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Business of the House

Volume 724: debated on Thursday 15 December 2022

The business for the week commencing 19 December will include:

Monday 19 December—Second Reading of the Seafarers’ Wages Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 20 December—Debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subject for the debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

The House will rise for the Christmas recess at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 20 December and return on Monday 9 January.

The provisional business for the week commencing 9 January includes:

Monday 9 January—Second Reading of the Procurement Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 10 January—Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Stamp Duty Land Tax (Reduction) Bill, followed by a general debate on a subject to be confirmed. On that point, I am aware that yesterday we had to pull a debate on Ukraine because of the Home Secretary’s statement. Our solidarity with the people of Ukraine remains unwavering. I will be listening, as always, to suggestions from colleagues on what the topic of that future debate should be.

Wednesday 11 January—Opposition day (11th allotted day). Debate in the name of the official Opposition on a subject to be announced.

Thursday 12 January—Debate on a motion on the current situation in Iran and the treatment of protestors, followed by a general debate on landfill tax fraud. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 13 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 16 January includes:

Monday 16 January—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Online Safety Bill. The other business will be announced in the usual way.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business, and may I start by wishing her and you, Mr Speaker, as well as all House staff, Members and their staff a very merry Christmas? Mr Speaker, did you know that 1843 was a very special year for the Victorian revival of Christmas? As well as the world’s first Christmas cards, it also gave us one of Britain’s best-loved novels, “A Christmas Carol”, a beautiful story of the transformation of an unscrupulous boss who treats working people poorly, visited by three ghosts putting him on a path to redemption. Even Christmas miracles can only go so far, so I am not expecting the Government to follow suit, but let us give it a try anyway.

I will start with a reflective visit from the ghost of Christmas past. After 12 years of Tory failure, what have they actually achieved? What will they be remembered for in 30, 40 or 50 Christmases’ time? This country feels broken. Since 2010, national debt has soared. That was before the pandemic and Ukraine. Child poverty, crime and homelessness—up. The pound, healthy life expectancy and standards in public life—down. Labour’s Sure Start centres, libraries and football pitches across the country—closed. Where in the future business is a plan to fix all that? The British people deserve better.

Successive Tory Prime Ministers have said they would fix the crisis in social care. Most famously, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) on the steps of Downing Street promised to fix it “once and for all”. What happened to that plan? The sector is in crisis this Christmas. Do the Government have a plan? If so, will a Minister come to the House and answer Members’ important questions? On other health policy there is failure too. We were told that the Government’s 10-year plan for dementia would be published this year. Where is it?

Things do not get better with a visit from the ghost of Christmas present. We have a Tory cost of living crisis made in Downing Street and more than a decade of damage to our public services, leaving backlog Britain at breaking point, with backlogs in the courts and a fraction of asylum claims dealt with each year, costing the taxpayer millions in hotel costs and letting vulnerable people down. As for the NHS, we are heading into winter with more people waiting for treatment than at any time in history, and they are waiting longer than ever. Nothing is working and it is on the Government. They could be training 7,500 more doctors and 10,000 more nurses, paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax break. That is Labour’s plan; where is the Government’s? Where in the future business is the Bill to fix the NHS?

Then we have the ghost of Christmas yet to come. With the Tories, we are set for weaker economic growth, bigger backlogs and worsening crises, but the lesson from the story is that it does not have to be this way. There is hope. I am sad to say—actually, no I am not, but I will say it anyway—that it is not “PM4PM”. The alternative choice is a Keir Starmer-led Labour Government with an ambitious, bold, practical legislative agenda and a plan that speaks to people’s priorities, not a Government picking up Bills, waving them around for a bit and then dropping them when their Back Benchers do not like them anymore. We have housing targets gone, the Schools Bill gone, and the transport Bill missing in action.

Although I welcome the statement following business questions on the contaminated blood scandal, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) has been pushing for it since March. Given that one victim dies every four days, may I ask the Leader of the House to push for more regular updates next year?

I was glad to hear the Leader of the House say recently that she will be sticking around to fight the next general election. She knows that since she was appointed to the role, I have enjoyed our exchanges, and I will enjoy them even more when we swap places. As we look to 2023, can I ask her to make a new year’s resolution to end Government disdain for Parliament? Will the Government treat Members and our constituents with respect and answer written parliamentary questions and correspondence on time? Will they provide comprehensive copies of the correct ministerial statements to you, Mr Speaker, and to Opposition Front Benchers? Will they get their act together and stop dropping Bills and promises to voters? Whether the Government can muster the courage to call a general election next year, or we have to wait until 2024, Labour is ready. We have a plan, and we are ready to win. Happy new year.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for presiding over the minute’s silence we had earlier today. It was an historic moment to mark the 80th anniversary of the first time the House heard about what we now know as the holocaust. Because of that, I hope you will allow me just to put the names of the survivors who joined us today on record. Thank you to Mala Tribich MBE, Steven Frank BEM, Dr Alfred Garwood, John Hajdu MBE, Joan Salter MBE, Dr Martin Stern MBE and Yvonne Bernstein. I also thank the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for their work. I am sure all hon. Members would concur with that.

We had two important visits this week, from His Majesty the King and, more significantly, Santa. I had a letter from the children in the nursery, who were keen for me to put on record our thanks to Santa for visiting them this Christmas and to assure them that we will not have to put minimum service standards into legislation for Santa and his elves; they will be working over Christmas. I also put on record my thanks to the staff of the House, who have done an incredible job this autumn term with some important events. I wish them all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

I turn to the hon. Lady’s points. On the infected blood inquiry, I am pleased that more information has come forward. We need to keep people informed. I set up the compensation study and it is incredibly important that those interim payments are made and that people are fully compensated for the suffering they have had to endure.

I knew that the hon. Lady would make a Christmas-themed statement today, and she never disappoints. She talked about the ghost of Christmas past, but if it appeared and took us back to pre-2010, we would discover some interesting things. For example, the unemployment rate, which is now 3.5%, was consistently 8% under Labour. During the entire period that the Conservatives have been in coalition or full Administration, council tax has gone up by 36%; in the same timeframe under Labour, it went up by 110%. On that trend, people would be paying £1,000 extra on their council tax bills today.

We have reduced fuel duty by 7.5%; Labour put it up by 42%. If that trend had continued, it would be 81p per litre. We now have 10% more good or outstanding schools; in Labour’s Wales, teaching numbers have fallen by 10%. We also know that in Wales, where Labour is in Government, waiting lists are five times higher than in England. The Defence budget is now in balance, but when we came into office in 2010, the deficit, including the equipment programme, was £71 billion, thanks to Labour—twice the size of the Defence budget.

That is why, although we have faced tough times and there are tough times ahead this winter, I thank my lucky stars that this Government are leading the country through them, because Labour’s record speaks volumes about its inability to do that. Every time the Conservatives come to power, our country is improved; every time Labour comes to power, the reverse is true. I sincerely hope that when the ghost of Christmas present visits us, it will be to celebrate a fifth historic term for a Conservative Administration. Happy Christmas, everyone.

A very happy Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and the staff of the House. The main post office in Tunbridge Wells has been closed since 30 November and has missed the whole Christmas period because of a squabble about who is responsible for repairs to the building. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to intervene with the Post Office to stop inconveniencing my constituents in that way, reopen the post office and sort out the dispute without detriment to my constituents?

I am sorry to hear about the issue that my right hon. Friend raises; it sounds as though some heads need knocking together. As Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions are not until 17 January, I shall write to the Department on his behalf and ask the Secretary of State to look at the matter urgently.

First, may I pass on the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), who is unable to be here, due to family circumstances?

I wish everyone a merry Christmas, and I hope everyone has a guid new year—if Hansard do not know how to spell “guid” by noo, I am happy to help with the spelling at some other point. I also echo the Leader of the House’s statement on the holocaust survivors who were able to join us today. The year before 1942, my home town was obliterated by national socialism, in the worst aerial bombardment suffered in these islands during the second world war. My constituency stands in solidarity, as I am sure the entire House does, with those across Europe who survived the holocaust under national socialism and with those whose memories we commemorated today.

Becoming Chief Whip for the SNP—and then suddenly and very briefly shadow Leader of the House—has made it a bit of a strange week, but I am delighted to take up my new position. I was also delighted that everyone on the Opposition side of the House gave us some hope for 2023, when they decided to say no to probably one of the worst ten-minute rule Bills that this House has ever seen. It was a quite hideous and horrendous piece of proposed legislation, supported by some senior Members on the Government’s Back Benches. I am glad that the Government at least gave us a bit of hope by making sure that the payroll did not turn up to vote for it, so we are grateful for that.

As a child of the ’70s, I have to say that there is a whiff of Christmas past this year. We are seeing nurses out on strike across the road at St Thomas’s—I wish them well, as I am sure most Members in the House do, with their deliberations and their demands for improvements. At least in Scotland we do not have that dispute; the Scottish Government have settled it, and we are moving forward in the hope that we can build an NHS fit for the future.

I wish all Members and staff a very merry Christmas and a guid new year. In the forthcoming period, if Scotland cannot leave the voluntary Union, I wonder whether the Leader of the House will be able to tell us, if England decides to leave the Union—if it is voluntary—what opportunity there will be for it to do so. The Government clearly do not want to discuss Scotland’s position, which we raised yesterday, and which the Government voted against.

Given that there is a whiff of the ’70s, I am glad that we have a Scottish Parliament to stand up for Scotland, to defend the weakest in our society and to make sure that, as we head into the deepest element of this cost of living crisis, there is hope for the new year at least in Scotland. We on the SNP Benches will continue to be Scotland’s voice and to demand the right to national self-determination.

I thank the hon. Gentleman and send my good wishes to his colleague, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock)—I am sorry not to be able to wish her a good Christmas in person.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the most vulnerable in society. This Government have not just acted to protect people this winter by providing cost of living payments and extra money to the Scottish Government to enable those to happen, but we have increased benefits in line with inflation—that is our record, as well as introducing the triple lock. If the Scottish Government were so aggrieved, the hon. Gentleman needs to explain why they did not take up their powers on controlling welfare payments earlier, as they could have done. They were very happy to leave things with the UK Government for longer than they needed to.

The hon. Gentleman did not actually mention Scottish independence until the very last moment in his speech. I thought he might be setting a record by talking about other issues, but he let himself down at the last moment. Normally, I am pretty brutal with his colleague, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, who is not here today. However, in the Christmas spirit, I will not just outline all the rational arguments that I do every week for why we are better together as the United Kingdom—the £2,000 tax dividend; the strength of our defence and security; our global reach; and our ability to offer support in a crisis situation, whether it is cost of living issues or any help needed, for example, with the ongoing situation in Shetland, where His Majesty’s armed forces are available to step up and help. Sometimes we forget that the arguments for the Union are ones that appeal not just in the head but to the heart. The reason so many people in this place object to the SNP’s obsession with independence is that it will rip apart a family of nations and the families that live in those nations. That is my Christmas message to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues this year.

All this year, Hindus across the world have been celebrating Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s birth centenary. That culminates with a festival that begins today in Ahmedabad, where, literally, millions of Hindus will gather, culminating in the opening of a new mandir. Thousands of our constituents will be visiting, so, as we celebrate Christmas, will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing those travelling to India a very successful festival? Can we have a debate in the new year on the contribution made by Pramukh Swami Maharaj in building more than 1,100 temples across the world, so that Hindus can celebrate their religion?

I thank my hon. Friend for providing me the opportunity to wish all those travelling for that festival well, and all his constituents a very merry Christmas. He will know that there is an opportunity for a debate in the new year, as announced in the forthcoming business, and I have heard his bid for that today.

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I have a little Christmas advertisement on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee. We are very much open for business. We welcome applications from Back-Bench Members for debates in Westminster Hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays and here in the Chamber usually on Thursday afternoons. The Clerks to the Committee are situated in the Table Office and are very happy to assist and advise Members on how to apply for debates and provide them with application forms. Applications are expected to be cross-party and have support from a significant number of Members.

The debate on Tuesday on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment will be led by my friend and colleague, the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee.

Following the minute’s silence this morning to commemorate the recognition of the holocaust, may I give advance notice that we have an application on the stocks for a debate to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, which we would like to be aired on 26 January, the day before Holocaust Memorial Day itself.

Mr Speaker, I wish you, Members across the House and every member of staff the very best for the Christmas season and all the very best for 2023.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for all the work that he has done over the past year to facilitate the Backbench Business Committee. I endorse his advert for people to come forward with debates and also to ensure that those debates are well-attended and lively. I know that many organisations outside this House will want to see us debating the issues that they care about, and he provides us with an excellent service in doing that.

I thank him also for notice of the topic on 26 January. I look forward to hearing the issues that people want to raise next week, on 20 December. I also look forward to hearing the announcement of the topic for the debate on the first Thursday back, on 12 January.

I very much welcome the debate on 12 January on the situation in Iran, but can we also have a debate in Government time on what more we can do to protect the rights of women around the world? Yesterday, the United Nations sent a very strong message to Iran by expelling its representatives from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Will my right hon. Friend join the United Nations in sending a strong message that a regime that brutally represses women and girls and then hangs in public young men who stand up for them has no place on any committee in any country anywhere in the world?

As I said in my opening remarks, we will be having a debate on Iran, but let me thank my hon. Friend for providing the opportunity, not just for me, but for the whole House, to say very clearly that, although the House may not be sitting over the Christmas period, all Members will have their eyes on what is happening to protesters and to those who are currently in detention. The world is watching and it will continue to do so, and we will continue to shine a spotlight on what is happening in Iran.

Mr Speaker, may I start by wishing you and all the House staff a very happy Christmas? I also wish to thank you for holding the minute’s silence to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the notification of the holocaust to our predecessors—that was very moving.

We are seeing a flatlining in life expectancy. In my constituency and in other areas of the north, our life expectancy is reducing. We are also seeing an increase in health inequalities. Dementia is now the leading cause of death. As a former public health consultant and chair of a trust, I was proud of the work the previous Labour Government did to reduce those inequalities and to be the first to have a dementia strategy. Will the Leader of the House agree to have a debate in the new year on the health of our nation and, in particular, on how we are going to build back fairer, which I understand was a commitment of the previous Government earlier this year?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising a matter of concern to every Member in this House. Clearly, there is a massive catch-up job to be done, not just on the waiting lists that we are cracking through, but on ensuring that people are mentally well and dentally fit—all those things that they may have missed out on, particularly during the pandemic. I shall certainly make sure that the Health Secretary has heard her request.

Good morning, Mr Speaker. May I take the opportunity to wish one and all a happy Christmas? Following the letter sent to the Prime Minister in November by the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner urging the Government not to build any more so-called “smart motorways”, which were introduced in 2006 by the Labour party, and the detailed witness testimonies and the Select Committee on Transport reports on the same issue, may I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend the Leader of the House whether she will allow Government time for a debate on the future of smart motorways across the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The next Transport questions are on 19 January, but, as that is a little time away, I will write to the Secretary of State to ask him to update my hon. Friend on the progress of analysing the safety data from the roll-out of smart motorways, and to keep him and his office informed.

May I, too, pay respect to the survivors of the holocaust who came to Parliament this morning? Although I was not alive at the time, the shame will never leave me that these atrocities were committed by the country of my origin.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as I ask this question. The ban on no-fault evictions is long overdue and I am pleased that the Government are committed to ending them. But the illegal eviction law must be reformed at the same time, otherwise we risk frustrated landlords taking unjustified actions to evict their tenants via that way. The current law on illegal evictions is incredibly difficult to understand and is rarely enforced. It needs to change at the same time and I hope that the Government will engage with the lawyers and organisations that are raising this concern. In the meantime, will the Leader of the House indicate when we can expect the renters’ reform Bill, which was promised by the end of the year?

The hon. Lady will know that I am going to say that future business will be announced in the usual way, but I know that this is a priority for the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Levelling-up questions will be the first questions session of the new year, when I encourage her to raise that point directly with the Secretary of State.

My constituent Jenny Green, president of the RAF Widows’ Association, lost her husband Group Captain William Green in a Tornado crash over the North sea in 1990. The crash was attributed to negligence, despite guidelines stating clearly that this should only be

“where there is no doubt whatsoever”.

That wording was further strengthened in 1994. This is obviously a matter of great concern to my constituent, so may we have a debate on the process of attributing negligence in tragic incidents such as this?

I thank my hon. Friend for continuing to raise this matter. He will know that when the Ministry of Defence has looked at this and other issues, it has a judgment to make about whether a future inquiry would be in the public interest. The difficulty is, of course, that this is not necessarily a public interest, but a very private interest for family members and others involved. I will write to the Department on his behalf and ask it to explore other ways in which perhaps there could be some closure for that family.

Season’s greetings to you, Mr Speaker, and all members of staff of the House. On today’s nurses’ action, which has been taken most reluctantly, I want to say that two of the closest members of my family were gravely ill for weeks in Yorkshire hospitals, and I had an accident and almost lost the use of my leg, which was recovered thanks to the skill of the staff. The nurses looked after all three of us, as they do tens of thousands of other patients every day. They do not ask for anything, except that we leave that hospital better than we came in. They stand by us; it is time we stood by them. The Leader of the House no doubt believes she is an extremely persuasive person, and no doubt she is, so can she not, over the weekend, persuade the Prime Minister to make a statement on Monday or Tuesday—since there is another action on Tuesday—that he will resolve the nurses’ case to their satisfaction so that we can have a Christmas where the NHS begins to rebuild?

I know every Member of this House will have similar stories to the ones the hon. Gentleman alludes to. We owe a huge amount to our healthcare professionals and all those who supported him. He knows that an inflation-matching pay increase for all public sector workers, which would be around 11%, would cost £28 billion, about £1,000 per household. What we must do to keep our NHS strong and reward those who work in it is to get our economy going and control inflation, and that is what this Government are focused on.

Town centres are at the heart of our communities, and yesterday evening Conservative-controlled Rugby Borough Council adopted an ambitious long-term strategy for the regeneration of Rugby town centre, bringing together private and public sector investment to create a vibrant destination for leisure and retail as well as increasing amounts of residential accommodation. Might we have a debate on the supporting role that Government can play in enabling the regeneration of our town centres up and down the country?

As a former high streets Minister, I was excited to hear what Rugby is doing. My hon. Friend will know we have invested £2.4 billion in town deals and more than £830 million in future high streets funding. Obviously, the nearly £5 billion in levelling-up funding will be invested in town centres and high streets too. It is also critical that we share good practice, so I hope that Rugby council will put what it has done on the high streets website in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities so that others can learn from its good practice.

Many people across the UK face Christmas misery as online shopping deliveries have been delayed or lost by delivery firm Evri. After expressing concerns about this company on social media, I have been inundated with stories of late or lost parcels, no or poor customer service, drivers earning less than the national living wage, drivers’ pay being withheld and a pathetic petrol allowance that is insufficient to cover increased fuel charges. This is a classic case of corporate greed over staff welfare and customer service. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to make a statement regarding this company?

I am shocked to hear that from the hon. Lady and I will immediately ask the Business Secretary to get one of his Ministers to look into it, as people are waiting on deliveries, particularly over the Christmas period. The message to companies that want to short-change their workers and their customers is that not only will they lose their workforce and their customers, but she will also give them a spanking on the Floor of this House.

Community pharmacies play a vital role in our communities, and across the Bolsover constituency. Not only do they provide important medical services, but they also provide somewhere for the elderly to go in order to discuss their condition. Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate the importance of independent community pharmacies, and the vital role they play in promoting community cohesion and supporting residents in rural towns and villages?

I thank my hon. Friend for providing me with the opportunity also to thank the healthcare professionals who work in that sector. We do not have to convince the Prime Minister of what my hon. Friend has said, as he is very aware of the important role that community pharmacies play. Such places play a vital role in ensuring that people stay fit and healthy over the winter months, and I encourage my hon. Friend to raise the issue again at Health and Social Care questions on 24 January.

Today is the fifth day this month that members of the Communication Workers Union are taking industrial action at Royal Mail. Having spoken to a number of superb postal workers in my constituency, I have real concerns about the way the company is being run. It has gone from making a huge profit to losing hundreds of millions of pounds in 12 months. It has prioritised parcels over letter delivery, and it now wants to drop the universal service obligation. If the future of the Royal Mail is for it to become a gig economy courier company, that will have huge implications for the quality of service and the terms and conditions of postal workers. That is something on which this House ought to have an opinion, so may we have a debate about the future of Royal Mail?

The hon. Gentleman will know that questions to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are not until the second week we are back, so I will write to the Secretary of State on his behalf to ensure that he has heard those concerns.

May I wish you, Mr Speaker, your staff, and all Members a very happy Christmas?

With the current cost of living pressures and freezing weather conditions, this Christmas will be busier than ever for our wonderful charities, social enterprises and voluntary and community sector organisations. I am sure we all want to thank them for the incredible work they do. In my constituency, hundreds of organisations will be going the extra mile this year. Those include YMCA North Staffordshire, Stoke city community trust, the Hubb Foundation, Saltbox, Citizens Advice, Better Together community support group, Sutton Trust community group, Stoke Samaritans, Caudwell Children, University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust Charity, Savana, and Helping Angels, as well as vast numbers of faith charities that work to help those most in need. I can only highlight a few, but I enormously appreciate them all. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking those wonderful organisations, and will she make parliamentary time available to debate the creation of a community wealth fund from the dormant assets funding?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the incredible work that voluntary and social organisations do every day, and particularly at this time of the year. She will know that the Government are considering the use of dormant assets for community wealth funds, following a consultation run earlier this year. That response from the Government is due out in the new year, and may well coincide with 26 January and the next questions to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

A constituent of mine received a penalty charge notice from a private car parking company called Smart Parking, which stated that because he had not paid a measly £1 fee he was to pay a £60 fine. He did pay the fee, and he challenged the fine, which has now risen to £100. He took it all the way to the ombudsman, which ruled against him due to a lack of evidence. I have asked the company whether it carried out any investigation involving CCTV or balance on the meter, without a satisfactory reply. Such complaints seem to be a widespread problem, according to many reviews on Trustpilot, so may we have a debate on private parking regulation?

I am sorry to hear about the difficulties of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. If he wants to give me further details of the concerns about that company, I will write on his behalf to the Secretary of State and make sure that the issue is flagged with him.

On 5 January 1983, Police Constables Angela Bradley, Gordon Connolly and Colin Morrison tragically died while attempting to rescue a man off the Blackpool coast. Their loss is felt to this day in my constituency and by the Lancashire police force. A memorial service to mark the 40th anniversary of the tragedy will take place next month. Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to their tremendous bravery? Will she find time for a debate in which hon. Members can highlight the exceptional contribution that police officers make in our communities?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the matter and for getting those brave individuals’ names into today’s Hansard. I will certainly ensure that the matter is raised with the Home Office and that we consider how we can further mark their incredible service and sacrifice. This is a week in which we have all been very aware of the tragedy of people drowning in cold water.

Perhaps we could have a debate on the accurate use of Charles Dickens as a political metaphor. Much as I hate to contradict my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and the Leader of the House, Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by four ghosts. The first was the ghost of Jacob Marley, who was condemned to roam the earth, dragging chains behind him as a penance for his meanness during life. After the Government’s miserliness in refusing even to meet nurses to discuss a pay increase, may I remind the Leader of the House of the message of Jacob Marley, namely that redemption is available? Does she agree that the Government ought to meet the nurses to discuss a decent pay rise before Christmas?

Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker—and, as Tiny Tim said,

“God bless Us, Every One!”

As a Portsmouth MP, I am delighted that Charles Dickens is featuring so heavily in this business question, but I repeat the answer that I gave earlier. We value our NHS staff tremendously. The Minister who has been primarily concerned with the matter—the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield)—is a nurse. We understand the incredible job that nurses do very well, but we also have to ensure that we are able to control inflation and that pay rises in the public sector are affordable.

Transport in South Yorkshire is devolved to our Mayor, who boasts a budget of some £225 million and an investment fund worth £900 million over 30 years. While Greater Manchester and Teesside are steaming ahead with their devolution deals, South Yorkshire is being ignored. My constituents want answers about the daily cancellations of buses between Worksop and Dinnington and the scrapping of routes to Crystal Peaks. I myself have written several letters to the Mayor on the subject, some of which I sent as long ago as September. None of them has been answered.

The one time the Mayor turned up to Rother Valley to discuss the buses, he held a meeting to which neither I nor the local councillors and parish councillors were invited. It was not even advertised on social media. I gather that only about 10 Labour activists were in attendance. Can we have a debate on how to make the South Yorkshire mayoral combined authority more accountable for the issues for which it is responsible in Rother Valley?

I am sorry to hear about the difficulties my hon. Friend is having and about how his constituents are being short-changed. He mentions the budget for the mayoral combined authority; it has also received £1.6 million from the local transport authority recovery fund from April to December this year. Levelling Up questions are on 9 January and Transport questions are on 19 January, but in the meantime I shall write to both Secretaries of State to flag up my hon. Friend’s concerns.

This morning, I joined nurses—caring, professional and dedicated nurses—on the picket line. They told me that the reason they are going out on strike is the retention issues among their workforce. Staff are leaving because they simply cannot afford to work any more. They are going to agencies, which is costing the NHS even more. It is therefore crucial that the Government stop grandstanding on the issue and hiding behind the pay review body. Instead, I ask the Leader of the House to go to Cabinet and ask the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Health Secretary to come to the negotiating table now and settle this pay dispute.

In addition to what I have already said in this session, the Health Secretary understands that there are issues other than pay; it is about the environment and new practices that the Royal College of Nursing wants to bring in. He has said that he is very happy to discuss those matters. Pay increases have to be affordable, and we are always minded of the strength of the workforce going forward, which is why we are pleased that we have record numbers of people wanting to come into nursing.

Year on year, the number of people who lose their life to alcohol rises in this country. It has risen 7.4% in the last year—that is 2,000 more people dying from alcohol this year than in 2019. Every death is a tragedy, and it is also preventable, and yet this Government seem to have done very little, if anything at all, to tackle this public health crisis. They even fail to implement evidence-based policies, which baffles not just me but many professionals. How many more people must die before the Government accept that alcohol harm is out of control in this country? Will the Leader of the House speak to Cabinet and the Prime Minister about whether the Government will conduct an independent review of alcohol in the style of the Dame Carol Black report on drugs?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Our healthcare policy is evidence-based, and it is also important that we scale good initiatives that are taking place in the NHS—for example, alcohol screening for people who come into accident and emergency, which has had a huge impact on getting people into treatment when they need it, and the work we have done over the last five years in particular that has led to homelessness being reduced by 50%, which has wrapped the care and support that those individuals need around them. However, he raises an important matter, and I will write to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on his behalf to flag his concerns.

A constituent of mine applied for a visa for his mother-in-law to come to the UK from Ukraine. The application was made in August, and the family has received no further updates. I have contacted the Home Office myself, only to be kept waiting for weeks and told that it cannot help without the applicant’s permission, failing to recognise that she is stuck in a war-torn country. Can we have a debate on the action that can be taken to help this lady and no doubt countless others like her and to address the failings in the Home Office?

I am sorry to hear about that case. As I advertised at the start of this session, there are opportunities for debates, and we are always keen to hear suggestions from Members. I am sure that Ukraine will be a frontrunner for that, but let us not wait for that; let us try to get his constituency case sorted today. The Home Office is providing a new service where it is possible to have a bespoke surgery with a caseworker, and my office will be in touch with his office later today to help him set that up. It is very important that we get these things sorted swiftly, and we will assist his office to do that.

Mr Speaker, may I take this opportunity to wish you and all House staff a merry Christmas and happy Hanukkah? Last month the House of Commons Commission agreed to launch a consultation on excluding Members of Parliament charged with violent or sexual offences from the parliamentary estate. In proposing the highest possible threshold for even considering exclusion, this House risks making Parliament a less safe space to work, making things easier for perpetrators and even more intolerable for survivors of sexual violence among our community here. Will the Leader of the House meet me to discuss this matter and my concerns about the process of consultation undertaken?

There is a reason why we have consultations on these matters—it is so that people can express their views, and I urge the hon. Lady to contribute to that. I put this consultation forward with other members of the Commission, and it is a very important principle that people are innocent until proven guilty. Clearly, for certain charges, there would be concerns about workplace safety and so forth, but it was felt that having the point being at charge rather than arrest would be a better balance between that important principle and the potential damage to an individual who is perhaps falsely charged and has claims made against them. There is a reason why we are consulting on this. Members should respond to that and encourage their members of staff to respond. My door is open to all Members, as I am sure is the case for other members of the Commission, the shadow Leader of the House and Mr Speaker too.

Will the Leader of the House check whether Ministers are on strike? I ask because, as she knows, I have been trying to get a meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport for many months—the Secretary of State keeps changing—about the Rhondda tunnel. The Leader of the House is still very welcome to come and be dangled down my hole.

I am meant to be co-chairing, with a Minister, the programme board on creating a national strategy for acquired brain injury. I have been trying to get a meeting with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care since July. Admittedly, he was sacked in September and reappointed in October; but none the less, it has been many months and I still cannot get a meeting with even the junior Minister for social care, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately). It really does feel as if they are not taking their job seriously.

The hon. Gentleman is being rather unfair to my colleagues. I had an incident in my constituency yesterday about which I needed to contact the Health Secretary, and he responded within the hour. I am always here to facilitate such meetings. I have to say, the hon. Gentleman’s previous invitation to Rhondda did not sell it to me. It sounded like I might be taking my life in my hands, but of course I am always happy to visit his constituency.

I wish everyone a happy Christmas, especially you, Mr Speaker, and the staff who look after us in this place.

Because I get better answers at business questions than I do at Transport questions, I will update the Leader of the House on this week’s disastrous timetable changes imposed by the Department for Transport. My usual train normally goes to Charing Cross, but this morning I was forced to change at London Bridge. Imagine my shock when the entire train, more than 1,000 people, got up to change at London Bridge. These changes are inconveniencing thousands of people on their morning commute to work. Can we have a statement from the fat controller in the Department for Transport about these disastrous changes, so that we can find out when the situation will be rectified?

I will write to the Department for Transport today for the hon. Gentleman. Transport questions is not until 19 January, and I am sure his constituents would appreciate engagement before then.

May I press the Leader of the House on her answer to the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) and ask for a statement from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on when he is actually going to level up? The round 2 levelling-up bids were submitted in early autumn, and we still do not have a date for when the announcements will be made. Two superb bids for Wythenshawe and Sale town centres, which will bring in cultural and business activity and unlock thousands of homes and hundreds of millions of pounds in investment, have been submitted by Manchester City Council and Trafford Borough Council. Can we have that statement, please?

I wish the hon. Gentleman good luck with his bids, which sound very exciting. I remind him that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be the first to face questions when the House returns after the Christmas recess. I hope he is in attendance.

Richard Hughes, the chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility, has said that

“a series of dramatic swings in policy with five major fiscal statements delivered by three consecutive governments”

has cost taxpayers more than £40 billion in extra debt in just six months. That is £600 for every man, woman and child in the UK. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out why she believes it is acceptable for taxpayers to pay the price for Westminster’s economic incompetence?

We are facing very difficult times across the country and we are coming out of a pandemic where we have had unprecedented demand on the public purse. I notice that the Scottish Government will outline their Budget today, and I look forward to Audit Scotland’s commentary, when it is produced.

As we are all getting into the Christmas spirit, can we spare a thought for my constituents who have been well and truly Scrooged by their former employer? In the summer, Orchard House Foods announced the closure of its site in my constituency, with the loss of 430 jobs. Many of those staff were expecting their redundancy and final payment on 9 December, but the night before, they received an email telling them that that would not happen. Can we have a statement from the Government on the situation at Orchard House Foods and attempt to ensure that the staff get the money as quickly as possible?

I am extremely sorry to hear that; it is a terrible thing for the workforce to have had to deal with, especially at this time of year. I shall write to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy this afternoon and ask it to get in touch with the hon. Lady’s office to advise on whether there is anything we can do to assist. I hope that her constituents have a good Christmas.

The Home Office admits that it is working outside the 60-day service standard for family reunion applications, but the situation is actually so bad that my Syrian constituent, Ahmed, has been waiting 10 months for a decision for his family. They have already fled Syria to Istanbul, where they have been subjected to racism, and Ahmed is further worried given last month’s terrorist incident in the city. Will the Leader of the House advise us on what is being done to resolve the backlog of family reunion applications, and can my constituent’s case finally be expedited after his 10-month wait?

I am sorry to hear about that case. Every year, about 5,000 such cases are processed successfully, with those people being reunited with their families. As I said, the Home Office is now offering a one-to-one service. If the hon. Gentleman has had difficulty in accessing it, my office would be happy to facilitate that.

Last week, along with other Wirral MPs, I met headteachers representing primary schools right across Wirral. They told us of the severe financial challenges that they face. Despite the announcement in the autumn statement, they are extremely concerned about how they will be able to pay the staffing costs and heating bills, and in some instances, they simply cannot. They are facing very difficult choices. One school has even invested in a set of fleeces for the children to wear in class because there is insufficient heating in the school, as the school cannot afford it. I am extremely concerned about the evidence that I have heard. This is an incredibly serious situation. When parents drop their children off at school, they have the right to expect that children will be in schools that are warm, fully resourced and properly staffed. Can we have a debate on funding in primary schools as a matter of urgency?

I am sorry to hear about that particular case. In addition to the £5 billion in education recovery funding, we announced a further £500 million in the past few days to help schools with energy efficiency. No school should have to have the heating off, and I am very concerned to hear about the hon. Lady’s case. As a consequence, I will contact the Department for Education today and ask it to look into that.

This is the last business questions of the year, and as such I take this opportunity to thank the Leader of the House for the statements of support that she has made for vulnerable religious minorities during the year. Pathway 3 of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme has been formally open for nearly a year. It was meant to provide safe immigration routes to resettle up to 20,000 particularly vulnerable people, including religious minorities, women and members of the LGBT community. Despite numerous written and oral questions in the House of Commons and in the other place, there is little transparency on the numbers of people resettled in the UK under pathway 3. As such, will the Leader of the House make space in Government time for a debate on that matter?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I am always pleased to be able to turn a spotlight on those issues, and will continue to do so. I shall certainly raise his concerns with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Home Office. He will know that there is sometimes a lag before we receive data; he will also know that the Prime Minister—as he said this week—wants to be very clear about the legal and safe routes for people who are still trapped in that country and who could perhaps come here and be reunited with their families. I will flag up the issue with both Departments and ask them to update the hon. Gentleman.

I thank the Lord President of the Council and everyone else who took part in that item of business. I will pause for a second to allow changes of personnel before calling the Paymaster General to make a statement on infected blood.