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Business of the House

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 23 June 2022

It will be a pleasure.

The business for the week commencing 27 June will include:

Monday 27 June—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

Tuesday 28 June—Opposition day (4th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 29 June—Consideration in committee of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill (Day 1).

Thursday 30 June—Debate on a motion on Iran’s nuclear programme followed by, general debate on 50 years of Pride in the UK. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 1 July—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 4 July will include:

Monday 4 July—Conclusion of consideration in committee and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

Tuesday 5 July—Estimates day (1st allotted day). Subjects to be confirmed.

Wednesday 6 July—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). Subjects to be confirmed.

At 7.00pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I hope he had a wonderful time at the Tory party’s summer ball on Monday night. I hear the top prize auctioned off was a £120,000 slap-up meal for four including the Prime Minister, his predecessor and her predecessor. The absolute audacity of Tory MPs telling food bank users that they do not know how to spend their money, when Tory donors seem to be willing to pay the going rate of £40,000 per failed and failing Prime Minister. It is shocking. Tory donors, clearly unaffected by the cost of living crisis, are wined and dined by the Cabinet when working people face inflation at more than 9%, lower pay and backlog Britain grinding the country to a halt. Where in the upcoming business is the Government’s long-term plan to deal with all that?

Perhaps I can offer the three recent Conservative Prime Ministers a conversation starter: 12 years of underfunding and Tory mismanagement of our NHS; and record numbers of people waiting for care and waiting longer than ever before. In Wakefield, since 2019, the people of that great city have lost three local GP practices and 300,000 GP appointments per year, all while the Chancellor puts up their taxes. Does the Leader of the House think it is fair that his Government are asking the people of Wakefield to pay more, for less?

On Tuesday, Labour’s successful motion called on the Health Secretary simply to meet his Government’s own target of recruiting 6,000 extra GPs and to ensure that everyone who needs an NHS dentist can get one. Those are not unreasonable demands, but the Health Secretary cannot even meet them. He has admitted that he is not on track, so can the Leader of the House explain to his voters why his Government are breaking yet another one of their promises? What is the plan? People around the country, including those in Wakefield, will want to see it. Will he ask the Health Secretary to make a statement on how he is going to train, recruit and hang on to the GPs we need? I remind him that they are the Government and our motion passed. They should do their job and at least attempt to sort this mess out.

It is another week of the Government engulfed in Tory sleaze and scandal, instead of dealing with problems in our NHS. I do welcome the fact that they have realised that they obviously need an ethics adviser, but they must get on with recruiting a new one. On Tuesday, Labour’s ethics motion called for urgency. The Tories voted against it, so I ask the Leader of the House: when can we expect to see the ethics vacancy filled? Can he guarantee that the investigations that were ongoing prior to Lord Geidt’s resignation will be completed?

Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) asked the Prime Minister for a straight yes or no on whether he had ever considered the appointment of his now spouse to a government post or one in any other organisation. We hear that No. 10 spoke to The Times after it published an article on this and the story disappeared. There is clearly something going on and it is clearly unethical to use a position as a very powerful person, possibly the most powerful person in the country, to get your partner a six-figure-salary job. The Prime Minister failed to deny this yesterday, so I am asking the Leader of the House now: could he advise us on what conversations were had and how far was this allowed to go?

Last week, the Leader of the House failed to address my question on missing legislation. The proposals on renters’ rights reforms last Thursday are welcome, but they were promised three years ago and all we have got is a White Paper. This is another example of the Government picking an issue, waving it around on a day they need a distraction and dropping it the next. This is no way to run a country. So when will the Leader of the House bring forward the actual legislation and give renters the rights they deserve, for which they been waiting for so long? Whether it is the distraction of sleaze and scandal, missing legislation or countless failed promises, the choice is stark: a Tory Government unable to govern or Labour, a party that believes in democracy, decency and respect, with a plan to deal with backlog Britain and tackle the Tory cost of living crisis. People up and down the country will be waking up this morning, including in Wakefield, knowing that it is time for a fresh start.

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. What is clear is that the Government are getting on with the job. We are making our streets safer; we are recruiting 20,000 more police officers, and we have already got 13,500 of those recruited. We continue to grow the economy to address the cost of living challenge that people face. That is why we have invested £37 billion to help people through the challenges that we face—frankly, the whole world is facing these challenges. We are funding the NHS to deal with those covid backlogs, which is why we introduced the health and social care levy; we are talking about £39 billion-worth investment in our NHS. The Labour party did not support that investment in our health service. We are providing leadership that is needed in these challenging times. We are the strongest supporter of Ukraine. We have delivered the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, which is why the economy continues to grow.

There was one question that I will address—there was one genuine question in all of that rant: what did I know about the allegation that the hon. Lady made about the Prime Minister’s wife. I can tell her and the House that I was the Government Chief Whip from the moment the Prime Minister became the Prime Minister. I think I am the longest serving Chief Whip since 2010. I was in meetings and rooms with the Prime Minister probably more than any other Minister during that period. I never ever in my political career heard mention of the Prime Minister’s wife getting a role—ever, to be clear.

What we heard in the shadow Leader of the House’s comments was anything at all she wants to talk about, other than the crisis that the unions are delivering to this country as we sit here. Look behind her at those empty Benches. The reason those Benches are empty is that they all ran like rats to get a train yesterday—[Interruption.] Across the House, colleagues had to go and get trains yesterday because of the misery the unions are pouring on to this country. Let us look at some of the working practices they are trying to defend.

Whole teams have to change a socket when one person could do it; they want nine people to go and do it. They want a walking time of one minute to take 12 minutes. [Hon. Members: “Shocking!”] This is absolutely true. A break time starts, and if one of their managers says hello to them during it, the break has to start again because management have interrupted it. Technology now exists with cameras to check the safety of rail lines—a very important job—but the unions insist that they have to be walking checks. Eight rail workers have been killed on the rail lines in the past two years doing those walking checks when technology exists to protect those lives and to look after people on our railways. Best of all, there was a threatened strike over the replacement of a tea urn with a kettle.

That is the sort of thing that these people are defending. I call on the hon. Lady and her friends’ paymasters to get back round the table, talk to Network Rail, and ease the misery that they are imposing on working people up and down this country.

I thank my right hon. Friend for announcing the business not only for next week but for the week after. At our meeting of the Backbench Business Committee on Monday evening, we will be determining the applications for estimates day debates. As an advert to the House, and beyond, could those who wish to submit applications do so by 1 o’clock on Monday at the latest? We will try to be as flexible as we can in terms of the number of speakers and so on that will be required for such a debate, but we obviously need to get on with the job.

My right hon. Friend announced the provisional business for the week of the estimates day debates but did not mention what is happening on Thursday 7 July. Could he update us on that, because we have a queue of applications?

Last night, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and I attended a symposium on the plight of Hindus across the world. Forced conversion, murder and, quite frankly, genocide have been committed against Hindus across the world. Can we have a debate in Government time on the threat across the world to Hindus, who are peaceful, law-abiding people who just want to live their lives in peace and harmony?

I encourage Members across the House to make representations to the Backbench Business Committee on the estimates, and I know that my hon. Friend’s door will be open to those requests. The business will be announced next Thursday, so I am sure that he will be in his place to hear what it will be on Thursday 7 July. I commend him for the work that he does in supporting Hindu communities not only in his own constituency but around the world. He is a true champion for rights and religious freedom—almost as robust and enthusiastic as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

I am quite surprised to see so many Conservative Members in their places—don’t they know there are by-elections they have to fight? I suppose it is a lot safer being in here, though, than having to traipse around Devon or the north of England having to explain away all the many prime ministerial indiscretions.

Can we have a debate about job opportunities, because it seems to me that if you are intimately involved with this Prime Minister your chances of securing a top job in Whitehall, with the royal family or at COP seem to be greatly enhanced? I listened to the Leader of the House on this particular issue. I do not know if this piece of prime ministerial nepotism is true or not, but it seems to be quite consistent with what we have experienced of this Prime Minister over the past few months. I know—maybe it is a job for the ethics adviser. Oh yes—there isn’t one; his role is currently being reviewed. Translated from the Johnsonian, that means it is being abandoned. This is a Prime Minister with the ethics of a polecat. Not even all the ethics advisers in the world could start to scratch the surface of the many issues that need to be confronted.

I am quite surprised—I thought Government Members would all be on their feet today celebrating Brexit day. It is six years since that decision was taken—six years of chaos and misery for this nation. In Scotland, this day is marked with nothing other than dismay, disappointment and simmering resentment. We are a nation taken out of an EU we cherished against our national collective will, after being promised that our membership would be safe if we stayed in their Union. The absolute failure of their Brexit and the preparation to break international law on Monday on the protocol is the main driver for converts to the cause of Scottish independence. They may have got themselves out of the European Union, but they have inadvertently helped Scotland get out of the mess of this Union. Maybe that is something worth celebrating.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I celebrate the fact that we left the European Union. I am not a democracy denier like the hon. Gentleman. We acknowledge that there was a democratic process and that is why we delivered on Brexit; that is why he should acknowledge that at the last referendum on Scotland’s place in the Union, he unfortunately lost. We are stronger together. He should celebrate democracy and join us in making the Union stronger.

The Government are getting on with the job. We delivered this week on the High Speed Rail (Crewe–Manchester) Bill, we are delivering on the cost of living with payments coming quickly to people, and we are supporting pensioners with disability benefits.

The hon. Gentleman talked about job opportunities. There is a job in Scotland available to people who want to engage in bureaucracy. This week, the SNP came forward with its plan to spend £1.5 billion on administration alone to secure the services of care workers from local authorities, only to then procure care workers’ services from the local authorities from which they have taken those care workers. It is absolutely bonkers. The SNP is too busy being distracted by its own Watergate moment, with its internal meetings being leaked. The SNP Chief Whip was so angry that he wrote to colleagues saying, “Please don’t leak”—only for that letter to be leaked. I think the SNP leaks more than its ferries.

In May 2016, Diana, the wife of my constituent, Peter Walker, was killed in an accident with a cyclist in Pewsey High Street. The following year the Government announced a consultation on a new offence of causing death by dangerous cycling. The year after that, in 2018, my predecessor Claire Perry was assured by the Government that the response to the consultation would be issued shortly. Four years on, we still have no response. Since 2019, I have written to the Government four times to ask for a date for when it will happen. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this really is not good enough? Will he please use his good offices with the Department for Transport to get it to come forward with a timetable on the review and to bring forward the legislation that we need?

I am very sorry to hear about my hon. Friend’s constituent. I assure him that the Department for Transport takes the issue very seriously. We have had a tragedy in my own constituency, when a pedestrian was hit by an e-scooter on a pavement; the lady lost her life. The Secretary of State is planning to publish our response to the consultation as soon as we can and, as my hon. Friend knows, has already announced that we are considering bringing forward legislation to introduce new offences around dangerous cycling. We will do that as part of a suite of measures to improve the safety of all road and pavement users.

My constituent, Mr David Hand, has generously agreed to sponsor two Ukraine nationals who are fleeing that awful conflict. He made an application to the Homes for Ukraine scheme on 22 May, but has not yet received any update. My office has spoken to the MP account management team at UK Visas and Immigration on several occasions, but, unfortunately, no update is forthcoming. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time to discuss the unacceptably long wait that some refugees are experiencing in incredibly dangerous situations?

I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Mr Hand who is doing a very generous thing in supporting and offering to host those people. Many people up and down the country are opening their homes to refugees. We should be enormously proud of that. I am sure the Home Secretary will have heard his comments, but to make sure I will pass them on directly to her and see whether she can assist him directly.

Can we have a debate on the huge disruption being caused to our constituents by tube and rail strikes? We need the opportunity to condemn the Labour MPs who are supporting these irresponsible strikes, even to the extent that they are actually joining picket lines, which is scandalous.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. That is something that is worthy of debate. We had a debate on this matter last week. I think 25 Labour Members have been on the picket lines along with Arthur Scargill this week. It is causing misery to commuters. It is making students miss exams and it is causing huge damage to the economy. The only way out of this is for the unions to go and speak directly to Network Rail and resolve these matters around the negotiating table.

Can the Leader of the House confirm when the Government’s proposal on the use of agency workers during industrial action will be brought forward for debate in the House? I understand that a statutory instrument is due to be published today but, having looked at the sheet with the business and having listened very carefully to what he said, I have not heard any confirmed timetable or process. Will this be brought on to the Floor of the House so that we can have a proper debate?

I do not have to hand the specific time when that will be brought forward, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman and let him know as soon as I am aware of that. The use of agency workers is an option available to employers up and down the country, but that must be done safely, ensuring that those agency workers can deliver a standard of service that is safe to members of the public.

I notice on the Order Paper that the restoration and renewal motion has been tabled. I welcome the proactiveness of the Leader of the House on the issue. Can he let the House know how individual Members can take part?

My hon. Friend is right that the motion is now on the Order Paper. It is important that the House understands that what the two commissions of the Commons and the Lords are seeking on this occasion is to take the sponsor body function back in-house to make sure that we can get on with the job quickly. Members across the House can engage. There are some drop-in sessions taking place. In fact, I hope that I and the shadow Leader of the House will do a joint one next week; I think it is currently in the diary for 2.30 in Committee Room 12. I encourage Members to come along, engage and find out more information.

The Leader of the House may be aware that a major pilot of a four-day working week, with no loss of pay for workers, has begun in the UK. A previous trial in Iceland was significant in finding improvements in terms of wellbeing and productivity, so a win-win for workers and for employers. The Scottish Government are committed to helping businesses to pilot a four-day week. Can we have a statement in Government time on whether the UK Government will also support exploring the benefits of flexible working, including a four-day working week?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Clearly, this is something that the Government will observe and consider. I know that there are a number of pilots taking place up and down the country. It is an interesting concept, but we would need to understand all the implications before it was rolled out as a national policy. However, it is certainly an interesting area of debate.

Speed cameras, love them or hate them, but for villages across my constituency, such as Felmersham, Thurleigh and Sutton to name just three, speeding through the village is a major issue. The desire for average speed cameras is at the top of the agenda for many parish councils, but funding is limited. Can we have a debate about alternative sources of financing? We do not want to make fines for speeding an incentive, but is there a way that we can help these rural areas to get the protection they deserve from speeding?

My hon. Friend will be aware that it is Transport questions next week, where he will have an opportunity to ask the Transport Secretary that question directly. Average speed cameras can be frustrating, but they happen to keep people alive and safe. I know in my constituency that several people lost their lives on the A614. Post the introduction of average speed cameras—I hesitate to say this, as I do not want to jinx myself—no one has lost their life on that stretch of road. They do work, and my hon. Friend is right to highlight it. I encourage him to seek a Backbench Business debate on the matter.

The Port of Tyne is an important economic player in North Tyneside, as well as across the whole of Tyneside and the region. On behalf of the port, I invited a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister to visit just over two months ago, but as yet, I have not heard anything. As the port is so keen to showcase all the good work it is doing, could the Leader of the House urge the Minister to respond positively to the invitation?

I will of course pass on the hon. Lady’s comments directly to the Minister. Not just the Port of Tyne, but ports around the country are an important part of our infrastructure and getting trade in and out of the UK. They need to work efficiently, and I will make sure that the Minister is aware of her comments.

My constituent Brian Leigh has been in a hospital in Corfu for 18 days, where he has been taken ill with a heart condition while on holiday. His wife, Michele, has come home and is desperately trying to get Brian back to the UK. His insurance company, Staysure, has handed responsibility for repatriating him to a company called Red Star, which has taken more than a week so far to get Brian home. Can we have a debate on the regulation of these arrangements, as my constituents have done the responsible thing and arranged travel insurance, but find it is little help to them when they need it?

I wish Brian a speedy recovery. Hopefully we can get him home soon with my hon. Friend’s efforts. I will make sure that the relevant Minister is aware of the case and encourage them to engage directly with my hon. Friend.

The Leader of the House will probably be aware that 6 July is the deadline for submissions for new bids to the next round of the levelling-up fund. What he will not be aware of is that Tameside Council is putting together an excellent bid for Denton town centre in my constituency, which I wholeheartedly support. It includes streetscape works, extensive improvements for pedestrians and cyclists and, at the heart of it, a new community hub at the Denton Festival Hall. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities so that we can have a better idea of the timescales for this next round of bids, and so that I can champion Denton, Denton, Denton?

I cannot deny that the hon. Gentleman does that on a regular basis. I hesitate to wish Denton well in its bid, because I am sure that many Members across the House will have bids for the levelling-up fund. I am sure that once the Secretary of State has received all those bids, he will be able to assess them and come forward with the great amount of investment that the country is looking for and the Government are committed to delivering.

I was very proud on Monday to attend the flag raising in Aylesbury for Armed Forces Week. It was an occasion to show support for everyone in our local armed forces community, from our cadets to our Army Reserve and from personnel at RAF Holton to service families. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking all who serve in our armed forces at home and abroad and ensure that Parliament can mark its appreciation and gratitude, whether through a debate or other fitting means?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend; I think he is part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme. I am sure the whole House will want to recognise the great contribution that our armed forces make. I had the privilege of visiting the poppy factory in Richmond on Monday this week to hear directly about the fantastic work it does to support veterans and to see the wreaths being made in the factory. Members of the public can visit the factory and have a tour of it, and I highly recommend that they do so. There is a dedicated office team supporting veterans up and down the country, and it is something that the House would want to recognise.

One food bank in Aberdeen distributed 600 parcels in a week, and another distributed 80 in just a 90-minute period. That is a scandal, but it is a necessity because of the economic and welfare policies of the UK Government. The Chancellor happens to be in my constituency at this moment in time, so I have asked him whether he would like to attend one such food bank to see for himself the devastating impact of his actions. I am not too hopeful that he will say yes. Bearing that in mind, will the Leader of the House agree to dragging the Chancellor to the Chamber for a debate on the impact of Tory policies?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer regularly appears at the Dispatch Box. I think that the last time he was here, he topped up the support fund to £37 billion. That is a huge amount of cash going to support people with those challenges.

I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to those charities which, alongside what the Government are doing, assist people when they fall into difficulty. We have increased the household support fund to £1.5 billion, we have the £200 million holiday activities food programme and we are funding £24 million-worth of school breakfasts. The Government are doing a huge amount to support people, but I also pay tribute to the charities that he recognised.

This week’s strikes have been incredibly disruptive for so many of my constituents, so I welcome the Business Secretary’s announcement today on temporary workers. Will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate on implementing minimum service levels similar to those in Italy and Spain so that we can limit the harm that these strikes do our people?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight once again the devastation that the strikes are causing. I encourage the unions to get back round the table and negotiate with Network Rail and the employers directly. I thank him for raising the matter, which is worthy of further debate.

Part of backlog Britain is the court backlog, which is unacceptable to my constituents in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, and it is getting worse. Justice delayed is justice denied. My constituents face delays in getting a hearing and many lost payments from courts, which delay hearings further. They also face delays in getting judgments respected. Rogue companies are taking advantage of the system breaking down. Can we have a debate in Government time or a ministerial statement about what action will be taken on the court backlog to get everyone the justice that they deserve?

Of course, one of the contributing factors in getting people to court is a decent transport system. If the transport system is not running, how can people get to court? We recognise that, post covid, there is a challenge in our health service and in our courts system. That is why we have introduced a quarter of a billion pounds to support the court recovery. The spending review provided an extra £477 million to the criminal justice system. We will also increase funding for the victim and witness support service to over £192 million by 2024-25. That, of course, is on top of the billions of pounds that the health and social care levy is pouring into our NHS to deal with post-covid challenges.

Last month, I attended the Eastgate sheep show, which, due to covid, happened for the first time since I was elected. Later in the year, I will attend the Weardale show at St John’s Chapel, the Stanhope show and the Wolsingham show. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the fantastic news that these shows are starting up again? Will he consider joining me at one of them—given his farming background, he would be a great addition—and provide time for a debate on these shows, which are a vital part of life in our rural communities across Britain?

Actually, that is worthy of a Backbench Business debate or an Adjournment debate. This year, I have had the privilege of going to the Newark and Nottinghamshire show, and I hope to attend the Royal Welsh show this year. Hon. Members not in their places may be at the Lincolnshire show, which is taking place today.

Last week, my teenage constituent Jacob Naismith from Blantyre won in the final of the GB three nations boxing tournament—a great win for Scotland. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Jacob on his impressive achievement and schedule a debate in Government time on the value of youth sporting clubs in developing talent such as Jacob’s?

I am delighted to join the hon. Lady in congratulating Jacob on his achievements, and also the coaches and support teams of such clubs up and down this country. Whether it is rugby, boxing or football, there are thousands of volunteers who stand on the touchlines or around the rings watching these individuals develop their skills. These sports are great for people’s physical health and also great for their mental health.

Last time Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs mileage rates went up over a decade ago, the average price of a litre of unleaded petrol was about £1.20. It is now more like £1.90, so can we have a statement from the Chancellor, ideally at Treasury questions next Tuesday, about what can be done to bring mileage rates in line with the true cost of fuel?

Of course, there are challenges given the global fight against inflation that we are engaged in, which is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced fuel duty—a huge tax cut—with £5 billion of tax reductions. I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be at the Dispatch Box once again very soon, when the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to challenge him directly.

Just yesterday, representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and of the all-party parliamentary groups on refugees and on international freedom of religion or belief held an event marking the very grim milestone of 100 million people across the world who have been forced to flee conflict due to persecution. The meeting also highlighted the number of judges—and we met one of them yesterday—and vulnerable minority groups who are still stuck in Afghanistan, despite the UK’s Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. Would the Leader of the House make time for a debate on how we can best protect vulnerable groups in Afghanistan, which is very much in our minds today because of the earthquake?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have just had an urgent question on Afghanistan. I know he was present for it, and was once again saved up right till the end. I do not know why we save the hon. Gentleman till the end. He is like the No. 24 on the Advent calendar—the little treat at the end. I pay tribute to him for all the work that he does on religious persecution, and I know that he knows that there are many options available to him to continue to raise the profile of the causes he holds so dear.