The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 30 January—Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill.
Tuesday 31 January—Opposition day (12th allotted day): debate in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced
Wednesday 1 February—Remaining stages of the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [Lords].
Thursday 2 February—General debate on LGBT history month, followed by a general debate on devolution in Wales 25 years on. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 3 February—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 6 February includes:
Monday 6 February—Debate on motions to approve the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2023, the draft Benefit Cap (Annual Limit) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2023, followed by a debate on a motion to approve the charter for budget responsibility: autumn 2022 update.
I thank the Leader of the House for setting out the business. Ministers answering questions from MPs on behalf of our constituents should be a given—it is the most basic form of scrutiny in a parliamentary democracy—but, as we all know, this Government struggle with even the basics. Swerving scrutiny is now the norm. Last week the right hon. Lady said, as a justification for setting off on a pre-prepared political rant, that I had invited her to compare the Government’s record in power against Labour’s. I did not, actually, and she should not need to be reminded that that is not what these exchanges are about. I am happy to take her for a cup of tea and talk about Labour’s record achievements: cutting NHS waiting times and crime; on educational attainment; the minimum wage; laws on equality and human rights; and the world’s first climate change Act—the list goes on and on.
What I would like here, on behalf of the people we represent, is direct answers to important questions on the Government’s failing legislative agenda and their utter disdain for Parliament. Admittedly, if the Prime Minister carries on as he is, the right hon. Lady might be able to dust off her “PM for PM” Tory leadership merch sooner rather than later—I’d like a mug—but until then Parliament requires her to represent the interests of this House, and therefore the British people, in Government.
Seeing as the right hon. Lady did not answer last week, let us have another go. First, on the Tories’ sacking of nurses Bill, they should have published an impact assessment before it even reached the House, yet the final stages are due in the Commons on Monday and we still have not got one. That is despite her saying last week, publicly, that she thought impact assessments were very handy. Well, they are, but they are more than that; they are a crucial tool for parliamentary oversight, especially when a Bill is being rattled through like this one. What are the Government hiding? When will we see their report on what the Bill’s impact will be?
The Leader of the House’s reassurance that the burning through of regulations under the retained EU law Bill will have good scrutiny simply does not wash with the people of Bristol West, or anywhere else. The right hon. Lady is Parliament’s representative in Government, so why is she not backing MPs being given a proper say on behalf of our constituents over workers’ rights to holiday or maternity pay, or over environmental protections? It is literally her job.
The Leader of the House could start by giving us the means to scrutinise properly. Last Thursday, I got no answer on the Government’s half-baked dashboard for EU regulations, so perhaps I could get one this week. Do they have a plan to complete the dashboard? If so, by when? Do they have a plan to square the practical difficulties of getting through thousands of regulations before the end of the year? If so, what is it?
In questions to Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) was told that the return of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was
“a matter for business managers.”—[Official Report, 12 January 2023; Vol. 725, c. 695.]
The problem is that when I have asked the Leader of the House about this before, I have got—you guessed it—no answer. Like everything else that they have lost down the back of the sofa, apparently it is Tory infighting holding the Bill up. I gather that Tory Back Benchers have had to be reassured that it will not be used as a device to crack down on hunting. They want to protect hunting? What a mess! Can the Leader of the House clear this up? When will the Bill be brought back to the House for its remaining stages?
While the Leader of the House is down the back of that infamous sofa, could she try to pull out the football governance White Paper? The Government committed in the last Queen’s Speech to publishing proposals to establish an independent regulator of English football. Could she give my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) a birthday present and find them, please? Since that commitment, we have had flip-flopping, rides on the ministerial merry-go-round, and a promise from the Culture Secretary that the White Paper would be published “imminently”. Labour has supported the introduction of an independent regulator for years. It is urgent for clubs, players, staff and fans. The Government have let them all down. Where is it?
Let me end by noting the fast-approaching 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. The Labour party is immensely proud of its part in the peace process, as are many others across the House, of all political dimensions. Will the Leader of the House please allow a debate in Government time so that Members can reflect on what was achieved, and to allow representatives from Northern Ireland to share their views? Does she agree that this moment should not be left to the Backbench Business Committee and we really should have a Government debate?
I am sure the whole House will want to recognise that we have Holocaust Memorial Day this week. Let me place on the record my thanks, in particular, to all the survivors who help us and new generations to understand what happened and, of course, to redouble our efforts to tackle antisemitism wherever it appears. I also thank the Holocaust Educational Trust. I know that many Members will have relied on it to take them to Auschwitz and elsewhere, and that will have had a huge impact on all Members of this House.
May I also place on the record my thanks to the ship’s company of HMS Queen Elizabeth, who visited Parliament this week, for all they have done for the Atlantic Future Forum?
I remind colleagues that today marks 100 days until the coronation, and I encourage all Members to make use of that moment to bring our communities together and create new projects in our constituencies, which I know is a focus of His Majesty the King.
I anticipated correctly that the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) would not ask me today about our £150 million extra investment in mental health support, or the £50 million to supercharge the UK satellite industry, or the crackdown we announced this week on criminal gangs. I am shocked, quite frankly, Mr Speaker, at the suggestion that there are pre-prepared political rants in this Chamber.
I shall attempt to answer the hon. Lady’s questions. I completely agree with her that we need transparency and truth on all the Bills that she mentioned, so I am grateful for the opportunity to correct some of the misunderstanding in what she outlined about some of them.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is not about nurses. Nursing unions have been hugely responsible when they want to take industrial action, and we have great confidence in the minimum service levels that they have put in place. Very explicitly, we are not taking these powers and bringing forward measures regarding nurses at all, and it is quite wrong to suggest that. Instead, we are focusing on where we have deep concerns about minimum service levels—in two blue-light services and in transport. I remind the House that under the current Mayor of London there have been nearly 100 strikes on public transport in London, and I do not think the commuting public, who rely on public transport, can go on like this. So that is what the Bill is doing, which is very well understood by everyone except, perhaps, those on the Labour Front Bench.
There is clearly an ongoing misunderstanding about the way in which the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill will work, and about the scrutiny that will be applied to it. Committees in both Houses are dedicated to looking at that, but there are clearly measures that we will want to continue; we have been explicit about, for instance, environmental protections and protections for workers, to which we are committed. Just last Friday we passed additional measures to protect workers’ tips in the hospitality industry, and this week we have proposed measures to introduce a statutory code so that practices such as firing and rehiring no longer take place. Let me gently remind the hon. Lady what her own party did to its workers at their headquarters in July 2021, when it put many of its staff on very insecure contracts.
We will protect workers’ rights and we will protect environmental standards, but there will be some EU law on our statute book that does not work for the modern economy, and that is what we will focus on and reform. I hope the hon. Lady will appreciate that, and will start focusing on what our economy needs rather than misinterpreting the way the Bill will work and the scrutiny that surrounds it.
I am delighted that the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, a private Member’s Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), completed its Committee stage this week. That is another step towards ensuring that we protect endangered species around the world which some people wish to go and shoot and bring back and turn into ashtrays: it is a huge step forward. We care deeply about the welfare of animals, which is why we introduced the important measures in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
I have placed on record all the work that has been done by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) on football governance, which is a subject close to my heart because I helped to save my club, Portsmouth, in the largest and fastest ever community buy-out in the country’s history, and that club is thriving now. Improving football governance is a priority, and in the course of my work I have been looking at bringing it forward—I would say “soon”, but the hon. Lady has banned me from saying that. Further business will be announced in the usual way.
The hon. Lady made a very sensible suggestion about the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, which was an incredibly important moment for our nation and for Northern Ireland. I will certainly take up that suggestion and see whether we can accommodate it.
Tuesday was National Compliment Day, so I will end by paying the hon. Lady a compliment: these exchanges are always a pleasure.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 states that the Secretary of State must appoint an independent anti-slavery commissioner, but the post has been vacant since the excellent Sara Thornton stepped down last April. May we please have a statement from the Home Secretary on the process and timetable for the appointment of the replacement commissioner?
I thank my right hon. Friend for making that important point, and pay tribute to her for all the work she has done not just for the UK but internationally, putting this issue on the international stage and encouraging other nations to join in the leadership that she has shown. Home Office questions will not take place until February, so, on my right hon. Friend’s behalf, I will write to the Home Secretary asking her to contact my right hon. Friend personally to discuss the matter.
I, too, pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and all organisations and individuals who contribute so much to keeping alive the memory of the millions who were so shamefully murdered.
Today is known to some as Australia Day and to others as Invasion Day, and I pay tribute to the First Nations people of Australia and their long fight for recognition of the dreadful injustices they have suffered since European colonisation in the 1700s.
A Conservative Member, who is clearly bent on establishing himself as some kind of Conservative poundshop Farage, reportedly shouted something loathsome at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday about the 200 asylum-seeking children who are allegedly missing. It was so despicable that I will not repeat it, but the Leader of the House must know its content through the outrage on social media. Will she join me in condemning his remarks, which by victim-blaming potentially 200 missing vulnerable children, marks a new low in dehumanising language towards asylum seekers? We all know behaviour in this place can be raucous and passionate, and that emotions sometimes run very high, but surely we would all join in deploring the language used to attack the poor and defenceless among us.
I have been approached about why important pieces of legislation, such as the media Bill and the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, are still in parliamentary purgatory. What can the Leader of the House do to speed that process along? What does she have to say about these delays? The Government always have bucket loads of lame excuses for legislative hold-ups, but I think we know the true reason. A couple of weeks ago, she rather bravely tried to suggest parallels between her party, which is completely engulfed in sleaze and scandal, and mine—a case of whitabootery so bold it would make a sailor blush.
I am therefore pleased to see there will soon be an awayday at Chequers, where we are told that Tory priorities will be discussed. Perhaps the Leader of the House can arrange a statement to the House on those Government priorities, once they are finally agreed. She will not be surprised to hear that my party’s overriding priority is independence, because we see that achieving the full powers of a normal, independent country is the best and, indeed, only way to achieve a fair and progressive society for all our citizens.
However, what priorities do the Government’s actions suggest are important to them? Is it the ability to place donors on influential boards; the introduction of illiberal laws that crush inconvenient human rights and employment and environmental protections; the playing out of the mad dreams of a libertarian future using most of the population as guinea pigs who are unable to protest; or the batting away of the democratically agreed laws of another country’s Parliament with the stroke of a pen? Perhaps we will finally get an insight into that eternal question: just what is it about the Houses of Parliament that first attracted so many wealthy people to stand for office?
I start by addressing the hon. Lady’s serious point about asylum seekers, particularly with regard to their vulnerability and the vulnerability of children. Many Members have raised this issue, but one of the very sad things about the system—we recognise it is a broken system that needs reform, and we are introducing legislation to do that—is that keeping people in hotels for long periods of time increases their vulnerability. We have heard stories of gangmasters turning up at hotels where they know asylum seekers are staying to take people away. For obvious reasons, it is very hard to protect people in such an environment, so we have to address this. When we introduce legislation to tackle this issue, to get the system working more effectively and to make it fairer for both the UK taxpayer and for the very vulnerable people who are being trafficked, I hope we will have support from both sides of the House. This is a serious matter, people need protecting and they need protecting swiftly.
The hon. Lady, again, invites comparisons. I hope she will forgive me, but I cannot let this exchange pass without quoting Rabbie Burns:
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!”
I am sure the hon. Lady and her colleagues could deliver those lines much better than I have, but I wish the SNP had the gift to see itself as others see it, or as Audit Scotland and Scottish taxpayers see it in the week in which the Auditor General for Scotland, Stephen Boyle, called for greater transparency on the colossal underspend in the SNP’s budget. Very often, Scottish National party Members come to this House asking for additional funding from the UK Government, but the SNP has underspent its budget by nearly £2 billion—that is the equivalent of 7,142 nurses. I am sorry to say that the areas of underspend were in education and skills, the economy, net zero and transport, and also in money given to the covid response.
The hon. Lady paints a picture of Scotland and of the people she represents that I do not recognise. I say to her that she is governing a great and dynamic country, one that stiffens the backbone and reinforces the soul. It is the nation of Fleming, Dunlop, McAdam, Watt, Telford—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Scotland is the nation of the Argylls and the Black Watch crossing the Rhine, the Scots Guards at Tumbledown and Shimi Lovat’s commandos securing Pegasus bridge. The taxes sitting in the Scottish Government’s accounts not being spent on education are paid for by grain farmers not grievance farmers, and by incredible communities and creatives. The people who elected the hon. Lady are incredibly resourceful and they do not match the SNP’s vision of them as a nation of victims; they are a powerful force for good in the Union and the world. They march to the fife and drum, not the saddest tune played on the smallest violin.
I recently attended a regional meeting with the English Football League to discuss the Government’s fan-led review, and I was pleased to be joined at it by Harrogate Town’s chief executive, Sarah Barry. The review represents a significant step change in how the football pyramid receives crucial funding. At Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions a few minutes ago, the Secretary of State announced that she would be publishing the Government’s next steps within a fortnight. This topic has attracted much interest from colleagues on both sides of the House, so will the Leader of the House ensure that when that is published there will be sufficient time for a good debate on the issue?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this incredibly important issue; I was also at that meeting. There are people who say, “Why should we be regulating businesses?” I can tell them that if a branch of Tesco closed in my constituency, I could point to a Sainsbury’s a few metres away and say, “Don’t worry, there’s another supermarket there.” However, when Portsmouth football club was about to fold, I could not say to my constituents, “Don’t worry, down the road in Southampton is another football club where you might care to go to watch a game.” He is absolutely right: we want to make sure that these important community assets, for that is what they are, are protected. The next DCMS questions is on 9 March, but I shall make sure the Secretary of State has heard his question today.
As Chair, may I say that I take pride in the fact that the Backbench Business Committee has been able to facilitate this afternoon’s important debate on Holocaust Memorial Day? There is an important message here: Back-Bench Members in all parts of this House think that that is an important and priority debate to have in such a timely way. On behalf of the Committee, I would very much welcome applications for debates in the main Chamber and for slots in Westminster Hall. We ask for applications to be submitted in writing to our Clerks, who are situated in the Table Office. The Committee meets on Tuesday afternoons to consider applications, where we ask Members to present their applications in person.
May I thank the Leader of the House for our meeting yesterday and for introducing me to the members and crew of HMS Queen Elizabeth, which was a real pleasure? May I also thank her for writing to the Levelling Up Secretary on my behalf following last week’s business statement? The crisis in local government funding is intensifying, particularly in my local Gateshead Council. Our leisure centre, previously a venue for top-level and international sporting events, is now, sadly, earmarked for closure, along with its swimming pool, which is situated next door. Gateshead International stadium could well be in the firing line; the home of Gateshead Harriers and Gateshead football club could be in the firing line because the local authority no longer has the revenue to support its maintenance, upkeep and running. So may we have a debate in Government time on the sustainability of our sporting and activity centres?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his work to facilitate this important debate on Holocaust Memorial Day. I know that many Members will want to contribute, and this debate provides an opportunity to do so.
The hon. Gentleman knows that, since the Christmas recess, we have had one debate on the importance of community sport. It is a subject that is very much recognised, and obviously we need facilities in which to do those activities. I know that the questions to that Department are not until a little later in the year, so I will write again encouraging Ministers to engage with the hon. Gentleman to see what other funding streams could be accessed for his constituency. We have offered him some further time next week for the Backbench Business Committee. I know that that is short notice, but I hope that he will consider taking it up, because there are clearly bids from many Members on a whole range of topics.
This Government have a fantastic track record on their commitment to achieving net zero. I am very proud of our determination to achieve net zero from the tailpipe by 2035. It is world beating, and I applaud the Government for their ambition, but can my right hon. Friend please have a chat with the House authorities about possibly offering more superfast chargers in the carpark here so that many more staff and people who come here each day can achieve their own net zero ambitions?
I thank my right hon. Friend not just for that question, but for all the work that she has done in this area. She held the brief in ministerial office, but, on leaving that office, she has continued her interest and has worked on a number of policies to help move on this agenda. She is absolutely right: we cannot expect people, including Members of this House, to make those changes to their lifestyle—the kind of car they buy, how they heat their homes and so forth—unless we have the infrastructure in place, and unless we have the innovation and the support for that innovation to bring forward products that people will want to take up. I shall certainly take up that suggestion, and she will know better than I who I should take it up with.
Further to the excellent points made by my hon. Friend the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, I wish to raise the issue of our public swimming pools being at risk of closure, as they have been excluded from the vulnerable sector designation by the Treasury for support with energy bills. Swimming pools face huge increases, including the fantastic pools at Inspire sports centre in Luton South, with which the Leader of the House is familiar. This will impact not only children learning to swim and our public’s health, but the development of our elite sportspeople, particularly those in my constituency who win medals in diving. I seek further advice from the Leader of the House on how we can raise this important issue—I was unable to ask about it earlier this morning at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport oral questions—and on what more we can do to ensure that we can save our swimming pools.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important point. I am very familiar with the particular pool that she mentions—I will probably have flashbacks later on in this question session, remembering my time there. This is an important matter not just for swimming but for sports such as diving—divers need warm water to do that at the level that they do in her constituency. I know that this is an issue of interest a number of Members, so I will talk to the Secretary of State to see whether something particular can be done for this sector. I know that she is very focused on protecting these community assets and on ensuring that, after the period of covid when people were not able to do these activities, we do everything we can to encourage people back into exercise and a healthy lifestyle.
I am full of good will this morning, Mr Speaker, having caught sight of your wonderful socks, the colour of Chorley rock.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in relation to the Angling Trust. We stand on the threshold of something really exciting: we are about to establish a recreational catch-and-release big game tuna fishery in the south-west of this country. No longer will people have to travel to exotic climes to catch enormous fish, and where big fish swim, anglers follow, spending money on hotels, guides and restaurants. Can we have a debate to celebrate that fantastic development, to discuss how we can maximise the economic benefits to the south-west and to thank the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), for his perseverance in driving it forward?
I am happy to echo my hon. Friend’s praise for the Minister and all the work done to bring this scheme forward. It is another example from a raft of schemes the Government have brought in over many years to support and help coastal communities. We introduced that focus, and I know that the south-west in particular has benefited from many such schemes looking at the opportunities for recreational fishing and the hospitality sector. If we were not excited enough about that already, we are even more excited after my hon. Friend’s question.
Can we have a debate about the importance of our recording studios to our creative industries? If we do, there are two things in particular that we can discuss. The first is the BBC’s selling off Maida Vale, which could still be run as a going concern; there are offers on the table and it ought to be kept as part of our musical heritage. The second is the fact that our recording studios, so important to our film, television and video games industries, are not eligible for the energy bills discount scheme, despite institutions such as libraries, museums and even zoos being eligible. If penguins in zoos are eligible for the discount scheme, should not Arctic Monkeys be too?
Very good. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I will speak to the Secretary of State at DCMS about the theme that is emerging from the question session today. I also thank the hon. Gentleman for putting on record the opportunity with that particular studio; there are many organisations that would be very interested, but unless they know about the opportunity they cannot start to be creative about how they might be the answer he is seeking.
On Tuesday, I attended the funeral of Councillor David Jenney. He had been a local councillor for more than 15 years and done an immense amount of public service. In addition, he was the honorary agent to my Conservative Association: he would deal with the paperwork associated with elections, organise the distribution of leaflets and lead canvassing sessions. He would be out every Saturday with the listening team. He was an absolute star. Up and down the country, across political parties, there are people like David. Could the Leader of the House arrange a debate in his honour, entitled “The unsung heroes of our democracy”? May David rest in peace.
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to David and to Barbara, his wife, who will have been a huge support to him in many of the things he did, including being mayor of Rushden for a time. I know he was much loved by the whole community. My hon. Friend is right; it is not fashionable to be involved in politics and the things we do on the doorstep on all weathers are not glamorous, but it is vital to our democracy. His suggestion for a debate is an incredibly good one and would be supported across the House.
I am a proud highlander, so let me try to strike a lighter and more positive Scottish note. My personal friend the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell)—that is almost longer than Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross—and I have both had the honour of serving in the Scottish Parliament. We know that there are meetings at ministerial level between Scottish Ministers and UK Ministers, but would the Leader of the House think about some sort of mechanism whereby Back Benchers of this place, the Scottish Parliament and other devolved institutions could meet and talk from time to time? I was once a member of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, which did a great deal of good in fomenting Irish-UK relations. Such a mechanism would lead us to a period of understanding and co-operation rather than strife and misunderstanding.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that suggestion and for the tone in which he always engages. I feel strongly that many Members will have ideas about what else we can do to make ourselves the best legislature in the world, and I know that you have that ambition too, Mr Speaker. We will very shortly bring forward a survey, which is supported by the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), to look at what additional support and services we can develop to enable hon. and right hon. Members to do their job better and to support them in that kind of engagement. I hope that all Members will respond to that survey when it comes out. I think the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is excellent.
Today is Republic Day in India, and many millions will be celebrating in style there, as will the diaspora across the world. Very sadly, the BBC has chosen over the last two weeks to show what can only be described as propaganda videos on behalf of the opposition to the Government of India —particularly scurrilous and baseless attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi—and to quote the involvement of Jack Straw when he was UK Foreign Secretary. Can my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate, in Government time, on BBC impartiality? It is quite clear that this is a gross dereliction of the BBC’s duty. I agreed with only one thing in the two shows: the final comment about Narendra Modi and the Indian Government being re-elected at the next election and probably the one after that.
My hon. Friend has very clearly got his concerns on the record. I know that they are shared by others in his constituency. The BBC, as he and all Members know, is governed by the royal charter—it is an independent body—and we also have in Ofcom a regulator whose job it is to ensure that the BBC is robustly held to account for delivering its public service duties, including accuracy and impartiality. I would suggest that he engage with the BBC and Ofcom if he feels the need to, but he has got his concerns on the record today.
I place on the record my own comments about Republic Day in India. Millions and millions of people will be celebrating the 74th Republic Day today.
Tragically, the son of Ms Jayne Toulson-Burke, Mr Bob Toulson-Burke, passed away from dengue fever in 2016 while travelling in Asia. The NHS has said that there is presently no known treatment or vaccine for dengue fever, and warns that people at increased risk of the fever should avoid travelling to nations in which the infection is found. However, there is little information about the infection for people who are travelling to countries where it can be contracted. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate, in Government time, about raising awareness of dengue fever?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for helping to raise awareness of that important point by speaking about it in the House today—his points are well made. Health questions are not until a little further on, so I shall raise this with the Department. I think it would be an excellent topic for an Adjournment debate.
Last Friday, I met a GP at the Central Surgery in Barton-on-Humber in my constituency, and heard of the excellent work that he and the other doctors do at the practice. But I also have to recognise the frustration of many of my constituents about accessing GPs. Could we have a debate focused specifically on access to primary care? I hope that useful suggestions might come forth, rather than a political knockabout.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent suggestion. As I said, Backbench Business time may be available soon, and the merit of such a debate would be that we could look at the disparity between how certain areas operate their GP services; indeed, right down to a practice level. There are areas that are still managing to offer good access to a GP in a timely way, with face-to-face appointments where necessary, and in terms of the hours that they are operating. In others, that is not the case. Sharing good practice is an important part of getting services right for everyone everywhere.
Water companies are dumping sewage into our rivers. They have failed to fix leaks in the summer, when we had a hosepipe ban, and the winter, when the water is turning into hazardous ice on our roads and pavements. Thames Water gave its chief executive a bonus of £720,000 on top of a £2 million salary. May we please have a debate in Government time about whether our water companies are fit for purpose?
This is an issue of huge concern to many Members across the House. That is why, in 2018, we fired a shot across the water companies’ bows that led to the legislation and other measures brought forward to ensure that the infrastructure plans needed to end storm overflows are in place in a timely way. We are also monitoring those overflows. When we came into office, only 6% of them were monitored, but it is now 100%. We take the matter very seriously indeed.
Some of Thames Water’s work formed part of the arguments used to reassure Members of this House that the costs of those infrastructure plans would not be astronomical—they would be affordable—so that we could press ahead with an ambitious timetable for delivering them. I thank the hon. Lady for raising that matter, which is of huge concern to all Members.
There were reports in the media saying that I was seething last week about the levelling-up fund. That is not quite fair—but it is fair to say that I was prickly. Our £18 million bid was unsuccessful. Most of that was about Gainsborough sports centre. Only between £1.5 million and £2 million of it was for Broomhill lido—a 1938 outdoor pool that closed in 2002. It is of huge benefit to the local area as a cultural and sporting attraction. Will my right hon. Friend advise me about what other pots of money and avenues might be available to the Broomhill Pool Trust to get the small amount of money needed to push it over the edge and bring that wonderful attraction back to the people of Ipswich?
My hon. Friend raises a subject close to my heart. I would normally say, “I shall write to the Minister who can advise him about further pots,” but I can probably tell him now because I have a 1930s lido in my constituency that I am renovating. I know how much the lido will mean to his constituents—it is not just a leisure facility but part of their heritage. There will be other funds, and we should connect him to other projects that have been supported through the coastal communities fund to really ensure that he has got the best advice to take that forward. I will write to the Minister on his behalf, but I am also happy to assist him with anything that I have learned along the way.
In earlier comments, I found that the Leader of the House was trying to suggest that ambulance workers are not co-operating with management as nurses are. I recently visited my local picket of ambulance workers, and there was a protocol in place: when there was an emergency, the picket immediately and voluntarily went to see the patient. Will she withdraw her comments? Has she noted that this morning The Telegraph says that recent weekly statistics show that 2,837 more people than usual died, which is 20% higher than the average. Does she accept what is happening? There is not a shred of evidence that the strikes are causing these problems; it is a failure of management of the NHS by the Government.
Let me clarify for the hon. Gentleman that this is not about people not wanting to protect life. It is not about a moral judgement on behalf of those individuals. People who work in the blue-light sector and people who work in caring professions care deeply about the wellbeing of others. That is why they are in those professions. The problem is how these minimum service levels are arrived at and ensuring that we can have confidence in them and that they are also arranged in a timely way. Unlike nursing unions, which have a clearly defined and agreed way of working that covers the whole of the area affected by industrial action, the other services that I have referenced do not. They are very fragmented, and arrangements are often worked out with local management, as opposed to across the nation affected. This is about protecting the public and ensuring that when industrial action takes place, we can still protect the public. It is most acute, I am afraid, in the transport sector. I hope that that clarifies the position for the hon. Gentleman.
May I commend my right hon. Friend on her earlier Burns quote? Burns always sought to shine a light on hypocrisy. May I ask my right hon. Friend if we can have a debate in Government time on the environmental and socioeconomic importance of bus services that link rural communities with larger towns and cities? In recent months, the 101/102 service between Dumfriesshire and Edinburgh, which goes along the A702 corridor and through communities such as Biggar and West Linton, has been under threat. I commend the local community campaigners who have done so much to ensure that that service will be retained, at least for three years, but it highlights the devastating impact that the loss of such a service would have had on my constituents, and I am sure on others in rural areas across the United Kingdom. That is why a debate is very important.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right—these services are incredibly valued. They are a lifeline for communities, and I commend him and all the campaigners who have fought to ensure that these services are protected. It is why this Government have invested £2 billion in mitigating the impact of the past few years and ensuring that we are maintaining existing bus routes. I point him towards the next Transport questions on 2 March to make this case again. I am sure that if he secured an Adjournment debate, it would be well attended.
It is a little known fact that the famous Irish actor and Oscar nominee Barry Keoghan and I have something special in common: we are both care-experienced, and as care-experienced people, the odds of either of us making a success of our lives had all the cards stacked against us. I would like to take this opportunity to wish Barry the very best of luck. I will be rooting for him at the Oscars. I raise that as the Government’s response to the independent review of children’s social care is due imminently, and it is far too often that the voices of those who matter most are not listened to. As of last night, 11 councils across these islands have introduced protected characteristics for this, and more are set to follow. Would it not be fantastic if the UK was the first in the world to recognise care-experienced people in this way? Can the Leader of the House promise me and other care-experienced people, whether from my constituency, Dundee, Scotland or across these islands, that their voices will be heard when this response is published, with a debate in Government time to discuss the fundamental importance of this recommendation and of amending the Equality Act to implement it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this incredibly important issue, and I join him in wishing Barry every success. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The response is due and will be coming forward imminently. He is absolutely right—we saw it during covid—that we need a continued focus on these services, because those being cared for and looked after do not have a voice, and we need to be a voice in this place. I will certainly take that up with the Secretary of State. We have also had a number of continuing scandals, as hon. Members will be sad to see, about the treatment of children in certain social care settings. That has to end, and I know that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is focused on that aspect, too.
No woman should be made to feel intimidated by a male Member simply for speaking up for what she believes in. The recent behaviour that we have all witnessed in this place simply cannot be repeated. Can we have a debate in Government time on the behaviour of hon. Members in this Chamber?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, and other Members of this House who act swiftly when they see poor and intimidatory behaviour whether it occurs in this Chamber, online or through proxies online. We are elected by our constituents to serve them in this place. Whatever our disagreements, we must respect the fact that we are all elected Members standing up for our constituents. It is only through listening and courteous debate that we will end up with good legislation and focus on the issues that matter to everyone in this country.
For many people in certain areas of Nigeria, terror and kidnapping have become almost a way of life. We have had statements and urgent questions in the past, and a debate on one occasion. However with the focus of this place and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office understandably on Ukraine and other parts of the world, would it not be important to have a statement or a debate on that benighted country, to keep our focus on Nigeria as well?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have all been horrified by the frequent reports of that kind of activity—whether the murder of priests, as we have had recently, the kidnap and ransom of particular individuals or brutal killings. It is an incredibly important country, as is our relationship with it. I will ensure that the Foreign Secretary has heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. He will know that the next Foreign Office questions is on 31 January, but I will make sure that the Department has heard what he has said.
I champion Doncaster whenever it is in the news for the right reasons. Unfortunately, this week it is in the news for the wrong reasons. Three places in Doncaster—Fullerton House, Wilsic Hall and Wheatley House—looked after some of the most vulnerable children and young people in our society from all over the country. While there, children and young people were abused. That should not have happened. My thoughts are with the families and victims at this time. I call for the perpetrators and anyone who knew of that to be brought to account.
The whole affair is extremely distressing. We owe it to the victims to come together to make sure that it will never happen again. It brings into focus one main issue: why are vulnerable children being placed many miles away from their families and loved ones? To me at least it seems bizarre and needs addressing immediately. Parents often have a sixth sense when something is wrong, but if their child is placed hundreds of miles away, visiting can be difficult—
Order. I am very conscious of this important issue. At the moment, a lot of inquiries are going on. I do not want to get into a debate because it is so important that the victims are contacted. I am concerned about where the case is within the judicial system. The general point that you have raised is quite right, but I am cautious of taking it any further. Could the Leader of the House briefly answer the point?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue and for sending a message to all those affected. This is an important issue for him as their constituency MP, and for many Members in this House. He will know the action that the Secretary of State has taken to date. I will make sure that the Secretary of State is aware of the concerns that Members have expressed and keeps all Members of this House apprised of what is going on to ensure that it is addressed.
Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), the horrific revelations this week concerning the Hesley Group in Doncaster, with reports of children being punched, made to sit in cold baths and having vinegar poured on open wounds as a punishment, are entirely unacceptable. Those homes continued to be rated good by Ofsted, despite concerns being raised, and local authorities were paying as much as a quarter of a million pounds a year for the placement of children in those homes. These revelations follow other scandals of a similar nature at Calcot children’s homes in Oxfordshire, Achieve Care Homes in Bolton and others. I am not asking the Leader of the House to go into detail about the matters in Doncaster, which are rightly the subject of a criminal investigation, but will she help to secure a debate in Government time on the safeguarding of children in residential care, the role of Ofsted as the regulator and the grotesque profiteering of private companies off the abuse of vulnerable children?
I agree entirely with the hon. Lady’s sentiments. Sadly, this is not an isolated case; it goes right back to Winterbourne View and the recommendations that Sir Stephen Bubb made in his report. We have to look at the volume of referrals going into care settings that we know are not appropriate for children, particularly those with behavioural and learning disabilities. We also have to look at what good care looks like. We are talking about a relatively small number of children and they should have the best care possible. I shall certainly make sure that the Secretaries of State who are involved in this hear what several Members have said today.
I know that it is customary to request a debate at business questions, but I wonder if my right hon. Friend can advise me which Department would be best to respond to a debate on the levelling up of hotel accommodation in Ilfracombe. The levelling-up Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), acknowledges the need to level up Ilfracombe, despite its bid being unsuccessful, and is coming to visit, but the Home Office is considering two further asylum centres in the town. What plans are there to process the applications of those asylum seekers already in the town, and when will we start reducing the number of tourist hotels being used, so that we can go back to providing accommodation to much-needed tourists? I understand that it is a priority for the Prime Minister—might he respond to a debate or make a statement on progress to the House?
This is not the first time that my hon. Friend has raised that matter, and I can confirm to her again that the Home Office is the Department that needs to respond to her concerns. What it boils down to is that we have to ensure the whole system is working effectively. She will not have long to wait before that piece of legislation is brought forward, but I will write again on her behalf to the Home Secretary to raise her concerns about how much-needed hotels for tourism and so forth are being used in her constituency and her other concerns about this matter.
Erdington High Street has seven betting shops, and I am campaigning to oppose the latest planning application for yet another one. Birmingham City Council did the right thing by rejecting the application last July, but the gambling bosses have now made an appeal to the Government. Another bookies on our high streets is the last thing we need. After being let down by Ministers yet again when our levelling-up fund bid was rejected last week, will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on the importance of investing in our high streets?
The hon. Lady is right that high streets are a lifeline. They are very important to the local economy, and they provide a place for people to socialise and for all sorts of services to be provided. As someone who has not had money granted in applications, I know that we are often successful in subsequent rounds and that the Department will be looking at the unsuccessful bid from her area and what could be done to improve it or ensure there is some other investment into her constituency. I will not comment on the specific planning issue, because Mr Deputy Speaker would chastise me for doing so, but the hon. Lady has got her concerns on the record today, and I wish her luck.
My inbox is full of correspondence from constituents who are concerned about NHS dental services. With the imminent closure of the dentist at Firthmoor Community Centre, 7,000 of them face the prospect of no dental provision. I know that my right hon. Friend takes the issue seriously and has been successful in campaigning for better provision across Portsmouth, so can she find Government time for us all to debate it?
I am sorry to hear that those providers are leaving my hon. Friend’s constituency. He will know that we have put additional funding into dentistry: about this time last year, an additional £50 million was made available to assist with the catch-up job that we had to do to get everyone dentally fit after the covid pandemic, and further funds have also been put in. It is also vital to have flexibility in commissioning to ensure that the money can be used to ensure that every dental chair and every dentist is occupied for the longest possible time. I had a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), yesterday and I know that he is looking at bringing forward further measures shortly to assist with that. I will make sure that he has heard the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson).
People’s Past People’s Future, a community group in Rutherglen, recently organised a hugely successful event aimed at helping people to make new friends. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking the organiser, Geraldine Baird, and VASLan for providing funding? Will she schedule a debate in Government time on the value of community groups in tackling loneliness in isolated groups?
I happily join the hon. Lady in praising Geraldine and the organisation VASLan. We know that by ensuring that people have that social engagement, we also ensure that they are healthier and we improve their quality of life. It is fundamental that everyone has a social network and support, and I thank her for her work to ensure that that is the case for all her constituents.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to sport and its many benefits, including those linked to health and wellbeing. This is a special weekend in Bassetlaw, as the men’s team for SJR Worksop football club takes on Retford United in a game that we locally call “El Bassico”. SJR Worksop also runs many teams for youngsters in our area, but unfortunately, at this time of year, it faces the challenge of finding suitable all-weather surfaces to play on. Despite its size, many youngsters from Worksop have to travel to neighbouring areas to find a 3G pitch to play on. I am therefore calling on the council to get its act together and help to provide our local youngsters with the leisure facilities that they deserve. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the importance of public sporting facilities and their benefits to health and wellbeing?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising an incredibly important point and wish him luck in getting his local authority to focus on that unmet need and to make that investment. It sounds like an excellent topic for an Adjournment debate, for which he knows how to apply.
The Leader of the House will be aware that, on Tuesday, the Royal British Legion published its report on the first three months of its cost of living payments. It has real concerns that 88% of the grants were for energy top-ups and 90% were issued to people of working age. It is also deeply concerned that veterans living with disabilities or who are carers are falling through the cracks of the schemes. I am aware that there are Defence questions on Monday, but can she find time for the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to make a statement to the House on the support available for our veterans during the cost of living crisis? I have every confidence that all hon. Members want to support our veterans, but it should not be left to the RBL to introduce a grant system to support the people who have done such service for our country.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point. One of the factors that motivated the Government to bring in the armed forces covenant and the principles that sit alongside it, was that people should not be disadvantaged by the service that they have done for the nation. The notion that local authorities would send veterans who needed help getting, for example, white goods to SSAFA or the Royal British Legion, because they would take care of them, was absolutely outrageous and appalling. That is one of the reasons we brought in the covenant. We want the covenant and the principles that guide it to be very effective. In the slightly longer term, the hon. Gentleman will know that both the all-party parliamentary group on veterans and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs are doing some survey work—in particular, the APPG is looking at that financial aspect. But I will flag that issue with the Department. We are giving a huge amount in cost of living support and we want to make sure it is getting to the right people, which is why, whatever scheme we set up, we are always supplying local authorities with some flexibility, so they have the power to act where these big schemes do not reach everyone.
Not long after I was elected, Network Rail confirmed that £9 million had been ringfenced for urgent refurbishment works at Keighley railway station and that those refurbishment works would be completed by December 2022, yet to date no work has begun. It is vital that we get these urgent refurbishment works under way as soon as possible, as without doubt Keighley railway station is in the worst state of repair along the Airedale line. That is of course deeply frustrating for the many people who use the station daily and indeed those who work at the station. Can we have a debate in Government time to hold Network Rail to account, so we can ensure that promised schemes are delivered on time?
I am sorry to hear about the situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency, not just because I know it will be putting his constituents at a disadvantage, but because I am planning to visit his constituency soon and would want to have that station in a much more improved fashion. I thank him for raising the matter. I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard his concerns, but he will know that Transport questions are on 2 March and I encourage him to raise it then, too.
Most of us at some point or another have had cause to be grateful to hospice services—such as Ayrshire Hospice—which provide essential end-of-life care for around 300,000 people every year in the UK. However, the support provided to hospices via the new energy bills discount scheme will not be sufficient to protect hospices from soaring costs across the board, which potentially threaten the very survival of this vital sector. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out her support for increased financial assistance for our hospices, which are so important in looking after our terminally ill loved ones?
I thank the hon. Lady. The hospice sector is incredibly important, which is why we were keen to ensure it was placed at the heart of end-of-life services. Prior to that policy change, it was very much kept out of Government policy. We want these vital organisations not just for the immediate services they supply, but for the support to the wider family. Given that Health questions will not be until later in the year, I will make sure the Secretary of State has heard those concerns, and I hope she will raise these issues with the Scottish Government, too.
We cannot wait till March to hear from the Secretary of State for Transport about the dangerous situation that occurred last night at London Bridge. The Leader of the House will be aware, because I have raised this here before, of the disastrous cuts to my local services, which are exacerbating the problem, with more people having to change at London Bridge. I have had people contact me about the dangerous situation with the crowding. I have seen photographs of the concourse, which is about the size of two football pitches, absolutely rammed with people, with escalators having to be switched off and people crowded on to platforms. It was an extremely dangerous situation, exacerbated by cuts that were agreed by the Department for Transport. There is no weaselling out of this: the Secretary of State needs to come here and answer for his decisions.
I shall certainly make sure that the Secretary of State has heard the concerns the hon. Gentleman has raised, but I would just say to him that he needs to speak—he knows what I am going to say—to the person responsible for providing good-quality public transport in London, who is the Mayor of London. I am afraid that he has been failing on all fronts, and I would encourage all Members who are concerned about the situation that happened at London Bridge to get in touch with the Mayor’s office to ask him to improve those services.
As we know, tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day, but the promise of “never again” is often broken—Mr Speaker reminded us of that at the start of business, and it is important that we focus on it. Around the world, religious minorities are the target of genocidal activity, including in Myanmar, China, Nigeria and Afghanistan. Will the Leader of the House join me and other Members in making a statement to acknowledge the vulnerability of those groups, and to emphasise the urgent need for action?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for again raising that vital issue and mentioning some of the countries where it is a particular concern. He will know that the Foreign Office takes such matters incredibly seriously. That is why we have an envoy, why this is baked into the core work, and why there is activity in our embassies and high commissions in those nations. There is time next week if he can tempt the Backbench Business Committee to take up the issue. I thank him again for raising these incredibly serious matters, and for giving me the opportunity to send a message on behalf of the whole House of Commons that we will always keep our eyes on what people are having to endure, and we will always stand up for freedom of religion.
North Shropshire is proud to be the home of RAF Shawbury and the Tern Hill barracks, but in the past week or so I have received a number of complaints from residents of those bases, complaining about the contractor, Pinnacle, which is responsible for maintaining their housing. One resident had a burst pipe on 17 December that was not fixed until 10 January, and there are reports of empty houses being left with leaks for so long that ceilings have collapsed. One constituent said:
“It is by far the worst experience of service and response issues (and previously we lived in service accommodation in Cyprus that had cockroaches and gas leaks!)”
This is clearly a serious issue, and I know it has been raised by a number of colleagues across the House. Will the Defence Secretary make a statement on what is being done to improve the performance of the contractor that is looking after our servicemen and women?
I am very sorry to hear about that situation. It should not be the case, and we owe our servicemen and women decent homes. The hon. Lady will know that we have Defence questions on 30 January, and I happen to know that the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff is coming to Parliament next week, and she might also wish to collar him. In addition to holding these companies and contractors to account, we want to give bases such as the one she mentions flexibility to resolve such situations themselves, because quite often they are prevented by bureaucracy from getting a plumber out. I hope that the hon. Lady will raise the issue with the Secretary of State at Defence questions.