trains serving stations in my constituency such as Penistone, Dodworth and Chapeltown. My constituents desperately need these improvements to travel to work, leisure and college, so will my right hon. Friend provide an update as to when we might hear whether our bid has been successful?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and for the terrific effort she is making in supporting levelling up and in backing her constituency. I understand from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities that a letter detailing the outcome of Kirklees Council’s application to upgrade the Penistone line was sent to the council in October, and I will therefore ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to speak to my hon. Friend. I must warn Members that not every levelling-up fund application is successful, but I should also say, as I said to the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), do keep on persevering.

Like many Members, perhaps even including the Leader of the House, I have many constituents who have been hit by increasing delays in, for instance, the commencement of state pension payments and the processing of applications to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, as well as by various Home Office delays. New figures suggest that the reason is, in large part at least, the slashing of more than 6,000 civil service jobs in the last decade while the proportion of civil servants in the highest grades has nearly doubled. May we have a debate on better support for our overstretched civil service operating at the coalface?

During these sessions I normally find myself trying to be as helpful as I can to the hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid I have a slightly different view of why things have not been working. I think that many of those delays have been caused by problems with working from home, which is why it is so important for those who need to go into the office to do so.

The Mayor of London is proposing to sell Notting Hill police station to the highest bidder, which will mean that there is no physical police presence in the north of my borough. I have been working with my council and with local community groups, including the Kensington Society, to put together a bid for community uses, which could include a police station. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is completely wrong that the Mayor of London is selling a police station in London—in north Kensington—and that if he persists in this wrong action, he should prioritise the bid from a community group?

I think that a sentence involving the Mayor of London and wrong action is almost by definition tautologous, as his failures are manifest and emerge in these sessions week after week, particularly in relation to crime. It seems strange that at a time when crime is rising, police stations are still being sold off. I encourage my hon. Friend to persist in her advocacy of an alternative consortium which may be able to keep space for the police, and I also reiterate the points that I made about our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. When he was Mayor of London, crime fell by 23%. That was a triumph of leadership, and London needs better leadership.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House has had a chance yet to read today’s edition of the New Musical Express, but it contains a long article setting out the continuing problems—12 months after Brexit—for touring artists wanting to work across the European Union visa-free and without unnecessary costs and bureaucracy. In that article, the chief executive officer of the Featured Artists Coalition said:

“To get all of this information we’ve had to get it from multiple sources, but none of them were the government.”

Now that the major obstacle is out of the way with Lord Frost’s welcome departure, may we have a debate about focusing on solving this problem once and for all?

I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman about my noble Friend Lord Frost, a most distinguished figure and servant of this Government and of the nation.

The hon. Gentleman knows that these matters are being discussed between Her Majesty’s Government and individual member states of the European Union, which have responsibility for them. As I think he acknowledges, considerable progress has been made, with a number of countries being very willing to have reciprocal arrangements. May I confess, however, that I have failed, in that I have not read the New Musical Express this morning or, indeed, on any morning that I can recall?

The Environment Agency is now formally investigating alleged criminal activity at Walleys Quarry landfill in my constituency. It is ultimately owned by Red Industries, a company controlled by Mr Adam Share, who in the past has been convicted and sent to jail for bugging the Environment Agency over another landfill. I also note the recent media reports about illegal fly-tipping—which was mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe)—and rogue waste dealers. One journalist had successfully registered his dead goldfish as a waste dealer with the Environment Agency. May we please have a debate on the regulation of, and the criminality within, Britain’s waste industry?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising those appalling and absurd crimes. How could somebody register a goldfish as a waste dealer? The Government are preparing significant reforms to continue to increase the pressure on illegal waste operators. Our planned electronic waste tracking reforms will make it harder to misidentify waste or dispose of it unsuitably. Our planned changes to the carriers, brokers and dealers licensing regime will improve licensing and make it harder still for rogue operators to escape detection, but I suppose it is to some extent reassuring to my hon. Friend, and to me, that the gentleman he referred to has been found guilty, convicted and sent to jail. Sometimes the law does take its course, in all its majesty.

Some 8.5 million people entered this year in debt. With one in six people struggling to pay bills, escalating food, fuel and housing costs mean that the situation is getting more and more acute. In York, we have launched a poverty truth commission to start addressing the issues, but we know that a lot of the solutions lie in this House, so can we have an urgent debate about the impact of poverty and the solutions that need to be brought forward urgently?

I wonder if I may divide the question into two parts—one on providing support for people in debt, and the other on what the Government and taxpayers are doing to support people in poverty—because I think the two questions, though related, are not identical. Some people get into a spiral of debt for which there are very good organisations in all our constituencies that do amazing work. We should all, as individual MPs, try to point our constituents in the right direction to get help. Often interest rates and repayments can be significantly reduced simply by entering into a conversation with the lenders.

With regard to what the Government have been doing on poverty, the Government are aware of the difficulties, and there is £4.2 billion of support available. Raising the national living wage to £9.50 next year will help. Giving nearly 2 million families an extra £1,000 a year through the cut to the universal credit taper and the increase to work allowances will also be important. Both of those things will help work to pay, and work is unquestionably the best way out of poverty. There are a number of other schemes, but time is pressing, so unless I get another question on the matter I will not go into them all.

My right hon. Friend may be aware of research that was published on 23 December in The BMJ, just after we all voted for plan B, that suggests that a triple dose of the vaccine, three months after the third dose, offers pretty much zero protection against transmission of the Omicron variant. I hope that he agrees that it would be unthinkable to insist that NHS workers should have a jab every three months by law. If that research is accepted by the Government, will he make time for this House to repeal the compulsory vaccination of health workers before it comes into effect on 1 April, thereby saving the NHS tens of thousands of staff and restoring the principle that, in this country at least, vaccination is the free choice of a free people?

My reading material was not the NME nor The BMJ. If somebody asks me about The Spectator I may be able to give a more positive answer. My hon. Friend raises a very difficult issue. We are a free country, and it is important that we maintain essential liberties. Enforced medication has been extraordinarily rare, though there were examples of compulsory smallpox vaccination in the 19th century. The Government are absolutely of the view—this view is held much more broadly than simply by members of Her Majesty’s Government—that vaccination is our best defence against covid. Vaccination reduces the likelihood of infection and therefore helps to break chains of transmission, and is safe and effective. Any increase in immunity of workers from vaccination will reduce the risk of harm to patients and service users, as well as to our valuable health and social care workforce. Therefore, I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but Her Majesty’s Government do not agree that the regulations on the vaccination of health and care workers should be revoked.

Happy Epiphany, Mr Speaker, and I hope that the Leader of the House has many epiphanies. May we have a debate on drug and alcohol services in the country, partly so that we may celebrate the amazing work that is done by the clinicians in those services, often in difficult circumstances, partly so that we may encourage more people to take up that profession, because there is a massive shortage of clinicians across the whole country, and partly, perhaps more importantly—because I suspect every single one of us knows someone who might have been affected by such services—to celebrate those extraordinary people who might have had a problem with drug or alcohol but absolutely have managed to turn their lives around? Should we not celebrate them?

In a spirit of good will on Epiphany, may I say how much I agree with the hon. Gentleman? I cannot promise a debate, but we should certainly celebrate people who either through their own actions recover from a dependency or help others to recover. I am a great believer that people should have a second chance, a third chance and a fourth chance, and that everything that can be done by parts of the state or voluntary bodies to help that is worth celebrating. I am glad to see that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is still in his place, and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has asked once and been successful so, if we are keeping to the biblical theme:

“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find”.

Since being elected, I have met a large number of parents and community organisations, including the West Yorkshire ADHD Support Group, asking for my help to improve special educational needs provision in our schools. Following those discussions and after much research, it is apparent that some schools offer far better SEN provision than others. That disparity should not exist. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend for a debate on SEN provision in our education system to ensure that all children, regardless of need, are provided with the same opportunities in life?

This is so important—I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The recent spending review makes available £2.6 billion of new funding across the next three years for new school places for children with special educational needs and disabilities. That represents a transformational expenditure of taxpayers’ money in new high-needs provision and it will help to deliver tens of thousands of new places. What my hon. Friend is asking for is happening, but I will ensure that his comments are passed on to my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary.

We have heard a lot this morning about what the Leader of the House does not read, but I hope that he is reading the Health and Social Care Committee report on the challenges facing the NHS workforce, which has just been published. This week more than ever, we recognise the challenges that the NHS and social care workforces are facing with the omicron surge, the backlog in treatment and already being exhausted. Is this not an ideal opportunity for the Government to take up my idea of an NHS and social care covenant, just as we have for the armed forces and for the police, to recognise society’s responsibilities and obligations to that important part of our social infrastructure in this country?

It is an opportunity—I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for making her point—to thank people working in the health service and social care for the work that they do, in particular in winter when it is very difficult. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) raised that in relation to the RUH in my constituency but, if we went around this Chamber, every single Member could pay tribute to their local hospitals and GP surgeries, and to those who work above and beyond the call of duty, in particular at this time of year. I note—for the benefit of the Hansard reporters, who cannot see this—that even you, Mr Speaker, are nodding. You ran a great campaign for your own local hospital, which was ultimately successful. What the right hon. Lady says is important, that we recognise the contribution made, but whether a covenant is the answer we will need to discuss more. Her idea is certainly one that is worth considering.

May we have a debate on the importance of the A5 to the UK? The road runs from London to Wales and is so important, in particular in joining the east and west midlands. It is blighted by narrowings and, most importantly, one of the most bashed bridges in Britain, right by Hinckley where I am. A decision point on RIS3—the third road investment strategy—is coming in March. Will it be possible to have a debate before then to say how important this House feels the A5 is?

Yes, of course—that is not a promise of a debate—but am I not right in thinking that the A5 goes along one of the old Roman roads? Therefore, it has been important to our history for generation upon generation. Where I think my hon. Friend is saying something of the greatest relevance is that we need to consider our roads as a United Kingdom, because they do not conveniently stop when they get to the boundary between counties or even the constituent parts of our great kingdom. He is right to call for a debate, but I suggest that on a specific road, even one as important and as ancient as the A5, that is probably most suitable for an Adjournment debate.

I know that the Leader of the House likes nothing more than to elicit a response from a Minister that an hon. Member has previously failed to elicit, so he will be alarmed to know that yesterday both my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) and I asked the Secretary of State for International Trade how, when and why she would seek to deploy the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 to ride roughshod over devolution, but she refused to answer. Will he get an answer for us, please?

I can give an answer very directly: Her Majesty’s Government have no intention of riding roughshod over the devolved settlement.

When I met the National Deaf Children’s Society recently, it outlined the challenges that many deaf children have had to deal with during the pandemic. It is those children, as well as Rose Ayling-Ellis, who won “Strictly Come Dancing” last month, who have inspired me to learn British Sign Language as my new year’s resolution. Would the Leader of the House like to join me, and if not—because time probably does not allow—what is his new year’s resolution?

I am afraid I have never been very good at learning languages—even English I only just about manage to get by with. [Interruption.] No, I am afraid my Latin is absolutely hopeless. I therefore think that my new year’s resolution, in support of my hon. Friend, should be to campaign more in Westminster for the local elections that are coming up in May, because the council that she used to lead with such distinction is one of the great Conservative councils in the country. It keeps the council tax down; it keeps good services running; it is a model of its kind. We even managed to hold it in 1990, and I can assure her that I have forgiven the council for the 20 mph speed limits.

May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the merger of councils and local democracy? I am sure he would be concerned if there was suddenly an announcement that Somerset and Bristol were to merge. In Warwickshire, the Conservative-controlled county council is arguing for a unitary authority. Meanwhile, we have Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick District Councils voting to merge themselves, albeit without any public vote. Surely we should be putting these sorts of decisions to the people, as I am sure my example earlier would have demonstrated to him.

The hon. Gentleman knows my weaknesses only too well, because this dreadful idea was tried with the county of Avon, which was abolished, I am glad to say, to general rejoicing in 1996. They have sort of half-tried it again with the west of England combined authority, which had no support beyond bureaucrats in my area—none of the people of North East Somerset wanted it—so I have a great deal of sympathy with what he is asking for. However, any change in council status usually requires a statutory instrument; therefore, there are ways of ensuring that it is discussed.

Statues and monuments located in the public realm are an important part of our cultural heritage. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House and the relevant Departments about the ongoing presence of these statues and monuments: that their reappraisal or removal needs to be determined by lawful means, not by mob rule? If the Government do not make this clear, those monuments that some people do not like are now, as a result of the recent court case in Bristol, at greater risk of defacement, destruction or removal.

I do not think the result in Bristol does do that, because the decision does not set a precedent. It was a case decided by a jury on the facts before them. I shall therefore not be going out of here immediately afterwards and drawing a moustache on the statue of Oliver Cromwell outside, much though I am opposed to regicides in principle and think that they deserve to be removed from pedestals broadly speaking. I think we should recognise our history even when the figures in that history are not ones that we individually admire. Our island story is a complex one, and there are varieties in all people of good intentions and less pure intentions. My hon. Friend is right that we should protect monuments and that they should be removed only by a due process, but one of our greatest monuments is the jury system, which is the great, sublime protector of our liberties.

Thanks to funding from the Mayor of London, Hounslow council will be buying over 500 homes and bringing them into council ownership, including a number of former council homes sold under right to buy. These will provide secure, affordable homes to over 500 families in housing need, with 25 going to young care leavers and 20 going to Afghan refugees to whom this country owes a debt. Will the Leader of the House congratulate the Mayor of London and the London Borough of Hounslow, and find time for a debate on the importance of public investment in truly affordable and secure housing?

First, I would say that the Mayor of London has no money; it is taxpayers’ money. The hon. Lady needs the conversion that has worked on the shadow Leader of the House. It is of course important to have affordable housing. The Government are increasing the supply of housing, with £10 billion being spent on housing supply since the start of this Parliament, which will unlock over 1 million homes, including £300 million of locally led grant funding to unlock small brownfield sites and improve communities, and with £12 billion of expenditure on affordable housing from 2021. These things are happening and they are led by central Government, but it is taxpayers’ money.

Mr Speaker, my question has been asked, so I was actually going to duck out, but I thought I would just, you know, ask it anyway. Again, as somebody who has concerns about this country’s heritage, I, too, was disturbed by this judgment. I think the key point is that it is fair enough to feel strongly about that particular statue, but there are legal and democratic processes one can engage with to make the case that that statue should be taken down. This really, from what I can see, was lawlessness, and I think it could set a dangerous precedent. So will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will consider whether any changes can be made to protect our heritage, and that if so, that they are made, because I think he would have seen in the media today that there is great concern and I do not think it is all misplaced?

I am going to come back to the jury system in, I hope, giving some reassurance to my hon. Friend, because it is an ancient right and a great protector of freedom. That does not mean that every decision made by every jury is one that is welcomed by some people in some circumstances, but it is such an important protector of our liberties that we must take the rough with the smooth.

On 18 March, my private Member’s Bill on statutory paid bereavement leave for all who lose a close family member will be before this House. It builds on the excellent Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018, which came into effect in 2020. Estimates show that grief costs the UK economy £23 billion per year and the Treasury £8 billion in lost revenues. Indeed, without the space to grieve, some drop out of the workforce altogether. A statutory paid right for all workers to have the time to grieve will produce a more productive and resilient workforce with a greater sense of wellbeing. So will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out whether he will support my Bill for statutory paid bereavement leave for all—the Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill—as many across the House already do?

I thank the hon. Lady for the approach she is taking to this. I cannot on Thursday mornings give off-the-cuff commitments to private Members’ Bills, but I think I can say that the way Members get those Bills adopted is, as the hon. Lady has down, by courteously campaigning for them and building up a head of steam of support. Some private Members’ Bills that start with remarkably little Government support end up getting on the statute book because of the effectiveness of a Back-Bench campaigner.

I am sure the Leader of the House knows that Doncaster has fantastic rail links and has a rich rail heritage. I am sure he also knows that it is the birthplace of both the Flying Scotsman and the Mallard. Therefore, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that Doncaster is by far the best place for the headquarters of Great British Railways?

My hon. Friend asks me to do something for which I do not have the authority, but I can say that Doncaster is a wonderful place and has a superb Member of Parliament, who ensures that it is very well and effectively represented in this House. As I understand it, the Great British Railways transition team will be running a competition to identify the national headquarters, which will be based outside London, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to levelling up. I am not immediately aware of any competition coming from North East Somerset, so may I wish Doncaster extremely well?

Will the Leader of the House consider providing time for a debate on the persecution of Christians in India? According to a recent report by the United Christian Forum, 2021 was the most violent year for India’s Christians, and their attackers continue their brutal targeting with impunity. Does the Leader of the House agree that a debate on this topic would be timely because this House should not continue to blindly implement the UK-India 2030 road map while neglecting India’s human rights record on freedom of religion or belief?

As always, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who campaigns tirelessly on this issue. India is a great friend of this country; it is an important and powerful ally, but I confess I was concerned to read that donations to the Mother Teresa Foundation have been limited from overseas recently, as the work of Mother Teresa, and since her death of the organisations she was involved with, has been very important. They have done wonderful and good work so I was sorry to read that, but our relationship with India is one of our most important foreign affairs relationships.

In November, Stroud midwives marched through the town as part of co-ordinated marches across the country to raise awareness of pressures on midwifery and concerns about safety. There is also a petition with over 100,000 signatures, and I have met with Stroud midwives. I came in today to ask for the help of the Leader of the House to get a debate on this issue, but such is his presence that I have had a message from my team saying that I have just been granted an Adjournment debate on 17 January, so may I pivot to ask my right hon. Friend to join me in praising midwives across the country and to encourage people to join my debate?

It is, of course, Mr Speaker who gives Adjournment debates, and therefore we pay homage to you, Mr Speaker, for your beneficence, wisdom and perspicacity in realising this was about to be asked for and granting it before it had even been requested formally on the Floor of the House. May I say to my hon. Friend that as the father of six children I hold midwives in the highest regard?

Many Blackpool residents are extremely concerned about increases in the cost of living and the likelihood of large rises in their fuel bills from the spring. Scrapping VAT and the green levies on fuel bills would go a long way towards easing the pressures on their household budgets, so will my right hon. Friend look to hold a debate in Government time on how we can mitigate these costs being passed on to consumers?

We have already discussed the VAT issue and the difficult decisions any Chancellor always has to make on where taxation falls to ensure that what the country wishes to afford can be paid for. But there is targeted support for those being hit most, such as the £500 million household support fund and the warm home discount, and I have already mentioned the £4.2 billion being spent to help people suffering from the rising cost of living. So the Government are very conscious of this, but my hon. Friend is a very effective campaigner, and I am sure this is not the last we will hear of this important issue.

In 2021 more than 28,000 people left the safe haven of France and arrived illegally in the UK by small boat. Will the Government consider declaring this crisis in the channel a national emergency, and in addition to the Nationality and Borders Bill currently in the House of Lords will they consider emergency legislation so that in 2022 we are able to control our borders, no more lives are needlessly lost at sea and the criminals profiteering on the backs of human misery are brought to justice?

I wonder how often France has been called “safe” in this Chamber over the centuries, but I think we can accept that it is safe for most refugees— except for those who do not like garlic, who may need to escape. What has been going on in the channel is appalling and should concern us all, because it is led by people smugglers; it is led by evil people and it has led to deaths, and we need to prevent further lives from being lost on this dangerous crossing and break the business model of the criminal gangs who exploit desperation.

Since the joint intelligence centre was established in July 2020 we have, with France, dismantled 17 small boat organised crime groups and secured over 400 arrests. UK immigration enforcement has secured 67 convictions of the criminals driving small boat crossings since January 2020, resulting in sentences totalling over 54 years. Our Nationality and Borders Bill will give us more powers, including being able to do things like check people’s age so we know the facts when people claim asylum, which should make our system firmer and fairer.