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Business of the House

Volume 607: debated on Thursday 17 March 2016

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 21 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 22 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 23 March—Proceedings on the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments, followed by motion relating to Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, followed by motion relating to Short money.

Thursday 24 March—Debate on a motion relating to court closures, followed by matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee. I should add that, as you will be told formally, Mr Speaker, owing to the absence of one of the two of us, you will see a duel next week between the Deputy Leader of the House and the shadow Deputy Leader of the House. We look forward to that with interest.

Friday 25 March—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 April, when we return from the Easter recess, will include:

Monday 11 April—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Tuesday 12 April—Debate on a motion on reform of support arrangements for people with contaminated blood. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee. Following this, the Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration.

Wednesday 13 April—Opposition day (unallotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 14 April—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 15 April—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 24 March will be:

Thursday 24 March—General debate on the NHS in London.

The Leader of the House means that I am not going to be here next week, so my eminently capable deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), is going to be taking up the cudgels on our behalf.

What a dreadful two-fingers Budget! Two fingers up to the most vulnerable in the land—people who cannot dress or clean themselves—and two fingers crossed behind the Government’s back in the hope that the £56 billion black hole will all come right by the end of this Parliament. And what a turnaround, isn’t it? Only weeks ago, the Chancellor told us that the future was sunny but now he says that storm clouds are on the horizon. That is a quick-change routine that Dame Edna Everage would be proud of. Every single target has been missed—he is no William Tell either, is he? Growth figures—wrong. Productivity—wrong. Trade—wrong.

The deficit was meant to have been abolished by 2015. Now the Chancellor hopes beyond hope to have a surplus of £10 billion in 2020. Does anyone really believe that? Does even the Leader of the House believe it? The Institute for Fiscal Studies certainly does not. Is this not yet another pledge not worth the vellum that it is not printed on? More leaks than Wales. More spin than a whirling dervish in a washing machine. The Chancellor actually boasted yesterday about extra money for school sports when he is the person who cut it in the first place. That is like a burglar going to the police and begging for a reward for turning himself in. And frankly, burglars can’t be choosers.

Will the Leader of the House explain the commitment to turn every school into an academy? There are 15,632 schools in England that are not yet academies. The cost of converting a school to academy status is £44,837. That comes to a total of £700 million, but the Chancellor allocated only £140 million to academisation, so where will the shortfall of £560 million come from?

Mind you, Mr Speaker, I have to say that there were some things in the Budget to rejoice about. I am particularly glad that the Severn bridge tolls will be halved, thanks to the campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and her colleague sitting next to her, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn). As I am sure you will remember, Mr Speaker, I announced last week that the obesity strategy would be out soon, and now we have it—or at least part of it: the sugar tax. I am delighted that the Chancellor has finally realised the dangers of Coke. [Laughter.] It is just a shame that he could not bring himself to use the word and said “cola” instead. Perhaps the Leader of the House can explain why.

Will the Leader of the House explain how the changes to personal independence payments will be introduced? Should they not be in primary legislation? [Interruption.] I think things have just been explained to the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis). Seriously, though, the changes should be brought through primary legislation to enable proper scrutiny in both Houses. Given other recent cuts in disability benefits, will the Government publish a cumulative impact assessment? There is something deeply distasteful about imposing a £3,000 per person cut on the 200,000 most vulnerable people in our country while the richest get a £200 tax handout. I am unsurprised that Graeme Ellis, a lifelong Conservative voter and disability campaigner from Lancaster, has resigned from the Tory party. We will fight the changes. I warned the Leader of the House not to try to pull a fast one on working tax credits by using unamendable secondary legislation and I do so again now.

Incidentally, yesterday saw the Government defeated three times in the House of Lords on the Trade Union Bill and by big majorities, too—nearly two to one in every case. There is more to come. Is it not time for the Government to give up on this vindictive and partisan piece of legislation?

I have been told to be calm about this bit, Mr Speaker. I see that the motion on Short money is tabled for next Wednesday. Our usual channel discussions have been productive, and I thank the Leader of the House for the part that he has played. I hope that the House will be able to welcome the package when it is finally published, but will that be this afternoon or on Monday?

Many Members have had recent difficulties with banks, which have been implementing the laws on money laundering in a disproportionate manner. We all want to tackle money laundering across the EU, but it is crazy that MPs, their family members and even their friends are now being denied bank accounts simply because they are connected to a “politically exposed person”. Will the Government ensure that a proper debate on the matter will be held in Government time so that we can get the balance right and tell the banks where to go?

Holy week starts on Sunday, so I wish all Members, their families and staff a happy Easter. It is also Purim next week, when Jews remember the attempt to kill all the Jews in Persia. That was not, of course, the last attempted annihilation of the Jews. Seventy-four years ago today, the first Polish Jews were gassed at Belzec extermination camp. Sadly, anti-Semitism is still alive today, and I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in saying that we must do everything in our power to stop religious intolerance and racial hatred infecting our politics and our political parties. That means calling out anti-Semitism wherever we find it, even if that is inconvenient to ourselves, and expelling from our political parties those who peddle such vile arguments. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that all religious prejudice is equally despicable and will disown the Tories campaign against Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, which is the most desperate, divisive and racially charged campaign that London has ever seen. They should be ashamed.

I echo the words of the shadow Leader of the House about wishing a happy Easter to all those who work in the House.

I will start by briefly addressing Members’ security again. There were a number of incidents at Members’ offices following a recent vote, which is and will always be completely unacceptable. I hope that the police will deal with things in the strongest possible way. I remind Members that the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority security package is now available both to them and, importantly, to their staff. If any Member experiences teething problems with the new package, I ask them to tell either myself or the Chairman of Ways and Means and we will seek to get things sorted.

We have just heard a lot about the Budget. To be frank, we heard more noise from the Opposition Benches today than we heard when the Leader of the Opposition was speaking yesterday. I can always tell when Opposition Members are embarrassed. It is normally easy to catch the shadow Leader of the House’s eye—he is always chatting across the Chamber—but when the Leader of the Opposition was speaking yesterday, I could not catch the shadow Leader of the House’s eye for one moment, because he knew just how bad it was. Next week, we will see a continuation of the Budget debate. I could not make head nor tail yesterday of what the Leader of the Opposition was saying he would do, but at least this week we have another insight into Labour’s economic policy. It turns out that the shadow Chancellor draws his inspiration from Marx, Trotsky and Lenin, an approach that has clearly influenced his current policy, given that Lenin once said:

“The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.”

That is precisely what Labour’s current policies would do, not just to the middle classes, but to working people up and down this country. On this morning’s “Today” programme, the shadow Chancellor could not even say that he supported capitalism—that is where Labour has got to as a party.

The shadow Leader of the House raised a question about the changes to personal independence payments. We will publish details of our plans on that front in due course, and of course all measures are produced with an impact assessment. He mentioned the Trade Union Bill in the Lords. I simply remind the House that what we are seeking to do is give trade union members the choice about whether or not they contribute to the Labour party. Donations to my party come from people who choose to donate to our side of the political spectrum. Labour has to depend on people who are obliged by the current system to donate, and that is what has to change.

On the Short money motion, I am also grateful for the collaborative discussions that have taken place. The motion will be published shortly and in good time for next week.

On the money laundering point, I absolutely agree with what the hon. Gentleman said and this concern should be shared by hon. Members in all parts of the House. We cannot have a situation where not only individual Members, but members of their families are affected by a change that, in my view, would be utterly unacceptable. We have discussed this matter with the Treasury and received its assurances that it believes people should not be affected, but clearly they are being affected. I will therefore treat this as a matter of great importance, as we all should, collectively, across the House.

The hon. Gentleman made the point about anti-Semitism. It has featured recently in a number of political activities and events, and that is wholly unacceptable and should always be so. He makes a comment about the election in London at the moment, but I remind him that anti-Semitism was also present a year ago at the general election in London, and not from our side of the political spectrum. I hope he will take the words he has said today and make sure that they are properly put into action in his party. It is not acceptable in any part of our life for there to be anti-Semitism. It must not occur ever. It has occurred and it should not happen.

Finally, this week we had the revelation that the shadow Leader of the House does not want to be the shadow Leader of the House at all. He wants to be Speaker, so much so that he appears even to be preparing a campaign team. Of course there is not actually a vacancy for your job, Mr Speaker, but I did have an idea for him. This week is apprenticeship week and I wondered whether you might consider taking him on as an apprentice Speaker. But of course there is one small problem: if he wants to be the next Speaker, he really does need to remember one thing, which is you do actually need to be popular and respected across the House. I think he has still got some work to do.

May we have a debate on the TUC’s “Dying to Work” campaign, which focuses on strengthening legal protections for terminally ill employees such as my constituent Jacci Woodcock, who has been treated extremely badly by her employer, which tried to force her to resign?

My hon. Friend raised this issue yesterday and it is clearly a matter of great concern to her. She is absolutely right to bring forward a case such as this. I would hope that every employer would treat with respect and care anybody in such a terrible situation, whether in the public sector or the private sector. What we expect from our employers in this country is decency.

May I, too, thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business? Well, it is the usual day after the Budget’s night before and already the wheels are coming off and the old smattering of fiscal fairy dust is wearing thin, revealing the useless and spent out old banger underneath. All of us who listened to this morning’s “Today” programme enjoyed greatly the evisceration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was asked by a gently inquiring John Humphrys:

“What’s a bloke got to do in your job to get the sack?”

The Chancellor was defiantly trying to defend his own targets.

We must also commend the Conservative disabled activists who have made their voices heard in the past 24 hours, especially in regard to what happened with the website. Even Conservative Members are recognising the redistribution aspect of this Budget—redistribution from the poorest and the disabled to the wealthiest in our society. That is what characterises this Budget more than anything else.

The Leader of the House often talks about him and I wandering through the same Lobby. Perhaps we will have that opportunity next week when we vote on the tampon tax. I oppose that tax because women are being taxed because of their biology. The Brexiteers oppose it because of what they see as Brussels meddling. I say to the Leader of the House, come on, we can march through that Lobby together to oppose that Chancellor and his EU politicised Budget.

Regulations that deprive overseas pensioners of the uprating adjustment to the state pension have been forced through this House without any debate whatsoever. With 550,000 pensioners being affected by this adjustment—more than half a million—surely we must have some sort of debate, or a statement from the Government, about that intention in this regard. I hope that the Leader of the House will give some satisfaction on this matter.

There was an absolute disgrace in this House last Friday. My constituents got in touch with my office after seeing the spectacle in this place. They were appalled by the behaviour of a small number of politically motivated predominantly Conservative Members filibustering on private Members’ Bills just to stop the consideration of Bills that they do not personally like. We saw that behaviour in all its destructive glory when they filibustered against the NHS Reinstatement Bill. Of course they are entitled to do that under the rules of the House, but boy did they take advantage of those rules. Why do these rules apply only to private Members’ Bills? The rest of the legislation going through this House is properly timetabled and regulated. This behaviour must end, as our constituents are taking an increasing interest in private Members’ Bills. I accept that the Procedure Committee is looking into this matter, but a strongly worded statement from the Leader of the House and this Government to say that such behaviour cannot go on would be really helpful, so that we can change that practice.

Lastly, tucked away in the Budget statement yesterday was a plan to extend to income tax the principle of English votes for English law, but, apparently, legislation is required for that. Will the Leader of the House explain how that will be progressed, what type of legislation will be put in place, and whether it will give us the opportunity properly to scrutinise this dog’s breakfast that is EVEL—an opportunity that we did not get when the measure was rushed through in the first place? I would love to hear his remarks on that.

For a start, the hon. Gentleman talked about eviscerations in interviews. I presume that he heard the interview with Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, on “Sunday Politics” last week when she could not explain how her sums added up. She could not explain how it was possible for Scotland to carry on spending the same amount of money without tax increases, or how she would deal with a huge budget deficit without spending cuts. If we are talking about people who have no idea at all about how to manage an economy and how to manage finances, we just have to look to Edinburgh.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the Budget more broadly, and about people on low incomes. I simply remind him that our policies, since 2010, have put literally millions of people back into work, and have lifted more than half a million children out of households where no one worked and put them into an environment where people get up in the morning and go to work and bring a sense of responsibility to their lives. By 2019, the top 20% of our population will pay 50% of all taxes. This is a Government who are proud of their record and who have made a difference to this country. All we hear from the parties opposite is carping about what has been real success.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the Bill last Friday. I find it slightly baffling that he is standing up complaining about the handling in this House of an NHS Bill. The last time I looked, the NHS in Scotland was devolved, so why is it that the Scottish National party is so concerned about debates in this House on the national health service when we know that this House has nothing to do with the NHS in Scotland? Surely this is not just another example of SNP opportunism.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned English votes for English laws. We were very clear in the initial debates that that would also apply to those tax measures that do not apply in Scotland. It does not seem to be entirely sensible and fair that, as we devolve to Scotland more tax-raising powers on which the Scottish Parliament can vote and decide, the SNP should still be able to impose increased taxes on the English if it gangs up with others to do so. That is what we have sought to avoid, and that is what our reforms will make sure cannot happen in the future.

May I follow up on my right hon. Friend’s response on money laundering? When are we going to have a debate about money laundering? Will the Government commit themselves to voting against the proposals? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the current proposals show, in effect, that we are being contaminated in our public life by the corruption that is in the rest of the European Union?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am looking into the matter urgently. It is important that we get it right, not just for Members of this House, but for family members. I can give him an assurance that we will discuss this on a cross-party basis and in the House. We want to sort the matter out to make sure that it cannot affect our family members, our parents, our children, our siblings or ourselves.

The Leader of the House and I are becoming good pen-friends, writing to each other regularly. Following our recent correspondence, I welcome his commitment to ensuring that sufficient Chamber time will be found for the number of days allocated to the Backbench Business Committee. That is provided for in Standing Order 14. However, I note that our views are not entirely aligned on the number of days that remain to be allocated this Session. Standing Order 14(4) is quite clear that only days where Back-Bench business has precedence over Government business should be counted towards the allocation, and I think there is some dispute about the number of days that remain to us. May I suggest that there might be merit in the office of the Leader of the House contacting the Clerks of our Committee to ensure that there is clarity about the amount of Back-Bench time remaining this Session so that the Government do not find themselves in the unfortunate position of having fallen short of the amount of time they were required to provide on the Floor of the House? Lastly, I did not realise I had so much influence. Last week when I spoke, I expressed my exasperation about Newcastle United, and within 24 hours there was a change of management.

The office of Chair of the Backbench Business Committee exercises an influence beyond what we previously knew.

Let us hope, for the hon. Gentleman’s sake, that the result of that change is that his team marches to survival in the premier league, although I notice that it did not manage to do so last week in its match against Leicester. I suspect, however, that most of us who are supporters of other teams—perhaps not Tottenham supporters, but most of the rest of us—are, for at least the last eight weeks of this season, Leicester City supporters. We wish the team well for the remainder of the season, and I hope the hon. Gentleman manages to turn up at St James’ Park next season to cheer on a premier league team.

On the allocation of time, the difference between us, I think, is simply that there was a period of time at the start of this Session after the general election and before the Backbench Business Committee could be formed. A number of days were therefore set aside for general debates. I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk about that, but inevitably, if the Backbench Business Committee exists for only part of a Session, there are pressures on time that we have to cater for. I specifically remember making sure that there was time for general debates in the period before his Committee was formed, but I am happy to talk to him about it. I know that discussions are taking place also between the Committee Clerks and my team.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the erecting of statues in the centre of London? I find it extraordinary that in Westminster Square there is no statue of the first female Prime Minister and, more pertinently, that there is no statue of Her Majesty the Queen, the longest-reigning monarch ever, who is about to celebrate her 90th birthday.

We are all looking forward to celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday. We look forward to activities up and down the country. We should all thank my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Mayor of London, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport for deciding that Crossrail should be named the Elizabeth line, which is a fitting tribute to the Queen. On the subject of a statue of Margaret Thatcher, I know that the shadow Leader of the House, as a champion of equalities and of opportunities for women, would join me in thinking it entirely appropriate for Britain’s first female Prime Minister to be celebrated in such a way.

Did not the House reach an historic low in political opportunism yesterday when the Prime Minister defended himself and his lamentable record on air pollution by claiming credit for the Clean Air Act 1956, which was passed by this House 10 years before he was born? The subject is a serious one. I recently had a debate that was pulled because the Government could not make a suitable Minister available. Some 9,000 people die in this city every year because of air pollution, and 70 die in the city that I represent, but there are no plans to make our policies even legal. This is a shame and a scandal that should be addressed.

I would simply make two points. First, it is an issue that we are addressing—for example, through the work we have put in to incentivise hybrid and electric cars, and by looking at ways to cut emissions from power stations. I think, therefore, that we have done as much as any previous Government. However, the point the hon. Gentleman misses is that Conservative Members are proud to be part of a party that, over the last 150 to 200 years, has been responsible for most of this country’s great social reforms. That is a track record that we regard as a foundation on which to build for the future.

Across Cannock Chase there are many voluntary groups that support the families and carers of those who suffer with dementia. On Saturday I attended an excellent dementia companions conference organised by St Joseph Roman Catholic church in Rugeley. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending the work of those involved and of all those who provide such incredibly valuable practical support? May we have a debate in Government time to discuss what further support can be provided to families affected by dementia?

As my hon. Friend may know, members of the Cabinet went through the training module to become a dementia friend a couple of years ago, and it was immensely enlightening—I had experienced dementia in my family, but the training taught me things I did not previously know. The work done by groups such as the one in my hon. Friend’s constituency makes a real difference, not only to those who are suffering, but to those who help them. I commend my hon. Friend, her colleagues and, indeed, all those involved in this important area on the work they do.

While I welcome the Budget news on further small business rate relief, I am concerned about the impact it will have on local authorities such as mine—Kirklees Council. May we have a debate to discuss what measures will be put in place to ease the burden on cash-strapped councils, many of which are already struggling to balance the books?

Last week, a number of Opposition Members said that we needed to do something about the impact of the business rate on small businesses, and I am delighted the Chancellor did so in his Budget statement, although I did not notice a welcome for that in the remarks by the shadow Leader of the House. However, the hon. Lady makes an important point, and she will, of course, have the opportunity, in the debates today, next Monday and next Tuesday, to ask Treasury Ministers specifically about what has taken place.

The front page of the Jewish Chronicle today gives a litany of the anti-Semitism that, sadly, we are beginning to see more and more frequently in the ranks of the Labour party and in other institutions, such as universities, in this country. [Interruption.] May we have a debate on the increasing anti-Semitism in our public bodies and institutions?

This is a very important point. I agree with the shadow Leader of the House and my hon. Friend that anti-Semitism has no place in our society. However, when we hear words such as “disgrace” from Labour Members, we should remember that we have seen too many occasions in the past 12 months where they have tolerated anti-Semitism in their ranks and where Labour campaigners have used anti-Semitism in their campaigns. That is unacceptable—it is something they should change.

I was shocked to learn that the House is still using Betamax tapes for parliamentary recordings, although it will now have to stop because Sony is going to stop producing them. In the House, technological adaptation is evidently slow on occasion. Will the Leader of the House give us an update on the steps he is taking to modernise the archaic voting system in the House?

Hon. Members will be aware that trials have been taking place in the last few weeks on the use of tablets in our Division Lobbies. Those trials are now beginning to show distinct improvements. That is likely to affect the way we record things in the future, because it allows us to publish Division lists very quickly. However, I do not support, I am afraid, the idea of going further on swipe-card voting, electronic voting and similar, because passing through a Division Lobby gives individual Members an opportunity they simply would not otherwise have to talk about mutual issues.

HMS Shropshire, a County class heavy cruiser, was completed for the Royal Navy in 1929 and served with distinction until 1942. May we have a debate on when the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence will once again name a Royal Navy ship after the beautiful county of Shropshire?

My hon. Friend makes his point in his customary way. He is a great champion for his county. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Defence will have noted what he said. We are investing in more capabilities for our Royal Navy, and that will provide plenty of opportunities for him to lobby for the ships coming on stream in the next few years to carry the name of his glorious county.

Can the Leader of the House help hon. Members who are very keen to meet their young constituents who are coming to the excellent new education centre but find getting into it quite a trial? In fact, it is probably easier to get into Fort Knox than to get into the education centre, with the level of security. Will he look into this?

As you know, Mr Speaker, this subject is of concern to me as well. I can assure the hon. Lady that the matter is subject to discussion. Of course we have to take appropriate steps for child protection, but we also have to make sure that common sense applies.

Sometimes with a Budget, one has to read the Red Book, as I have, to see what it was really about and what the Chancellor meant. Clearly, there is a lot of back-end loading of public debt reduction. I think I understand what the Chancellor is at. He has realised that on 24 June, when we come out of the EU, he will have £15 billion a year to reduce the public debt. In that regard, we have had a tie produced for him with his initials—G. O. for George Osborne—on it. It does two jobs: it shows that really he wants to come out of the EU, and he can promote himself with it. May we have a written statement on that next week?

Far be it from me to comment on the aesthetic virtues or otherwise of the tie, but the use of props in this place is generally deprecated. However, the hon. Gentleman has got away with it.

As we know, Mr Speaker, my hon. Friend is always ingenious in a whole variety of different ways. He makes his point in his customarily effective way. I know that he is playing an active part in the campaign to leave the European Union. I suspect that he may have more of a challenge than he thinks in persuading the Chancellor to change his view on this matter. I am afraid that he may have even more of a challenge, though, in persuading him to wear a tie of that somewhat bright colour.

The Leader of the House might not know this, but it is estimated that autism costs this country £23 billion a year. On the day after the Budget, it is worth thinking about that sum. You are a great supporter of autism charities, Mr Speaker, and often host charity events in your rooms. It was recently found that the educational element has been taken out of the personal allowance that people on the autism spectrum receive, which means that they cannot get education. That is very serious. May we have a debate on that in the House?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s understanding and view about autism. Some fantastic work is done in our society to help young people on the autistic spectrum. I pay tribute to Linden Bridge School in my constituency and its counterparts around the country which do a fantastic job in working with young people on the autistic spectrum. As a Government we have put more into education and—notwithstanding the current debate—we have put more into the support that we provide for people with disabilities. There is also enormously good work being done by the voluntary sector around the country, and long may that continue.

The Leader of the House may be aware that the newly refurbished Townlands hospital in Henley has now reopened and treated its first patient. Will he agree to have a debate on the future of community and local hospitals so that we can reinforce the message that what has come to be called ambulatory care is in the best interests of patients?

I remember that I backed this saga when I was helping in the campaign to get my hon. Friend elected for the first time some years ago, so I am delighted to see that all the work he has done since then has come to fruition and that his town has a great new facility. On Tuesday he will have the opportunity to tell the Secretary of State for Health exactly how much of a difference it is going to make to the constituency of Henley.

Given that the recess is fast approaching, the uprating regulations that will deprive approximately 550,000 overseas pensioners will be enacted by the time we return to this House. Will the Government bring forward a debate to allow us to consider this properly?

This issue has been raised on many occasions over the years. When those pensioners moved, they were aware of the nature and structure of our pensions system. The issue has been considered by Governments of both persuasions, and it would cost many hundreds of millions of pounds to sort it out. I am afraid that the Government have no current plans to do so.

Further to a previous question, can the Leader of the House ask a Treasury Minister to attend the Chamber to announce what representations the Treasury proposes to make, on behalf of individual bondholders, to the imminent Supreme Court hearing into the decision by Lloyds bank to redeem enhanced capital notes early rather than pay interest until contractual maturity?

I know that my hon. Friend has been pursuing this matter with great concern. Of course, we will debate the Budget over the next three days, and financial services will be part of that. I suggest that my hon. Friend takes advantage of that opportunity—the Chief Secretary will be here on Tuesday, for example—to raise the issue.

I very much welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement about universal superfast broadband by 2020, but it was made a few months ago. May we have a statement from the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, or a debate in Government time, so that we can consider the mechanisms? We are all in favour of it. It should be debated and we should know exactly what to do, and I would like to offer the isle of Anglesey for a pilot scheme.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like to do that. It is a Government priority to proceed with superfast broadband and, indeed, 4G and eventually 5G connectivity to all of our rural areas, and we certainly want Anglesey to be included. We have made good progress so far. We have got as far as any other country in Europe in developing modern communication networks, but there is still work to do.

In the last Parliament, the Government tasked the Law Commission with drafting a wildlife Bill, which it has now duly done. When is it likely to be introduced?

Of course, we cannot give advance billing of what will be in the Queen’s Speech on 18 May, but I have spoken to the Ministers involved and they tell me that they are looking at the issue carefully and hope to respond over the course of this year. Law Commission Bills are usually given a parliamentary slot when time allows, but I am afraid that I cannot commit to an exact timetable.

Yesterday the Government claimed to be on the side of the workers and the next generation. Could we therefore have some action beyond the rhetoric and have an urgent debate on the sad irony that workers aged under 25 are excluded from the Government’s new national living wage?

The evidence that we are on the side of workers and young people is the massive increase in the number of apprenticeships and the substantial drop in the number of unemployed young people. We are making real progress in creating opportunities for young people. When I took over as Employment Minister in 2010, I regarded with some trepidation those sessions I had with sixth formers and college students talking about their future prospects; I would have no such trepidation today. They have real opportunities, low unemployment and business investment. It is a transformed picture compared with six years ago.

For the past two decades, transport infrastructure spend per capita in London has dwarfed that in the English regions, with a ratio of 10:1 with the north-west. The Government now propose to build Crossrail 2 for £28 billion, but it has so far not received any scrutiny in this House. Could the Government make time for a debate on Crossrail 2 so that we can consider it vis-à-vis other transport priorities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the need to provide balance across the country in investment in infrastructure. If we look back at the Labour Government years, we will see that projects sat on the shelf. When in opposition, I would go around the country and spend time as shadow Transport Secretary talking about the need for projects, but when I go around the country now, I see that they are being built. I was in Newcastle last week, where the A1 is being improved, and the link road between the M6 and the M56 is being built in Cheshire. There is real improvement and change happening around the country in a way that simply did not happen when the Labour party was in power.

May we have an urgent debate in Government time on personal independence payments and the withdrawal of Motability cars from vulnerable disabled people, which is preventing them from carrying out jobs they have secured? Does it make any sense to put disabled people out of work in that way?

There will be debates on the Budget and on any changes that we bring forward to the welfare system. I simply remind the hon. Gentleman that it is important for the Government to ensure that we provide support where and when it is needed, but that we also seek to get the best value for taxpayers’ money in delivering that support.

Trees are important to us all, and some might say that they are important in transforming much of the hot air that we expel. [Hon. Members: “Withdraw!”] I say that tongue in cheek. Ancient trees, in particular, are so biodiverse, and there are only 2% left in this country. Will the Leader of the House kindly permit us time in the Chamber for a debate about the protection of our precious ancient woodland?

It is important to ensure not only that we protect ancient woodland, but that we create woodlands for the future. One of the most exciting developments over the past two or three years has been the Woodland Trust’s plan for new forests in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to commemorate the centenary of the first world war. There is one in my constituency, where farmland is being turned into forest that will be enjoyed by generations to come. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to protect what we have got, but we need to create the ancient woodlands of the future as well.

I have yet to hear a satisfactory response to questions I have asked on the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign and the Connaught income fund, so it is no surprise that the Government are trying to force through uprating regulations that will have a devastating impact on fully paid-up UK pensioners living overseas. The Government cannot keep ignoring all these groups of people, who have done the right thing. Surely, we must have an urgent debate to allow that matter to be properly discussed.

There has just been a debate on the issue of women’s pensions. I think the hon. Lady does not accept that we do not agree with her. My view on the issue of women’s pensions is that it is a difficult one. Putting in place any transition is difficult, because somebody will always be affected by the changes. The reality is that, if we are to have an affordable and fair pension system, we have to put through some of those changes and sometimes not make changes, even though people may want them.

Many of my constituents in Thurmaston are concerned about Post Office plans to move their local branch, despite strong local objections and concerns. Given that many such changes, good and bad, will be made by the Post Office in constituencies across the country in the coming years, can we have a debate on the Post Office’s approach to its branch modernisation programme, and on its approach to consultation and taking into consideration the views of local people?

That is something visible to Members across the country. As my hon. Friend has said, there has been a range of changes in the Post Office. At least this is about upgrading post offices; we have been through many years of battles to try to save post offices from closure. There is now a real opportunity for our post offices. Sadly, as we have heard in previous business questions, we have seen the disappearance of many local bank branches. The Post Office offers an alternative to many small businesses. I hope that that will help to secure its future in many of our communities.

This probably does not need a debate, but this morning, my question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was unceremoniously dumped by the Department. Could the Leader of the House look at the possibility of ensuring that, when such a thing happens, the Department contacts the Table Office, which is assiduous at contacting Members, rather than letting Members know by letter? I received the letter only yesterday.

The hon. Lady does, indeed, and I am happy to give her a short one. I am aware of the circumstances, and the question concerned was transferred to another Department, because it was judged to be the best place to answer the question. I am assured that her question will be answered today. I think that the Department concerned has done the right thing in telling her that, but I will pass on the message that perhaps it might consider telling the Table Office as well.

Can we please have a debate on inward investment? That will give the House the opportunity to consider the announcement in the past few days from Avon Products, which intends to move its worldwide headquarters from the United States of America to the UK, and the announcement in the past few days from the South African-owned MotoNovo, which plans to create almost 600 jobs in south Wales.

Those two announcements are really good news. The latter is good news for south Wales, which we very much welcome. Given all the pressures on the steel industry, we want as many new investments as possible in Wales. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) says it is because of Labour. Actually, it is because this Government have made the United Kingdom a strong place for international businesses to invest in. We have also had the decision to build a new factory to make Aston Martin cars in south Wales. It is reassuring that, even at a difficult time internationally, the United Kingdom is still seen as a strong place for international investment for the long term.

As of today, 78 Members of the House from seven parties, including the party of Government, have signed early-day motion 1235, which seeks to annul a statutory instrument to freeze pensions.

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Regulations 2016 (S.I., 2016, No. 246), dated 25 February 2016, a copy of which was laid before this House on 1 March 2016, be annulled.]

Regulations that deprive overseas pensioners of the uprating adjustment to their state pension have been forced through this House without a debate. Will the Government heed the cross-party initiative to annul the regulations, and hold a debate urgently to assess the devastating impact of these charges on UK pensioners living abroad? Perhaps this time the Leader of the House might just answer the question.

I have answered the question. I have been a Work and Pensions Minister, and I have previously looked at the issue. The Government have no intention of changing the current situation. The cost of doing so would be enormous, and the situation that pensioners face has been the same for decades.

Haul-It Nationwide Ltd, a recruitment business in Rugby, has developed IT software to match up agency HGV drivers with haulage contractors. Last year, the NHS spent £3.3 billion on agency staff, and Ministers are working hard to reduce that figure. The owner of Haul-It Nationwide believes his system can help by matching available medical staff with hospital trusts. In fact, he has already started talking to the NHS innovation team. May we have a debate to consider how companies in the private sector can share innovative ideas and technologies with the public sector?

My hon. Friend talks about what sounds like a very interesting project and opportunity. One of the tragedies of the argument made, particularly by SNP Members, for removing the private sector altogether from the NHS is that we would lose the opportunity for that kind of innovation to improve healthcare, to improve the effectiveness of the health service and to enable it to treat patients more quickly.

GPs in my constituency of Halifax are under unprecedented pressure, and we are facing a quite serious hospital reconfiguration. We now understand that pharmacies face a cut of 6%, which the Government expect will lead to anywhere between 1,000 and 3,000 pharmacies closing nationally. May we have a debate in this Chamber to discuss the role that pharmacies play in alleviating the pressures on GP surgeries and our A&E departments, and how those pressures will only get worse if up to 3,000 pharmacies close nationwide?

I know that this is an issue of concern. The Government are seeking to ensure that we use the money we have as effectively as possible and that we fund the right mix of pharmacies. We obviously want there to be pharmacies in all communities that require them. I have no doubt that this issue will be brought before the House in due course. I can only say that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Community and Social Care, who is the Minister with responsibility for this issue, is incredibly sensitive to the concerns the hon. Lady raises. I know he will seek to do the right thing in making sure that we have a proper balance in relation to spending money wisely and maintaining the right mix of pharmacy services.

Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on the effects of sodium valproate? This drug is given to treat epilepsy and other neurological conditions, but it has a powerful impact on unborn babies. My constituent Janet Williams has campaigned about this for a great many years, following the birth of her two sons, who had foetal abnormalities because of that drug, which is still being prescribed today.

This is obviously a very difficult and sensitive issue. I do not know enough about the circumstances of the drug, but I will make sure that the Health Secretary is aware of the concerns that the hon. Lady raises. I believe that he will be in the Chamber next week, and I ask her to bring up this issue with Health Ministers then.

I have previously asked the Leader of the House whether we could have an urgent debate on the disproportionate size of the House of the Lords compared with the House of Commons. However, my question was dismissed, so I will try again. May we have an urgent debate on the role of a bicameral Parliament in a representative democracy in the 21st century to consider whether it continues to be appropriate for more than half the Members of the United Kingdom Parliament to be appointed by the Prime Minister, rather than elected by the people?

I seem to remember that SNP Members praised the House of Lords last week for one of its votes. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that this country has greater priorities on its desk right now than sorting out, changing or reforming the House of Lords.

The Leader of the House did not quite respond to one of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). There is an amendment to the Budget resolutions on the Order Paper, tabled by the hon. Members for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), to remove the tampon tax. Will the Leader of the House support the amendment in solidarity with women across the country?

The imposition of VAT on women’s sanitary products is a matter for the European Commission. The Government have made representations, and we are expecting a response shortly. It is my hope that the Commission will agree with virtually every Member of this House that this tax is wholly inappropriate.

If no one has yet done so, Mr Speaker, may I, with a certain amount of Irish blood in me, wish you and the whole House a very happy St Patrick’s day?

It is absolutely unacceptable that this Government choose to do nothing, not even allow a debate, on the hugely important uprating regulations on state pensions that lead—as my hon. Friends have said—to half a million or more overseas pensioners having their pensions frozen. As the Leader of the House is well aware, that provision will come into force while the House is in recess. Given the clear depth of feeling on the Opposition Benches and across the House, surely that issue is worthy of an urgent debate.

That issue has been considered many times over the years and the Government’s position has not changed.

The First Minister of Scotland is committed not to 95% or any other figure, but to 100% coverage for superfast broadband for Scotland. Given that the UK controls the regulations on mobile signals, may we have a debate on how the UK Government might achieve that coverage for mobile signals across the UK?

We are working hard to achieve that for mobile signals across the UK, and we are beginning to look ahead to the introduction of 5G in this country. I wait with interest to see how successful the First Minister of Scotland will be having made that substantial promise, because as far as I can see, some of the promises that she has made in the past have not really come to fruition.

This House rightly celebrates community champions such as those who won an award during last week’s Renfrewshire Provost community awards. One winner, Jodie Campbell, organised a Christmas lunch for 200 vulnerable people, many of whom confirmed to me that they would otherwise have spent Christmas day on their own. Isolation is said to affect millions of people throughout the UK, so may we debate that serious issue?

Isolation is clearly a big challenge for our society, and it can only really be dealt with in local communities and by the kind of work that the hon. Gentleman has just described, which I praise unreservedly. As he will know, I have suggested to the Backbench Business Committee that it might set aside a day—there are a few coming up in the next few weeks—for the whole House to debate the work of voluntary sector groups that can make a big difference to people such as those he describes.

Given the well-known views of the Leader of the House on matters European, may I urge him to come to the aid of the hundreds of thousands of UK citizens living in the EU who face being deprived of their pension upgrade—a move that will not even be discussed in this House? Will he overcome the European democratic deficit and organise such a debate?

On that same theme, apart from the general unfairness, analysis has shown that the issue of frozen pensions prevents some pensioners from emigrating, and forces others to return to this country. Reversing that twin migration effect would save money on healthcare, welfare and housing, which should appeal to the Leader of the House. I will try again: may we have a debate on this important matter?

I am not of the view that Government policy should be about getting our pensioners—whom we should value enormously for the contribution they have made—to move to other countries.

The Leader of the House wrote to me on 24 February about the pension fund of employees of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and he said that no final decision had been made. In the Adjournment debate on 29 February, the Minister said that the final decision had been made in September. Will the Leader of the House say why he gave such inaccurate information?

I would not have made that comment without having been told that that was the case by the Ministry of Defence, and I will ask it to respond to the hon. Gentleman.