Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 616: debated on Thursday 27 October 2016

House of Commons

Thursday 27 October 2016

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

New Writ

Ordered,

That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough Constituency of Richmond Park, in the room of Frank Zacharias Robin Goldsmith, who, since his election for the said Borough Constituency, has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham in the County of Buckingham.—(Gavin Williamson.)

New Southgate Cemetery Bill [Lords]

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Oral Answers to Questions

Attorney General

The Attorney General was asked—

Cybercrime

1. What recent steps the Crown Prosecution Service has taken to set out its approach to prosecuting cybercrime. (906823)

The Crown Prosecution Service has this very month published guidelines on crimes involving social media, and it will publish a broader cybercrime strategy and guidance for prosecutors this autumn. All CPS prosecutors already have access to training on how to deal with cybercrime.

Last week’s internet of things bot attack, which brought down Twitter and Spotify, among other sites, was the result of tens of millions of household devices, such as baby monitors and televisions, being hijacked by cyber-criminals. This Government have been perilously slow to recognise the real harm that online scams and viruses do to our constituents. What is the Solicitor General doing to ensure that the CPS can respond to internet of things attacks?

The hon. Lady will know that the Government have in place many measures to deal with prevention; she is quite right to talk about the internet of things. When it comes to prosecution, I am confident that the CPS understands the international nature of this crime, particularly the exploitation by organised crime groups of cybercrime across the world and the need for co-operation with other jurisdictions to deal with it. Our cybercrime strategy will address a lot of the concerns she has expressed.

Do we not rely too much on prosecution guidance when it comes to cybercrimes, such as online abuse, when there is no substitute for clear primary legislation? Will my hon. and learned Friend carefully consider the proposals of the Law Commission’s 13th programme of law reform, which looks at offensive online communications, and will he advise our right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor that this should be a top priority?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work she has done and continues to do to tighten up the law on offences such as revenge pornography. I believe it is incumbent on the police and on prosecutors to use the existing law more thoroughly, but if there is a case for further reform, the Government will of course look at it very carefully.

Has the Solicitor General seen that over 100 Members of Parliament have now signed a letter to President Obama on the case of Lauri Love, who is going to be extradited to the United States to face trial for hacking into government files? Does he realise that this young man is on the autism spectrum, has severe mental health challenges and may not survive such a journey?

I am very conscious of that case, as I have a strong interest in autism issues. I have to emphasise that it is of course a matter for the courts—there has been a court procedure relating to this issue—so I am loth to make direct comment on the case, but I am certainly following it very carefully.

There is little doubt that there has been a huge increase in cybercrime of all sorts over the past few years. Does the Attorney General think we have the specialist knowledge we need within all our law enforcement agencies to tackle the problem?

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. It is vital that the investigatory and prosecutorial authorities understand the global nature of cybercrime. I am confident that the new strategy, to be published very shortly, will address the very concerns that he has raised.

Vulnerable Witnesses

2. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that vulnerable victims and witnesses are enabled to give effective evidence. (906824)

Vulnerable victims and witnesses can already give evidence from behind a screen or via a video link. In addition, having piloted pre-trial cross examination, which allows vulnerable witnesses to pre-record all their evidence ahead of the trial, we will be rolling it out nationally.

I thank the Minister for that reply. What special arrangements are there to support vulnerable children and under-age witnesses, in particular in cases of abuse or of a sexual nature?

My hon. Friend is right that those witnesses are of particular concern. I am sure she will be pleased to learn that those kind of witnesses will particularly benefit from pre-recorded cross examination; where it has been trialled—we have trialled it in three court centres so far—about three quarters of the cases have been cases of a sexual nature, and most of the witnesses have been children.

Does the Attorney General agree that we have to address the issue of having to go to court for initial proceedings, where victims may come face to face with the accused at a very early stage? Victims feel fear when facing the accused. Will he outline what will be in place to help them?

The hon. Gentleman is right that that is a serious concern for many of those involved in these kinds of cases. That is precisely why the measures I have described are of benefit. If all of a witness’s evidence is pre-recorded, they will not come face to face with the defendant at all. That is a huge benefit.

With the rise of social media, victims and, in particular, witnesses fear intimidation from the online community. Will my right hon. and learned Friend take into consideration protections in the digital space as well as the physical courtroom?

Yes, indeed—my hon. Friend makes an important point. We have to deal with a context that is very different from anything we have experienced before. It is important for people to understand that social media is not ungoverned space. The law applies there as it does elsewhere. If those using social media engage in behaviour that would otherwise be criminal, they will find it is criminal there, too.

I thank the Attorney General for outlining protection for vulnerable victims in the criminal courts. What progress has been made in providing special protection measures for vulnerable victims within family courts?

We need to look carefully at how we might read across some of the things that are clearly working well in the criminal courts to other types of court. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that. There is huge scope for us to understand more about how people can give their best evidence. That, after all, is what court systems of all kinds should be looking for.

Leaving the EU: Devolved Administrations and Prosecutions

3. What discussions he has had with devolved Administrations on the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the ability to prosecute criminals. (906825)

The Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office regularly engage with Scotland’s prosecution service and the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland. The Government recognise the importance of retaining good co-operation with European countries on prosecutions, and will continue to engage with the devolved Administrations to seek the best arrangements possible on leaving the EU.

Post Brexit, will the Government seek to continue to use the European arrest warrant? If not, what will they put in its place?

As the hon. Gentleman will anticipate, I am not going to prejudge the outcome of the negotiations and discussions we will have. It is of course right that the European arrest warrant and other measures like it are of huge benefit not just to this country but to our European partners as well. For that reason I am optimistic that we will be able to put in place measures that benefit both sides.

Once we are freed from the freedom of movement rules, will the Crown Prosecution Service seek to prosecute EU nationals who commit crimes in this country and to ban them from returning to this country, which we are not able to do at the moment?

My hon. Friend will know that at the moment the CPS does indeed prosecute European nationals who commit crimes in this country. Some of the measures I have just described are of assistance not just in returning those individuals to be tried in this country but in gaining the evidence necessary to secure their conviction. As for the measures taken thereafter, sentencing decisions are of course for the courts. We will look carefully at what other measures might become available to the courts once we have left the European Union.

Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme

The number of sentences considered by my office under the unduly lenient sentence scheme has increased by over 108% since 2010, from 342 to 713 requests in 2015. Of those, 136 were referred to the Court of Appeal as potentially unduly lenient, with the court agreeing to increase the original sentence for 102 offenders.

Stalking causes enormous harm and distress to victims, and the Government have rightly strengthened the law in this area. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider extending the unduly lenient sentence scheme to cover these crimes?

My hon. Friend will know that as a party we have a manifesto commitment to extend the unduly lenient sentence scheme. A number of offences are surprisingly not included in the scheme at the moment. We need to look carefully at the whole range of criminal offences to decide what should be inside and what should be outside the scheme, but he certainly makes a good case for the types of offences we might consider including in the future.

Given that the need for an unduly lenient sentence scheme has been conceded, the public are very confused as to why some offences are covered and some are not. Would it not be simpler to have a scheme that covered all offences?

My hon. Friend makes a tempting proposition to give my office a good deal more work. There is no doubt that one of the advantages of the unduly lenient sentence scheme is that it is available to the public. It does not require the intervention of lawyers and it is, I hope, easy for the public to access. It should also be easy for the public to understand, and I am therefore in favour of drawing the line between cases within the scheme and those outside in a logical and easily understandable place. I would also say that it is important to bear it in mind that, even with an extended version of the scheme, we are talking about a very small minority of cases where judges err in this way. As I said, last year 102 cases were considered under the scheme to be unduly lenient. That is out of about 80,000 sentences passed in the Crown courts that year.

Leaving the EU: International Co-operation

5. Whether he has made an assessment of the potential operational consequences of the UK leaving the EU on how his office interacts with its international counterparts. (906827)

We are leaving the European Union, but co-operation with our European and global allies will remain important. My office will continue to engage internationally to promote the rule of law, a shared understanding of international law and global co-operation on criminal justice.

I thank the Attorney General for that answer, but is not the stark reality that Europol’s director stated that the UK will be demoted to second-tier membership? Will that not undermine the UK Government’s plans to tackle and prosecute money laundering crimes?

Again, I do not think we should pre-empt the outcome of any discussions that will follow, but, as I said earlier, I think there is an understanding, not just in the United Kingdom but in the rest of the European Union, that the sort of co-operation on crime and security that we have now benefits both sides and will need to continue in order to make sure that we are all safer and more secure, and that we can successfully capture and prosecute the sorts of offenders he describes.

Is it not fallacious for the remoaners to always say that once we have left the European Union, we will not have access to European institutions? Is it not the case that Europol, the Erasmus programme and the Eurovision song contest all have members who are not members of the European Union?

I do not think that by grouping them together my hon. Friend is describing Eurovision as a criminal enterprise—although there are those who may say so. It is important, as he says, to recognise that leaving the European Union is not the same as leaving Europe, and it is certainly not the same as being unprepared to co-operate. We will be co-operating with a whole range of partners, because, as I have said, it will be in our mutual interest.

Given the warnings from Rob Wainwright and given the Attorney General’s duty to the legal profession, will the Attorney General confirm that he will be making the case on Europol, the European arrest warrant—and, indeed, the Eurovision song contest—in the Brexit Tory Cabinet?

I am unwilling to commit to making the case for the Eurovision song contest, but it is very important that all in this House understand that the Government are committed to continuing our internationalist perspective and to keeping this nation and its citizens safe. I do not think the hon. Gentleman will hear, from any member of the Government, the view that we can do so without co-operating internationally. We will seek to do that just as successfully and just as fully as we have done in the past, inside or outside the European Union.

How is my right hon. and learned Friend interacting with the Government of Romania? He will know that the Heritage Foundation has recently issued a report saying that the courts in Romania are subject to chronic corruption and political influence.

I am not going to comment on the status of other court systems. What I will say is that part of the engagement that this country has abroad on the rule of law, in a variety of different countries, is designed to ensure that the long experience that this country has in running effective, efficient and fair court systems is transmitted to others where they ask for our help, and I am sure we will continue in that enterprise.

Prosecution of Sexual Offences

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on ensuring that prosecutors are able more effectively to prosecute cases of rape and other sexual offences. (906828)

I regularly meet the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss this and other topics. The Crown Prosecution Service continues to prioritise rape and serious sexual offending and has taken steps to ensure that prosecutors are able to prosecute these cases effectively. Those steps include increasing the number of specialist staff in its rape and serious sexual offences units, providing specialist training for prosecutors and developing closer working arrangements with the police.

A constituent of mine is a victim of rape. A complete lack of communication and action from the police has left her unable to move on and recover from the horrific ordeal. After a year and a half, the case—which the superintendent deemed “a professional embarrassment”—has finally been brought to the CPS. However, this might not be the end of my constituent’s torment. Does the Attorney General agree that communication with victims is vital in effectively prosecuting offenders and that the Director of Public Prosecutions should ensure that every victim is kept updated, that their views are taken into account on key decisions and that a high level of communication is upheld?

Yes I do agree, and what the hon. Lady describes clearly does not sound acceptable or in line with the standards we would all expect. There are two things that I think are important. The first is that the prosecutors should be involved as early as possible, so that advice can be given to the police about the development of an investigation with a view to prosecution. The second is to ensure that when a case comes to court, we continue the communication that we should have had up to that point with victims and witnesses and that people are given to understand what is going on around them. Courts can be very confusing places, and we only add to the distress if we do not take the trouble to explain the process to those who are, through no fault of their own, suddenly involved in it. That is one of the things we will look to do better.

I welcome the increased number of prosecutions for rape, but will the Attorney General outline what more can be done to improve the consistency across different areas and also the prosecution rate?

My hon. Friend is right that although we should welcome the increased volume of prosecutions that are taking place, there is still a divergence in the way in which this is done across the country. For that reason, the CPS has set up a national delivery board and is looking at ways in which we can understand why those differences exist and is attempting to resolve them. As my hon. Friend says, this is also a matter of making sure that prosecutors are properly trained, as they are, and have the resources they need to do the job well.

As this is my first question in this role, I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and the fact that I am a non-practising door tenant at Civitas Law in Cardiff.

The Attorney General will be aware of the grave recent concern about the admissibility of a complainant’s previous sexual history in rape trials. Does he agree that single, high-profile cases can give rise to wider perceptions about the law, partly because of the level of coverage they receive, and will he undertake to tackle those wider perceptions?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. It is good to see him across the Dispatch Box. He will be pleased to learn that this is probably the only part of Parliament where he does not have to apologise for being a lawyer.

There is concern about the subject that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and we need to accept that that concern is sensible and deal with it. We need to look at a number of things. We need to understand more about the decision in this particular case. We need to understand whether a change in the law is appropriate and, if not, whether it is sensible to look at the guidance that is given to judges about when such evidence is admissible and at the guidance that judges give to juries about how that evidence should be used. We need to do all those things before we are in a position to understand what, if any, changes are needed.

I am grateful to the Attorney General for his welcome and I look forward to debating with him and, indeed, my fellow Welsh lawyer, the Solicitor General, across the Dispatch Box.

Prosecution lawyers will, of course, deal with these applications for the admissibility of a complainant’s sexual history before the courts. I am glad to hear that the Attorney General has committed to looking at the guidance given to judges and at what judges say to juries. In addition, will he look at the guidance given by the Crown Prosecution Service to the lawyers who appear before the courts and regularly deal with these applications?

Yes, I will. He will know that in the case he raises the Crown Prosecution did indeed oppose the admission of this evidence at the Court of Appeal stage. It is certainly worth looking at all the guidance and indeed at the whole picture. This provision is, as far as I am aware, not routinely used, but we must be confident that the message sent to those who are willing but currently worried about reporting these sorts of offences is not that they are not encouraged to do so—quite the reverse; they are. We need to ensure that those messages are clear.

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Sex and Relationship Education

1. Whether the Government plan to update its guidelines to schools on the provision of sex and relationship education to include (a) LGBT relationship issues and (b) sexual harassment in schools. (906852)

We want to provide all young people with a curriculum that prepares them to succeed in modern Britain. That is why I want to make sure that sex and relationship education really is fit for the world that children live in today. I agree that we need to look again at how schools deliver high-quality and age-appropriate sex and relationship education. We are carefully considering all the options, including updating our guidance, and I shall provide an update shortly.

The Women and Equalities Committee has recommended that the Government amend the “Keeping children safe in education” guidance to include the issue of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools. When do the Government plan to release the updated guidance, and will they consult the specialists working in the field of sexual harassment and violence against women and girls?

I agree that we need look at ensuring how this guidance is brought up to date. From my perspective, the key is making sure that our young people have the right information and get the right advice, and that through this guidance and the quality of teaching in schools we produce the right attitudes for the young generation growing up in our country. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the need to get that done effectively; that is precisely what I intend to do.

The Select Committee report to which the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) referred uncovered a shocking truth—that most girls in secondary education have experienced physical or verbal sexual abuse. Four Select Committees are now calling for sex and relationship education to be made compulsory. What more evidence is the Minister looking for?

I do not disagree with my right hon. Friend’s point. The Women and Equalities Committee report was an excellent one, to which we shall shortly respond. I have spoken about the nature of what we need to look at, and there are also questions such as what sex and relationship education comprises and how it can be taught at a high quality. As my right hon. Friend suggests, where it is taught and the breadth of schools in which we expect it to be taught are also relevant questions. About nine out of 10 secondary school teachers say that they have seen children bullied on sexual harassment grounds, which is totally unacceptable. We need to make sure that we take the next steps forward through a thoughtful and measured approach that responds to today’s world.

I would like to thank all the women, parliamentarians and campaigners who come before us to get equality and justice in this country. I am sure that we all want to take that forward.

Good. The Minister for Women and Equalities has an admirable record of supporting sex and relationship education, and I welcome her comments today. Giving all children good-quality education in respect of themselves and others and encouraging healthy friendships is the cornerstone of preventing abuse, hate crime, intolerance and relationship violence. This approach is supported by five Select Committees and all the leading charities. When will the Minister introduce sex and relationship education for all children from key stage 1—regardless of where they are educated?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role, particularly as she is the MP who represents my home town of Rotherham. The different ages at which children need to start understanding relationships means that what we teach in schools must be age-appropriate. Of course, SRE is mandatory in all secondary schools. Primary schools have more flexibility, but the hon. Lady is right to emphasise that if we want to get this right, we need to start at an early age so that children can understand relationships with one another.

International Men's Day

Some women might be forgiven for thinking that every day is International Men’s Day, but this year it falls on 19 November. The theme will be “Making a Difference for Men and Boys”, and there will be a focus on the very important issue of male suicide. As with International Women’s Day, it will be up to Back Benchers to bid for parliamentary time for a debate on the subject, and I encourage them to do so. Of course, I welcome any initiatives that support gender equality and its meaning in people’s lives.

So the answer is that the Minister has no plans. Perhaps her Department ought to take International Men’s Day as seriously as the Prime Minister has. She has said:

“I recognise the important issues that this event seeks to highlight, including men’s health, male suicide rates and the under-performance of boys in schools. These are serious issues that must be addressed in a considered way.”

Why is International Men’s Day not as important to this Minister as it is to the Prime Minister?

Let me gently say that I think that my hon. Friend is being a little unfair. The role of the Government Equalities Office is to tackle inequality wherever we find it. All parents of sons throughout the country, including me, will be conscious of and concerned about the issues that the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, the Prime Minister have mentioned. However, I am also aware that there are parts of the world where girls are routinely subjected to genital mutilation, forced marriage and sexual violence. For me, equality is not a zero sum game.

Does the Minister agree that International Men’s Day will give fathers of daughters an opportunity to ask, for instance, why those daughters may have to wait another 30 years for equal pay, and will give men a platform on which to ask why there continues to be a problem of violence against women and girls? Does she agree that it will give men an opportunity to express concern about those subjects?

International Men’s Day in the United Kingdom takes a very gender-inclusive approach, which is why issues affecting women and girls are also involved. The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the gender pay gap. We welcomed reports this week that it has been reduced again, and is now narrower than it has ever been. However, he was also right to point out that, while focusing on the very important issues that International Men’s Day raises, we must never forget all the women around the world who are suffering every single day.

No doubt, in seeking ways of celebrating International Women’s Day, the Minister has looked around the world to find out which countries do it best. Which countries best celebrate International Men’s Day, and will she note the example that they provide?

I know that 60 countries celebrate International Men’s Day in various ways, focusing on men’s health and wellbeing, discrimination against men and any inequalities that they face, improving gender relations, and promoting gender equality. That creates a safer world for everyone, and is always to be commended.

The aim of International Men’s Day is to promote gender equality and highlight positive male role models. In the United Kingdom, two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner every week. Action is urgently needed to tackle deeply ingrained and damaging inequality. Does the Minister agree that we should support campaigns to tackle misogyny and sexist attitudes, and that men have a crucial role to play in that?

I could not have put it better myself. The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the fact that last year 81 women were killed by violent partners or ex-partners. In fact, 19 men were killed by violent partners or ex-partners as well. The Government are absolutely committed to tackling violence against women and girls—it is of the utmost importance, which is why we have put more money into it than ever before—and we will not rest until that happens.

Women’s State Pension Age

3. If the Government will take steps to provide further transitional support to women affected by the increase in the state pension age. (906854)

The Government will make no further changes in the pension age or provide financial redress in lieu of pension. A total of £1.1 billion has already been committed to lessen the impact of the changes on those who will be most affected, so that no one will experience a change of more than 18 months.

It is clear that the members of the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign and their many supporters around the country think that the Government have not done enough. Will the Minister commit herself to publishing all assessments of the impact of the 2011 changes, and any analysis that has been undertaken of possible transitional arrangements at the time of the Pensions Act 2011 and in the period since then?

The Government have made available £1.1 billion for transitional arrangements because of these changes. This is about undoing an historical unfairness by equalising the state pension age, which both men and women should welcome.

The Scottish National party commissioned independent research by Landman Economics that found the inequalities facing many of the WASPI women can be rectified if the UK Government implement the report’s recommendations for the sum of £8 billion, rather than the previously cited £30 billion. Will the Minister urge her Treasury colleagues to prioritise this issue ahead of the autumn statement?

A range of potential options have been proposed by a number of different campaigns, but nothing that is specifically aimed at those most disadvantaged by the state pension age increases, and none of them has proposed something significantly better or, indeed, affordable and at an acceptable cost to the taxpayer.

Caste Discrimination Consultation

4. What progress the Government have made on the publication of its caste discrimination consultation. (906856)

We have said we will issue a public consultation on how best to provide legal protection against caste discrimination later this year. My hon. Friend takes this issue very seriously and represents his local communities views and concerns in respect of it.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. In excess of 85% of British Hindus consider having caste as a protected characteristic in equality legislation unnecessary, ill-considered and divisive. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the forthcoming consultation she will look at all measures, including the abolition of caste as a protected characteristic in the legislation?

This will be an open consultation. We know and understand how sensitive and emotive this subject is, and that there are very strong opinions on both sides of it. We need to look at the best and necessary level of legal protection against caste discrimination, and the findings of that consultation will help inform us on what to do to provide the appropriate legal protection.

In the consultation process, will the Minister outline what steps have been taken by diplomats, ambassadors and embassies to combat caste discrimination, and is there an estimate of the success of these steps?

My old Department, the Department for International Development, working hand in hand with the Foreign Office does huge work not only to advocate but to take action on the ground to help groups fighting for equality, including fighting against caste discrimination. We do that in the countries where it is most prevalent. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, these are generational issues that take time steadily to shift, but we believe we need to keep pushing on them to move things forward.

BAME Representation on Boards

5. What steps the Government are taking to increase the number of BAME people on boards and at senior executive levels of FTSE companies. (906858)

A diverse boardroom that reflects its customers and wider society is likely to perform better and make better decisions. The Government are very supportive of the private-led diversity initiative chaired by Sir John Parker, who is currently considering how to increase ethnic diversity in FTSE 100 companies, and we expect the group to report on its findings next month.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I am chair of the all-party group on communities engagement, and fewer than 4% of directors in the 150 largest FTSE companies have ethnic minority backgrounds. Will the Government support a target of increasing the percentage of board members or directors with black and minority ethnic backgrounds to 10% by 2021?

My hon. Friend rightly points out this unsettling statistic, but, as with the fantastic work to get more women on boards, we support the principles of increasing the ethnic diversity of the boards of the FTSE largest companies through a business-led voluntary approach because we believe there is a strong business case for better board diversity. We need to tackle the root cause, which is why we have established the Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith review looking at the obstacles faced by businesses in developing BME talent across the board, from recruitment right through to executive level.

It is a little disappointing that the Government have not put as much resource into developing issues around the Parker review as women on boards, and there has been a significant drop in diversity on boards since the Government established the review, which will report in November. Many organisations, including the Executive Leadership Council, have board-ready visible minorities ready to hit the road running. Will the Minister work with me to reverse the trend?

We are very happy to work with anybody who wants to see greater board diversity and, indeed, greater diversity in business all through the pipeline. The Government are clear that we want absolutely everybody to reach their full potential in life, regardless of their background, gender or race. Valuing diversity in the workplace is not just the right thing to do; our economy cannot afford to waste the talent of a single individual.

STEM Industries

6. What steps the Government are taking to increase the number of women working in science, technology, engineering and maths—STEM—industries. (906859)

Increasing the number of women in STEM industries is not only vital for our economic growth but part of how we can support our ambition to eliminate the gender pay gap. We are supporting girls to choose STEM subjects and careers by improving the quality of teaching in STEM subjects and increasing the proportion of girls’ A-level entries in maths and science. We are also raising awareness of just how exciting and valuable STEM careers can be for our young people through STEM ambassadors and through publishing online guidance called “Your Daughter’s Future”.

I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. The east coast energy internship is a new scheme supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Ogden Trust. As a result of undertaking one of the internships, Felicity Levett, a student at Lowestoft sixth-form college, is now pursuing a career in offshore renewables. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such schemes should be promoted more widely so that everyone, regardless of gender or background, can realise their career ambitions?

I strongly support what my hon. Friend has just said. I am well aware of all the work that has been going on in his local community to encourage girls to get into STEM. His constituent is a shining example of the great steps that girls can take once they follow this path, and we will be promoting a whole range of fantastic opportunities to encourage more young people, particularly young girls, to follow her example.

Men continue to dominate apprenticeships in the fields with the best earning potential. In 2013, nearly 13,000 men started engineering apprenticeships, but only 400 women did so. Will the Minister commit to ensuring 50:50 recruitment in STEM-focused apprenticeships?

The hon. Lady makes a really important point. At the moment, we are seeing success in getting girls to take STEM subjects at GCSE, where the rates for girls and boys are broadly comparable. It is when we get to A-levels that we see more boys than girls doing maths, for example, although the rate for girls has risen. We need to ensure that we improve those statistics and strengthen the careers advice that can encourage girls to follow these paths.

Welfare Polices: Disabled People

7. What assessment the Government have made of the effect on equality for disabled people of the Government’s policies on welfare. (906860)

The UK is recognised as a world leader in disabled rights and equality, and the Government continue to spend about £50 billion a year to support sick and disabled people. That is about 2.5% of GDP. According to OECD figures, that is more than is spent by other countries including Germany, France and the United States of America.

But we still have not seen the publication of the long-awaited Green Paper to map out what employment support will be made available for those with disabilities. Can the Minister provide an explanation for the continued delay? Does she agree that this does not look like the action of a Government who want to provide “an economy that works for everyone”?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we will soon publish a Green Paper that will explore a whole range of options for long-term reform across different sectors. The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), is working incredibly hard to ensure that that happens soon. We are going to target the factors that contribute to the disability employment gap and engage with disabled people, their representative organisations and a wide range of other stakeholders. There will be an opportunity for hon. Members to feed into that consultation process, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to do so.

Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as a result of their condition, and the situation has been made worse by this Government’s £28 billion social security cuts, which have affected 3.7 million disabled people since 2012. Sick and disabled people are also more likely to be hit by social security sanctions and forced to use food banks, as the film “I, Daniel Blake” so poignantly showed. Today’s report by Oxford University proves the link between the Government’s punitive sanctions and the rise in food bank use. What action are the Minister and her DWP colleagues taking to tackle these injustices, as the Prime Minister calls them?

This Government are committed to providing support to the people who need it, which is reflected in the fact that spending to support disabled people and people with health conditions will be higher than in 2010 in real terms in every year until 2020.

The hon. Lady mentions “I, Daniel Blake”. I have seen the film. My first visit as a Department for Work and Pensions Minister was to a jobcentre in Newcastle, and I can tell her that the front-line DWP workers whom I met do not recognise their portrayal in the film. The film raises important issues, which we shall debate, but we must remember that it is a dramatic interpretation. I also recognise none of its portrayals of DWP staff.

Topical Questions

This Government have been clear that we want to build a country that works for everyone, which is why we are so determined to close the gender pay gap. I am therefore pleased that the Office for National Statistics recently released figures showing that the gap has narrowed significantly from 19.3% to 18.2%, reflecting the hard work of so many, not least the business community. That also reminds us that if we are to keep closing the gap, and close it completely, we must keep driving progress forward. That is why we extended the right to request flexible working and introduced a new system of flexible parental leave. We are also introducing mandatory gender pay gap reporting for large employers from April next year.

Baroness Cox has long campaigned in the other place for the abolition of sharia councils, largely because of the unfair way in which they treat many women. Will the Government support Baroness Cox’s private Member’s Bill on the issue and ensure that Muslim women enjoy the same protections under the law as everyone else and do not feel pressured into having their cases determined by a sharia council rather than a British court?

I assure my hon. Friend that that issue is of utmost importance. We know of concerns about sharia councils, including those raised in Baroness Cox’s Bill, and take them extremely seriously. The Government will respond to the Bill on Second Reading and will continue to consider the issue in the light of the findings of the independent sharia review, which was launched in May by the previous Home Secretary, now Prime Minister.

T5. Figures just out from NHS Digital show that 28% of women aged 16 to 24 have a mental health condition. Alarmingly, reports of self-harm among that age group trebled to 20% between 2007 and 2014. Despite that, a survey of 35 mental health trusts carried out by Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, showed that just one had a specific women-only mental health strategy. What action is the Minister taking to address that serious issue which is affecting women in our country? (906839)

As constituency MPs, we all see such issues locally, and the House is holding a worthwhile Backbench Business debate later on the broader topic of young people and mental health. This country has a long way to go to deliver on our ambition to ensure that mental health provision is on a par with the rest of our healthcare provision. As the hon. Lady highlights, that should include understanding the different levels of mental health challenges faced by different parts of our community, of which women and girls make up 50%.

T2. Reports this week indicate that female entrepreneurs, such as Clover Lewis of Clover Lewis Swimwear, struggle to access start-up capital. Male entrepreneurs often receive up to 90% of all available start-up funding, but the return on investment with female entrepreneurs is on average much better than with men. What steps is the Minister taking to stimulate lending to address that anomaly? (906836)

I am so pleased that my hon. Friend mentions Clover Lewis Swimwear. I have met Clover Lewis, who does outstanding work creating swimwear for women who have undergone mastectomy surgery. We are absolutely committed to supporting women to start and grow their own businesses, and I am proud that Britain has been named as one of the best places in Europe for female entrepreneurs. My hon. Friend will be as pleased as I am that 40% of the loans given out by the Government’s StartUp loans company since it was established have gone to women, providing funding to more than 15,500 women and totalling £87 million.

T6. Will the Secretary of State welcome the Women into Tech initiative, which just goes to show how many women can get into business in tech? Will she help our campaign to improve the numeracy of girls and young women, as that is the key link between success in management later and everything else? (906840)

We had a question earlier about STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and the importance of ensuring that girls are taking those. It is important not just for those wishing to pursue a career in engineering, for example; these subjects, and maths in particular, open up all sorts of doors for our young girls. That is why it is so important that the kinds of initiatives the hon. Gentleman has just talked about are in place to help deliver on those aspirations.

T3. A recurring theme for the Science and Technology Committee is the lack of progress being made in achieving gender balance across the scientific community, both in business and academia. What work are my right hon. Friend and her Department doing to remove barriers faced by women? What steps are being taken to ensure that work is integrated with ongoing efforts in the universities sector, particularly Athena SWAN? (906837)

My hon. Friend is right to say that business needs to work hand in hand with the Government on this, and the Women’s Business Council has been enhanced by this Government to now include representatives of and membership from the science, engineering and construction industries. That is very much linked in with not only my Department, but the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We have particularly welcomed initiatives such as Athena SWAN, which are doing so much to move this agenda steadily and progressively forward.

Gypsies and Travellers suffer particularly poor outcomes across a range of measures, but too many Government Departments and agencies are still not recognising them as distinct ethnic groups in accordance with the 2011 census categorisation. What can the Secretary of State do to encourage the use of that categorisation right across government—national and local?

The hon. Lady is right to raise this important issue. The Select Committee on Women and Equalities has recently announced that it will be examining it, and I know it will do so with its customary rigour and intensity. We look forward very much to hearing what the Committee comes up with.

T4. Online misogyny and other abusive online behaviour is damaging young people’s self-esteem and is even undermining their mental health. Does the Minister agree that social media platforms must face up to their responsibilities to keep young users safe online? (906838)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. This is something that all parents worry about, and social media platforms must take some responsibility for it. This year, we invested almost half a million pounds in the Safer Internet Centre to provide advice on how to keep children safe, and we are developing guidance on cyber-bullying for schools, which will be published shortly.

The Secretary of State may be aware of the closure of the only UK lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender charity, Broken Rainbow, in August. Sadly, this very much mirrored what happened to Kids Company, with the closure being reported by Patrick Strudwick of BuzzFeed. Will she work with me, him and others who are interested in this to put pressure on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Charity Commission to have a full review of this and make sure that LGBT people in this country have access to domestic abuse support?

I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady further about the specific issue she has just raised, which is of concern. Only last night, I was at the PinkNews awards, which celebrates a huge amount of the work that is happening on the ground to push forward on LGBT rights. It is important that this work can continue.

T7. The new head of John Lewis, the head of the National Crime Agency, the Prime Minister and, with any luck, the next President of the United States of America are all women at the top of their fields. Does the Minister agree that having strong women at the head of organisations is one of the best ways to encourage women into professions, and what is she doing to promote that? (906841)

I am delighted to agree with my hon. Friend, as we cannot overestimate the value of role models at every level and in every sector, inspiring girls and other women to follow them. We now have more women on boards than ever before. There are now no all-male boards in the FTSE 100. Women in key roles, such as the ones my hon. Friend mentioned, provide massive inspiration to girls and other women, as indeed does having a female Prime Minister.

I come back to the issue of STEM subjects. We do fantastic work in west Cumbria in encouraging women into the nuclear industry, and it would be great if the Minister could recognise that and look at how we can work it. However, often when I go to meetings at a senior level I find that I am the only woman in the room or, if I am not, that there are only one or two of us. What can we do to encourage women to come right the way up through to the senior level?

It is about building the ladder at all levels. We have talked about the importance of STEM subjects, and there will be a national college that will focus on skills for the nuclear industry, which is the next stage. As the hon. Lady says, many of us have been to meetings where we are the only woman at the table, and we need to play our part as role models to encourage the next generation to aim high.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Standing Order No. 143

1. Whether he has had discussions with his ministerial colleagues on the scope of Standing Order No. 143(1)(ii) and 143(1)(vi). (906842)

I have had no such discussions to date, but while we are a member of the European Union, our obligations remain in place, as does the scrutiny reserve resolution, so the scrutiny Committees will be able to examine and interrogate EU dossiers in the usual way.

Does the Leader of the House agree with the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) that the document to trigger article 50 is one that the European Scrutiny Committee would recommend for debate and possible vote in the main Chamber? If he does, would that be before or after the Prime Minister has served the notification?

As the hon. Lady knows, the Government take the view that the triggering of article 50 is a matter for the Executive to determine. This, as the House knows, is an issue that is being contested in the courts at the moment, and we are currently awaiting a judgment.

I applaud the initiatives that the Leader of the House is taking to ensure maximum debate about Brexit and the establishment of the Select Committees. Will he ensure that there are no procedures of this House that could block the will of the British people to leave the European Union?

The Government’s intention, whatever side of the referendum debate individual Ministers took, is that the will of the British people has been clearly expressed in a referendum with a very high turnout, and that the House voted by an overwhelming majority to enact the European Union Referendum Bill and hand that decision to the British people. That mandate from the British people now needs to be respected.

Standing Orders: Reform

Standing Orders undergo frequent revision. The Procedure Committee, the Clerks and the Government monitor their use to ensure that our Standing Orders reflect how business in the House is conducted in practice.

Yesterday, the Leader of the House announced a review of last year’s change to Standing Orders, which implemented the absurd English votes for English laws process, which disfranchises non-English MPs. Will he restore equality for MPs by removing the over-convoluted and shamefully partisan EVEL procedure from Standing Orders, and make sure that all MPs in this House are equal?

I shall take that as a first contribution to the consultation that the Government have initiated. I am disappointed that Members from the Scottish National party seem unable to comprehend that it is a matter of justice that legislation affecting only England should command the support of a majority of Members of Parliament from England.

Do the Standing Orders not need to be changed to reflect what goes on today? Despite your valiant efforts, Mr Speaker, we have far too many subjects to cover today, which prevented me from railing against the madness that prevents gay men from donating blood unless they say they have been celibate for 12 months.

As I think my hon. Friend has demonstrated, an ingenious Member of Parliament is able to find numerous ways in which to place the points about which he is concerned on the record.

The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) is a notable practitioner of what I call the shoehorning technique, which is to shoehorn the matter of concern to oneself into any question whether it naturally fits or not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) is absolutely right that EVEL has been a bureaucratic, cumbersome and misunderstood nightmare, which has divided this House on the basis of nationality and geography. Given that the Government have a majority in both England and the rest of the United Kingdom, what difference has this useless apparatus made to any legislative outcome that we have considered in the past year?

The changes are a demonstration of the Government’s commitment to ensuring justice is done to Members from all parts of the United Kingdom. The EVEL arrangements apply only in respect of legislation, amendments or statutory instruments that cover matters that are devolved in Scotland, over which this House has no say and no jurisdiction, but which are a matter for this House to determine in respect of England, and it is only right that English Members should exercise the veto that these arrangements provide.

IPSA: Members’ Budgets

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority on changes to hon. Members’ budgets; and if he will make a statement. (906845)

Mr Speaker, I attended a meeting of your Committee for IPSA on 18 October, and the agenda included discussions on IPSA’s current consultation exercise.

Has the Leader of the House had a chance to examine IPSA’s proposed changes to zone 3 accommodation funding limits? May I make it clear that they do not affect me, because I do not claim any London rent from IPSA? However, does he agree that they could have a damaging effect on MPs with young children? Does IPSA not understand that, apart from on Monday, when we sit late, on virtually every other evening many MPs are kept here until well after the House rises?

The points my hon. Friend makes about the pressures of parliamentary life on Members’ families are true, and I think they are true of Members right across the House. As we all know, IPSA is an independent body, and it will, I am sure, consider carefully the representations from hon. Members and others, and then come to a decision at the end of its consultation.

The Leader of the House, and all Members of the House, will remember so clearly the dreadful killing of Jo Cox only in June. Since that time, has he had any intelligent communication and conversation with IPSA about how Members are better protected here, in their constituencies and on their travels between them?

As I hope all Members of the House know, Members’ security was the subject of very urgent consideration following the shocking murder of our late colleague. Under the leadership of the Chairman of Ways and Means, a new package of security measures has been made available to all right hon. and hon. Members, with a fast track for delivering those security improvements, where they are needed.

Private Members’ Bills

4. Whether he plans to provide an opportunity for the House to vote on the proposals from the Procedure Committee on reform of the private Members’ Bill system. (906846)

As I confirmed to the House on Tuesday, and to the Procedure Committee last week, the Government are currently considering the Procedure Committee’s report, and will respond in detail within the normal two-month timeframe.

Before Christmas, there will be important private Members’ Bills on the minimum wage, disability equality, awards for valour, and violence against women. To save us all a repeat of last Friday’s farce, can the Government just tell us now which ones they plan to talk out?

If the promoters and sponsors of any of those Bills command widespread support across the House, they should ensure that their supporters turn up on the day and vote, whether on procedural motions or on the substance.

While the Leader of the House is right on that point, there are reforms to private Members’ Bills that are important, and we need the House to look at them. We need the Government to bring forward a package of proposals, which we could then amend and vote on in the House. We need to have a debate and a vote on this. Could he please arrange that?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Procedure Committee has, indeed, proposed such a package. The Government will want to consider the Committee’s recommendations carefully, including its recommendation that the decision on this be placed before the House. We will, as I said earlier, respond to the Committee in detail in due course.

6. Sticking with the subject of the private Member’s Bill from last Friday, the Leader of the House said on Tuesday that there was no complaint during the debate. I was there, and I was complaining—I was one of dozens who were complaining—about the farce that was opening up in front of us. Does he stand by the actions of the Minister in this case, or does he agree with me and with people across the country that it was an absolute farce—a shameful, embarrassing disgrace? (906849)

No; as I said on Tuesday, there was no argument last Friday that any hon. Member on any side of the argument was engaged in filibustering. When 2.30 pm came, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), as the Minister responsible, had spoken for only one minute more than the Bill’s promoter and for a shorter time than one of the Bill’s main supporters. He sought to respond in detail to the many questions raised, and he gave way seven times to interventions. It seems to me that he behaved in a thoroughly reasonable manner.

In order to guarantee the fairness that the Leader of the House spoke about earlier, is it not time that English votes for English laws was extended to private Members’ Bills?

Business of the House

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 31 October—Second Reading of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 1 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Investigatory Powers Bill.

Wednesday 2 November—Opposition day (11th allotted day). There will be debates on Opposition motions, including one relating to community pharmacies.

Thursday 3 November—General debate on the effect of the UK leaving the European Union on financial and other professional services, followed by debate on a motion on living wage week and the implementation of the national living wage, these subjects having been determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 4 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 7 November—General debate on exiting the EU and workers’ rights.

Tuesday 8 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business.

I am sure that the Leader of the House, and you, Mr Speaker, will join me in paying tribute to Jimmy Perry, who sadly died last week. He is one of the great Britons who brought fun into our lives. He was the writer and creator of “Dad’s Army”, and he also won an award for the theme song. I am sure, Mr Speaker, that we are a similar sort of age; I grew up watching this brilliantly written and acted series. The BBC, when left alone to be creative, fulfils its Reithian mandate to educate, entertain and inform.

You will recall, Mr Speaker, that the programme had some memorable catchphrases, and it struck me that we could hear those catchphrases ringing around No. 10. We could hear the cry of, “Don’t panic, don’t panic!” or, as the Prime Minister slaps down her recalcitrant and wayward colleagues, we could hear her muttering, “Stupid boys.” When we ask the Government’s position on Brexit, we hear the infamous, “Don’t tell them, Pike.”

May we have a debate on the great repeal Bill? Will it have just one clause or a series of clauses? Will it enact the whole of EU law into UK law? Will there be no enactment of EU law, with each item brought in through secondary legislation? The Prime Minister says that she wants us to be a fully independent sovereign nation. I thought that we were, because we passed the bedroom tax, reorganised the national health service and gave taxpayers’ money to free schools—all that was done over here, not in Europe, in the past six years.

Labour Members respect the result of the referendum, but we want to do what is in the best interests of the British people, including keeping them safe, because organised crime and terrorism know no boundaries. The Prime Minister said on Monday that she wants co-operation on our shared security interests with Europe. May we therefore have a debate in Government time—the European Scrutiny Committee has also asked for this—on whether we opt into or out of the new Europol regulations? The Government will need to make a decision shortly, so we need to debate this before they do so.

I want to raise a fairly parochial matter: the closure of the New Art Gallery and libraries in Walsall. I invite the Leader of the House to visit the gallery—and you, Mr Speaker: perhaps on one of your outreach visits you can see what an incredible space it is, with art and culture free for everybody, of all nationalities. I plead with the Leader of the House to make representations to the Chancellor, who has recently signalled a change in his austerity policies, on providing a proper settlement for local authorities so that Walsall and others can fulfil their statutory duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. Sixteen thousand children in Walsall live in poverty, and many of them cannot afford books or the internet. We want to give them opportunities and aspiration.

Next week could see a strike at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, under a female Prime Minister and against the background of a report from the World Economic Forum that puts the UK in 20th position on the gender equality gap. Bizarrely, the commission has created 22 posts at deputy director level or above, and two additional executive directors have been appointed at a cost of £250,000 or more. Consultants who were brought in to implement the restructure cost the commission £240,000 last year alone, yet lower-paid staff face compulsory redundancies, and a 25% cut is planned to the commission’s budget. We need an urgent debate on why that body, which looks at discrimination and is so vital at this time, is cutting staff when, according to the World Economic Forum report, it will take 170 years to close the gender pay gap if we carry on at the current rate.

The Prime Minister says that she wants to remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book, but I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could tell her that she cannot do that—all that she can do is repeal it. In any event, the Act is printed on vellum, so it will last 5,000 years. On that issue, will the Leader of the House meet me to discuss how a vote won in the House in 1999 and earlier this year can be overturned by a Committee of the House? This is not a Wallonian moment; it is about respecting the democracy and sovereignty of this House.

I will try to touch on the subjects that the hon. Lady has raised. As she knows, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has operated, under Governments of all parties, at arm’s length from direct control by Ministers, for good reasons. However, I will certainly ensure that her comments are drawn to the attention of the relevant Minister, and I am sure that they will have been noted by the chief executive and the directors of the commission.

I thought that in the hon. Lady’s comments about poverty and the gender pay gap, she might at least have acknowledged that it is this Conservative Government who are insisting that large employers publish details of the gender pay gap. We had 13 years of a Labour Government in which that issue was not tackled at all. I was disappointed, too, that in her comments about poverty, whether in Walsall or elsewhere, she omitted to mention that yesterday’s figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, last year, the pay increase for people on the lowest wages in our society was, thanks to the national living wage, significantly greater than that for any other group, and well over twice the rate of the pay increase for the wealthiest in society. I hope that Walsall Council can preserve its museum and arts centre, and I hope to have the pleasure of visiting one day. Local authorities, just like central Government Departments, have to take rigorous decisions about priorities when setting their budgets for any particular year.

I note what the hon. Lady says about the Europol regulation. As the Prime Minister has said repeatedly, and as she demonstrated throughout her six years as Home Secretary, she and the entire Government are committed to continuing very close working relationships between the United Kingdom and other members of the European Union—and, indeed, European countries outside the EU—on police and justice matters. It is in our common interest to maintain those relationships as we prepare to leave the European Union. The hon. Lady will have to wait until the Queen’s Speech to see details of the EU exit Bill, and I doubt that she would have expected to hear anything different at this stage.

I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady about vellum, although it has come to a pretty pass when the chief subject chosen by the Opposition Front-Bench team for their attack on the Government is the use of calf or goatskin for the enrolment of the official copies of parliamentary statutes.

I am happy to join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the late Jimmy Perry. It was a wonderful gesture when, during the changing of the guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace earlier this week, the military band played the theme tune to “Dad’s Army” as a tribute to Mr Perry. When I look at the faces of Labour Members, especially during Prime Minister’s questions, the phrase that comes to my mind is, “They don’t like it up ’em!”

Will the Leader of the House allow us time to talk about the value of allotments? Healthy fruit and veg are important, but in areas that are not protected by a town council, or by neighbourhood or local plans, people are building on allotments, and we do not want to see any more of that.

I think that the principle of support for and recognition of the value of allotments is shared by many Members on both sides of the House. I endorse what my hon. Friend says. The commitment is such that the majority of Labour Members keep urging their party leader to spend many more hours on his allotment.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. May I also pay tribute to Jimmy Perry? I would hate to say, “We’re all doomed!”, but perhaps we are under this Government.

We are always looking for things to commemorate at business questions, and they do not come any bigger than congratulating Candice on winning “The Great British Bake Off”. May I also congratulate the first hon. Member who will table an early-day motion on that subject?

Last week I suggested a couple of definitions of Brexit. I thought that the words “soggy” and “crispy” might be useful; of course, there has been no end of other suggestions. The shadow Chancellor has referred to a bankers’ Brexit, but I like the idea of a flexible Brexit, as announced by the First Minister of Scotland—a flex-Brex, if you like—where the nations of the UK take their own distinct approach. We are starting to see some useful debates about Brexit, so how about a debate that allows the nations of the UK to determine what we require from leaving the European Union?

It has come to my attention that a petition is kicking around to ask the House to hold a debate on, and organise a process for, kicking Scotland out of the Union. What could possibly go wrong with such a petition? Imagine the prospect of it getting into the hands of somebody who wanted to make mischief. What would happen if it got 100,000 signatures and one of my hon. Friends managed to secure a debate on it? Will the Leader of the House join me in appealing to the good people of this nation, “Do not sign this petition!” to ensure that that disaster does not come to pass?

We have been waiting a long time for the Government to introduce a Green Paper or Bill on their work and health programme. That important proposal will plug the gap in disability, so is the Leader of the House in a position to tell us whether we will see it soon?

On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions regards that Green Paper as a very high priority. It will bring together a number of approaches proposed by the Government which, I hope and believe, will command a lot of cross-party support. We certainly hope that it will be published in the near future.

On our departure from the European Union, as the plenary session of the Joint Ministerial Committee demonstrated earlier this week, the Prime Minister and the Government remain committed to the full involvement of the three devolved Administrations in the preparation of our negotiating position, and we want to maintain that engagement in the months ahead. There will be opportunities in the debate that I have announced today, and in subsequent general debates about various aspects of our EU membership, for Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to make all the points that they wish to make about the interests of the nations that they represent and particularly of their constituents.

May we have a debate on making better use of natural resources? Is the Leader of the House aware that, in the next few days, we will go through the ridiculous ritual of putting our clocks back, thereby plunging the nation into darkness and misery by mid-afternoon? Can we look again at the benefits of using summer time in winter, which would reduce road accidents and boost tourism?

For many years, my right hon. Friend has been a strong advocate of changes to the arrangements for summer time. As he knows, there was no agreement between different parts of the UK on the way forward. On such a subject, the unity of the UK, and respecting the interests of all parts of the UK, are important. The Government have no plans at the moment to bring forward changes in legislation.

Last week, I met primary headteachers and parents in my constituency who were very concerned about the fiasco over the content and administration of SATs last year. May we have a full debate on the whole issue to avoid such chaos and upset in future years?

Last year, some quite far-reaching changes to SATs were introduced. The Government’s belief is that the changes will drive an improvement in overall standards among our school children, which we very much need. However, in recognition of the disruption that was caused to the lives of teachers and headteachers, the Government have agreed that any further changes should be paused. That explains why, for example, we have decided not to proceed with the proposal that children should be retested at the end of their time at primary school.

May we have a debate on the importance of protecting our green belt and on the requirement for local authorities to maintain an adequate brownfield register to prioritise development? In my region recently, the Greater Manchester spatial framework has called for the development of large swathes of the green belt, with my constituency of Cheadle set to lose much of its natural landscape.

My hon. Friend is a formidable champion of the green belt and of the interests of her constituents in particular. I am sure that she will be ensuring that their voice is heard loudly at all stages of the consultation on and public examination of the proposals that she describes.

As someone who resides in and represents a constituency 55° north of the equator, I can say that British summer time works for us, so I hope that there is no plan to change that.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business. May I point out that we have an application on the stocks—he will have heard the exchanges during Women and Equalities questions—for a debate on Thursday 17 November on International Men’s Day? If that could be accommodated, the Backbench Business Committee would be grateful.

Could we have a debate in Government time—this issue affects many of my constituents—on the way in which the Department for Work and Pensions is administering universal credit and the claims from our constituents? There are catch 22-style hoops to jump through and almost Kafkaesque rules that are designed to disallow and to delay legitimate claims from constituents. May we have a debate in Government time about that? The number of people who are going many weeks without any means of supporting themselves is a scandal.

I will do my best to accommodate the hon. Gentleman’s Committee in respect of the business on 17 November, although he will appreciate that I cannot give a firm promise today.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about universal credit, it is being phased in precisely to try to identify any potential flaws and to minimise the risk of teething troubles. I will report his concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, but we have to remember that universal credit not only is a much simpler method of administering a complex and old system of welfare support for people in need, but has so far demonstrated that it is pretty effective in helping to get people who are able to work back to work, and in providing support for people who need it.

May we have a debate on the use to which these premises are put, following reports that, outrageously, a Member of the House of Lords presided over an event at which Israel was compared to the Islamic State and the Jews were even blamed for their own genocide? May we discuss that and whether we should issue an apology for these outrageous comments to the Israeli Government and the Jewish people?

I read the newspaper reports of the event in question, and I confess that I was genuinely horrified by the speech that was reported. I do not want to treat every newspaper article as gospel, but I think we should all be very concerned about what happened. Since this event appears to have been organised by a leading member of the Liberal Democrats, I hope that the leader of the party launches an immediate and thorough investigation, so that we can get to the truth and any appropriate disciplinary action can be taken.

Does the Leader of the House recognise that the acute financial crisis in Walsall, which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), cries out for ministerial action? This crisis has arisen because, for the past six years, the amount of central Government money going to the borough has been reduced by over 60%. Libraries, essential services and the New Art Gallery, which was opened by the Queen at the beginning of the century, are now all in danger of being closed or slashed to the bone. It is totally unacceptable. What are the Government going to do to save the situation, given that the crisis now occurring is entirely due to the way in which they have treated this borough during the past six years?

I will certainly draw the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about his borough to the attention of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, but I must put it to him that very difficult decisions about spending have to be addressed by both central and local government as a consequence of the irresponsible borrowing policies pursued by the Government whom he supported for 13 wasted years.

Mr McGonagle from my constituency has contacted me about being issued with a parking ticket by UK Car Park Management, despite the fact that the car was not his. I have attempted to contact the company five times to resolve the matter, but I have not even received the courtesy of an acknowledgment. Will the Leader of the House allow us to debate the regulation of private parking companies?

I note what my hon. Friend has said. He has obviously put this case on the record today. He may want to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate on it.

May we have a debate entitled “Project Fear” so that the Leader of the House, and the former Chancellor in particular, can reflect on the wisdom of presenting the case against leaving the European Union as a short-term apocalyptic, emergency-budgeted disaster, as opposed to concentrating on the medium-term damage that will certainly be done to this country through withdrawal from the European single marketplace? Given that the Leader of the House was up to his neck in “Project Fear”, will he give the House an assurance that never again will there be such a blatant abuse of Treasury statistics and forecasts in any future referendum that may come along?

I must say to the right hon. Gentleman—this probably embarrasses him now—that he and I were on the same side in the referendum campaign. To be honest, there is little point in our conducting post mortems on the referendum campaign. Whatever the reasons that led people to vote the way they did, the turnout was at or above general election levels and the outcome, although the margin was narrow, was decisive and clear, and is respected not just by parties in this House, but by the other 27 Governments in the European Union. We now have to get on with the task of negotiating the best possible deal for British citizens and for British business in these new circumstances.

At this time of year postal volume starts to increase. It is therefore high time we had a debate on the future of the sorting office in Bacup. If that were to close at Christmas, my constituents would have a 15-mile round trip to collect parcels, which is completely unacceptable.

I know that my hon. Friend will be vigilant in defending services available to his constituents. On Tuesday 8 November we have oral questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He may be able to pursue the matter further then.

The crisis in adult social care continues to grow, as highlighted by the Care Quality Commission a couple of weeks ago. May I again ask the Leader of the House whether we can have an urgent debate or a statement from the Government, so that they can outline their plans to address that crisis, in particular with regard to local government funding?

It is certainly a priority of my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary to ensure that we plan a future in which health and social care are closely integrated, to ensure the best possible service to all our constituents. Average lengths of stay in hospital have fallen since this Government first came to office. Although there are difficulties and challenges—I do not pretend otherwise—that suggests that the local health and social services managers are responding to the challenge well. Since the hon. Gentleman mentioned the CQC, I note that it has said that more than 70% of adult social services should be rated as good or outstanding.

Will the Leader of the House provide me with some guidance as to the best way that my constituents can get value for money from their local council? It was reported this week that that council had spent £750 million on traffic consultants in four months; on top of that, it has wasted a lot of money on a very expensive bus lane that lasted for only 21 days, painted double yellow lines across the middle of a road and spelled “school” incorrectly on a sign. Will he let me know what I can do about this dysfunctional council?

My hon. Friend is doing a service to her constituents in highlighting those examples of wasteful expenditure. They demonstrate the fact that this is a question not just of central Government grants to local authorities but of local authorities’ getting things right and not making mistakes or getting their priorities wrong in the way that she has described. In the medium term, the answer to her constituents is to secure change by voting for a Conservative-majority council.

Order. We have had an enjoyable Cook’s tour of South East Cornwall, but I am not quite sure it constituted a business question. Nevertheless, it is permanently on the record, and colleagues can study it in the long winter evenings that lie ahead.

Earlier this year, Greenwich clinical commissioning group awarded a contract for the provision of musculoskeletal services to CircleHealth without adequate public consultation and seemingly without an impact assessment by either the CCG or NHS England. May we have a debate about the adequacy of the procedures that Greenwich CCG followed in awarding that contract and about patient involvement in the commissioning process more generally?

If the hon. Gentleman has evidence that the proper procedures were not followed in this case, and would like to send me that information, I will be happy to pass it on to Health Ministers. My general point would be that although it is of course important that there is adequate public consultation and all proper process is followed, it is right that clinical commissioning groups should be free to decide whether they go to voluntary sector providers, charitable sector providers or, in some cases, private sector providers, on the basis of what will give the best quality free treatment to the patients they serve.

Two years ago, there was a tragic accident at a fireworks depot in Stafford in which people lost their lives. Surrounding businesses were greatly disturbed and had to close for some time. I understand, however, that even now it is not a requirement for anyone who is applying for a licence to hold fireworks to show that they have business insurance policies that protect against these sorts of occurrences. May we have a debate on that, and on what kind of support is given to both people and businesses affected by such tragic events?

In view of the fact that we are approaching 5 November, my hon. Friend might want to seek an Adjournment debate on this subject. I will draw his concerns to the attention of the appropriate Ministers. I think we are all aware, from our constituency experience, of cases where people have suffered the most horrific injuries as a result of either abuse of fireworks by hooligans or a ghastly accident. All sensible safety precautions ought to be taken so that people can avoid such a risk.

Mr Speaker, you talked of the long winter evenings that lie ahead. Long winter days also lie ahead. May we have a debate on how we ensure protection for our security, police and doorkeeper staff as they stand, looking after us and protecting us, in the many draughty places in this building in the freezing cold? I am particularly concerned about the police officer who has to stand at the entrance to the underground station, the exit from the colonnade and the exit from Portcullis House. This is a particularly cold and draughty place, and standing stationary for a few hours is pretty cold. Can we look at that?

The hon. Lady’s question reminds us all of the debt we owe to all staff, including contracted staff, in the House of Commons, especially those responsible for our safety and security. I am sure you, as Chair of the House of Commons Commission, Mr Speaker, will take a look at the particular problem identified by the hon. Lady.

Yesterday, our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of building local consensus around local government reorganisation. May we have an early debate on this matter, so the Government can indicate how they will facilitate this process, for example by insisting that any consultation should be honest, open and transparent, which is certainly not what the consultation in Dorset has been so far?

I heard my hon. Friend’s question to the Prime Minister yesterday, and her answer. He spoke fiercely in support of his own local authorities and I am sure he will persist in that campaign. I think that an Adjournment debate, either in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall, might be the right way in which to pursue that particular course.

I am not so sure about “Dad’s Army”, but one of the other shows was “Hi-de-Hi!”. I am not quite sure who to cast the Leader of the House as, whether Gladys Pugh or Peggy Ollerenshaw—or maybe just the camp host.

I want to ask the Leader of the House about the proceedings in the House of Lords last night. As he will know, the Government’s answer to everything at the moment, in relation to last Friday and to Leveson part 2, is to put it in the Bill in the House of Lords. The Minister in the House of Lords last night was unable to say whether we are going to have Leveson part 2, which has been guaranteed many times in this House. Will the Leader of the House make sure that this does now happen?

The key point about Leveson 2 is that the Government have been consistent in saying that we would not announce a decision on that until the completion of all criminal proceedings arising out of the phone tapping allegations. We have not yet come to the end of those proceedings, so it would not be right at the moment for the Government to come forward with the decision.

A further 25 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I am keen to try to conclude proceedings on this statement by 11.30 am, so there is a premium on brevity from both Back Benchers and Front Benchers.

Yesterday we celebrated the accession of Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, to India. On the subject of light, over this weekend we celebrate Diwali. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing Hindus, Sikhs and Jains everywhere a very happy Deepavali and a happy, peaceful and prosperous, but above all else healthy, new year?

I wholeheartedly endorse my hon. Friend’s call for Diwali greetings to go to all people in this country of Indian heritage who will be celebrating that great feast. As he mentioned Kashmir, I think there would perhaps be no better way to mark the festival of Diwali than to see progress towards the much yearned for settlement in Kashmir that would finally bring about peace and an end to the tension and conflict that has beset that beautiful part of the world for far too long.

May we have a great debate on how this Government seem to enjoy spending lots of money in the south of England and to dislike spending any money in the north of England? This is holding back infrastructure projects that would boost the northern economy, such as the M65 link between east Lancashire and the north-east and Scotch Corner, which would transform parts of the northern economy. When are we going to have a serious debate about this?

The hon. Gentleman ought to go and talk to some of the Labour council leaders in the north of England who have worked closely with the Government to champion the northern powerhouse project, which includes many important infrastructure projects. I note, too, that leaders in the north of this country have broadly speaking welcomed warmly the Government’s announcement about airports this week.

Last Thursday I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Corby sports awards, an annual event when we all come together and celebrate sporting achievement in our town. May we have a debate next week on grassroots sport and the vital role that volunteering plays in it, not just in my constituency but across the country?

Especially the hon. Gentleman, who is grassroots sports parliamentarian of the year, which he is too modest to mention, although I can do so on his behalf.

My hon. Friend is renowned for his modesty on these matters. I am happy to add my congratulations to yours, Mr Speaker, and I suspect that most of us are somewhat in awe of the YouTube video of the Sports Minister demonstrating her footballing skills, which appeared online in the past 24 hours. There will be an opportunity on Thursday 3 November for questions to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That will give my hon. Friend the opportunity he seeks.

May we have a debate on the Government’s policy on light rail schemes? We do not know what the policy is. In Leeds, we have a crazy situation whereby the Government made the brave decision to say that Leeds could keep £173.5 million and not waste it on the trolley bus scheme, but now seem to be allowing Leeds to fritter the money away in another way, when what we really need is light rail, so may we have a debate on this important issue?

I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman a debate in Government time in the near future. He may have other opportunities through the Adjournment debate procedure, but I will ask the relevant Minister to write to him about the Leeds scheme.

May we have a debate on school crossing patrols, and will the Leader of the House join me in praising the wonderful road safety role that lollipop ladies, and indeed lollipop men, play in our communities come rain or shine?

While I cannot offer a debate, I am happy to endorse my hon. Friend’s tribute to lollipop men and ladies. Many of us over the years have had children of our own who have benefited from the additional safety that they provide to children in going to school and crossing busy roads.

May I join others in impressing on the Leader of the House that we should have a debate or statement in Government time on the cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission? Given that the industrial action involves the lowest-paid staff under threat of compulsory redundancy, surely it is time to have a debate.

I direct the hon. Gentleman to the possibility of an Adjournment debate or perhaps, if there is sufficient support in the House, to a Backbench Business Committee debate on the subject. As I said in reply to the shadow Leader of the House, the commission is rightly at arm’s length from Government decisions—we do not as Ministers interfere in its day-to-day operations—but I hope the commission will always have regard to the need to provide value for money for the taxpayer and to work to try to improve morale among its own staff.

May we have a debate on the ability of local authorities to introduce blanket traffic regulation orders to stop the problems that often occur in many residential and urban areas of parking on grass verges and other examples of inconsiderate parking?