Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be as follows:
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 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.
The provisional business for the week commencing 12 December will include:
Monday 12 December—Remaining stages of the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill.
Tuesday 13 December—Remaining stages of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill.
Wednesday 14 December—Opposition day (16th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 15 December—Debate on a motion on the creation of a commercial financial dispute resolution platform followed by a general debate on UK negotiations on future co-operation with EU member states on scientific and university research projects. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 16 December—Private Members’ Bills.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 8, 12 and 15 December will be:
Thursday 8 December—Debate on the fourth report of the Scottish Affairs Committee on post-study work schemes followed by general debate on the UK ivory trade.
Monday 12 December—Debate on an e-petition relating to the closure of retail stores on Boxing day.
Thursday 15 December—Debate on the fourth report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on air quality followed by a debate on the second report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on greyhound welfare.
Colleagues will also wish to know that subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Easter recess on Thursday 30 March 2017 and return on Tuesday 18 April 2017.
The House will not sit on Monday 1 May.
Subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Whitsun recess on Thursday 25 May 2017 and return on Monday 5 June 2017.
I thank the Leader of the House for those dates. I press him to be a little bolder, because he still has to come up with one date—for the summer recess. If he could do that for next time, it would be great.
Members want a vote on the boundary Bill. What progress has been made on the money resolution for the Bill?
On this day in 1942, the Beveridge report was published. It showed us what it meant to be a caring society in which people are supported when they most need it as a safety net. Saturday 3 December is International Day of Persons with Disability, but the Government have still not confirmed whether they will end the humiliating and harmful reassessments of people with long-term conditions who have applied for personal independence payments. May we have a statement, following yesterday’s report from the National Audit Office showing that sanctions on welfare payments have been handed out without any evidence that they work? The figures for 2015 show that £132 million was held back in benefits; £35 million was paid in hardship; and the cost of administering the scheme was £50 million. It is going to be worse next year, because the Government have lowered the benefit cap. The NAO concluded that there was no evidence that sanctions provide value for money for the British taxpayer.
The Leader of the House mentioned the debate on science that was arranged by the Backbench Business Committee. I ask the Government to make a further commitment to UK science—more than just an injection of funding. The Prime Minister recently said that our competitors are not standing still but investing heavily in research and development. On UK science and research, we are standing still—frozen by Brexit. Damage is done to networks of collaboration. Over 60% of the UK’s international co-authored papers involve partners in the EU, so may we have an urgent debate in Government time on support to UK science and research to ensure that the promised £2 billion will protect those collaborations and networks that form the foundation of world-class science? This is about preserving a shared culture and intellectual heritage.
We also celebrate a Labour Government commitment, made on 1 December 2001, to keeping museums free. On the 10th anniversary, research carried out found that audiences became more diverse after the introduction of free admissions. The number of visitors from ethnic minority backgrounds to Department for Culture, Media and Sport-sponsored museums rose by 177.5%. That all adds to our education—widening our horizons; fulfilling our potential; understanding each other and the world around us; and providing us with lifelong learning.
We also celebrate last month—we are only a day out—the birth of Jennie Lee on 3 November and, sadly, on 16 November her death. She was a fantastic Member of this House, who introduced the Open University —another Labour Government success. However, the number of part-time students aged 21 and over has declined by 57%. Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency and the Open University have shown that the lost part-time students correlate to the highest participating age group in the UK labour force. That not only affects social mobility but makes it vital to fill the UK skills gap, driving up international competitiveness and productivity.
This Government are not a Government of education, and neither are they a Government of law and order, with 47 magistrates courts shut and 45 to follow in 2017. These courts deal with 90% of criminal cases. Many magistrates are resigning—75 of them over the issue of criminal courts charges. Neither are they a Government of business. Business wants transitional arrangements, but we know from the memo that was shown to the whole world that the Government have said no to such arrangements after Brexit.
This is not the Government of unity. The Prime Minister has her three backing singers, like the Three Degrees: the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—whose Department is now known as DExEU—and the Secretary of State for International Trade, who, apparently, is allowed to deal only with international trade outside the EU, the rest being done by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
We also need an urgent debate, which was promised by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, on the comprehensive economic and trade agreement. The Government cannot just have turf wars; they must also deal with the sovereignty of Parliament and accountability to the House.
This is not the Government of the national health service, either. It is a case of “Social care crisis? What crisis?” Only recently, NHS England lost a case in the High Court. Today is world AIDS day. The drug Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, has been shown to reduce the risk of infection by 90%, and it can now be commissioned by the NHS as a result of that ruling.
Both you and the Leader of the House, Mr Speaker, have received a letter from the World Wildlife Fund about Earth Hour. May I ask the Leader of the House to use his best offices to ensure that the lights in the Norman Shaw South building can be turned off? They have been on constantly since last December. We in Norman Shaw South want to take part in Earth Hour day.
Let me begin with the hon. Lady’s final question. I will certainly make inquiries of those in the relevant part of the House’s administration department about the lights in Norman Shaw South.
The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the importance of world AIDS day. As far as the Government are concerned, this country remains committed to ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. We recently pledged a further £1.1 billion to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, which will provide essential retroviral therapy for 1.3 million people who are living with HIV. That, of course, is in addition to the £2.4 million national HIV prevention and sexual health promotion programme.
The hon. Lady mentioned the recent court case on PrEP. I think it is good that we have legal clarity about where responsibility lies. Clearly, in the light of the court judgment, NHS England will now consider through its normal process of assessment whether and how PrEP should be made available to patients on the NHS.
Given that we have just had an hour of questions to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the House has been able to discuss the matters raised by the hon. Lady in some detail. However, the importance of ensuring the strength and vitality of the country’s science base—including, critically, its important relationships with universities and scientific institutions—in Europe and globally will of course be an important element of the Government’s approach to the forthcoming negotiation.
I join the hon. Lady in saluting the work done by our great museums, both our great national museums here in London—and, I should add, in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff—and our regional and local museums, which do tremendous work. I remember, as a small child, being taken off on rainy half-term days to some of the museums in London, and I agree with the hon. Lady that they perform an important educational and cultural role.
In the spirit of these weekly occasions, I am more than happy to pay tribute to the work of the late Jennie Lee. There have been formidable champions of the arts on both sides of the House over the years, but I think that Jennie Lee was the first Arts Minister to be formally designated as such, and she has an important place in the history of public policy on the arts.
The hon. Lady referred to skills. The Government are committed to creating 3 million new apprenticeships during the current Parliament, and to continuing the work to drive up the quality of education that our children receive in schools. It should be a point of remark—not of complacency, but of some celebration—that more children than ever before attend state schools that are categorised by Ofsted as either good or outstanding.
The hon. Lady referred to magistrates courts, and all of us who have been through this process in our own constituencies know it can be a painful one, but in an age when quite a lot of routine court work can now be done more effectively, swiftly and cheaply online, doing away with the need for as many personal appearances—particularly when there is not actually a trial—there is not the need for quite so many individual courtrooms as there used to be. That is why my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor is looking realistically at how our justice and courts system is best equipped to deal with the challenges of the 21st century and the digital age in an effective fashion.
I was disappointed that the hon. Lady made no reference in her comments about benefits to the recent announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that he will do away with the need for reassessments of people who suffer from the most serious disabilities and chronic and degenerative medical conditions. I would have hoped the entire House welcomed that.
I think the hon. Lady is playing to the gallery a bit, frankly, when it comes to benefit sanctions. As the National Audit Office itself pointed out in its report, our current sanctions system has existed since 1996; it was in operation throughout the 13 years of the Blair and Brown Governments, because the Labour party in government recognised that a sanctions system, properly applied, was a necessary part of a fair benefits system. In any month, fewer than 1% of employment and support allowance claimants and fewer than 4% of jobseeker’s allowance claimants are now sanctioned, and we have seen a halving of sanctions in the past year alone. So I think the Department for Work and Pensions is showing it is trying to address genuine concerns, but we do not flinch—as the Labour party in opposition appears to flinch from its record in government—from accepting that a sanctions system is necessary for the fair functioning of our welfare arrangements.
The hon. Lady asked for a debate on the EU-Canada trade agreement. [Interruption.] Of course, under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, that treaty will have to be laid before Parliament in the normal way, so there will be an opportunity for such a debate.
While I enjoyed the hon. Lady’s little jibe about music—[Interruption.] I was given a long list of questions by the Opposition. She asked about a serious point in respect of the private Member’s Bill on boundaries. The Member promoting the Bill published it only three days before it was down for its Second Reading debate, and it was not accompanied by any kind of statement or analysis of the costs associated with it. So the Government are now going through the normal process of trying to establish what those costs are before coming forward further to the House.
Finally, the hon. Lady talked about a discordant band. [Interruption.] I have to say that if I were looking for dissonance and atonality, I would be looking at Members on the Benches opposite, who are members of a party—
It is always good to have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). Some 70% of Labour party Members of Parliament have expressed no confidence in their current leader; that strikes me as a party that is engaging in experimental music of the most dissonant kind.
Order. The Leader of the House is a renowned intellectual, noted not merely for carrying books around the place, but even for being seen reading them. However, may I gently say that, in accordance with my usual practice, I do want to accommodate all would-be contributors to the business statement, but I remind the House that there are two subsequent debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, both of which are more than adequately subscribed and all of the contributors to which I am very keen to accommodate, too? So there is a premium on brevity from Front and Back Benches alike, now to be brilliantly exemplified by Mrs Maria Miller.
The Government acknowledge that the level of sexual harassment and violence in our schools is worrying, but they have not yet embraced my Select Committee’s recommendation to make sex and relationship education compulsory. Will the Government make time for an urgent debate to demonstrate the support for that measure not only in the House but from nine out of 10 parents in this country?
It is important that all schools should be safe places and that no young person should fear, let alone suffer, harassment or violence, and we want all schools to put high quality personal, social, health and economic education, including age-appropriate sex education, at the heart of their curriculum. We are looking again at the case for further action on PSHE and sex education, not least in the light of the views that my right hon. Friend and her Committee have expressed, with particular consideration to improving quality and accessibility.
I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. May we have a debate on cake, and on the perennial question of whether it can be consumed simultaneously? Apparently, that conundrum is now at the very heart of this Government’s clueless Brexit strategy. Meanwhile the Foreign Secretary has expressed the view, over a generous slice of Battenberg at the ambassador’s residence, that he is simultaneously for and against freedom of movement. I am pretty certain that the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister would like the Foreign Secretary to have his cake and choke on it.
The English votes for English laws shambles continues apace, with the Constitution Unit concluding that its procedures are opaque and that no one understands them. Apparently, there are only three people who understand them: you, Mr Speaker; the chief Clerk; and someone who is now dead. I have checked Hansard, and I now hold the record for speeches made in the English Legislative Grand Committee. Following the great demand in the shires of England during the last election for English votes for English laws, I am pretty certain that no one was expecting the Scottish National party Member for Perth and North Perthshire to hold the record for contributing to this English quasi-Parliament.
Finally, no sane person is expecting the Government to be successful in the Supreme Court on Monday. In fact, everyone is expecting them to get a gigantic gubbing at the hands of our judges. So how quickly will we see the legislation on article 50 being brought to the House? Will the Leader of the House at last confirm that the Bill will be amendable, and that there will be an appropriate amount of time for all Members to contribute to the debate?
On that last point, it is obviously up to the Court when it brings in its judgment, and the Government will, as always, abide by the rule of law. If we need to bring forward legislation, we will do so. I have never come across a Bill, long or short, that has been incapable of being amended—when the amendments are in order—given sufficient ingenuity on the part of hon. Members. Whether a particular amendment is in order will of course be a matter for you, Mr Speaker, rather than for me.
I have looked at the report on English votes for English laws, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I found in it some proposals for certain procedural changes. I will take those into consideration as part of the review of EVEL that the Government are currently carrying out.
I always enjoy Scottish cake, be it a Dundee cake, a clootie dumpling or anything else coming from north of the border, but it is absolutely clear that what the Government are seeking to achieve in the forthcoming EU negotiation is the best possible deal in terms of economic opportunity and of future political relationships between ourselves and the other 27 countries that will work in the interests of the prosperity and security of the people of every single part of the United Kingdom.
The Supreme Court will be making an important decision in the next few days. It is now very much part of our constitutional structure, but there is a lack of parliamentary accountability in relation to its appointments. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate about the appointment of Supreme Court judges and the approval of such appointments by Parliament?
I hope that we do not go down the route in this country of allowing political considerations to play a part in the appointment of judges. In our current system, their appointment depends on a balance—embodied in numerous conventions over the years, rather than written into law—with Parliament and the Government respecting the judiciary’s place in our constitutional settlement, and I very much hope that that will always continue to be the case. There will be Justice questions next week—on Tuesday, I believe—when my hon. Friend may have the opportunity to question the Lord Chancellor on this directly.
Ahead of the Christmas recess and what seems likely to be a dangerous winter in the NHS, is there not an overwhelming case for the Government to come to the House in their own time to explain what is happening with the funding of social care? Councils had been led to believe that there would be an announcement in the autumn statement and they were left stunned, as were Members on both sides of the House, when the Chancellor could not even mention the words. I am told No. 10 blocked a deal on social care—a funding package had been prepared—calling for more work on funding options. I do not know whether that is true, but I know that people working in the NHS have a right to know because they need to plan. Ministers need to come to the Dispatch Box and tell us what the hell is going on.
The Government, as the Secretary of State for Health has made clear, are engaged in some very serious and co-ordinated winter planning, and the NHS has winter plans in place at national, regional and local level to manage the increase in demand that we always expect at this time of year. The right hon. Gentleman referred to social care. Yes, all of us are aware of the pressures that exist in our constituencies. That is why the Government have made available the social care precept and the better care fund to make sure that additional resources are available to local authorities.
Last week, the all-party group on peninsula rail, of which I am the chairman, published its report on the future of the rail network in the south-west. May we have a debate, or for that matter a statement, about the Government’s reaction to it, especially on the pilot scheme for signalling?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this matter, because the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement an additional £450 million to trial innovative digital rail signalling technology. The peninsula rail campaigners may be able to seek to benefit from that pot of money. I hope he will very much welcome, as a token of the Government’s commitment to the south-west, the £10 million of additional development funding announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the railway line from Exeter to Newton Abbot via Dawlish. I am sure all colleagues from the south-west will welcome that much needed work.
May we have a debate in Government time on openness and transparency within the BBC, so that we can explore its London-centric, anti-regions and anti-countries of the UK approach? Such an approach is exemplified by its nominations for the sports personality of the year, all but two of whom are from England and from which Carl Frampton—he has been recognised as the greatest boxer of the year, as a double world champion at two different weights—has been excluded, causing outrage across the communities in Northern Ireland. A debate on people’s ever growing concern about the BBC would be very timely.
The right hon. Gentleman makes the point powerfully. As he would expect me to say, the BBC is and rightly should remain independent of ministerial direction. However, I think the entire House will want to salute the contribution that sportsmen and women from Northern Ireland make to our national success, and long may that continue to be the case.
North East Lincolnshire Council is currently involved in putting together a number of regeneration projects that will attract private sector investment. Such investment is essential to the regeneration of our provincial towns. Similar schemes have been put together up and down the country. Will the Government find time for a debate on this important issue, and on how the Government can support local authorities with these projects?
Such initiatives are important and it is right that they should be locally driven and therefore reflect the particular circumstances of individual towns, cities and counties. My hon. Friend may have the opportunity to seek a debate in Westminster Hall to highlight his area’s particular needs, but my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will welcome the initiative. I am sure that the Government will do what they are able to do to give support to local authorities and the private sector, which are rightly taking the lead.
With reference to the Leader of the House’s answer to my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House regarding the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, will he indicate what date is pencilled in for the money resolution to be brought forward?
As I said, the Government are working through the Bill’s costs and carrying out the legal checks to ensure that it is properly compliant. There are recent examples of private Members’ Bills having eight, 12 or 15 sitting days between Second Reading and the securing of the money resolution, so what is happening is not at all extraordinary.
Local authorities up and down the country are publishing their draft budgets for spending over the next year. Most have welcomed the Government’s commitment to a long-term financial settlement. May we have a statement in Government time on the number of authorities that have agreed a long-term funding settlement and, more importantly, on those that have not?
My hon. Friend makes a good point that I will relay to Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government.
I was going to call Mr Spellar. Where is the right hon. Gentleman? Oh dear. The fellow has beetled out of the Chamber. It is a great pity.
The board of Seqirus, a major vaccine-producing company, is to make a decision this month on whether to invest millions of pounds in the Liverpool site in my constituency or in another site in mainland Europe. I have been seeking a meeting with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but I do not yet have a date. The matter is now urgent, so may we have a debate in Government time on what the Government are doing to support the manufacturing industry given the uncertainty that our leaving the European Union is causing around such decisions?
The hon. Lady will acknowledge that if she looks at the list of significant inward investments into this country since 23 June, she will see that international businesses from both the manufacturing and the services sectors see the United Kingdom as a great place in which to invest for future growth. I am sure that that would be a most powerful argument to raise with the company in her constituency, but I will draw the particular case and its urgency to the attention of the Secretary of State to ensure that a Minister gets back to her.
Members will be avid readers of my “Westminster Life” column in the Peterborough Telegraph, which is published today. The latest edition recounts my useful round table business meeting to discuss illegal Traveller incursions. May we have a debate on that issue? Will the Leader of the House encourage his colleagues in the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government to write to police and crime commissioners and local authorities to remind them that they have strong legal powers to deal with this distressing, persistent issue?
I can barely contain my patience to read my hon. Friend’s latest column. The problem that he describes is one that many of us have faced at various times in our constituencies. He rightly says that significant powers already lie in the hands of police forces and local authorities. Those powers are there to be used. Home Office questions are on Monday 5 December, which will give my hon. Friend a further opportunity to press his case.
I am sure that the column will be a literary hit of the very highest quality. I expect nothing less from the hon. Member for Peterborough.
I thank the Leader of the House not only for the business statement, but for being so accommodating in helping the Backbench Business Committee to plan ahead. He announced this morning the Backbench Business up to and including 15 December. I hope I am not trying his patience if I ask him for an early indication of whether we will get any time in the week beginning 19 December and in the week immediately after the Christmas recess.
First, let me say that I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s opening comments. He is always the soul of courtesy in representing the views of his Committee and I will do my utmost to accommodate him.
The announcement this week by Ofcom on BT Openreach provides opportunities to improve broadband services to rural communities such as Glendevon, Cleish and Rhynd in my constituency. May we therefore have a debate in Government time on the minimum service improvements we can expect to see following this decision and how this decision will make Openreach more accountable to customers, particularly in rural areas in my constituency and beyond?
We are clear that we need a more independent Openreach, and it needs to offer genuinely fair and equal access to telecoms infrastructure to BT’s competitors. I know that Ministers, particularly those in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will want to explore how this Ofcom ruling can help us to get broadband to rural areas as well as to those towns where fast broadband coverage is still inadequate. I am sure the hon. Lady will continue to put the case for her own constituents strongly.
The midlands engine plays a significant role in our economy. In the autumn statement it was announced that the Government will publish a midlands engine strategy shortly. May we have a debate on that strategy, so that the region can reach its full global potential?
In our commitment to the midlands engine, the Government are demonstrating in their policies that we are intent on building an economy that works for all. When the Business Secretary went to the US and Canada earlier this year, he saw at first hand the opportunities that there are for investment and economic growth on the part of midlands companies. The autumn statement confirmed the arrangements for the midlands engine investment fund. The British Business Bank will make its first investments from the northern powerhouse investment fund in early 2017, and the first investments from the midlands engine investment fund will follow very shortly thereafter.
Our NHS and social care services are in crisis. One local accident and emergency consultant told me that this is the most unprepared our NHS has been in the three decades since he first qualified. Council leaders from across our country were led to believe by Department for Communities and Local Government Ministers that urgently needed funding for social care would be forthcoming in the autumn statement. In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the Leader of the House told us that the precept and the better care funding would fill this gap. I must let him know that that is just a fraction of what has been cut from social care since 2010. May we please have an urgent statement from the Chancellor about why this funding for social care was missing from his autumn statement and how he expects our services to cope over the coming winter months?
I simply disagree with the hon. Lady that the Government are approaching the winter ill-prepared. A Health Minister is chairing regular cross-Whitehall meetings to make certain that the NHS at the national, regional and local levels is adequately prepared for the challenges it is going to face. No one pretends that there are no pressures on the NHS or on social care, but I think the hon. Lady would have given a more balanced view had she noted that we have more doctors, more nurses, more accident and emergency attendances, more diagnostic tests and more money going into the NHS now than when her party was in office.
May we have a statement following the Foreign Secretary’s timely visit to Cyprus on Tuesday and the Prime Minister’s conversation with the President of Cyprus last week to reassure my Cypriot constituents that the stalled talks will resume and that we will have a just settlement for Cyprus at long last?
The Government remain very committed to doing all we can to support the UN and the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus in trying to bring about that settlement, which would be so much to the advantage of everybody living on the island. There is an historic opportunity, with leaders in both communities who are utterly committed to trying to get that settlement, in the common interest, and the Government will continue to do all they can to help foster the climate that might bring that agreement about.
May we have a debate entitled “The Bumbling Incompetence of the Foreign Secretary”? The Leader of the House has long experience in the Foreign Office, so can he give the House a single previous instance when the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom has been reduced to demanding from four separate diplomats evidence that their recollection of a meeting with him is correct?
The right hon. Gentleman really should not get carried away by the odd newspaper story. The Foreign Secretary, like the whole Government, is committed to getting the right deal in the negotiations on all fronts. Part of that, as the Prime Minister has set out, is accepting that, following the referendum result, freedom of movement as it exists at the moment cannot continue. There will be a need for a national immigration regime when we leave the European Union. Obviously, the exact relationship of this country to the other 27 in terms of the movement of workers, trade, investment and so on is a central part of those negotiations but, at the risk of repeating lines that the right hon. Gentleman has heard from Ministers so often, we are not going to give a running commentary on that detail.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) who speaks for the Scottish National party was slightly wrong. There is a Bill before Parliament now—the Withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50) Bill. That Bill is expected to get a Second Reading on 16 December but, as the Leader of the House knows, there is one slight problem if it progresses: Standing Order No. 84A(5) requires the Government to table a motion so that the Bill can proceed to Committee, because the Committee stage of another private Member’s Bill is taking place. Has the Leader of the House given any thought to that, and will he make a statement about when he will bring forward that motion?
At a time when the Supreme Court is about to consider all these matters relating to the triggering of article 50, it would be premature of me to speculate about possible future legislative needs.
Once again, I find myself speaking at business questions as a result of the utter, confounding confusion that exists between Government Departments over leaving the EU. This time it is the Secretary of State for Scotland, on last week’s “Sunday Politics” programme, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who have made contradictory statements. The former tells us that Scotland will benefit from the powers being repatriated from the EU, but the latter tells us that there will be a UK-wide approach. Can we have a statement from the Leader of the House, or from an appropriate Department, to clarify the doublespeak of this Government?
The hon. Gentleman is, uncharacteristically, oversimplifying the process of the negotiation. Let us look at one of the key areas of policy that is largely devolved—fisheries. Clearly, at the moment, fisheries policy within the common fisheries policy is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. There is also the issue of the United Kingdom’s future independent membership of UN conventions regarding fish stocks, and agreements with third countries that have the character of international treaties. External relations—the right to sign and negotiate treaties—is explicitly a reserved power under the devolution settlement. Therefore these matters do need to be resolved in the negotiations, which is why we are ensuring that Scotland and the other devolved Administrations are intimately involved in the preparation of our negotiating position. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is visiting Edinburgh in the very near future and will be talking directly to Scottish Ministers and parliamentarians about that matter.
On Saturday morning, I was out knocking on doors in Corby, and one of the key messages that constituents asked me to relay was the importance of infrastructure keeping up with new homes. May we have a debate at some point in the next few weeks to discuss this matter, because it is incredibly important that we have the public services and infrastructure in place to support the new homes that are being built?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Like him, I represent an area that is willing and able to provide a significant amount of additional housing, but where there is understandable local concern about the pressures on infrastructure. I am sure that he, like me, welcomes the Chancellor’s announcement of a housing infrastructure fund, which will make money available to local authorities that want infrastructure improvements so that they can unlock additional land for new homes.
Today’s damning report from the Work and Pensions Committee condemns both Concentrix and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for a gross failure in customer service over the tax credits fiasco. My constituent Nicola is one of the many thousands who have been failed and left to deal with the aftermath, with bank charges, overdraft fees, credit card interest and phone call charges. While the Government consider their response to the report, may we have a debate in Government time on fair compensation for all people who, like Nicola, have been left in dire straits?
On the point about compensation, there are existing arrangements whereby people can seek redress if there is maladministration. I agree with the hon. Lady, as the Select Committee report shows that there are important lessons that need to be learned. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and her colleagues will reflect on that report and there will be a full Government response in due course.
Like right hon. and hon. Members on both sides the House, I am always very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for your generosity, understanding and forbearance, as was evidenced earlier when you allowed me, although I was late, to ask a question on exiting the European Union. Not for the first time, and despite allowing plenty of time, I have been late for business in the House this week because of problems with Southern railway and Network Rail. May we have a debate on the unnecessary industrial action by the RMT and ASLEF unions, which has been making many of my constituents and people across the south-east late for work and late getting home again to see their families for almost 12 months?
My hon. Friend speaks on behalf of a large number of hard-working men and women whose lives are regularly being disrupted in the way in which he describes. Positive industrial relations should be part of the backbone of a productive economy, but that needs to involve people being able to go about their business and to get on with their lives without unjustified disruption. Of course trade unions can and do play a constructive role, but we did need to introduce modernising reforms to ensure that strikes such as those that my hon. Friend describes happen only as a result of a clear positive decision by union members entitled to vote. Under the Trade Union Act 2016, we have provided for a 50% turnout threshold for all industrial action ballots and an additional 40% support threshold for key public services. We will shortly bring forward the secondary legislation to implement those reforms. That is evidence of the Government’s determination to tackle the problem.
Small businesses are often best placed to take advantage of new opportunities, and they are crucial in creating the good well-paid jobs that all our constituents so desperately need. I will be visiting many of the excellent small businesses in my constituency on Small Business Saturday, which was brought in by Labour. May we have a debate about the need to maximise the support for small businesses so that we can help entrepreneurs, their staff and the wider economy?
I am happy to endorse the hon. Gentleman’s tribute to small businesses, and I welcome the fact that he has highlighted Small Business Saturday, which falls this weekend. There will be questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the week after next. I hope we can build a consensus across the House in support of measures that will make it easier for small businesses to grow and employ more people. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, for his part, will persuade his party to cease its criticism of the Government’s reductions in corporation tax, which greatly benefit small businesses.
On 12 September, 18 October, 7 November and again on 17 November, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), told the House that the national shipbuilding strategy would report by the time of the autumn statement. On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Defence made available Sir John Parker’s report, which will inform the national shipbuilding strategy, and said that the national shipbuilding strategy would not report until the spring. May we have a debate in Government time, or at least a statement, on why the House has been so badly misinformed regarding the national shipbuilding strategy?
The Parker report was delivered to Ministers ahead of the autumn statement, which was what, as I understand it, the Government’s pledge had consistently been. The report, as the hon. Gentleman says, was published earlier this week. It is a wide-ranging report making 34 different recommendations covering both Government and industry. It is only right that Ministers, having received the report themselves only last week, should want to consider those recommendations before coming forward with the strategy the hon. Gentleman wants. I hope he will acknowledge the Government’s continuing commitment to Scottish shipyards, which we have seen through the strategic defence and security review, and the placing of additional contracts.
Last week, many parts of Greater Manchester were badly hit by flooding, but especially Stalybridge, Mosley and Hollingworth in my constituency. The reaction of the emergency services and the community was absolutely commendable. Understandably, people want to know that the same damage will not happen again, and the adequacy of local drainage has been questioned in particular. Last April, amendments were tabled to the Bill that became the Housing and Planning Act 2016 that would have given more support to local authorities to improve drainage, but those amendments did not go through. May we have a debate on whether enough is being done to protect people from the risk of flooding and whether our drainage systems are fit for purpose?
I think everyone in the House would want to join the hon. Gentleman in his tribute to the emergency services in his and other affected constituencies, and would also express their sympathy to those householders and businesses that have gone through the awful experience of seeing their properties flooded. The Government are investing record amounts in flood protection and recently published their long-term strategic flood resilience review. I hope that review will provide some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, but I will highlight his concerns to Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers.
I am sure the Leader of the House will be as delighted as I was to learn that Rouken Glen park was awarded the accolade of the UK’s best park in the Fields in Trust awards last night. I am also sure he will want to join me in endorsing the view that Rouken Glen is a fantastic place, in congratulating everyone involved on working so hard there, and in encouraging people to visit Rouken Glen. May we have a statement from him on that, please?
I think the best statement I can make is that the hon. Lady has encouraged me to think about a visit to her local park the next time that I am in Scotland.
It is 10 years since the collapse of Farepak, when thousands and thousands of people lost their Christmas savings, but we still do not do enough to protect consumers who prepay and often find themselves at the back of the queue when companies fail. Will the Leader of the House urge the Business Department to get on with making a statement on the Law Commission’s recent report on protecting consumers who find themselves in these circumstances, which includes excellent input from my constituent Deb Harvey?
I think all of us who were Members at the time will recall the agony that constituents who lost their—usually modest and hard-earned—savings in that way went through. Obviously, my colleagues in the Department will want to consider the Law Commission’s report carefully. I note that questions to the Business Secretary fall on Tuesday 13 December, so the hon. Lady might be able to press her point then.
The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was sent proof that Paul Newby, the adjudicator, has existing loans and shares that are dependent on income from the pubcos he is supposed to adjudicate, yet it took four months for the Secretary of State to respond to the then Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s recommendation that the appointment be rescinded and to say simply that he was not going to look at the matter. That is not good enough. People are being denied the right to the market rent-only option that this House voted for, and Mr Newby is doing nothing about it. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on this matter?
That appointment, like all other Government appointments, is made through a process that is designed to ensure that all due diligence is adhered to when putting forward a long list and then a short list of candidates. My understanding is that, following the criticisms that were made, a look was taken at the appointments process in this case, and it was found that absolutely nothing untoward took place in making that appointment.
On Saturday, I was among a congregation of hundreds at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Acton to mourn the up to 10 million people who died in Stalin’s forced famine of 1932-33. The atrocity was exposed by British journalists, yet the British Government still fail to acknowledge it as genocide. Could we have an urgent statement on why we have not followed other countries in doing that? There was progress under the Blair and Brown Governments, but that seems to have stalled, like so many other things. These people feel like they have been swept under the carpet and they need our solidarity. They are under attack again.
With respect to the hon. Lady, it was not recognised formally as a genocide under those Governments. The principle that the Government follow, as I think she knows, is that, because the term “genocide” carries certain potentially criminal implications in respect of those alleged to have carried out genocidal acts, we believe that such decisions should be made by judges rather than by Governments. However, that should not diminish in any way our sense of horror at what happened in Ukraine during the 1930s. I remember going to see the memorial in the centre of Kiev, and the folk memory of that harrowing experience is still central to Ukrainians’ conception of themselves as a people and as a nation. We are right to remember the horror that took place then, and to do all in our power to try to make sure, through our foreign policy, that such events never happen again.
The situation for Christians in Iran has deteriorated markedly. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was acquitted in 2012 after being charged with apostasy and sentenced to death, was recently re-arrested and charged, along with three church members, with “action against national security”. The church members are also appealing against a sentence of 80 lashes each for drinking wine during a communion service. That is unbelievable. Given that the UK has re-established ties with Iran, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on human rights in Iran so that this House can urge Iran to ensure rights and religious freedom for all its citizens?
The hon. Gentleman, as he does so often, speaks passionately for religious freedom all around the world. I think that no one here would say anything other than that the Iranian Government have an appalling human rights record. That is a matter of great sadness, given the richness and diversity of Iranian civilisation and culture, and the fact that the best Iranian cultural traditions actually accord respect to religious minorities. We will do all we can, through our diplomatic work, to encourage the Iranian Government to adopt the kinds of human rights standards that we would expect from a country with the rich civilisation that they have inherited.
There are positive aspects to two major reviews issued today by the Department for International Development, but there are also revelations that billions of pounds of our aid spending are being diverted to richer economies such as India, China, Malaysia and Mexico. When can we have a statement on that? Given that the reviews also praise our humanitarian aid, when can we expect a Government response to the cross-party calls from more than 200 Members for humanitarian aid drops to Aleppo, where the conditions are currently appalling?
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the Department has said today that it has ceased funding one of the international organisations that was criticised. Our work with the others is now subject to a programme to make sure that aid money goes to, and is effective in helping, the poorest, as is rightly DFID’s remit for all its spending.
Aleppo was raised in the course of exchanges on an urgent question earlier this week. No one here can avoid confronting the horror of what is happening in Aleppo—it is the most merciless slaughter of civilians. We should not, however, conceal from ourselves the complexity and difficulty of an airdrop operation of the kind the hon. Gentleman describes, given the presence of Syrian and Russian air defences, and the implications of what even a humanitarian airdrop in the face of opposition from Syria and Russia would mean in terms of a requirement for force protection, and considerable risk to UK and other personnel involved.
Last week in the autumn statement there was reference to a rise in insurance premium tax from 10% to 12% in June next year. That will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on many businesses, families, young people and older people. May we have a debate about this, combined with the impact of Brexit?
I am sure that the hon. Lady will find opportunities to question Treasury Ministers about this, or to raise her concerns by way of an Adjournment debate. Of course, any tax rise is going to hit certain people and certain businesses, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was quite open in his autumn statement in saying that this particular tax increase was needed to raise revenue so that the Government can maintain their fiscal stance, and in order to free additional money for other spending priorities, which were largely welcomed in the House.
A 20-year-old constituent of mine made an indelible and unforgettable impression on my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and me with the tragic story of his half a dozen abortive attempts to get the organ transplant that he desperately needed. Six months later, I attended his funeral. He died because of a lack of donors. Yesterday, the Welsh Government announced that, as a result of their pioneering and courageous legislation on the new law of presumed consent, 39 patients in Wales had had organ transplants. When can we get the Government to accelerate in this House a law that will allow the same process and the same advantage to be enjoyed throughout the rest of the United Kingdom?
I will certainly make sure that that point, which the hon. Gentleman and others have made, is considered by the Health Secretary and his team. Very many of us, myself included, know friends or family members who have literally been given a new lease of life through a successful transplant. All healthy adults need to consider whether they should make arrangements to make clear their wishes in advance of their death. It is also important that our medical professionals are trained in how to make an approach to families at a critically emotional moment when a relative is at the point of death, to ask them sensitively to consider whether to give consent for a transplant to take place.
May we have a debate or a statement in Government time about the use of agency workers to burst industrial action? I am thinking in particular of media reports and early-day motion 748, which names new Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council as having recruited agency workers to try to burst today’s industrial action about ICT privatisation. Can the Leader of the House confirm that such actions are illegal and that we should be enforcing stricter penalties on such rogue employers?
I am not going to get drawn into commenting on whether a particular action by Glasgow City Council is illegal. That is for the Scottish courts to determine.
Tomorrow will be exactly two years since the European Scrutiny Committee first asked for Members to be able to debate the proposed European ports regulation. That request has been made 10 times and ignored 10 times by the Government. In its eighth report of the current Session, the Committee described that behaviour as
“a remarkable refusal by the Government to pay even lip service to accountability to Parliament.”
What is the response of the Leader of the House to that comment?
I have seen that. Indeed, I have had a conversation with the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee about the matter and I am taking up the matter with Transport Ministers, though the hon. Gentleman will have noted that, during the exchanges at Exiting the European Union questions, the Minister of State said that the Government would vote against the regulation when it came before us for a final decision.
When Scottish National party Members compare the Government’s austerity choices with the £205 billion cost of Trident, we are told that that is inappropriate because the figure is the whole-life cost of Trident. Yet last night, when we debated the SNP’s proposals on the pension arrangements with regard to the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, the Government tried to confuse matters by talking about the cost in 2026. What is the right fiscal approach for the Government?
The right fiscal approach is to ensure that we can continue to command the confidence of the international markets from which we borrow money to fund our deficit and our national debt, while paying down the deficit that we inherited in 2010—we are now two thirds of the way through the task—and at the same time, following tax and structural reform policies that will make our economy more productive. Many challenges still face us, but we should all welcome the following facts: that we have more people in the United Kingdom in work now than ever before; that UK living standards are at an all-time high; and that the statistics for both inequality and poverty are on a downward trend.
I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). The Department for International Development has published substantial policy documents today about which we need Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and answer questions. However, I also noticed in today’s written statements that the Prime Minister has moved responsibility for the Britain is GREAT campaign from the Cabinet Office to the International Trade Department. Will a Minister from that Department come to the House and explain how it manages its Twitter policy and how it will advise the Foreign Office on the difference between the Queensferry crossing and the Forth road bridge?
Any of us who have visited Scotland, if only at intervals, will be aware of that important distinction. The Britain is GREAT campaign spans the international work of several different Departments, and I think that it has proved successful at highlighting the strengths of this country in investment, scientific opportunities, education and culture. That helps to attract more tourists and more investors to the United Kingdom, and we should welcome that.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson is currently finalising a duty of care in sport review at the behest of the sports Minister, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). Given the ongoing allegations of sexual abuse in football, will the Leader of the House ensure that Members can fully scrutinise and debate the review on its publication by granting a debate in Government time?
My understanding is that criminal charges are being brought against an individual and there are therefore sub judice issues that have to be taken into account, but I am sure that there will be opportunities to debate the policy strategy in detail. Although investigation of allegations of historical abuse is clearly a matter primarily for the sports governing bodies, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has assured the Football Association in particular that the Government will give it any support that is appropriate, and my hon. Friend the sports Minister has written to all sports governing bodies to make clear the importance that the Government attach to taking seriously and investigating allegations of historical abuse and also ensuring that they have in place adequate modern safeguarding arrangements.