I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. First, I welcome the newest member of the parliamentary Labour party, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford). As the Leader of the Opposition said, my hon. Friend has rightly concluded that
“the Prime Minister and the Conservative party have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and Government this country deserves, whereas the Labour party stands ready to provide an alternative Government that the country can be proud of.”—[Official Report, 19 January 2022; Vol. 707, c. 321.]
The Leader of the House has demonstrated on several occasions his socialist tendencies, so I remind him that he is also more than welcome, any time he wishes, to come over to this side and join my hon. Friend.
At first, the Prime Minister said no rules were broken, then he said that he did not know about any parties, then he said he did not know whether he was there or not, then he remembered that he was there but did not know that it was a party. This week, the Prime Minister is testing out a new defence: that nobody warned him that the party was against the rules. So could the Leader of the House explain how the Prime Minister, who was literally the one setting and reading out the rules every night, did not understand the rules? It is a very odd defence.
The Office for National Statistics released figures yesterday showing inflation soaring to 5.4%, which is its highest rate in 30 years. Working families are already feeling the crunch, and the triple whammy of an imminent rise in the energy price cap, real wages falling and Tory tax rises make this crisis even worse. Labour would give people security, with fully-funded measures now to keep energy bills low, which would save households about £200 a year, with an extra £400 for families and pensioners who need it most. The Government could have supported that, but they did not. May we have a statement on why they are so out of touch with the reality faced by people across this country that instead of taking action to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, the Chancellor is just looking the other way, trapping us in a high-tax, low-growth economy?
I have asked the Leader of the House numerous times to locate which of the many sofas he perhaps possesses is hiding the Online Safety Bill, so I ask him that again. Last year, the Prime Minister said that it would have completed all stages by Christmas, then he said it would just be Second Reading—Members may be noticing a pattern here–and then there was just a vague commitment that it would happen at some point during the Session. The pre-legislative scrutiny Committee has reported, we have had a Backbench Business debate and still there is nothing. Meanwhile, social media and tech giants roam unregulated and many, including children and vulnerable people, are unsafe online. Please could the Leader of the House confirm when the timetable for this important Bill will be brought forward?
In another example of the Government’s trying to avoid scrutiny, Ministers have taken to trying to slip huge chunks of legislation into Bills through Lords amendments, in a desperate bid to circumvent elected representatives in this place having the chance to debate them, as they did this week in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Will the Leader of the House explain why the Government are forced to sneak in these additional amendments in the other place, hoping that we in the Commons do not notice? It did not work, because the Labour peers voted down those last-minute Government amendments to that Bill. I have to say that, in a foreshadowing of what is happening in this place, it was striking how many Conservative peers also did not support the Government. Labour peers were the ones who voted for alternative plans that provided for strong action against dangerous protests; stronger action against protests on motorways that put lives at risk; an urgent review of drink spiking offences; giving councils powers to prevent anti-vax intimidation outside schools; and making misogyny a hate crime. Tackling violence against women and girls in that way and tackling anti-vax intimidation in that way is something that the Government could have voted for, but they failed to do so. It is the Home Office that is failing to keep us safe. Recorded violent crime has risen and prosecutions have fallen. Tackling crime and violence against women should have been the focus of that Bill, so will he tell us when it will be brought back to this place, so that democratically elected representatives on this side of the House can continue to argue for a better approach?
Finally, let me say that our country deserves so much better than this Government, who have completely lost grip. They are out of touch and out of control, they seem to be out of ideas and they are soon to be out of office.