With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.
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—Debate on a motion on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories followed by debate on a motion on governance of the Football Association. The subjects for debate were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 10 February—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 20 February will include:
Monday 20 February—Remaining stages of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [Lords] followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 9 and 20 February will be:
Thursday 9 February—Debate on the sixth report from the Science and Technology Committee on smart monitoring of electricity and gas followed by debate on the effect of the state pension changes on working-class women.
Monday 20 February—Debate on e-petitions relating to a state visit by President Donald Trump.
May I thank the Leader of the House for the statement? I note that we still do not know when the House is rising for the summer recess, so I ask him again to announce that date.
May I add the Opposition’s voice to your letter, Mr Speaker, and the letter from the Lord Speaker about a date for a debate on restoration and renewal? Members need to know what is going on and engineers and everybody else need to keep the House safe, so the sooner that we can have that debate the better.
Mr Speaker, you will not believe this, but on this day in 2004, Roger Federer began his 237th consecutive week run as world No. 1, and that record remains unbeaten. He has now won the Australian Open—possibly because you, Mr Speaker, interviewed him. Roger Federer has had longer to get to the final of the Australian Open than Parliament has had to debate triggering article 50.
This is not a democratic Government. The Government thought that they could trigger article 50 on their own, but the Supreme Court dragged them back to Parliament. The Prime Minister said that the Supreme Court did not tell them what form the Bill should take, but drafting the legislation is the job of the Executive. It is the Court’s job to interpret that legislation.
The Government produced a two-clause Bill, but they were clearly having a laugh, because in the first line, it says, “The Prime Minister may—”. They used the word “may” instead of, possibly, “must”. There is no discretion in this. In order to leave the EU, as the people of Britain have voted for, all the Prime Minister has to do is to give notice to trigger article 50; that is all article 50 is about.
This is a secretive Government who failed to tell Parliament about the misfiring of a missile. That is why Her Majesty’s Opposition has been asking for a plan from the end of last year and for a White Paper since the Prime Minister made a speech to Lancaster House—not this House—which will be published only today.
We cannot trust this Government, because the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was among those who said that £350 million would go to the NHS if the UK leaves. That has now been proved to be incorrect, so how can we trust them now? That is why the Prime Minister has to report back to Parliament on the deals. Will the Leader of the House, in the interests of the British people and democracy, ensure that there is a vote on the final deal made by the Government so that we can protect workers’ rights and EU citizens, retain tariff-free access to the single market and all EU tax avoidance and tax evasion measures, consult with the devolved Governments and ask the Government to publish any impact assessments?
As the Prime Minister’s words yesterday showed, this is not the Government of the NHS. Could we have a statement on the Prime Minister’s response to the letter from 2,000 senior clinicians who said that they have reached unacceptable levels of safety concerns for their patients, and could that statement also say whether hospitals are operating at safe staffing levels? Will the Government publish a response from the Prime Minister to the letter from the Chairs of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, the Public Accounts Committee and the Select Committee on Health?
Now we see the recklessness of the Government’s policies. They changed NHS bursaries, which has resulted in fewer people wanting to become nurses. It is the same recklessness that was shown by the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who now says that he regrets cancelling Building Schools for the Future. Tell that to the Joseph Leckie Academy in my constituency, which had its allocation cancelled; children now have to be sent home when it rains heavily. With 46% of schools losing funding under the new funding formula, could we have a statement on why the £384 million that was in the education budget has been clawed back by the Treasury? Schools deserve the money now, not in a budget giveaway.
The Leader of the House has failed to respond to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) about her Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, having said two weeks ago that he was not in a position to make a statement. Will he now state the position on that Bill?
The Speaker of the House of Representatives of Burma, Win Myint, was here last week at your invitation, Mr Speaker. Sadly, a key constitutional expert and lawyer for the National League for Democracy, Ko Ni, was assassinated in Burma this week. He just happened to be a Muslim. Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to do all he can to support the Burmese Government in their quest for peace?
Finally, it is World Cancer day on 4 February. Every hon. Member will have been touched in some way or know of someone who has been affected by the disease, so will the Leader of the House join me in thanking all the researchers looking for a cure? On Saturday, let us remember all those who have lost their lives to the disease, wish all those well who are currently going through treatment, and celebrate with those who have beaten the disease.
May I first associate myself with the hon. Lady’s words about World Cancer day? It is probably the case that there is no Member in any party of this House who has not been touched in some way by the case of a relative or a dear friend who has had to fight —sometimes successfully and sometimes sadly not—against this scourge. Like her, I would celebrate the advances of medical science, the skills of oncologists and others who diagnose and treat cancer, and the courage of cancer survivors and their relatives who give them such critical support. Let us keep in our thoughts and prayers those who have been bereaved as a consequence of cancer, and give thanks to those staff in the NHS, and in the voluntary and charitable sector, who work to provide specialist nursing care, including hospice treatment, to people who are having to face the end of their lives.
I turn to the other points raised by the hon. Lady. I want to be able to give the House some news, as soon as possible, on the summer recess and on the restoration and renewal programme, but I am not able to do so today. My understanding is that the Committee to consider the Bill of the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) has now been appointed, but has not yet met.
The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) mentioned the European Union. I really do think that the line of questioning she pursued this morning was something of a distraction therapy to try to divert attention from the blatant divisions within her party, with different members of the shadow Cabinet and the Front Bench dropping off the perch with every news bulletin. For a two-clause Bill, the second clause of which is simply the short title of the Bill, two full days on Second Reading, including going to midnight on Tuesday, and up to three days in a Committee of the whole House, seems to me a perfectly reasonable allocation of time.
Let me turn to the hon. Lady’s points about school funding. The money to which she referred was allocated by the Treasury to the Department for Education explicitly for the purpose of supporting the full shift of all schools to academy status. The Government, having reconsidered that policy in light of public representations and representations in this place, altered their policy. Therefore, that money was not needed, since those schools were not going to transfer to academy status.
The hon. Lady’s point about Burma is well made. I shall make sure that it is passed back to the Foreign Secretary, but I can give her an unqualified assurance that this Government will continue, through the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, to work to support the cause of building democracy, human rights and community reconciliation inside that country.
Finally, the hon. Lady rightly paid tribute to the stupendous achievement of Roger Federer. It is not only tennis aficionados such as you, Mr Speaker, who will have cheered at his success. Somebody in professional tennis who is in their mid-30s is at quite an advanced age, and there is perhaps a message of hope to all of us that age is just a number and that we can strive for greater achievement whatever age we reach.
What a splendid note on which to finish. The man is an inspiration.
Lidington or Federer?
I do not wish to be discourteous to the Leader of the House, but I actually had Federer in mind.
May we have a debate on the power of clinical commissioning groups in the NHS and the fact that they are unaccountable to the public? Is the Leader of the House aware that a clinical commissioning group covering part of my constituency plans to withdraw services from Bridlington hospital and Driffield hospital? That is not on account of cost, but the clinical commissioning group seems hell-bent on doing it, despite overwhelming public opposition. Does he accept that these plans are totally unacceptable? If we cannot have a debate, will he draw my concerns to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health?
I will not only undertake to draw my right hon. Friend’s concerns to the attention of the Secretary of State, but I can point him towards Health questions on Tuesday 7 February, when he may have the opportunity to question Ministers directly about this issue. Clearly, the details of the health service in his area are not something on which I would be able to comment, but the principle here is that clinical commissioning groups should engage in proper public consultation in their local area as they draw up sustainability and transformation plans for that locality. Ultimately, the local authority, through its health overview committee, has the right, if it believes that services are being wrongly and adversely restructured, to refer the matter to the Secretary of State.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.
We like our anniversaries in this place, and I support everything the Leader of the House said about World Cancer day in a couple of days’ time. However, today is groundhog day. I know that most days seem like groundhog day in this place, and I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but I always seem to wake up to the news that another Labour Front Bencher has resigned—perhaps Punxsutawney Phil can get a place in the Labour shadow Cabinet.
Three cheers for the Leader of the House for finally getting the White Paper for the Brexit Bill; it has only taken half the time the Bill will take to go through this Chamber, but we have got it at last. Let us hope that it is quite close to the 650 pages we had in the independence White Paper, although I doubt that very much.
This is a Bill the Government did not want and that they are forcing through at breakneck speed, but they must be prepared to listen to the hundreds of amendments that will be tabled to it. I have noticed that in the programme motion there is no programming for a Report stage. That must mean that the Government will arrogantly reject every single amendment without proper consideration. Why are we not getting a Report stage on the Bill as it goes through the House?
May we have a statement on the Government’s intention regarding a second Scottish independence referendum? There is a piece in The Herald today from the Defence Secretary, who seems to rule out entirely a second Scottish independence referendum. We have just heard him on Radio Scotland, where he seemed to backtrack furiously on what he had just said. The Scottish Tories’ leader has said that it would be wrong to rule out a second referendum. Believe me, a Government with only one MP in Scotland telling the Scottish people that they will not have a say in their future could not be a bigger gift to the SNP.
I listened carefully to the response by the Leader of the House to several of my hon. Friends who asked about how EVEL would be applied to the great repeal Bill. He must totally rule it out now. We cannot have a Bill as important as this being considered by two classes of Member of Parliament in this House—one class of Member who has a say in everything, and then the Scottish Members, who can take part only in some of it. Believe me, that could not be a bigger gift to us either.
In response to the hon. Gentleman’s points about the EU withdrawal Bill, I have to remind him that, first of all, this House voted overwhelmingly for the referendum to take place and for the decision to be referred to the British people; and, secondly, only a matter of weeks ago the House again voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Prime Minister’s timetable for triggering article 50 before the end of March this year. The timetable on this two-clause Bill is designed to ensure that those objectives are upheld.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about Report and Committee stages, the purpose of Report is normally to enable the House as a whole to consider the Bill as it comes out of Committee, where it has been considered by a small number of Members upstairs. On this occasion, we have a full two days and time, if needed, on the third day for consideration of amendments by a Committee of the whole House. The hon. Gentleman is really asking for a further extension of the Committee of the whole House.
Finally, on the hon. Gentleman’s points about Scotland, the Prime Minister could not have been more emphatic, on numerous occasions at the Dispatch Box, in making it plain that we are determined to consult the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive about how their interests, and those of the people whom they represent, are affected by the process of withdrawal from the European Union and the negotiations on which we shall shortly embark.
The EVEL arrangements in our Standing Orders can apply only if three conditions are met: first, that the matter in question is devolved to Scotland; secondly, that the same matter relates to England only, or to England and Wales only; and, thirdly, that you, Mr Speaker, have certified the amendment or the Bill as falling within the definitions prescribed under our Standing Orders. Although I cannot possibly comment on a Bill that has not yet been published, it seems to me—given that international agreements are, under the Scotland Act 1998, defined as reserved, not devolved, matters—that the principles embodied in our Standing Orders ought to give the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues considerable reassurance.
This week, three of the six district councils in Dorset voted to keep their own sovereignty and independence. Despite that, last night the chief executive of Dorset County Council announced that other councils in Dorset would apply for a hostile takeover. May we have an early debate on how to prevent ineffective and wasteful councils from seeking to seize by compulsion the assets and powers of their financially sound neighbours?
My hon. Friend is moving on from the sovereignty of Parliament to the sovereignty of Christchurch. A number of us in the House are very aware that there are often different and competing views—shall I put it that way?—among different local authorities in the localities we represent about the possible shape of future local government reform. As I can see from your reaction, Mr Speaker, you and I are both extremely familiar with this dilemma. As my hon. Friend knows, his view and the views of other colleagues representing Dorset constituencies will be attended to very closely by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and I urge him to continue to ensure that the views of his constituents are forthrightly represented in that quarter.
May we have a debate about our so-called national airline, British Airways? The manner in which it is treating its workforce, particularly the mixed fleet cabin crew, is a disgrace. They are mainly women and they are low-paid, yet the airline is refusing to settle on the basis of a reasonable offer to them. Would not a debate enable us to expose how our so-called national airline treats its workforce?
Although that is obviously a matter for the company, trade unions and employees concerned, the Government hope that all employers take seriously their responsibilities to ensure that their workforce is fairly rewarded. I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman a debate in Government time, but this might be a subject on which to seek an Adjournment debate.
Last week, I attended in the House of Lords a meeting, organised by the Cross Bencher and human rights campaigner Baroness Cox, at which three very brave women told us their harrowing tales of how they have been treated and the impact that sharia councils have had on their lives. It is a disgrace that we have this alternative form of justice in our country. May we have a debate on that to make sure everybody in this country is treated equally under the same law and we do not have sharia councils treating women in such an appalling manner?
It is very important that all of us in this place uphold wholeheartedly the rights that both men and women have under the law of the United Kingdom, and emphasise that whatever private or community dispute resolution arrangements may or may not exist, the legal rights of women and men under law trump any such informal agreements.
May we have a debate about the vexatious use of family courts by controlling and abusive ex-partners who seek to use custody as a way of harassing, intimidating and impoverishing people—often their wives—in order to continue the controlling, coercive and bullying behaviour that they exemplified throughout their relationship?
Like the hon. Lady, I have had cases in which constituents have come to me about that kind of harassment. There may be an opportunity for the hon. Lady to highlight the issue via an Adjournment debate. Ultimately, we have to accept that in individual cases we must rely on the good sense and professionalism of the judge who is presiding in the particular case to hear and make a judgment about the evidence put forward by the two parties and come to a fair resolution.
Mr Speaker, if you visited my constituency, I would certainly take you to one of our three fabulous livestock auction markets. Alongside our livery yards and riding schools, they are key to the fabric of our rural community, yet their future is threatened by eye-watering rises in business rates. Will my right hon. Friend provide time in this House for us to debate why rural businesses are being so unfairly penalised?
In my hon. Friend’s relatively short time in the House, he has already emerged as a formidable champion not only of the Richmond constituency, but of North Yorkshire and rural businesses more generally. The position nationally is that the business rate revaluation will, overall, benefit businesses in rural areas across England, and no small property will have an increase of more than 5% from 1 April because of the transitional relief scheme. If my hon. Friend would care to write to me about the particular cases of the auction marts in his constituency, I undertake to draw them to the attention of the Communities Secretary.
This week we spent 17 hours discussing the European Union, but we did not spend a single minute on the crisis in Yemen, where half the population are still starving. Last Sunday, President Trump authorised the first attack on al-Qaeda in Yemen, causing the death of one American soldier and 14 casualties. When can we have an update on the urgent situation in Yemen? We hold the pen at the UN on this subject. We desperately need a ceasefire. When can we know what is happening?
There will be questions to the Foreign Secretary on 21 February, which will provide an opportunity to raise Yemen. The right hon. Gentleman may wish to take other parliamentary opportunities available to him to focus on Yemen at greater length. The Government have never concealed the fact that trying to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict will be a difficult business. If there were an easy answer it would have been found by now. We continue to support the work of the UN special envoy on Yemen, who is striving ceaselessly to bring about the ceasefire that both the right hon. Gentleman and I wish to see. The Department for International Development continues to do what it can to bring humanitarian assistance to those who are in such need.
This week, a petition raised by the parents of April Jones, who lived in Machynlleth in my constituency, reached 100,000. April was just five years old when she was abducted and murdered. The person responsible, Mark Bridger, is now in prison. The petition calls for tougher sentences for those looking at child pornography on the internet and greater control of internet search engines. Will the Leader of the House urge the Petitions Committee to bring forward an early debate on April’s law as soon as possible?
I understand completely the way in which this appalling and tragic case has shocked the community of Montgomeryshire and the wish of so many people to see this debated in Parliament. As my hon. Friend will understand, it is not for the Government but the Petitions Committee to allocate time to debate e-petitions, but I am sure the Chair of the Petitions Committee will want to consider carefully the case he has made.
As the Government hurtle headlong into Brexit Britain, may we please have a debate in Government time on our future plans for international trade policy? The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are jet-setting around the world promising all sorts of deals to President Trump and President Erdogan, but the House has still not had the opportunity to discuss the principles that will underwrite future trade deals or the process we will follow to ratify them. Is this, as I suspect, just another example of Brexit-on-the-hoof without policy and without scrutiny by Parliament?
I would have hoped that, even while expressing her concerns, the hon. Lady might have paid some tribute to the energy and determination of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for International Trade ministerial team, who are actively seeking to ensure we have the best trading opportunities around the world after our departure from the European Union. There are questions to the Department for International Trade on Thursday 9 February—next week—but of course the Government have already had a number of debates in Government time on different aspects of our departure from the European Union. I shall make sure we look seriously at her case for a further debate focusing on international trade.
How will we use the time next week if you, Mr Speaker, do not select any of these ridiculous and impertinent amendments?
I think the procedure with regard to Committee of the whole House to a certain extent spares you that duty, Mr Speaker, because it falls to the Chairman of Ways and Means. He will, as always, be guided by the rules on order, and ensure that they are properly upheld.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating my phenomenally talented 16-year-old constituent, Ali, from Dewsbury, who has just rejected a multimillion pound deal for his latest business venture? Will the right hon. Gentleman facilitate a debate on how the Government can help other young aspiring entrepreneurs?
I am happy to join the hon. Lady in congratulating her constituent Ali. The more we can do to encourage young people not just to understand enterprise but to see setting up an enterprise and giving employment to others as their vocation, the better. I will pass on her case to my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, but I know that all parts of Government will want to ensure many more Alis in all our constituencies.
Excitement is mounting in Cleethorpes following the announcement yesterday of a visit next week from the northern powerhouse Minister. Earlier this week, the Humber local enterprise partnership held a showcase event here at Westminster, attended by four Ministers, at which the advantages of economic development in northern Lincolnshire and the wider Humber region were shown to the guests. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the success of the Government’s northern powerhouse policy?
I can see that even now crowds are sleeping out in the streets ahead of the ministerial visit and that Cleethorpes is scarcely able to contain its jubilation as the bunting is strung from lampposts. My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government’s approach to economic and industrial strategy is, in particular, to ensure that those parts of the UK that have not benefited from economic growth in recent decades in the same way as the more prosperous cities and regions are able to do so, and that certainly includes Cleethorpes and the other towns and cities in north Lincolnshire. I hope, for example, that there will be some beneficial spin-offs for the wider north Lincolnshire and Humberside region from Hull’s designation as this year’s city of culture. I know that Ministers are keen to champion my hon. Friend’s work.
The Government control the vast majority of business and time in Parliament. Considering the crisis in the NHS and the fact that every Member wants to raise the crisis in relation to their own constituency, can I propose to the Government that before Easter an entire week be exclusively dedicated to the NHS and the crisis in it? I would predict that even in a week we would struggle to find time for every Member to outline their concerns.
All Members, whichever political party they represent, follow closely the challenges and successes of the NHS, particularly in their own constituencies, and are keen to raise these matters with Ministers. There are Health questions next week. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a full week of debate, in the way he wishes, but I would point out that the Government are following through on their commitment to put into the NHS the money that NHS England itself said it needed for its transformation and reform plans. At the 2015 general election, his party refused to match that pledge.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the replacement of the pound coin in March? I am not convinced that the general public have been sufficiently informed that the coin as now constituted will not be legal tender in October or that the slots in vending machines will be able to cope with the new 12-sided coins.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. On 1 January we launched a campaign to raise awareness and to encourage the public to return the current, round £1 coins. The message is clear: if someone has a £1 coin sitting at home or in their wallet, they need either to spend it or return it to their bank by 15 October, when it ceases to become legal tender. For some months we have been running a separate campaign to support retailers and other businesses in preparing for the new coin, so that slot machines, machines in car parks and so on will all have been altered.
Why does the Leader of the House not come clean and admit that his failure to plan for a Report stage in the Brexit Bill means that he intends to turn down every single amendment from the 128 pages of serious amendments? That railroading—for that is what it is—means that the amendments that lie undebated and not voted on will be longer than the White Paper, which, by the look of it, is not substantial enough to stop a door, never mind start an international negotiation.
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The reality is that he is opposed in principle to the Bill, and he seeks to argue that parliamentary procedure should be prolonged so that, in effect, we go beyond the March deadline for triggering article 50. The Prime Minister has set out the plans to be followed which this House has overwhelmingly endorsed. The question of how many amendments are selected for debate is a matter not for the Government, but for the Chairman of Ways and Means, who will decide which of the amendments are in order and which are not. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has studied the programme motion that we voted through last night, so he will have seen that it allocates time for the different categories into which the amendments that he described fall. We will have perfectly sound opportunities next week, during the three days that are available for debate, to go through all the amendments in sufficient detail.
As chair of the all-party group for communities engagement, I refer to my letter to the Prime Minister and to the point I made to the Foreign Secretary earlier this week about the treatment of UK citizens at border controls around the world. Can we please have an urgent statement or a debate on that matter?
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are both reflecting on that issue carefully following the recommendations of my hon. Friend and the all-party group. I assure him that the Foreign Office and our network of posts around the world take up individual cases when they come to their attention. However, in the light of what he said, we will look at the case for a systemic procedure for recording such cases.
Yesterday, with the greatest reluctance, many Members genuflected to the authority of public opinion as expressed in a referendum. Will the House show the same respect to the unprecedented number of people who have signed two petitions since Saturday? Some 1,800,000 people have expressed their outrage at the prospect of President Trump enjoying a state visit here, whereas 200,000 have supported the invitation. Can we ensure that we show respect to people’s sense of horror by having not only a debate in the House, but a vote among hon. Members?
The unique feature of the EU referendum was that Parliament passed an Act that expressly referred the decision to the British people. I certainly felt that we were honour-bound to accept the verdict. As for the state visit by the President of the United States, of course people are free to express their opinions, and it is right that the Petitions Committee has allocated time for the petition to be debated. The Government take the view that a state visit is perfectly appropriate. The relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America—including with its elected head of state—matters to the security of our citizens and the geopolitical role of the west, as well as to our commercial and industrial interests. For those reasons, it is right that we should welcome the elected head of the United States of America in the way we have his predecessors.
Yesterday I had the privilege of listening to Susan Pollack, the noted holocaust survivor, when she addressed Belmont synagogue and a large group of year 8 students from across Harrow. She asked, “What do you think of when I say, ‘What does a Jew look like?’” There came no answer, yet we have heard about the publication today of the report from CST about the terrible, dramatic increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents. May we have a debate in Government time on that report, and more importantly, on what action they will take to stamp down on anti-Semitism?
The best thing I can say is that all of us, within the Government and outside, were appalled by the reported increase in hate crime. There has been progress in tackling that, but even one case is too many. We have published a new cross-Government hate crime action plan to try to tackle all forms of hate crime, but all of us across the House need to make it clear that Jewish people in Britain, like people from all communities, must be able to live their lives free from fear of either verbal or physical attack. In order to tackle anti-Semitism we need to implement effectively our strong legislation against religious discrimination and racially and religiously motivated crime, but there is also a responsibility on us all as individuals and as members of political parties—and people who have leadership positions in our constituencies —to make it clear in public again and again, if necessary, that anti-Semitism has no place whatsoever in this country.
May we have a debate on property acquired by companies such as G4S in relation to the dispersal of asylum seekers? In my constituency an independent councillor, Mary Lanigan, has used that as an opportunity to spread hatred and to divide the community along the lines of race and religion by repeatedly using inaccurate phrases such as “illegal asylum seeker”. Her contact details have even appeared on an abusive letter that has been circulated to residents to whip up certain emotions, for obvious reasons. Can we have a debate on G4S properties and on the councillors’ code of conduct in relation to the properties being dispersed among communities?
This country has a proud history of granting asylum to people who need our protection. We are committed to providing safe and secure accommodation while applications from individuals are being considered. We are clear that asylum seekers should be accommodated only in properties that are both decent and safe. Home Office Ministers work closely with their contractors to ensure that those standards are met. Where a contractor falls short, we work with them to try to sort those issues out as rapidly as possible. If the hon. Gentleman would like to let me have details, I will pass them to the Home Secretary.
Kevin Horkin, a Ribble Valley resident, has asked me to be a trustee of his charity, the British Pet Role Trust. High on its agenda is looking at legislation relating to the theft of pets. We know that is on the increase—BBC figures show an increase of 22% in the theft of dogs over the past two years—and some police forces do not properly collate that information. Part of the problem is that pets are seen as chattels and not as living creatures. May we have a debate on legislation relating to pets, so that we can get legislation on the statute book to protect them properly?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. In this place we should never underestimate the affection that millions of our constituents have for their pets, and the important therapeutic role that pets often play by giving people companionship who might otherwise be at risk of great loneliness. I will refer his request to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but in the meantime my hon. Friend might want to pursue opportunities to highlight his concerns through the Backbench Business Committee or an Adjournment debate.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will wish to join me in congratulating Professor Peter Mathieson, who has just been appointed the new principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, and also pay tribute to Tim O’Shea, who has kept it in the top 20 of the world’s universities. Will the Leader of the House use the time for debate on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill next week to look seriously at the Labour party’s new clause 6, which could give Professor Mathieson a real boost in his new principalship at Edinburgh University, by saying that EU nationals can not only stay and work here, but are very welcome?
I am very happy to congratulate Professor Mathieson on his appointment and Tim O’Shea on what he achieved during his tenure at Edinburgh University. I have visited the university myself and have seen what a formidable institute of learning it is. As for the hon. Gentleman’s point about the Bill, it is for the Chairman of Ways and Means, not the Government, to determine which amendments are selected for debate. However, the Government’s clear position is that we want to reach an agreement at the earliest possible opportunity in the negotiations that safeguards the rights of EU citizens here and, equally, the rights of United Kingdom citizens living in other EU countries. As is spelled out in the White Paper, on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will be giving a statement shortly, we want to ensure that our future relationship embraces opportunities for us to continue to benefit from the brightest and the best people coming to study at universities throughout the United Kingdom.
Following the announcement that the excellent Mid Wales Holiday Lets company in my constituency is a well-deserved finalist in the Wales business of the year competition, may we have a debate about the importance of holiday lets to our tourism industry and the regulatory environment that surrounds them?
Having enjoyed many family holidays in holiday lets in Wales, may I endorse every word that my hon. Friend says and congratulate Mid Wales Holiday Lets on being a finalist in the Welsh business of the year competition? The holiday letting sector makes a hugely important contribution to the tourism business in Wales and the United Kingdom in general. It is a key provider of employment and income, particularly in the rural parts of our country.
I understand that a debate on the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between the EU and Canada has been scheduled for Monday next week. The Leader of the House is aware of the intense interest in the House about this controversial treaty, so can he explain why the House has been given so little notice of the debate and why it is not taking place on the Floor of the House, as the European Scrutiny Committee, under the excellent chairmanship of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), strongly recommended?
I do not think that the notification given is unusual in terms of the period of notice given for European Committee debates. Having had to respond to many of those debates over the years, I can say to the hon. Lady that having to reply to up to 60 minutes of questions in a European Committee is a much tougher outing for a Minister than giving a 10-minute response to a 90-minute debate here in the Chamber. Two-and-a-half hours are allocated for the Committee and 90 minutes are allocated for a debate on the Floor of the House. Nevertheless, as I said earlier in response to the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh), who spoke from the SNP Benches, I will additionally undertake to explore whether in future there will be the possibility of a general debate about EU exit and international trade, in which case the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) would have a further opportunity to express her views on the Canada deal.
I was listening to “Good Morning Scotland” on Radio Scotland earlier this week. Lord Lawson was being interviewed, and I was struck by the fact that the interview was from his house in France. Can we have a statement on which Members of the House of Lords actually live in this country at a time when we are engaging in Brexit, the destination of which could mean that our citizens have fewer rights to work abroad, while citizens from the European Union living here face an uncertain future and will perhaps be unable to work?
The other House has its rules about the domiciliary status of its Members and it is for the House of Lords to police those rules. It was interesting during the referendum campaign to note that some of those who campaigned strongly to leave also took great advantage of freedom of movement. I hope that in the new arrangements between the United Kingdom and the European Union we will end up with a state of affairs where tourists travelling for long or short stays in each other’s countries can still proceed with as little hassle as possible.
HSBC Bank has announced that it is closing its last branch in my Ogmore constituency, in the town of Maesteg. This will cause considerable upset and distress to lots of constituents, not only in the town but in the surrounding villages and communities. Can we have a statement or debate on the impact of bank closures on towns and villages across the country, and the need for banking to remain as local as possible? Does the Leader of the House also agree that “the world’s local bank” is perhaps becoming a little bit less local?
As I have said before at this Dispatch Box, I think there is a responsibility on banks, particularly when a bank knows that it has the last branch in a community, to weigh very carefully whether it should move towards closure. There are clearly commercial pressures as more customers, both businesses and individuals, move towards online banking. There is also a read-across to what the Government are seeking to do by bringing high-speed broadband to rural communities more quickly, because the more people in rural areas are able to have good-quality broadband in their homes or business premises, the more likely they are to take advantage of the opportunities of online banking, which people in the cities already have.
Most of the rights that workers enjoy, such as paid holiday leave and maternity and paternity pay, are protections derived from our EU membership. Given that the Conservative party has now styled itself as the party of the workers, can we have a statement to the House that sets out the Government’s guarantees, which have still not been given, on the continuation of those rights post-Brexit?
I have to say to the hon. Lady that I have sat in this Chamber several times now and heard the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union say in terms that we will protect workers’ rights. After all, some of those workers’ rights—parental leave, for example—go further in this country than those that are mandated under European law. I really think she should be careful before giving credence to these scare stories.
I was very disappointed to learn last week that an important funding bid for my constituency was rejected when the latest round of growth deals was announced. What was also disappointing was the lack of transparency about why the bid, which could have transformed Ellesmere Port town centre, was unsuccessful. May we have a debate to enable the Government to explain why investment in my community is not a priority for them?
With all those growth deal rounds, there have been more bids from local enterprise partnerships and local authorities than could possibly be met, given that funds are finite, however generous they may be. I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman seeks an Adjournment debate, he would have the opportunity to extract a detailed ministerial reply.
Will the Leader of the House make Government time available for a debate on the impact that Brexit has already had on some of my local businesses and others? They include a business that is having to scale back on expansion because it has been hard hit by the drop in the pound, one that is losing EU employees and another that is worried about the increasing skills shortages among teachers, doctors and engineers. Such a debate would also enable the Government to set out what their analysis of the impact of coming out of the single market will be on British jobs.
There will be opportunities next week, and certainly when the repeal Bill is introduced after the Queen’s Speech later this year, for all those issues to be explored. The Government’s objective, following the decision that the people took in the referendum, is to make sure that British businesses have the greatest possible freedom of access to, and freedom to operate within, the single European market, and that European businesses have the same opportunities here.
May I return the Leader of the House to the question asked by my hon Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) following the earlier statement from the Secretary of State for Transport? We are still in the dark on the issue raised by my hon. Friend. May we have a debate on, or scrutiny of, the proposal to allow passenger aircraft to fly to Glasgow international airport with zero security checks? If security is to be taken seriously, it should be borne in mind that the knowledge that Barra, Tiree and Campbeltown airports will have zero security surely presents risks, and, more widely, makes a mockery of security provision at all airports.
I will ensure that those points are referred to the Transport Secretary, and will ask for a reply to be sent to the hon. Gentleman.
Schools in Cheshire West and Chester were already receiving £400 less per pupil than the national average before the Government recently slashed a further £4.2 million from our education budget, and that will rise to £6.4 million in the next couple of years. May we have a debate on schools funding, so that we can establish why the Government’s new fair funding formula apparently provides neither fairness nor, indeed, funding?
Obviously the hon. Gentleman is championing his constituency, but I think he overlooks the point that for many years schools in different parts of the country have received hugely differing levels of expenditure per pupil. The purpose of the new national funding formula is to ensure equality between children, and children’s opportunities, in those different local authorities. Furthermore, we will maintain the pupil premium, which is worth £2.5 billion this year alone and will provide extra support for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. We shall only be able to continue to fund education at current or increased levels if we continue to have a strong economy, creating the wealth and economic growth that make such spending possible.
May we have a debate about how we can keep Tory Front Benchers awake when important matters relating to Scotland’s future are being discussed in the House? I have received a number of emails and other communications from concerned constituents who were watching television last night and observed that the Deputy Leader of the House appeared to be taking a nap while my SNP colleagues and I were speaking. Does the Leader of the House agree that when the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot be bothered to attend such a debate, it is important for his colleagues to remain awake, no matter how dismissive they may be of Scotland’s interests?
I think my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House was concentrating hard on the words of the hon. and learned Lady and her colleagues, as he always does. I assure her, in all seriousness, that the Prime Minister has made it clear to every member of the Cabinet that she considers it vital for us all to have in mind, all the time, the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom as we approach the different aspects of the forthcoming policy negotiations.
Given what the Leader of the House has just said, is it not disgraceful that, according to this morning’s edition of The Herald, the Secretary of State for Defence has said that the UK Government will veto any legitimate demand from the Scottish Government for an independence referendum? May we have a debate in Government time on the question of where sovereignty lies in Scotland? Is it not the case that when the Government talk about taking back control, what they mean is taking back control from the people of Scotland?
If I recall rightly, what my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary said to The Herald was that respect works both ways. It is right for the Government of the United Kingdom to respect fully both the devolution settlements and the competences of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, and the interests of Scotland within the United Kingdom in reserved matters, including our European negotiations; but the Scottish Government, and members of the SNP, should also respect the verdict of the Scottish people in the 2014 referendum on the future of Scotland.
Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time about delays in universal credit payments? Claimants are waiting for at least six weeks, and those who are not paid monthly do not have a month’s salary as a cushion. People in low-paid, part-time or temporary jobs do not have savings to see them through, and are having to use food banks.
The virtues of universal credit are that it is a simpler system, with more generous childcare provisions, than the system that it is replacing, and that, for the first time, people will be given extra help when they are in work to make progress and increase their earnings. It will ensure that working more always pays more, and that people are always better off in work than on benefits.
Our purpose in introducing universal credit on a gradual basis is to identify and eliminate teething problems such as those described by the hon. Lady at a very early stage, and to put them right. If there are cases in her constituency that she thinks are not being addressed with sufficient speed, I ask her to let me know the details, and I will draw them to the attention of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions immediately.
Last July the Security Industry Authority launched a new IT system whose implementation led to difficulties caused by system defects. As a consequence, some applications are taking longer to process than they ought to. Constituency cases with which I have been dealing recently indicate that the problem is ongoing, and that a resolution has yet to be found. May we have a statement from the Home Office to update the House on the progress of this matter?
I do not know the details of the problems that are affecting the Security Industry Authority, but it is clearly important for it to be able to process applications swiftly and efficiently. I advise the hon. Lady to seek an Adjournment debate, but also to write directly to the Home Secretary with the details of what she has discovered. I am sure that there will be a full response.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the issue of compensation for UK victims of the Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism. He will also be aware of the indication that a private Member’s Bill would come to the House of Commons from the other place. May we have a debate in Government time on the progress of Her Majesty’s Government’s efforts to secure compensation for those victims, as was suggested by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), during a debate in Westminster Hall on 13 December?
The hon. Gentleman has been diligent in pursuing the issue that he has raised, and I fully understand why it is so important to people in Northern Ireland, but he will recognise that, given the present situation in Libya, this is not a straightforward conversation to have with the Libyan authorities. However, the Under-Secretary of State—who is the Minister for the middle east and north Africa—continues to pursue the issue. Foreign Office questions will take place in the next few days, and the hon. Gentleman may wish to raise the matter with my hon. Friend then.