The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 28 November—Remaining stages of the Digital Economy Bill.
Tuesday 29 November—Second Reading of the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill, followed by opposed private business for consideration, as announced by the Chairman of Ways and Means.
Wednesday 30 November—Opposition day (14th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 1 December—Debate on a motion on transgender equality, followed by a general debate on the future of the UK fishing industry. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 2 December—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 5 December will include:
Monday 5 December—Second Reading of the Children and Social Work Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 6 December—Remaining stages of the Health Services Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill.
Wednesday 7 December—Opposition day (15th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 8 December—Debate on a motion on UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, followed by a general debate on the cancer strategy one year on. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 9 December—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 8 December will be a debate on the fourth report of the Scottish Affairs Committee on post-study work schemes.
In view of yesterday’s conclusion of the trial of the man who murdered our late colleague Jo Cox, I hope that you will allow me, Mr Speaker, to say that I believe that the entire House would wish, first, to express our thanks to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service for the work that they did in bringing this man to trial and securing his conviction, and, secondly, to send our solidarity and our love to Jo’s family, who have shown unbelievable grace, dignity and courage in the months just past.
Thirdly, I hope that we can all agree that perhaps the best tribute that we here, whatever our party politics, can pay to Jo and her memory is to recommit ourselves, whether as constituency Members or as holders of various offices, to do all that lies within our power to ensure that this country remains a place where people of different ethnic origins and faiths can live together in mutual respect, goodwill and harmony, and celebrate together our common citizenship and our shared institutions, values and traditions. We will also continue unflinchingly to stand for the truth that it is through parliamentary democracy that we can seek to secure change and find a better future for those who sent us here, rather than through violence or extremism.
I thank the Leader of the House for those words. He shows what a great parliamentarian he is, and I associate myself absolutely with everything he said about those who have brought the murderer to justice.
I need to ask the Leader of the House again, because he has not mentioned this, about the dates for the recess after February. The Prime Minister has said that she will trigger article 50 in March, so we need to know whether we will be away in recess and if we will have a debate. What is the mechanism? Will the Prime Minister make an announcement on the steps of Downing Street, or will she make a phone call? She relinquished the presidency of the EU by telephone. May we know what the mechanism is? The British people need to know the framework. The Government might not want to show their position, but according to a Library note, as soon as article 50 is triggered, the European Council will draw up a negotiating mandate—the guidelines—without the UK’s participation.
The Ministry of Justice is a troubled Department. Hardly 24 hours have gone by since the autumn statement and we have the first concession. It turns out that the figures in the Government’s proposals for whiplash reform are out of date and will be updated during the implementation process. The consultation apparently referred to the 12th edition of the judicial guidelines as the basis for the figures instead of the more generous position in the 13th edition, which significantly increases the guideline damages for whiplash. That is what happens when the Government have a policy and then find the evidence for it, rather than implementing evidence-based policy. It takes a riot and a breakdown before money is given to the prison service, despite numerous calls for that.
The Department of Health is a troubled Department. I do not know whether any representations have made by the Health Secretary, but he is nowhere to be seen. Last Friday, every former Health Secretary from the past 20 years signed an open letter to the Government urging them to honour the pledge to ensure that there is parity of esteem for mental health, but there was no money for that in the autumn statement. Will the Leader of the House tell us what the response was to that letter, and could he place it in the Library?
Could we also have a statement on the crisis in cancer diagnosis? According to Cancer Research UK, there are long waits for test results, even though getting an early diagnosis is vital for treatment. There is a shortage of consultants, radiologists and endoscopists. Some Members of the House are undergoing treatment for cancer; we wish all of them and their families well. We wish everyone who is touched by cancer a speedy recovery.
The autumn statement was a statement for the elite. The Chancellor said that the Oxford and Cambridge expressway would become
“a transformational tech corridor, drawing on the world-class research strengths of our two best-known universities.”—[Official Report, 23 November 2016; Vol. 617, c. 904.]
Again, that elitism is not based on evidence, because the 2017 university league tables put Oxford and Cambridge third and fourth. Imperial is first and the London School of Economics is second. Cardiff is fifth, and King’s, Warwick, University College London, Queen Mary and Edinburgh are in the top 10. May we have a statement on what will be available for the other universities that do not have the historic wealth of Oxford and Cambridge?
In a previous outing at the Dispatch Box, I asked for money for local government. Local government is in desperate need, but the money has now gone to unelected local enterprise partnerships rather than elected local authorities. The Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), has said that areas with directly elected mayors will have the “main share of funding”—that is power in the hands of one person. May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to another letter? It is from county councils, mainly of the same party as the Government, which have said that funding should not be made on an
“arbitrary prioritisation of specific governance models”.
Everyone on the Labour Benches agrees that money should flow according to need.
This was not an autumn statement for women, so may we have a debate on its impact on women? Women are not satisfied by a passing reference to Pemberley; we want more. Increasing the personal tax allowance will do nothing to help those earning too little to pay income tax, 65% of whom are women. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has already said that the £3 million for women’s charities is just the balance from the £15 million raised under the tampon tax, £12 million of which has already been given away by the previous Chancellor.
Despite 74 written parliamentary questions on social care in November, there was no extra money for social care—indeed, there was no mention of money for social care—in the autumn statement. Cuts to social care hit women especially hard because the majority of those needing care and of those providing it, paid or unpaid, are women. “Just about managing” is of the Government’s making—it is home-made jam.
Finally, tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I thank MP4 for organising an event and playing in memory of Jo Cox. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and Ian Cawsey, a former Member, spent a lot of time last Thursday recording “A Song for Jo”, which I think is coming out in January. Her love, values and example live on in all of us. Government is not just about fixing the roof; we are about transforming lives. Let us dedicate ourselves to that task in her memory.
I will try to respond fairly briefly to the many questions that the hon. Lady has put to me. I understand the impatience of colleagues on both sides of the House to know recess dates, particularly the Easter recess dates. Although I have not been able to announce them today, I hope to be in a position to do so very soon. She asked about the process for triggering article 50—there has to be a formal notification to the European Council.
The hon. Lady asked about the Ministry of Justice. Frankly, I would have hoped that she welcomed the action that the Government are taking on whiplash, because I thought that it commanded widespread support on both sides of the House. We are now embarking on the consultation with a view to legislation at some stage afterwards. I hope that we can build a formidable cross-party coalition in support of such measures. I thought the hon. Lady was unfairly dismissive of the ambitious vision for the transformation of our prison service in the White Papers on prisons, which was launched by my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary just a fortnight ago.
The hon. Lady asked me about the Department of Health, but the Secretary of State for Health answered oral questions in the House earlier this week. She inquired about mental health in particular. This Government not only have invested more in mental health than any of our predecessors, but have for the first time written into law a requirement for physical health and mental health to be given equal priority. She asked about cancer treatments. Despite the demographic and other pressures that there undoubtedly are on the national health service, since 2010—in part because of the money this Government have put in, but also because of the reforms that we have undertaken—there has been an increase of some 822,000 in the number of people seen by a cancer specialist, and an increase of 49,000 in the number of people who are commencing cancer treatment. Yes, there is more work to be done, but that is not a bad track record to be getting on with.
On the Oxford-to-Cambridge expressway, the hon. Lady fell into the trap of believing the rather stale and antiquated class war rhetoric that she gets from the leadership of her party. The expressway will benefit places such as Milton Keynes and Bedford, where at some stage in the more distant past the Labour party once hoped it might win constituencies or local councils—it is a sign of the times that it appears to have given up on such communities. That expressway corridor offers opportunities for economic growth and the chance to unlock significant new housing development in areas of high demand. The Labour party has been calling for more house building.
Similarly, on infrastructure funds, Labour local authority leaders, particularly in the north, argued for the model of devolution we have precisely so that there could be an allocation of central Government funds to devolved authorities to enable strategic planning and expenditure. If the hon. Lady looks at the detail of the autumn statement, she will find the housing investment infrastructure fund, which is targeted at local authorities that are able to bid for infrastructure funding in areas where that will unlock additional housing supply.
I happily acknowledge, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did yesterday, that there are indeed pressures on social care—we see that in our constituencies. This Government have therefore introduced the better care fund and the social care precept to put extra money into the system to help local authorities to cope with those demands.
I turn finally to what the hon. Lady said about the position of women. More women are now in work in this country than ever before. This Government have increased support to families through childcare more than any of our predecessors. Those things work very much for the benefit of women in all walks of life. If the hon. Lady looks at the distributional analysis published by the Treasury, she will see that the measures the Chancellor announced yesterday provide a modest but positive improvement in the incomes and living standards of all deciles in our society apart from the richest, who will experience a modest loss.
I completely endorse and associate myself with the hon. Lady’s remarks about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, as well as her tributes to our hon. Friends who have played a part in work on that. I hope that, in turn, she will agree that we need to stand firm against violence against women and girls in all its forms, both here and globally. The work initiated by my right hon. Friend Lord Hague as Foreign Secretary to awaken the world’s conscience to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and to try to secure the extirpation of that vile practice continues under this Government. I hope that it will continue under all future British Governments.
May I associate myself with the Leader of the House’s remarks about our colleague Jo Cox? She was indeed a parliamentarian who, in such a short time, made a big impact on our country and our society.
As the Leader of the House will know, the Paralympics started in our county—in Stoke Mandeville in his constituency. We were terribly impressed by the achievements of our Paralympics team at the last games. At the most recent Budget, the then Chancellor announced £1.5 million to be spent on research and issuing running blades to children. I am afraid to report that, eight months on, not a single child has received a running blade. The Leader of the House probably knows that the proposal does not seem to have got out of the starting blocks, so is there anything that he can do to move it into the fast lane? We could then have a debate on how we can equip and inspire the next generation of our Paralympians, which will be to the credit of our country.
I had better declare an interest as a patron of the National Paralympic Heritage Trust, which seeks to maintain the heritage of Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of the Paralympic movement. I am concerned by what my right hon. Friend has said and I will certainly take it up with my colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to see what can be done.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business and fully associate myself and my hon. Friends with his remarks about yesterday’s trial, which finally saw a conviction for this appalling act. As the Leader of the House, he spoke today on behalf of the whole House, and I think everyone will have been moved by his eloquence. I hope that his words will help us all to recover, reset ourselves and move forward.
It is barely 24 hours since the Chancellor sat down following his autumn statement, and already Conservative Members are fighting among themselves over just how big this Brexit disaster is going to be. Today, the Office for Budget Responsibility—the doomy and gloomy OBR—is the villain of the piece, after predicting that we will pay a £60 billion premium for this clueless Brexit. Can we have a full debate about the economic consequences of Brexit, and can the Leader of the House help us out? Whom should we trust—the OBR or the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and his hon. Friends?
Can we have a debate about Ferrero Rocher, or perhaps about how the Government appoint their ambassadorial class? For the life of me, I cannot understand their problem with an Ambassador Farage. For goodness sake, the EU referendum was won on his terms and conditions, and we are practically living in the early days of UKIP UK, so come on! The bad Baron Boot-Them-out-of-Here, his excellency the ambassador to the United States, going to Trump Tower—what could possibly go wrong?
We have learned that, in his latest escapade in trying to evade scrutiny of his clueless Brexit plans, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is not prepared to come before the Select Committees of this House. He has twice refused to come before my Committee, and I understand from its Chair that he has refused to come before even the Treasury Committee. In correspondence with me, the Secretary of State said that he was not prepared to come before any Select Committees other than the Brexit Committee. We have detailed questions for him about Scotland’s place in Europe, so will the Leader of the House convince his right hon. Friend that proper scrutiny must be in place and that he must come before the Select Committees of this House?
First, may I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening words?
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the OBR was deliberately set up as an independent body in order to remove any suggestion that the economic forecasts were being tampered with on political grounds by the Government of the day. The OBR forecasts yesterday are its own, but it is sensible for the Government to work on the basis that they are accurate—and they are not out of kilter with the mainstream of other independent forecasters. The Bank of England’s current predictions are actually a little more pessimistic than the OBR’s.
There are many uncertainties. For example, will the fall in the value of sterling against other currencies be maintained and, even if it is, will importers be able to pass on the price impact through the prices charged to customers? It is perfectly sensible, in the light of the OBR forecast, for the Chancellor to have steered the course he has. He was completely honest with the House and the country yesterday in saying, quite plainly, where the uncertainties and the difficulties lay and in not trying to wish away any of the problems that clearly guided his Budget judgment.
On the question of the accountability of Ministers from the Department for Exiting the European Union, we had another debate yesterday on the impact of exit from the EU—this time on transport policy—and I can give the hon. Gentleman the promise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his entire team will be here next Thursday, 1 December, for oral questions, when he and his colleagues will have the opportunity to interrogate them.
If I can turn to the question of the appointment of ambassadors, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that, if he goes to residencies and embassies now, it will not be Ferrero Rocher, although he will be glad to know that British ambassadors are keen to offer a selection of malt whiskies as the digestif of choice when they are entertaining officially on behalf of the country. We have an excellent ambassador in the United States of America; there is certainly no vacancy there. The last time I checked, Mr Farage had a very well paid job as a Member of the European Parliament, although regrettably he also had one of the worst attendance records at the European Parliament of any Member, which suggests to me that to head up a UK embassy might not be a job for which he is particularly suited.
Yesterday in the autumn statement we had the welcome news of additional finance for the development of housing and £3.5 billion for 90,000 homes in London alone, as well as a doubling of the money to combat rough sleeping in London and the abolition of letting fees for tenants. Can my right hon. Friend therefore find time for a debate on housing? I understand that there will be a White Paper next month, but surely we should have a debate on housing in this House, to ensure that the money is well spent and that much needed housing across the country is provided, and to give all Members the opportunity to have an input, so that we get those ideas and use the money effectively.
There will be questions to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government next Monday, which will provide one opportunity for housing issues to be raised. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless work in pressing forward his Homelessness Reduction Bill and for winning Government support for it. I am glad that he paid tribute to the measures on rough sleeping and the scrapping of letting fees for tenants that the Chancellor announced yesterday. Although it is a good idea that we should have a debate on housing policy, that probably ought to await the publication of the White Paper, which will give Members in all parts of the House the opportunity to comment on Government proposals, rather than guessing what they might be.
May I add my thanks for the obviously sincere and deeply heartfelt words that the Leader of the House expressed about our late colleague Jo Cox? I am very grateful to him for that.
The Leader of the House announced that on 8 December we will have two debates, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and on the cancer strategy, one year on. That demonstrates how important it is for Members who wish to make a bid for time-sensitive debates to make their applications to the Backbench Business Committee in a timely fashion, so that we can plan ahead and get the dates slotted into the diary.
May I also make a plea? The Clerk to our Committee tries to get the offers that the Committee wishes to make out to Members as soon as possible, but would also ask that Members respond to them in a timely fashion, so that we can get the business sorted out. A number of Members have been made offers and are sitting on a response, so I would appreciate it if Members could make their feelings known to the Clerk as soon as possible.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s kind words. The Backbench Business Committee is playing an important and constructive part in enabling Members in all parts of the House to raise important issues that matter to our constituents that might not otherwise get an airing, and I would endorse the advice that he gives to colleagues.
This month we have seen another remarkable poppy appeal in Corby and east Northamptonshire. Not only have we seen enormous sums of money raised, but thousands and thousands of people turned out on Remembrance Sunday to pay tribute to our brave armed forces. It was absolutely fantastic to see so many young people involved in the parades. Can we therefore have a debate next week to pay tribute to the Royal British Legion for all the work it does, but also to say a big thank you to all those in our communities who work tirelessly to make our poppy appeal so successful?
Although I am unable to offer my hon. Friend a debate, I wholeheartedly endorse the tribute he has paid to the Royal British Legion and the thousands of volunteers who work to make the poppy appeal a success each year—the appeal in England and Wales and the appeal in Scotland, which is run by the Royal British Legion Scotland. It is important that we all remember that, although in these years it is the veterans of the second world war who tend to be particularly in our minds in November, the revenues from the poppy appeal support ex-servicemen and women and their families from much more recent conflicts. Often, very young people have suffered shocking physical and mental injuries as a result of their service. We should remember that this work is still relevant and important today.
I, too, thank the Leader of the House for his eloquent remarks about Jo and her legacy.
BBC research has reported that investment in infrastructure per head over the next five years will be £6,457 for London, £5,771 for the north-west, but only £1,684 for Yorkshire and the Humber. With last week’s Government decision not to back the electrification of the line to Hull and yesterday’s autumn statement making no reference to the Humber at all, may we have a debate on the northern powerhouse and whether the Government really are serious about rebalancing not only north and south, but east and west?
As hon. Members on both sides of the House examine the detail of the autumn statement, they will find that all parts of the United Kingdom are going to benefit from the infrastructure spending that the Chancellor of the Exchequer identified. I do not blame any Member in any part of the House for making a particular plea on behalf of their own constituency, or the greater area that they represent. From memory, I know that, although it is not actually in Humberside, there is an important slug of funding for a significant motorway junction improvement around the Beverley area, which I think should benefit Hull and the area that the hon. Lady represents. If she looks elsewhere in the statement, I think she will find that Yorkshire and the Humber is going to benefit in a number of different ways.
Shortly before the summer recess, the all-party group for excellence in the built environment, of which I am the chairman, published its report on the quality of new-build housing. In my own Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport seat, there has been a significant amount of new build, but I fear that some of the quality has been a little shoddy. May we have a debate or a statement on that issue, please?
As far as the Government are concerned, we want all new homes to be well designed and built to good-quality standards. Home buyers are entitled to expect nothing less. There needs to be an effective complaints procedure, for example, through the consumer code, where people are dissatisfied with the quality of their home. The particular report that my hon. Friend mentioned raises some important issues. My colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and particularly the Minister for Housing and Planning, are studying this closely and will respond in due course.
I had a small but perfectly formed private Member’s Bill on adding mothers’ names and occupations to marriage certificates, which did not get anywhere. The hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) has taken up the mantle, but he is last on the list tomorrow, so there is not much hope there. Therefore, may we have a statement or a debate in Government time to see where we are going on that issue, so that we can see a bit of action before my daughter Angharad gets married in February 2018?
May I associate myself with what the Leader of the House said about Jo Cox, and pay tribute to the tremendous work that she did on behalf of poor people all over the world?
In May, Lord O’Neill launched a vital report on antimicrobial resistance in which he said that the global cost of no action would be $100 trillion a year, and, more important, the loss of 10 million lives a year. May we have a debate on the issue in Government time, given that the report was commissioned by the previous Prime Minister? I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), as well as many other Members, would be pleased to contribute to such a debate.
My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important point. Since Lord O’Neill’s global review, the Government have been supporting research efforts both in the United Kingdom and abroad. That has included £51 million for research in the UK, £265 million through the Fleming Fund to support surveillance in lower-middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia, and a £50 million British contribution to the Global Innovation Fund. I hope my hon. Friend will also welcome the fact that, in a landmark declaration at the United Nations General Assembly in September, following an intense campaign led by the Health Secretary and the chief medical officer, 193 countries agreed to combat antimicrobial resistance, which was identified as the biggest risk to modern medicine. That international agreement was a vital first step towards the effective action that we all want to see.
May I associate my party with what was said earlier by both the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader? The memory of Jo Cox will indeed endure for years.
Following the tragic death of my 21-year-old constituent Miriam Briddon at the hands of a drink-driver in March 2014, her family committed themselves to campaigning for the reform of drink-driving sentencing guidelines and policy. That recently culminated in the presentation of a 100,000-strong petition to Downing Street. May we have a debate on the need for such reform, in memory of Miriam and the many other people who are afflicted by drink-driving crimes throughout the country?
This is an unspeakably tragic experience for any parent or family to have to go through. The hon. Gentleman may wish to seek an Adjournment or Backbench Business Committee debate on the subject, but the e-petition system that we have introduced provides an additional route by which subjects of this kind can be raised and debated in the House, and he may wish to suggest that to his constituents.
Last night, in my capacity as chairman of the all-party group on retail crime, I attended an event organised by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. It is evident that those who work in the retail trade are very concerned about the level of not just theft, but violence against them. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time to investigate the matter?
I understand the point that my hon. Friend has made. No employee working for a retail outlet, large or small, should be going to work fearful that he or she may become the victim of violence. I think the trend is partly due to the growth of the gang culture that we have seen in London and some other big cities, and, as my hon. Friend knows, the Government are working with chief constables to try to defeat that threat. I cannot promise a quick, easy answer. Determined work by the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, and local police forces and their chief constables and police and crime commissioners will be necessary to ensure that the response is right and the problem is properly addressed.
Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate or statement on VAT arrangements and Brexit? The announcement in the autumn statement yesterday of an additional £3 million for Comic Relief from the tampon tax fund was, of course, welcome, but we would like to know the total amount to be disbursed this year. We would also like to know what the Chancellor will do to ensure that there is secure, long-term investment in vital services, and to be given a clear date by which the tampon tax will finally come to an end.
My answer to the hon. Lady’s point is that that will depend in part on whether there is agreement first at EU level, while we remain members, on changes to EU law on value added tax; secondly, if that has not been dealt with by the time we leave the EU, there is the question of how rapidly we can then make that change of our own volition. I will ask Treasury Ministers to contact the hon. Lady with the particular information she seeks.
When the Leader of the House brings forward the resolutions to approve the spending of billions of pounds on this royal Palace and hundreds of millions of pounds on Buckingham Palace, will he arrange for a special screening of the film “I, Daniel Blake”, so that people can remember those who are being unjustly sanctioned, and those with disability losing £30 a week? I do not care about the reputation of this Government, but as a member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council, I cannot think of anything more damaging to the cause of constitutional monarchy than a “let them eat cake” attitude that prioritises the rebuilding of royal palaces while the people are struggling for bread.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is in danger of going over the top here, not for the first time. Buckingham Palace is a public building that is used by the monarch to exercise her functions as Head of State. It is also a place that thousands of tourists visit and enjoy each year. The reason why the royal household is facing this bill that shocks the right hon. Gentleman is that these decisions have been put off and a backlog of repairs has been allowed to accumulate. I think that what was decided and announced a few days ago is perfectly justifiable. In respect of sanctions, I ask him to bear in mind that fewer than 4%, I think, of recipients of jobseeker’s allowance have received any sort of benefit sanction; for employment and support allowance recipients, the figure is fewer than 1%. Officials can sometimes make mistakes, but we need to recognise that the proportions involved are very small.
My I also associate myself with the Leader of the House’s moving tribute to our late colleague, Jo Cox? She is greatly missed.
Figures released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics show that over the past five years there have been a staggering 152,740 excess winter deaths, and 24,300 people died last winter alone. The rate of excess winter deaths in our country is almost twice that of Norway and Germany. We are experiencing a quiet crisis that is, by its very nature, avoidable, so will the Leader of the House consider granting a debate in which the matter can be more fully discussed?
Any unnecessary death is clearly a tragedy, and everything possible should be done to avoid them. In fairness, I need to point out that, partly due to the NHS’s extensive preparation for winter, excess winter mortality last winter was down on the previous year, and earlier this month NHS England and Public Health England launched their Stay Well This Winter campaign, which last year reached 98% of the over-65s. The NHS is very much alive to these risks, and is taking action to alert elderly people to what they can do to keep themselves warm.
May I also associate myself and my Social Democratic and Labour party colleagues with the comments of the Leader of the House on our late colleague, Jo Cox? We must all respect people with different religions, politics or ethnicities.
Yesterday, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) and I launched the first report of the all-party group for the visitor economy. It was about supporting skills and apprenticeships in the hospitality and tourism industry. Many different types of evidence were submitted to us. The report said that there were core issues affecting apprenticeships in the fourth-largest service industry, involving the school curriculum, lack of proper career guidance, and lack of encouragement to people to go into cheffing and the catering industry. May we have a debate on this significant industry, which is important to tourism in many constituencies, and has a direct relationship with the economy?
I was glad to hear about the report that the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) have prepared, and she has highlighted an important issue. The Government’s commitment to 3 million apprenticeships needs to include tourism as one of the sectors to be assisted. She is right to draw our attention to the need for those apprenticeships to have proper preparation and the right content, so that the young people concerned can be seen to be readily employable. I have talked to directors and senior managers in the hospitality industry, and I find it troubling that they often find it difficult to recruit UK citizens who are properly skilled for the work on offer, which is why they often look to people coming in from other countries. As a country, we need to address that challenge.
You might recall, Mr Speaker, that I raised the question of tax treaties a few weeks ago. This week, another double taxation relief order, covering Turkmenistan, was approved. We are likely to see many more as a result of Brexit. May I again ask the Leader of the House if he will look into how Members can be given better notice of when such treaties are to be considered, and how he might ensure that the House has more opportunity for scrutiny of the UK’s tax arrangements with other countries?
Double tax treaties are a standard form of international agreement, and have been negotiated by British Governments of all political colours. As the hon. Gentleman knows, they are designed to ensure that our citizens and those of the other country concerned cannot be taxed twice on the same income by two separate jurisdictions. I will draw his points about scrutiny and parliamentary process to the attention of Treasury Ministers, and perhaps I can write to him with some thoughts.
I very much hope that there will be a permanent memorial to Jo Cox in this building, whether it is a shield in the Chamber or a bust or some other form of memorial elsewhere in the Palace. Last Friday, this House voted by more than 200 votes to give a Second Reading to the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, but it cannot go into Committee unless the Leader of the House provides the appropriate motions, so when will that happen?
Clearly, on that point, we need to take advice from the Treasury about whether a money resolution is needed. The hon. Gentleman should not forget that the legislation that established the current system for determining electoral boundaries, and the terms of reference of the Boundary Commission, were themselves the subject of legislation passed with a clear majority in this House. That was done through primary legislation, and I do not think that we can shy away from the principle that electorates are grossly unequal at the moment, that they are based on population figures that date back to 2000, and that it is in the interests of basic democratic fairness that we equalise the number of electors, so that every man and woman’s vote has the same value.
Given that the Leader of the House seems to be in an extremely generous mood this morning, particularly in relation to the use of public money, may we have an urgent debate on compensation for the victims of the Concentrix scandal? After a number of written parliamentary questions, I have managed to discover that nine out of 10 of the mandatory reconsiderations that have followed this fishing expedition have been successful—a shocking statistic. The average compensation awarded to victims is a mere £48, which does not even cover the cost of the phone calls, or the postage of documents, to prove their innocence. Will the Government please do the right thing by the people of this country who have been wrongly accused? Let us have a debate to bring this out into the open.
Any citizen who has grounds for claiming that they have suffered loss as a result of maladministration by any part or agency of Government has the right to go, via their Member of Parliament, to the parliamentary ombudsman to seek compensation. I have done that on behalf of my constituents at various times during my time here. One clearly cannot have some sort of blanket scheme that awards public money irrespective of the circumstances of an individual case, but the ombudsman may provide the route that the hon. Lady seeks.
On 7 December 2015, the then presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the US. On 15 November, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary to ask what representations were being made on behalf of the 2.7 million British Muslims, some of whom may want to go to the US. His response was shocking: it basically said that it was a matter for the US Government. I fundamentally disagree. This Government have the responsibility to stand up for the interests of every citizen in this land. When can we have a debate to ensure that the Foreign Secretary is held to account?
On freedom to travel, and with everything else, it is certainly the case that this Government will stand firm on the principle that citizens of the United Kingdom should be treated on an equal basis, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin. It is a truth in law that the United States, like every other nation state, has the responsibility to determine for itself its rules on whether people are allowed to enter its territory. It is important that we work with the elected President and his Administration, and ensure that we have the best possible bilateral relationship that works in the interests of all British citizens.
I thank the Leader of the House for his moving words earlier. Given those words, may we have a debate about whether Britain First should be proscribed as a terrorist organisation and banned from standing in democratic elections?
I cannot offer an immediate debate. As the hon. Lady probably knows, the Home Office brings forwards orders for the proscription of particular organisations, but it must do so on the basis of evidence. There have been cases in which organisations that have been so proscribed have gone to the courts and successfully won a judicial review to say that the evidence on which that action had been taken was not sufficient. I will ensure that her proposal is reported to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but there has to be clear evidence of terrorist involvement for the terrorist proscription to be applied.
Tory Back Benchers rightly lambast the Labour party’s legacy of private finance initiative debt, and Ministers on the Front Bench usually fully agree, so why does paragraph 3.27 of the Green Book outline that a “new pipeline” of PFI projects will be announced? Can we have a statement explaining that, or even better, a debate on the benefits of PFI versus conventional investment?
It has already been mentioned that the Government published a northern powerhouse strategy report yesterday, but I cannot see in it any mention of Cumbria or nuclear energy. Given that west Cumbria will physically put the power into the northern powerhouse, I support the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for a debate on the issue, so that the Government can appreciate how much the whole of the north of England has to offer, and why Cumbria must not be an afterthought.
I completely agree that Cumbria must not be an afterthought, and I am confident that the leaders of the northern powerhouse locally would make sure that the decisions that they took worked to the advantage of everybody living in that area. I am aware of the importance of the nuclear industry to the hon. Lady’s constituents, and I would have hoped that there was common ground between her and this Government, because we have taken the difficult and controversial decision to go ahead with a new generation of nuclear power stations, which I think is generally supported by Members on both sides of the House who have experience of nuclear power plants in their constituency.
Every day in the UK about 2,200 babies are born—babies including my new granddaughter, Saoirse Grace, who was born in Glasgow yesterday. May we have a debate in Government time about the impact of the measures announced in the autumn statement on new families, and how we can support all new families at this joyful but often vulnerable time?
First, let me congratulate the hon. Lady—or, more particularly, her daughter or daughter-in-law; I do not know which it is. A new child is a source of joy for any family. I suspect that we will have a number of opportunities to debate the various questions that arise out of yesterday’s autumn statement, as well as to put questions to Ministers in the Departments affected by the Chancellor’s announcements. As I said earlier, if she looks at the distributional analysis of the autumn statement, she will find that it works—modestly, yes—to the benefit of all income groups in society, save for the very richest; it is they who suffer a loss. I hope that she would agree that all families benefit more than anything else from having parents who are in work and able to work. The record number of people in employment is helping to drive the reduction that we have seen in the number of children who are living in workless households, and the introduction of universal credit means that people, including many mothers of young children, who may take on part-time work, will still always find that work makes them better off than staying on benefits.
I thank all Members for their kind words about Jo Cox; her legacy of love lives on. Yesterday, the Chancellor announced additional broadband infrastructure funding. The Government’s current subsidy goes only to rural areas, but this is equally a problem for my constituents in Rotherhithe, and for people who live in former dockyards across the country. Will the Government provide time to debate in detail how they plan to improve broadband access speeds for all areas?
The additional money that the Chancellor announced yesterday as part of the £23 billion that he is borrowing to provide for strategic infrastructure investment is additional to the current programme of connecting up people to high-speed broadband. That current work will continue, and what was announced yesterday is additional to it.
I, too, thank the Leader of the House for his kind and thoughtful words about our colleague Jo. May I also pay tribute to Jo’s incredible staff, who have shown such strength of character throughout this period? I know that she would be incredibly proud of what they have achieved in her absence.
In 2012, the Government axed funding for careers education, and instead put £2 million into an online jobs website called Plotr. It went into liquidation at the end of October; the chief executive officer said that the website had run up debts that meant it had
“lost control of what it could do”.
May we have an urgent statement from the Government on how this waste of taxpayers’ money was ever allowed to happen?
First, may I associate myself with the hon. Lady’s tribute to Jo Cox’s staff? I know that the hon. Lady had to undertake a number of the constituency duties between the time of Jo’s murder and the recent by-election, so she, more than anybody else in the House, will have personal knowledge of how hard those staff have worked.
On the particular point that the hon. Lady raises, I am not aware of the details of the case. If the situation is as she describes and there has been a serious misuse of public money, she might want to have a word with her hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, as that would probably be the appropriate parliamentary means to investigate the matter further.
May I associate myself with the tributes paid to our friend and colleague, Jo Cox? Yesterday we heard an awful lot from the Chancellor about increasing productivity in this country. May we have a statement, please, on increasing ministerial productivity? I refer in particular to the Government’s review of employment tribunal fees, which has been sitting on the Minister’s desk for over a year and appears not even to have been read, let alone acted upon. Thousands of people are being denied access to justice, yet the report still has not been acted upon. When will something actually happen?
May we have a ministerial statement addressing the rare but traumatic issue experienced by my constituent, a transgender woman? She has reached female retirement age and is seeking a Department for Work and Pensions pension. Her case is with the Courts and Tribunals Service. She transitioned 17 years ago and underwent surgery when gender realignment certificates were not available. Both her passport and her driving licence recognise her female status, yet Government Departments are forcing her to undergo excessive and upsetting requirements to prove that she is living as a woman.
As I said earlier, there will be a Backbench Business debate on gender equality that may give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to raise this case. If he is having any problems corresponding with Government Departments, I am always ready to try to help any Member to get a prompt reply.
Yesterday I asked the Prime Minister how she could justify the scrapping of the Navy’s heavy duty surface-to-surface missiles with no replacement. The Prime Minister replied that she did not recognise the situation I described, but it is the case that at the end of 2018 the GWS 60 Harpoon Block C anti-ship missile will be scrapped and there will be no replacement. This is against the very strong advice of the Navy. May we have a debate about naval defence in the Prime Minister’s post-truth era?
Although the Ministry of Defence has a significant budget in Whitehall terms, it still has to take difficult decisions, including decisions at times to phase out and to replace particular weapons systems or weapons platforms. I will make sure that Defence Ministers are aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but this subject may be an appropriate Backbench Business debate or he may wish to raise it on the Adjournment.
On 18 October in our debate in Westminster Hall on the future of shipbuilding, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), who is the Minister responsible for defence procurement, said that
“the national shipbuilding strategy will report by the autumn statement.”—[Official Report, 18 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 318WH.]
The autumn statement was yesterday and we still have not seen the national shipbuilding strategy. Can the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Defence comes to this Chamber and makes a statement on exactly what is happening to the national shipbuilding strategy?
I had noticed that this matter was raised on a point of order yesterday so I checked out the current position with the Ministry of Defence this morning. My understanding is that Sir John Parker has now submitted his independent report. He did so just before the autumn statement. That is being considered by Ministers. Defence Ministers intend to publish Sir John’s report soon, and they will provide a more considered response to the detail of that report at a later date.
The chaotic sustainability and transformation plan in west Cheshire—more commonly known as the slash, trash and privatise programme—is now being compounded by persistent reports that our general hospital, the Countess of Chester, is to be closed, merged and moved. If we cannot have a debate on STPs in the health service in Government time, could we perhaps have a debate on the Health Committee’s report, to demonstrate how the Government are bamboozling the public with false claims of money for the NHS that they are not actually providing?
I simply do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s final comments. The Government have provided £10 billion to the NHS over the period of the current five-year plan plus the preceding financial year. In giving evidence to the Health Committee, the chief executive of the national health service in England said that the Government had provided the up-front funding that he was seeking.
When it comes to the STPs, the important thing is that they are being determined locally; they are not simply being imposed from on high. The hon. Gentleman will also find that the health oversight committee of his local authority has the right to challenge proposals presented under an STP for a significant change in service provision and, if it feels sufficiently strongly, to refer that to the Secretary of State for a second look. However, it is important not just that the Government, as they are doing, spend more money on the national health service, but that the national health service looks at the way in which it is operating, so that it is getting the best possible value for patients out of every penny that is being spent.
A key tenet of the Better Together campaign was that the people of Scotland should vote no to Scottish independence to protect their pensions. Yesterday, the Chancellor suggested that the triple lock may be set to go. May we have a debate in Government time on the future of state pensions to discuss the prospect of future cuts and this potential betrayal of the people of Scotland?
The Chancellor was very clear yesterday that the triple lock is going to remain in place for the duration of this Government’s lifetime. At the next general election, in 2020, it will be for all political parties to put forward whatever proposals they wish on pensions, as on anything else. The biggest threat to the wellbeing of pensioners in Scotland would come from a vote for separation, which would plunge Scotland into the kind of economic instability where pensioners and others relying on fixed incomes would be likely to lose out heavily.
People living close to recreational airfields such as Hibaldstow do not have the same protection from noise and nuisance as people living close to recreational activities that stay on the ground. May we have a statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government on this issue, its impact on local people and what the Department is going to do about it?
Dee Valley Water is a valued independent business in north-east Wales, supplying water to Wrexham and Chester. Its independence and the many jobs at the business are threatened by a takeover by Severn Trent. If local decision making is important, what say can local people in my area have about who sells them the water they drink?
Clearly, this is a commercial decision for the two companies concerned. While I can understand the concerns the hon. Gentleman has expressed, there may be a question—I do not know the details—about whether a larger company would be able to provide more capital investment for his area, so that people might be able to benefit. I suggest to him that this is probably a suitable subject for an Adjournment debate.
The new Administration have been quick to jettison just about every aspect of their predecessor’s legacy, so when will they get rid of the farcical English votes for English laws procedures? In the Legislative Grand Committee on Monday night during the debate on the Higher Education and Research Bill, nobody had a clue what was going on. There were no Divisions and no English votes cast for any English laws. Whatever the answer is to the West Lothian question, surely the Leader of the House agrees that it is not the current mess left to him by his predecessor.
I am absolutely confident that the Chair certainly knew exactly what was going on at all times. If Monday’s events raised any concern about the technical operation of the EVEL procedures, then I remind the hon. Gentleman that I am currently carrying out a review of those procedures embodied in our Standing Orders, and he is welcome to submit evidence to me. However, the basic principle remains right that where legislation affects only England and the matter is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, then English Members here should exercise a veto on whether that legislation passes.
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you were watching as avidly as I was last Sunday as Andy Murray won the ATP world tour finals and in so doing retained his position as the world’s No. 1 tennis player in the singles, joining his brother, who is the No. 1 player in the doubles. These brothers are the pride of Dunblane. I wonder whether we could have a debate on the tennis legacy and the wider benefit that sporting excellence can have in getting the next generation of sporting heroes.
I am very happy to add my congratulations to Andy and Jamie Murray. While I can see that the people of Dunblane, and people in Scotland more generally, will take an especial pride in their achievement, I think that pride is shared by everybody in all parts of the UK. I hope that the lawn tennis authorities will use this achievement as a springboard to intensify their efforts to improve the opportunities available through grassroots tennis and coaching schemes for the most able players so that we produce a new generation of tennis players, both men and women, to follow in the Murrays’ footsteps.
Flawed neoclassical theoretical assumptions combined with methodological problems are enshrined within the model of the UK economy that is used by both the Treasury and the Office for Budget Responsibility. I would call into question how independent that makes the OBR. When can we have a debate on this important matter?
It is up to the OBR to decide how it makes its own forecasts and the assumptions on which it makes them. It does, of course, publish with its reports a statement of the various assumptions that it makes. If the hon. Gentleman is not happy with the OBR, there is a plethora of other independent forecasts using methodologies that differ to a greater or lesser extent. I think this is a question of “Let 100 flowers bloom.”
As the last Member to be called, may I join others in ensuring that our thoughts and prayers are with Jo Cox’s family and her former staff members? I thank the Leader of the House for his comments.
As you predicted yesterday following my point of order, Mr Speaker, I do wish to push the Leader of the House a little further on the national shipbuilding strategy. Will he ensure that we have a debate on this strategy and the Government’s response to it, and feed back to Ministers the fact that many of us want that debate? This is an iconic and highly skilled industry, and one that needs to be talked up. Those of us who represent shipyards would be obliged if the Leader of the House were amenable to that.
I understand the importance of the industry to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and to others in all parts of the UK. The position is as I described it earlier. The first thing that the House will want is to see Sir John Parker’s report, on which Members will form views, but I will certainly relay to Defence colleagues the importance that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members attach to the matter.