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Business of the House

Volume 620: debated on Thursday 26 January 2017

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 30 January—Second Reading of the Pension Schemes Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 31 January—Second Reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (day 1).

Wednesday 1 February—Conclusion of Second Reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (day 2).

Thursday 2 February—Select Committee statement on the seventh report of the Public Administration and Constitution Committee, entitled “Will the NHS ever learn?” followed by general debate on the armed forces covenant report 2016. The subject for debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 3 February—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 6 February will be as follows:

Monday 6 February—Consideration in Committee of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (day 1)

Tuesday 7 February—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 8 February—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (day 3) followed by remaining stages of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.

Thursday 9 February—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 10 February—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 6 and 9 February will be:

Monday 6 February—Debate on an e-petition relating to the domestic ivory market in the UK.

Thursday 9 February—Debate on the sixth report from the Science and Technology Committee on smart monitoring of electricity and gas.

Order. In recent weeks, exchanges at business questions have been notably protracted and it would really help if questions and replies could be pithy, including the exchanges between the Front Benchers.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Your comments are duly noted.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business. Will he confirm that 20 July will be the date on which the House rises for the summer recess? The great repeal Bill will be in the Queen’s Speech: will he let the House know when that will be debated?

The British people owe a debt of gratitude to Gina Miller. Because of her courage, the highest court of the land—the Supreme Court—confirmed that it is inconsistent with longstanding and fundamental principles that far-reaching constitutional change should be brought about by ministerial decision or action alone, as it requires an Act of Parliament. Has the Prime Minister got the memo that Parliament is sovereign?

White Papers are a tool of participatory democracy, not an unalterable policy commitment. Earlier this week, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and 13 other Members from across the House asked for a White Paper. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on Tuesday did not, could not or would not answer. Instead, the Prime Minister announced it in response to a question at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Will the Leader of the House please confirm whether all policy U-turns are now to be so announced? If so, will we have to negotiate an extension for Prime Minister’s Question Time?

Will the Leader of the House respond to what hon. Members have asked for today? Will the White Paper and the risk assessments be published before the Committee stage—in the coming two weeks? The Government clearly do not do process or substance. The Secretary of State said:

“What we have come up with…is the idea of a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.—[Official Report, 24 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 169.]

Same outcome, different name! We call it the single market, they call it a free trade agreement; we call it the customs union, they call it a customs agreement. Will the Leader of the House ensure time to debate this alternative terminology so that there is no confusion?

Staying with the EU, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between the EU and Canada? The Secretary of State for International Trade has apparently given a commitment on behalf of the Government before the plenary vote in the EU on 15 February, and confirmed to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee that he had overridden parliamentary scrutiny. I am sure that the Leader of the House will say something about that.

The Government cannot use the Brexit shambles as an excuse for policy failures or fiscal irresponsibility. May we have a debate on the National Audit Office report on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ contract with Concentrix? Some £23 million was paid as commission to the firm on a contract worth £32.5 million. I and many other hon Members have constituents who have suffered extreme hardship having had their tax credits taken away. If the Government can find £23 million for a commission to Concentrix, could any damages for breach of contract be set aside and £10 million provided to cover the costs of child burial? I refer to the campaign started by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) in memory of her son Martin.

May we also have a debate on the climate change risk assessment report published on 18 January? The report highlighted urgent priorities. It said that more action was needed on flooding and coastal change risks; highlighted the risks to health from high temperatures; and pointed out the risk of shortages in public water supply. Despite this, there has been no speech or statement from Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department’s Twitter account is silent. It is eerily similar to what is going on in the White House. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State? As mothers, fathers, uncles, aunties and grandparents, we need to know what steps will be taken to protect future generations.

Will the Leader of the House raise the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with the Foreign Secretary? She has had her five-year sentence confirmed, but it is not clear what the charges are. Representations must be made.

I am sure the Leader of the House and all Members will join me in celebrating the consecration of the first woman bishop in Wales, Canon Joanna Penberthy, who will be Bishop of St David’s—a great little city.

Finally, whatever the shape of the Bill to be published later today, I would like to remind hon. Members that the procedural hub is open in the Library to help Members with amendments. Parliament is indeed sovereign.

I join the hon. Lady in welcoming the new Bishop of St Andrew’s—I mean St David’s—to her duties. [Interruption.] I am getting carried away by Burns night this week. The bishop must be taking charge of one of the most picturesque and delightful diocese anywhere in the country.

On the question of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, which the hon. Lady rightly raised, my hon. Friend the middle east Minister spoke to the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister on Monday to express our concern at the appeal verdict. The case has also been raised directly by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary with President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, and our ambassador will continue to raise it at every level and at every opportunity in Iran.

The Government have accepted that Concentrix provided unacceptably poor service, and also that HMRC itself needs to learn lessons from the experience. I hope the House will recognise that the Government were right to prioritise the people whose tax credit claims had been either handled wrongly or not properly assessed. HMRC has now dealt with all the 181,000 cases that were taken back from Concentrix.

I shall consider the hon. Lady’s request for a debate on climate change. As she will know, the Government continue to give a high priority to the issue, and we played a leading role in helping to forge the Paris agreement last year.

I cannot, as yet, give the House details of the dates of the summer recess or the Queen’s Speech, but I hope to do so as soon as possible.

The hon. Lady asked about the comprehensive economic and trade agreement and the override. There was a need for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade to override the normal scrutiny procedures, because the EU timetable for agreement within the Council accelerated faster than we had expected, and it was in our interests—in terms of our relationship with Canada, our support for free trade as a principle, and our EU relationships with other countries—to agree. The UK has been championing that agreement since the inception of negotiations. However, I said in my evidence to the Scrutiny Committee two weeks ago that we would seek an opportunity possibly to try to link the debate on CETA to a wider debate on international trade before much longer.

As for the hon. Lady’s broader questions about Europe, I am sorry that she was a bit grudging in her response to the Government’s announcement about the White Paper. The Opposition normally complain when an announcement is made by way of a written statement or a press release, away from the glare of parliamentary scrutiny. In this case, the Government made their announcement during Prime Minister’s questions, with a packed House, a packed Press Gallery and a packed Public Gallery. I thought that the hon. Lady might have welcomed that. I hope that it will not be much longer before, equally in prime time, we shall finally have the authoritative statement of what on earth the Opposition’s policy on Europe is. We have been waiting for that for far too long.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on regulations surrounding the operation of Uber? While I entirely understand that it works very well for some people, it is having an adverse impact on the licensed taxi trade in Southend.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the position in Southend. I understand that there have been allegations that drivers whose licences had been revoked by Southend Council continued to work in the town by obtaining TfL licences and working for Uber. My advice to my hon. Friend and his constituents is that those concerns should be raised directly with Transport for London. It is the responsibility of local licensing authorities to ensure that not just taxi drivers but private hire drivers are fit and proper persons to hold such licences.

May I personally thank you, Mr Speaker, for an immaculate Selkirk Grace last night, and also let you know that you are down for “Tam o’ Shanter” next year?

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week—and what a week it is going to be. First there was to be no vote; now there is to be a vote. Then there was to be no Bill; now there is to be a Bill. Then there was to be no White Paper; now there is to be a White Paper. We should have chanced our arm and said that we should definitely stay in the European Union.

The Bill’s Second Reading will take place on Tuesday, and a Committee of the whole House will debate it the following week. Everything will be rushed through and concluded before the following Thursday. As the guardian of the House’s procedure and its business, will the Leader of the House guarantee that the White Paper will be published in time for the Committee stage, so that the House can consider it before debating a Bill of such importance and such magnitude?

May we have a debate about special relationships, and, in particular, about how you are supposed to be behave when you are in one of those special relationships? When a United States President backs torture as an instrument of policy, when particular religions are picked out for exclusion and when women’s rights are set back decades, should this country not be a little bit more cautious before accepting a Trumpian embrace?

Lastly, may we have a debate about Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom following some of the discussions there have been in the Supreme Court, because we now know that all these Scotland Acts and devolution settlements are not worth the vellum they are written on? We now know that there is no such thing as permanence in this Parliament, and what we have heard about the Sewel conventions being enshrined in law is nothing other than parliamentary waffle. Week by week, a Brexitised Britain looks a less and less attractive prospect for Scotland. We need to know that our views are going to be respected, or we will have to reconsider remaining in this particular place.

In reply to the hon. Gentleman’s questions, first, we hope to publish the White Paper as soon as possible.

On the very important question the hon. Gentleman asked about torture, the Prime Minister said very clearly yesterday that the United Kingdom remains resolutely opposed to torture on the grounds of moral principle, on the grounds of our participation in the UN convention against torture and other such international legal instruments, and on the grounds that it does not work because we cannot place much value on information or evidence extracted by means of torture. That continues to be, and will continue to be, the Government’s position.

On the hon. Gentleman’s question about the place of Scotland in the United Kingdom, it was the Scottish Government’s decision to go to the Supreme Court over the question of consultation with the devolved Administrations, but it has always been the case, and is set down in the three devolution Acts, that the United Kingdom’s participation in, and membership of, international organisations is a reserved matter under those devolution settlements.

On the hon. Gentleman’s other questions about Europe, this House voted overwhelmingly for the referendum Bill to give the decision to the people and voted overwhelmingly for the Prime Minister to trigger article 50 by the end of March, and that is what we are seeking to deliver.

Order. In reminding colleagues of the need for brevity, I also remind them that those who came into the Chamber after the statement had started should not be standing—I am sorry, but it is as simple as that.

Can the Leader of the House confirm that during the Committee stage of the withdrawal Bill, the Government’s intention will be to resist every and each amendment that seeks to tie the Government in legal knots and impede their negotiation?

As hon. Members will see when they have studied the Bill, it is a short Bill which empowers the Prime Minister formally to trigger article 50 and commence the negotiation. That is all that the Bill is about.

Since this Government came into office they have sought to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of their plans to leave the EU and to achieve their aims by resorting to the use of the royal prerogative, bypassing this Parliament. First, they lost in the High Court, then they lost in the Supreme Court, and now, finally, they have had to concede that Parliament is sovereign by publishing a Bill and a White Paper. But I was astonished at the amount of time that the Leader of the House has given this House to debate the Bill, and he is being very coy about whether the White Paper will be published before the Committee stage of the Bill. Can he give us more time and tell us that he is going to publish the White Paper before next week?

If we consider that this is a two clause Bill, of which the second clause deals only with the extent of the Bill in respect of the United Kingdom, there is plenty of time, including two full days on Second Reading, for all opinions to be fully expressed.

May we have a debate on the ongoing witch hunt of former service people who served in Northern Ireland during the troubles, because this is a travesty of justice, brings shame on our country and has to stop?

There will be Northern Ireland questions next Wednesday, on 1 February, when my hon. Friend may wish to press this point, but, as he knows, the Secretary of State has already expressed concern about this. It is important that criminal investigations are conducted independently and impartially, but that servicemen and women are not singled out in any way.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement, and for giving the House confirmation that the Back-Bench debate on the armed forces covenant will take place on Thursday 2 February. Earlier this week, the Backbench Business Committee determined that a debate on Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories would be scheduled for the next available date. That will be on 9 February. We are also hoping to schedule a debate on the governance of football on that date, but we need to get confirmation from the applicants that that will be okay. I should also like to let the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) know that an application has been made for a Back-Bench debate on the position of former UK armed forces personnel in regard to previous activities.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information. I try to assist him by giving him adequate notice of Back-Bench time, and he is helping the whole House by indicating where future opportunities will lie.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting representatives of Age UK Warwickshire and hearing about the excellent work that they carry out in my constituency. In the light of increasing life expectancy and the rise in the incidence of conditions such as dementia, may we have a debate on how we can better support such organisations and on the benefits of closer co-operation between such bodies and local authorities?

My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight this point, and I should like to congratulate him and those people in Warwickshire who are working so hard to improve services for people living with dementia and to raise money for dementia research. The Government have doubled research spending on dementia, and we are looking to spend more than £300 million during this Parliament, but as my hon. Friend says, helping people who are living with dementia involves families, voluntary organisations and local authority statutory services co-operating closely.

May I say to the Leader of the House that providing just three days to debate the most important issue facing this country in a generation, the repercussions of which will affect generations to come, is totally unacceptable? I hope that every Opposition party in the House, and every Member who cares about parliamentary democracy, will vote against this contempt of Parliament when we vote on the programme motion.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that his party supported the European Union Referendum Bill on putting the question to the people, and it supported the timetable for triggering article 50 by the end of March. This Bill is designed to ensure that those objectives are met.

Does the Leader of the House agree that there is in fact ample time to debate the article 50 Bill? We will have two days on Second Reading and three days in Committee to debate what will be a very narrow Bill. Can he confirm the precise sitting times on those days?

We will try to ensure that there is plenty of time, and that adequate protection is given against the risk of statements or urgent questions so that Members on both sides have the opportunity to debate these matters fully.

It is a pleasure and a surprise to be called to speak before my hon. Friends. Previously, I have asked the Leader of the House about the budget for the National Audit Office and the possible Barnett consequentials for Scotland, but he has still to get back to me. Last week, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission agreed that there should be Barnett consequentials following that budget. May we have a statement telling us how much Scotland is going to get and when that will happen?

I would obviously like to see the response that the hon. Gentleman has had from the NAO about this, but I will do my best to provide him with a response.

Because the Prime Minister has been so clear, I do hope that the White Paper will not tell us anything that we do not already know.

I cannot promise that all colleagues will have followed the Government’s various statements on our approach to EU exit with the assiduousness that my right hon. Friend has undoubtedly shown. The Prime Minister has been very clear that, while we wish to provide clear statements about our objectives, it would not be in the national interest to set out our negotiating position in detail. That would be the most foolish step for any Government to take.

Arising from what has been said, should it not be made clear not only that the UK does not sanction torture, as stated yesterday, but that it will condemn its use by the United States if waterboarding is brought back? Would it not be absolutely wrong if this Government became an apologist for a totally bigoted and wrong-headed US President?

There is absolutely no question of this country endorsing or supporting torture. The rejection of torture is written into various international agreements to which we are party and has been integral to numerous statements on the subject by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and many other members of the Government.

Can we have a debate on how the Government can do better to ensure that the prosperity agenda stemming from defence procurement is used to ensure that existing clusters of high-tech businesses in the south-west, such as in Yeovil, benefit from inward investment by large beneficiaries of UK Government spending such as Boeing?

My hon. Friend highlights some real opportunities for business to benefit from technology. One of the things that this country needs to improve is how we turn our inventiveness and technological expertise into commercial, job-creating opportunities. This may be a good opportunity for him to seek either an Adjournment debate or a Backbench Business Committee debate to pursue the matter further.

Last week, I attended the wonderful Eastborough Junior Infant and Nursery School in my constituency. It now has a free breakfast club, which is attended by around 70 children each day. The club is provided and facilitated by Huddersfield Town football club with its charity partners. The club supports a number of schools in the district. May we have a debate on how we can encourage or, indeed, mandate other football clubs to do other types of community initiatives to support the community?

I cannot promise a debate in Government time, but I applaud the initiative that is taking place in the hon. Lady’s constituency. There are many parts of the country in which local sports clubs and other voluntary organisations are supporting schools in comparable ways.

Some in this place can talk for Britain—not me, of course—but we can hardly complain that we are getting five days on a two-clause Bill, including until midnight on Tuesday. No more delay. The Bill is just implementing the will of the British people. But, just to put the icing on our cake—[Interruption.] If we get something, we should always ask for something more. Can the Leader of the House confirm that he will try to avoid urgent statements on any of those days?

We will try not to have unnecessary statements, but obviously events happen and other business has to be presented to Parliament. That explains why we have said that, next Tuesday, Second Reading will continue until midnight. I am sure that hon. Members will have every opportunity to speak and make all the points they want to make during that debate.

Does it not beggar belief that the Government are so afraid of proper debate that they have allocated only a pathetic three days to the Committee on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill? That is less time than we had on the Lisbon treaty, on the Amsterdam treaty or on the Single European Act, and a tiny fraction—an eighth—of the time we had on the Maastricht treaty. Does it not speak volumes about the deficiency of the Government’s plan that they are trying to gag Parliament in that way?

I have more respect for the hon. Gentleman than to think that that is anything more than synthetic rage. There is no comparison between previous Bills that sought to ratify EU treaties that had a direct impact on many different aspects of UK law and a two-clause Bill, of which a single clause is substantive, that is entirely about giving authority to the Prime Minister to trigger the article 50 process and begin negotiation.

Last Friday, I had the great honour of attending Brecon barracks to help commemorate the 138th anniversary of the battle of Rorke’s Drift, which was immortalised in the film “Zulu.” With that in mind, can we have a debate on the importance of educating young people on the great history of our armed forces?

My hon. Friend draws attention to the deep connection between Brecon in his constituency and the 24th Regiment of Foot. I understand that the regimental museum of the Royal Welsh is at Brecon barracks, and I hope that the commemoration went well and that he will seek other parliamentary opportunities, such as an Adjournment debate, to highlight it further.

The Leader of the House would not want to constrain the debate on the article 50 Bill, so will he bring forward a money resolution to allow the widest possible range of amendments to be tabled?

I do not think that the Prime Minister needs any additional resources to trigger article 50 once the authority has been given.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming today’s growth figures? May we have a debate on the fundamental strength of the UK economy, which grew by 2% last year?

I would like to think that that good news on growth, which is also good news for jobs and living standards, would be welcomed right across the House. That achievement is a tribute to British industry and British workers.

The late Lord Hailsham, a former Conservative Lord Chancellor, described government in this country as an “elective dictatorship”. This Government seem determined to prove him right with their timetabling of the EU withdrawal Bill. Whether Lord Hailsham was right or wrong, it was in the name of democracy that people campaigned for us to leave the European Union, so I repeat the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie): why are this Government trying to muzzle the voices of people in Parliament with their timetabling of the Bill?

Five allotted days can hardly be described as muzzling. The House voted both for the people to take the decision and for the March timetable for the triggering of article 50. The Bill’s passage through Parliament is intended to ensure that the House’s wishes can be delivered.

One of my constituents will appear in the Supreme Court next week because the Department for Education wants judges to interpret the word “regular” in relation to school attendance. If the Government win the case, the law will retrospectively criminalise the actions of tens of thousands of parents. If the law needs to be changed, it should come before Parliament for proper debate and scrutiny. Will the Leader of the House encourage the Secretary of State for Education to make a statement on the situation?

My hon. Friend will understand that it would be inappropriate for either the Secretary of State or me to comment on this case when it is currently before the courts. The Department requested permission to intervene in the Supreme Court, supporting the local authority, because following the lower court’s decision we need clarity on what the law actually means before we can take any policy decisions that may be necessary.

Last week, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced a major review of limited liability partnerships and their association with international criminal activity. On Monday, however, the Treasury brought forward a legislative reform order to the Regulatory Reform Committee seeking the formation of a new type of limited partnership with even fewer controls. May we have a debate on the use of LROs?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, limited liability partnerships have a genuine purpose in Scotland and, as I understand it, have existed for a long time in Scottish law. However, as he says, there have been serious allegations and evidence that the status has been abused, which is why the inquiry is happening. If the inquiry concludes that changes in the law are necessary, the Government will clearly want to consider them quickly but carefully.

It seems as though Labour Back-Bench Members are seeking to oppose the Government’s programme motion for the article 50 Bill, but has the Leader of the House received representations from Labour’s Front-Bench team to indicate that they are similarly seeking to oppose it?

It is not for me to disclose on the Floor of the House conversations that may have happened through the usual channels. However, there have been numerous, and often contradictory, messages in public about the approach that the Opposition plan to take.

Hull has had an excellent start as the UK’s city of culture, with nearly 350,000 people attending in the first week, and I hope that you, Mr Speaker, might be able to attend during the course of 2017. Many of those visitors arrive through the railway station, so imagine my surprise when I learned that TransPennine Express, which operates the station, has decided to close the waiting room and toilets at 7 pm due to antisocial behaviour. After the three Hull MPs made representations, the operator said that the facilities will be kept open until 9 pm, but only if there is no more antisocial behaviour. May we have a debate about when we decided that yobs could dictate what facilities passengers and members of the public can use? This would not happen anywhere else in the country.

First, may I congratulate the city of Hull on its first weeks as the city of culture? I hope that many hon. Members from both sides of the House are able to go there this year. I remember visiting city hall the last time I went and being hugely impressed by the architecture and the sense of civic pride in Hull.

On the particular question about antisocial behaviour, I have a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Lady says. I very much hope that the franchise holder, the local police and the local authority can work together to find an effective solution, so that those facilities can remain open when tourists will want to use them.

I welcome the Government’s commitment this week to publishing a White Paper, and thank my right hon. Friend for his work in enabling that to happen. Will he outline what discussions he has had to enable debates in the House, and particularly in the Chamber? What will the timescales be to allow my constituents’ views to be heard in parliamentary time?

Obviously, there will be opportunities to debate the Bill that has been published today, although it is pretty narrow in scope. The Government have said we will introduce the repeal Bill fairly rapidly after the Queen’s Speech later this year, and there will continue to be general debates on various aspects of our departure from the EU that will provide opportunities for issues discussed in the White Paper and elsewhere to be raised in full.

Notwithstanding the importance of issues such as Brexit, will the Leader of the House consider how we ensure that other legislation receives the prominence it deserves? Yesterday was a historic day for this Parliament, with the passing of the gender pay gap regulations, which will force large companies with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap information. That sort of legislation also deserves prominence, so will he consider how we provide it?

I am very happy to consider that, because I think we would all wish to see much greater public knowledge and understanding of the things that go on in Parliament that perhaps do not happen at prime time and grab the headlines. The regulations the hon. Gentleman spoke of are a good example of that, and were on an issue that commanded considerable consensus on both sides of the House.

Last week, residents in Oundle suffered from a gas issue that meant the town was disconnected from the network for a considerable length of time. Along with National Grid and Western Power working around the clock to put it right, the community rallied round to protect and look after vulnerable and elderly people. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking them for all their efforts on the ground in Oundle, and may we have a debate next week on getting emergency planning right?

I cannot promise a debate next week, given the other business we have to deal with, but perhaps that is Adjournment debate territory. I unhesitatingly both thank and congratulate the statutory services and individual constituents in Oundle on what they managed to do.

May we have a debate in Government time and a statement on cuts to Equality and Human Rights Commission funding? With hate crime on the increase, does the Leader of the House appreciate that many hon. Members believe that those cuts send the wrong message to women, the black and minority ethnic community and those who suffer from disabilities?

Because of the need to bring the public finances under control, all parts of the public sector are having to face difficult decisions about spending. I point the hon. Gentleman towards Women and Equalities questions on Thursday 2 February, when he will have the opportunity to raise that matter with Ministers.

The Leader of the House and I were both first elected in 1992, and he will recall the many, many days we spent on the Maastricht treaty. Will he tell the House how much consideration he has given to previous debates on such matters, not only in ’92 but in the 1970s, when we joined the European Union? What discussions were there at that time and what consideration was given to what the Opposition parties said then, compared with now?

If I am honest, any of us who came into the House in 1992 would probably not look back at those debates on the Maastricht treaty as the greatest moment of glory for the House of Commons, and they are not something that we necessarily want to put more recently arrived colleagues through. Given the very narrow scope of the Bill that is being published today, the five days that we have announced and the substantial amount of additional time, particularly on Second Reading, Parliament has plenty of opportunity to have a debate on this matter in full.

Next Monday, we will be discussing the Pension Schemes Bill—a missed opportunity for this Government to deal with the issue raised by Women Against State Pension Inequality. In the light of the 245 MPs who have lodged petitions on behalf of their constituents and in the light of the vote that took place in this Chamber on 1 December, when this House agreed that we had not discussed the WASPI issue, will this Government bring forward a debate and ensure that they introduce proposals that deal with the women who are suffering?

The coalition did commit more than £1 billion to lessen the impact on those who were the worst affected by the change in pension age. No one will see their pension age change by more than 18 months. Those who face the largest increase in the state pension age received at least seven years’ notice. However, we must also be realistic about the fact that people are living longer and that, if we are going to equalise the state pension age, we need to raise the state pension age both for men and women. The cost of reversing the Pensions Act 2011 would be more than £30 billion.

In Blaenau Gwent, the air is fresh and pure. However, walking around this week, the air in London is putrid. Can we have a statement on air quality and the impact of diesel emissions? The Government need better to protect the public health of their people.

Improving air quality is a priority for the Government and in particular for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Our plans have always followed the best available evidence, but we are ready to update those if necessary. We have been at the forefront of action in Europe to make sure that there is more accurate real-world emissions testing of diesel cars in particular. I can point the hon. Gentleman to the green transport initiative and to plans to introduce clean air zones around the country. There is no instant solution to this problem, but it continues to be a Government priority.

Transport Ministers have confirmed that residents in Cheshire West and Chester will not qualify for reduced tolls on the new Mersey crossing, which completely contradicts the promises made immediately before the last general election by the then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne). Can we have a debate on car tolls so that the Government can explain why they have broken their promises to my constituents?

I cannot promise a debate in Government time. This may be an Adjournment debate opportunity, but I will ask the relevant Minister to contact the hon. Gentleman about his point.

The Clydesdale Bank’s decision to close 40 branches in Scotland, with the highly regrettable loss of 200 jobs, will have a particular impact on my constituents in Clackmannanshire, who will be left without a single local bank branch. Can we have a debate about the importance of local bank branches to local communities, so that we can send a strong signal to banks, including the Clydesdale, about the negative impact these closures have on local communities and economies?

That may be something that the hon. Lady will want to raise by way of an Adjournment debate, or a Backbench Business debate on the issue more generically, but I understand the plight that some of her constituents are facing. It is incumbent on the big retail banks to reflect very carefully on this, particularly before closing the last banking outlet in a community.

Will the Leader of the House do me a favour and stop suggesting that those on the Opposition Benches—and also on the Government Benches—who believe passionately that the scrutiny of this European Bill should be thorough are trying to overturn the popular vote on the referendum? He knows that is not the case. Will he please be honest about it?

As well as voting for the referendum, this House also voted for the Prime Minister to trigger article 50 before the end of March 2017. Because of the Supreme Court judgment, it is necessary for a Bill to go through all its legislative stages in both Houses for the wish of the House, in respect of the timetable, to be met. The five days that we have allotted will give ample opportunity for that narrow issue to be adequately debated.

May we have a statement next week on High Speed 2 in south Yorkshire? HS2 has had a consultation on a station at Sheffield Meadowhall, which has plenty of support in south Yorkshire but there is no consensus. Consequently, it is currently consulting on the M18 eastern re-route through south Yorkshire. We learnt this week that it is now looking at eight sites along that re-route for a parkway station, but none of them is out for public consultation. Can we ensure that we have a good return for public money? It is wasting money hand over fist.

I will report to the Minister with direct responsibility for HS2 the point that the right hon. Gentleman has made. Like you, Mr Speaker, I have some constituency experience of wrestling with HS2. It is important that his constituents get clear answers and are able to make strong representations.

In January last year, a group of MPs invited trade union leaders to address a meeting in Parliament. It has since emerged that the meeting was secretly recorded without the knowledge of the speakers or the event’s organisers. Given that MPs of all parties hold meetings on the parliamentary estate, I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could clarify the rules on third parties recording meetings without consent and give me his view on whether those rules might have been breached.

I am very concerned by what the hon. Gentleman says. If he lets me have the full details, I will investigate the matter as quickly as possible.

The Prime Minister has indicated that Parliament will vote on the terms of a final Brexit deal, but what if there is no deal? Will there be a reference back to this House and a vote on whether we leave the EU on no terms?

The decision to leave the EU was taken in the referendum. The House knows where I stood on the referendum, but as democrats we have to accept the outcome. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, if there is no deal under the terms specified in article 50, we will have to fall back on other arrangements.

The Scottish National party will most certainly oppose what is quite a disgraceful programme motion. Can we get this straight: will the White Paper setting out the Government’s position, authorising an irrevocable step in the greatest constitutional change in this country for 50 years, be published before the Bill’s Committee stage, and if not, why not?

As I said a few moments ago, I hope that we can publish the White Paper as soon as possible. The other point that I will make to the right hon. Gentleman is that the authorisation for our departure from the European Union was given by a referendum of all people of the United Kingdom. Some of us like that decision and some of us do not, but it was a democratic decision that the electorate were entitled to make.

After 22 weeks there is still no date for the restoration and renewal debate. Has the Leader of the House turned into Oscar Wilde, who said, “Never put off till tomorrow what could possibly be done the day after,” or Ellen DeGeneres, who said, “Procrastinate now; don’t put it off”? Or does he seriously think that we can just carry on like this and hope that somehow we will muddle through? He will say that we will have the debate someday, but someday is not a day of the week.

The hon. Gentleman makes his point forcefully, as he did during the debate in Westminster Hall earlier this week. He will know from the business that faces us over the next two weeks that it has not been possible to schedule the debate on restoration and renewal then. I hope that we will be able to identify a date as soon as possible.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the controversy in Northern Ireland surrounding the renewable heat incentive and the many millions of pounds that have been lost. A month ago a colleague of mine sought information from two Whitehall Departments through a freedom of information request. This week he received a letter from both stating that too much work was needed to get the information, so he has submitted the questions again. Can the Leader of the House guarantee that no politics will be played, and that the information will be found and that it will come out?

The deadlines set under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 are of course a matter of law, not a matter of discretion for Ministers or officials. Ministers here do not have any direct authority over the devolved Departments within Northern Ireland, but I certainly hope that any Whitehall Department would respond well within the timeframe specified in the freedom of information legislation.

We all wish the Prime Minister well in her work to increase exports, but is it not time for us to debate the relationship between this country and a President who, since his inauguration, has behaved like a petulant child, out to destroy the highest achievements of his predecessors? A new age is promised between Trump and the United Kingdom. Is there not a danger that that will be a new dark age?

Mr Trump has been elected by the people of the United States under their democratic constitution. Under Conservative and Labour Governments alike, it has rightly been a national priority in terms of our security interests, our geopolitical interests and our interests in prosperity and trade to forge as close as possible a partnership with and an understanding of a new American Administration. That has to be in the interests of the people whom we represent and that is what the Prime Minister will seek to do in Washington.

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), can we have an urgent debate to discuss the Government reneging on their promise to provide special help on tolls for small businesses in Halton when the new Mersey gateway bridge is opened? That is the second time they have reneged on something. The decision was announced by the then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), on 23 April 2015. Can we have an urgent debate to find out why the Government are again refusing to honour their commitments?

There are questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy next Tuesday, 31 January, which will provide the hon. Gentleman with such an opportunity. If I may, I will look into the point he raises alongside the point raised earlier by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson).

Given the decline and the abuse of civil liberties and human rights under Prime Minister Najib in Malaysia over the last few months, particularly with the arrest of Maria Chin Abdullah and Secretary Mandeep Singh of Bersih, which is a coalition of non-governmental organisations calling for free and fair elections, will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on the matter—or, better still, a debate?

As so often, the hon. Gentleman is pursuing his interest in human rights in all parts of the world. I cannot offer an immediate statement in Government time, but I will ask the appropriate Minister to write to him.

Gwent Music is a local authority music service that provides wonderful opportunities to young people in my constituency, including, I should say, my own daughter. Can we have a debate on the importance of affordable music lessons in our schools all over the country?

I recognise and sympathise with the underlying point that the hon. Gentleman is making. That will turn on decisions made not just by the UK Government, but by the Welsh Government and Welsh Assembly, local authorities and individual schools about their priorities. I would very much hope that ways can continue to be found to maintain those standards of excellence and opportunity for people wanting to pursue music in Gwent.

Will the Leader of the House give us an absolute guarantee that the unelected House of Lords will not have more time to debate the Brexit article 50 Bill than the elected House of Commons?

Under the Parliament Acts, the House of Commons will have the final say, as on practically all legislation. As is always the case, the House of Lords has its own procedures. It is not in the gift of the Government to set down what time for debate there will be in the House of Lords on any Bill.

Thank you also for that, Madam Deputy Speaker—I am grateful.

It is quite right, of course, that other parliamentary business should be shelved over the next couple of weeks so that we can debate article 50, and that includes the Bus Services Bill. In Manchester, we have been demanding London-style bus franchising powers for many years. We can wait a little longer, but may I encourage the Leader of the House to reschedule the Bus Services Bill as soon as possible after the recess so that Manchester can properly manage its transport network?

This may be an inadequate birthday present, but I will do my best to deliver what the hon. Gentleman wants.