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House of Commons Hansard
09 March 2017
Volume 622

  • Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?

  • The business for next week is as follows:

    Monday 13 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill followed by continuation of the Budget debate.

    Tuesday 14 March—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments followed by conclusion of the Budget debate.

    Wednesday 15 March—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Health Services Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill, followed by remaining stages of the National Citizen Service Bill [Lords], followed by motion relating the appointment of lay members to the Committee on Standards, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

    Thursday 16 March—Statement on the publication of the 10th report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee entitled “Lessons still to be learned from the Chilcot inquiry”, followed by a statement on the publication of the sixth report of the Health Committee on suicide prevention, followed by a debate on a motion relating to energy prices. The Select Committee statements and the subject for debate were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

    Friday 17 March—The House will not be sitting.

    The provisional business for the week commencing 20 March will include:

    Monday 20 March—Second Reading of the Prisons and Courts Bill.

    I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 20 and 23 March will be:

    Monday 20 March—Debate on an e-petition relating to the cost of car insurance for young people.

    Thursday 23 March—Debate on the first and second reports of the International Development Committee entitled “Syrian refugee crisis and DFID’s programme in Nigeria”.

    Finally, I inform the House that, because of diary commitments on Monday, the Prime Minister expects to update the House on this week’s European Council on Tuesday next week.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business and add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Perhaps it will be a case of him singing to us, rather than us singing to him.

    Are we any nearer to having a date for the Queen’s Speech? I am sure that the person delivering it would like to know when it is.

    I gave the inaugural Emily Wilding Davison memorial lecture at Bedford College and Royal Holloway yesterday. As you know, Mr Speaker, she broke into the House of Commons a few times, most memorably on census night. It was said that she knew the House’s maze of pipes and hidey-holes far better than all the other suffragettes. She therefore had a lot in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

    May I press the Leader of the House on a date for the debate on restoration and renewal? Members need to know that and need to have their say. It might be helpful, at the time of the debate, to have a display so that Members can see what is at stake and have an informed debate, rather than one based on speculation. I know that a date has been mentioned, but perhaps that was just a gentleman’s agreement and ladies are not allowed to know.

    I note that the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is coming back to the Commons on Monday. Once the Bill goes through, it will truly be the end of the Thatcher legacy, because the former Prime Minister signed up in 1981 to EU enlargement through the accession of Greece, in 1983 to the declaration on more European integration, in 1986 to EU enlargement through the accession of Spain and Portugal, and in 1987 to the Single European Act to create a single internal market. Yet she was also able to say no: she renegotiated the EU budget in 1984, said no to the 1985 Schengen agreement, and said no to the 1989 social charter—wrongly, in my view. Margaret Thatcher was a remainer and a reformer; the same cannot be said of this Government.

    And so to the Budget. It is not so much “Spreadsheet Phil” as Punxsutawney Phil from groundhog day. He is being chased back down his hole by the self-employed and the Brexiteers. There was no mention of the most challenging events that will happen to this country in the next few years. He did not use the word “Brexit” once—not verbally, not in his speech, not in the Official Report. What he did say was that he

    “will not saddle our children with ever-increasing debts.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2017; Vol. 622, c. 811.]

    Will the Leader of the House clarify whether that means tuition fees will be abolished? The Chancellor talks about Germany’s productivity being better than ours. Germany abolished tuition fees. Maybe that is something we can learn from Germany.

    The Chancellor said that money was available for investment in school condition. Given that the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) said he regretted cancelling the Building Schools for the Future programme, will the Leader of the House make representations to the Chancellor to enable all schools allocated funds under the scheme to receive them without having to make bids that take money away from frontline services?

    Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the money for research for 1,000 PhDs is a grant or a loan? I thought I the Chancellor say “loan”, but I cannot find it in the Official Report. [Interruption.] If hon. Members do not want to hear they should just leave the Chamber.

  • Well, you’re talking rubbish.

  • You think it’s rubbish; we don’t think it’s rubbish.

    Was the Leader of the House aware of the discussions around the gentleman's agreement in Surrey? Will he launch an inquiry or make a statement to the House? An MP was involved “who has worked really hard behind the scenes”, and there is a reference to a Member whom we both know very well. May we have a statement on what exactly is on offer under this deal? Step one: councils threaten to increase council tax. Step two: they make a phone call to the Communities Secretary, who then pops over to No. 11 in his car. Then, lo and behold, there is a deal—a gentleman’s agreement that is not transparent and is just for Tory councils.

    Will the Leader of the House ensure a breakdown of all business rates goes to each council when the transition is made, so hon. Members do not have to make freedom of information requests of their councils? The council tax burden will now shift totally and utterly to local taxpayers. Oxford Street in my constituency does not have any businesses. This will have a direct effect on many of our constituencies.

    The Prime Minister said, when she first stood in Downing Street:

    “When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few”.

    Yet the Prime Minister made it clear the Government are promoting selective schools. Can the Leader of the House confirm that children who cannot afford tutors, who will enable them to get into selective schools, will be given help? Schools are good because of the hard work of the pupils and their teachers. The Government cannot take credit for that.

    The Chancellor talked about the “last Labour Government” but we are thinking about the next Labour Government. It is the next Labour Government who will have the last laugh.

    Finally, it was a male-dominated International Women’s Day. Maybe next year there will be no “Spreadsheet Phil”, but “Spreadsheet Justine”. I want to bring women back to the centre. Gandhi said that if you educate the mother you educate society. How can we forget what was said about Ginger Rogers: she did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels? There is the Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky. Finally, there is the new hashtag: #neverthelessshepersisted. That is what we all have to do to get true equality. A belated happy International Women’s Day to everyone.

  • Colleagues, I am also advised that today is a significant birthday for the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), who I feel sure is celebrating suitably somewhere. We congratulate her on that milestone birthday.

  • May I first deal with the questions from the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) about two items of business. I cannot yet give a date for the Queen’s Speech. As the House will know, this depends to some extent on the exchange of amendments between the two Houses. We are not in a position to make an announcement yet.

    I cannot be specific about a date for a debate on restoration and renewal. However, the Government’s position remains that we intend to hold it before the Easter recess, as I said in answer to the business question a few weeks ago.

    I disagree with the hon. Lady that we should get rid of tuition fees. It is not unreasonable to expect students to make a contribution towards the cost of that university education when their income in later working lives reaches above a certain threshold. I would have hoped that, rather than revisit the argument about tuition fees, she welcomes the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday of the Government’s drive to improve the opportunities provided by, and the quality of, technical and vocational education in this country. That is key to giving the maximum possible chance in life to those children who are unable to go to university or who choose not to do so. It is an absolutely essential part of tackling some of this country’s long-term structural economic problems to do with the lack of competitiveness in a very fast-changing international economy.

    I do not know how many times Ministers will repeat from the Dispatch Box that there is no special sweetheart deal. I was astonished that the hon. Lady claimed that there is something available to Conservative councils that is not available to Labour councils. I was sitting on the Front Bench yesterday when I heard the Prime Minister say in terms that the local authorities that would be first in the pilots for 100% return of business rates in the 2017-18 financial year were Labour authorities. Those Labour authorities have welcomed that opportunity to be in the first set of pilots. We are saying to Surrey and every other council not included in that first round that, if they meet the criteria, they can apply for participation in the second round in 2019-20. That has always been and remains the position.

    On grammar schools, the Government said in the Green Paper that was published shortly before Christmas that we would consider and consult on ways in which the admissions system to selective schools might be altered to try to give the maximum possible opportunity to children from poorer families and families that do not have a history of sending people on to further and higher education of getting those places at selective schools. The problem with the Labour party is that its views on education are stuck in the past. It seems extraordinary, and an increasing anomaly, that, at a time of great diversity in the provision of secondary schools of various types, including specialist schools of the type the Prime Minister described yesterday, there should be an arbitrary legal ban on the creation of new selective schools as part of that broader mix. That is the challenge the Government are seeking to address.

    I am more than happy to join the hon. Lady in welcoming International Women’s Day in the way she described, and in paying tribute to all of those in this country who have played a part in advancing opportunities for women. Women and men from all political traditions in this country have supported them. We might also pause and reflect on the fact that women in some countries around the world can be put at great personal risk by standing up publicly and pressing for the type of civil rights and opportunities women have in this country. In celebrating what has been achieved here and in other countries, we should remember that the real heroines are those who fight for equal rights in those countries where there is real danger.

  • Last week, I hosted a celebration on 25 years of Dr Sodha’s chiropractic—I understand that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House piloted a private Member’s Bill through the House promoting chiropractic. May we have a debate in Government time on the use of chiropractic in the national health service as an alternative to giving people medicine?

    While I am on my feet, Mr Speaker, may I gently remind my right hon. Friend that the House rose early again on Monday? The Backbench Business Committee has a queue of debates that could fill those slots were they made available by the Government.

  • We do try to ensure that the Backbench Business Committee has its full allocation of slots. It is not entirely for Ministers to determine how many Members participate in any debate, or for how long they speak. Sometimes Members in all parts of the House speak for far longer than their Whips may wish them to, and at other times the debate finishes early, but that is not entirely in the Government’s gift.

    My hon. Friend’s point about chiropractic was well made. Looking back on the growth of the profession over the last 25 years, I think that the increasing availability of chiropractic treatment as a complement to traditional medicine has brought huge benefit to patients in all parts of the country, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be lucky enough to secure an Adjournment debate to celebrate that achievement further.

  • I thank you for your birthday wishes, Mr Speaker. I shall always be a year older than you.

    As well as being my birthday, today is Budget Boxing day, and, if anything, Budget Boxing day is more interesting and more revealing than Budget day itself. It is on Budget Boxing day that we start to hear the useful clarifications, the climbdowns and the justifications for broken manifesto promises, which usually involves the Chancellor of the Exchequer scurrying around the broadcasters and trying to do all those things at once. May I suggest that a statement on Budget Boxing day would be a way of resolving that? The Chancellor of the Exchequer could come to the House and provide all the useful clarifications, start all the climbdowns, and justify all the broken manifesto promises.

    We in Scotland are grateful for the £350 million that we are to secure in Barnett consequentials as a result of the Budget, but we note that Scotland will receive exactly the same amount in a year as the NHS is supposed to receive in one week after Brexit. That is hardly going to offset the £4 billion worth of cuts that we will face over the next 10 years.

    I note that three days have been set aside for consideration of Lords amendments “if necessary”, as the Government attempt to ping that pong from the heroes in ermine who continue to stand up to them. What will happen if the paddles are still out on Wednesday, and we are still at the table? Will the Government enforce the Parliament Act? What impact will that have on the article 50 process? And may we encourage the people’s aristocrats to persist in the remain cause?

    Lastly, may I ask whether the Leader of the House has any explanation for the behaviour of the Prime Minister on the Front Bench yesterday? She looked as though she was swallowing a fish. It was almost like Mike Yarwood doing an impersonation of Ted Heath. Will the Leader of the House go back to No. 10, and tell the Prime Minister that this is no “plaice” for such behaviour?

  • First, let me wholeheartedly wish the hon. Gentleman many happy returns of the day. It is obvious that the first thing he did this morning was unwrap his birthday socks and tie, and I am sure that they were just what he had always wanted.

    The hon. Gentleman asks about the article 50 Bill. It is entirely routine for the Government to announce provisional business in case there is a need to debate Lords amendments. The House of Lords has a perfectly proper role as a revising Chamber, but it also knows that it is an unelected House. I hope that it will want to give very careful consideration to the views that this House takes on its amendments next week, and will accept that, ultimately, the view not just of the elected House but of the British people, expressed in a referendum, should prevail.

    The hon. Gentleman also asked about the impact of yesterday’s Budget statement on Scotland. I would have thought, particularly on his birthday, that he might have had a cheery word for the fact that, because of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcement, the Scottish Government’s resource budget will increase by £260 million through to 2020 and its capital budget by almost £90 million through to 2021. This builds on the £800 million increase to the Scottish Government’s capital budget that was delivered via last year’s autumn statement. Scotland, like all parts of the United Kingdom, is benefiting because of the action that the United Kingdom Government are taking to ensure a stable economy, economic growth and sustainable public finances.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Order. I gently point out that so far we have got through the three Front Benches and one Back Bencher, so progress is a little slow. If we could try to speed up a little bit, that would be much appreciated.

  • As has been said, yesterday was International Women’s Day, yet my constituents were shocked to learn, via the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children this week, that no fewer than 55 cases of female genital mutilation took place in Peterborough in the final three months of 2016. May we have a debate on prosecutions of the perpetrators of this evil trade, so that we can protect our young girls and women? FGM is not culturally acceptable, and it is time that we tackled it and drove this abominable practice from our country forever.

  • I agree with my hon. Friend: FGM is a crime, and it is child abuse as well. There have been a number of changes to the law, including in particular the Serious Crime Act 2015, that have extended both powers and penalties to deal with FGM. As he knows, the majority of cases recorded by the NHS are crimes that were committed overseas on non-UK citizens, where probably the right priority is to give help and support to those women who have been abused. However, he is right that we must not hesitate to bring people before the court where there is evidence.

  • May we have a debate to update the House on the Government’s plans for the rail industry, especially in the light of Brexit, including plans for the rail freight sector, for ordering new rolling stock, and for refurbishing rolling stock, which is crucial to companies such as Wabtec in my constituency which specialises in the refurbishment of rolling stock?

  • The right hon. Lady makes a good point. It is important not just in the context of Brexit, but in terms of getting the right mix of transport services in this country, that we continue to modernise our rail system. The autumn statement’s focus on additional infrastructure spending will indeed deliver rail improvements in all parts of the country.

  • May we have an urgent debate on the conduct of Veolia, an organisation full of sharp suits and sharp practices? This company is promoting an incinerator in my constituency on a floodplain that just 18 months ago it was arguing before the planning inspector was unsuitable for such a site. This is disgraceful and, dare I say, dishonest behaviour on the part of this company.

  • My hon. Friend makes his points powerfully, and I am sure on behalf of his constituents. This is obviously a matter for the local planning authorities, and for the Environment Agency as the custodian of environmental regulations. He may wish to seek an Adjournment debate on it.

  • Thinking about Monday’s business, two weeks ago at business questions the Leader of the House broke with his established procedure of a lifetime in politics by giving me what he described as a straight answer when I asked whether it was possible, roughly speaking, to say what the process of negotiation with Europe would yield. Amazingly, and by an extraordinary coincidence, it turns out that I was quoting the leader of the leave campaign, Dominic Cummings, when he said last year:

    “No-one in their right mind would begin a legally defined two-year maximum period to conduct negotiations before they actually knew, roughly speaking, what this process was going to yield.”

    Is the Prime Minister of sound mind? [Interruption.]

  • One of my hon. Friends says, “I don’t recall the Prime Minister leading the leave campaign.” Nor was she responsible for its statements. The Prime Minister’s view—and the view of the Government—was spelled out in detail in the recent White Paper, in which we describe our negotiating objectives of securing the best possible access to, and freedom to operate within, the single market for British business, a fair deal for our citizens in Europe and for European citizens here, and so on. However, this negotiation will involve 27 other countries as well, and they are clear that the process of negotiation can start only when article 50 has been triggered.

  • Staffordshire fire and rescue service has been involved in two high-profile waste fires, including one on an illegal waste site near Rugeley. This has been a horrendous experience for local residents, and the fire service has faced significant costs in managing these incidents over the past six months. The dumping of illegal waste is a problem not just in Staffordshire. May we have a debate in Government time on this increasingly national issue?

  • My hon. Friend raises an important point on behalf of her constituents. I cannot offer an immediate debate in Government time, but she might find an opportunity through the Back-Bench business process or through an Adjournment debate.

  • When can we debate the call made in the Daily Mirror yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) that we should learn the lessons of the Afghan war if we are to avoid any repetition of what happened? In 2006, after only six of our soldiers had died in Afghanistan, the decision was taken to go into Helmand province on the basis that not a shot would be fired. The result of that was that 450 more soldiers lost their lives. We cannot turn lies into the truth by carving them on war memorials or by putting them into the mouths of dignitaries. When can we face up to the truth about the Helmand disaster by having an inquiry?

  • It is right that we should have a public memorial to those, both military and civilian, who served so valiantly in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also that we should learn the lessons from both those conflicts. The forthcoming debate on the Select Committee report on the Chilcot inquiry will clearly relate primarily to Iraq, but I would have thought that the lessons to be learned from that conflict and the Afghanistan conflict could be debated during that time.

  • May we have a debate on the efficiency with which we prosecute white collar crime? We are very good at chasing benefit cheats, and rightly so, but I do not believe that we are doing enough to investigate what my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) calls the sharp-suited spivs who get away with misappropriating millions of pounds, sometimes involving public money.

  • I can assure my hon. Friend that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which is an independent prosecuting authority, takes this matter very seriously and has secured a big increase in the amount of money recovered for the Treasury through compliance activities, but I am sure that there is always more to be done.

  • May we have a debate on helping people into work? Blaenau Gwent still has stubbornly high unemployment, yet the Department for Work and Pensions wants to shut the Tredegar jobcentre. If the Government truly want to support people, they must take on board the burden that this proposal will put on jobseekers by making them pay for expensive public transport or walk for miles over the mountain, whatever the weather.

  • After 20 years, the contract that covers many DWP offices is nearing an end. It expires on 31 March 2018. The DWP is redesigning its estate so that it delivers better value for taxpayers while also delivering support to people. This is not about reducing services; it is about trying to stop spending taxpayers’ money on renting empty space so that we can give more through counselling and support to those who need it to get back into employment.

  • In his statement, the Leader of the House said that there would be a debate on the Department for International Development’s programme in Nigeria. He will know that there is an impending famine in eastern Nigeria. I wonder whether we could have a wider debate on the famines in Yemen and Somalia, and the famine in South Sudan that the World Food Programme has just announced, and on how DFID’s programme could do more to prevent conflict rather than just resolving it, given that conflict is a driver of those famines.

  • That sounds like an ideal subject for one of the longer debates in Westminster Hall. I am sure that my hon. Friend would be the first to agree that DFID is devoting a lot of resource to help bring relief to South Sudan.

  • Yesterday, the Foreign Office updated its current foreign travel advice for Israel with the following information:

    “The Israeli Parliament passed a law on 6 March 2017, which gives authority to deny entry to foreign nationals who have publicly called for a boycott of Israel and/or settlements, or who belong to an organisation which has called for a boycott.”

    Given the impact that the new law will have on British passport holders, including Members of both Houses, and given that no other guidance has been issued by our Government beyond that information, may we have a statement from the Foreign Office on how the application of the law will affect UK passport holders and UK foreign policy?

  • At the risk of stating the obvious, Israel, like every other country, is ultimately responsible for determining its own rules on immigration and on visits, but we are seeking urgent clarification from the Israeli authorities as to what the application of the new policy might be. In the meantime, we have updated the travel advice in order to give people as much information as we have at present. If any British citizen feels uncertain about a possible visit to Israel, we suggest that they contact the embassy. We will give clearer advice as soon as we get it from the Israelis.

  • Fowey community hospital in my constituency has been closed since last summer despite the fact that the Royal Cornwall hospital has been on black alert more often than not during that time. Yesterday, I received a letter from the senior emergency consultant in Cornwall, who said:

    “It is, therefore, inexplicable and unjustifiable, that we continue to have closed community hospital beds whilst patients queue in corridors in ED.”

    Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Health Secretary on the important role that community hospitals play, particularly in rural communities such as Cornwall?

  • My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of community hospitals, particularly as a step when people no longer need intensive care in an acute facility. The exact configuration of local health services in Cornwall or anywhere else is a decision that needs to be taken by local health bosses, not imposed centrally from London.

  • Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting the school council of Ings Primary School in my constituency. Young Charlie White, 10 years of age, raised the issue of the WASPI women after seeing them protesting outside the Palace. He asked me why the Chancellor had completely ignored them in his Budget and asked me to raise that at the earliest opportunity. On behalf of Charlie White, can we please have a debate in Government time on the WASPI women?

  • May I say that I am genuinely delighted that among the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, as among mine, there are school council members who are taking an active interest in politics? Whatever views we hold, we should welcome that. My answer to Charlie, through the hon. Gentleman, is that the Government have put in place transitional arrangements, costing taxpayers £1 billion, to cushion the impact of the change in the state pension age for women. To reverse the Pensions Act 2011 would cost more than £30 billion, which cannot be justified.

  • Pupils in my constituency, including those from the community high school in Winsford who are visiting this place today, are deeply concerned about the impending cuts to school funding. May we timetable a debate in Government time to cover the changes to the formula after the consultation has closed on 22 March?

  • I stress that the consultation on the proposed new funding formula has not yet closed. When the results are in, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will want to consider them before deciding on the way forward.

  • Last week there was speculation about your showering habits, Mr Speaker. Today, I would like to query your shopping habits. I do not know whether you have been to the supermarket recently, but if you have, you will have noticed that food prices are rising sharply and that “buy one get one free” offers and own-brand products are disappearing from the shelves. Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate on those price rises and their impact on low and middle-income families, many of whom have just been hard hit by the Government dumping their pledge not to increase national insurance?

  • On that last point, if the right hon. Gentleman looks at what the Chancellor actually announced, he will see that people on low incomes will not be affected at all. Sixty per cent. of self-employed people will be better off, taking account of the abolition of class 2 contributions and the changes to class 4 contributions that were announced in the Budget yesterday.

    The prices in supermarkets clearly vary depending on market prices, which depend in part on things such as currency movements. The price of certain vegetables depends on the weather in vegetable-producing areas this winter. The most important thing for the Government is that we maintain an economy with low inflation, high employment and vigorous economic growth, which is the best way to ensure good living standards for the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents.

  • I am doing what I can to help some constituents obtain a life-saving drug for their young son. Members on both sides of the House will have had similar cases over the years. These are difficult decisions for health trusts and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, but it would be helpful if we could have a debate on how they go about making those decisions. Will the Leader of the House find Government time for such a debate?

  • I cannot promise Government time, but there may be other opportunities. These are always very difficult decisions, and the right principle has to be that access to a drug is determined by clinical effectiveness, which has to be measured by doctors, not by politicians.

  • It is now clear that self-employed people were given a false promise at the last election. The Conservative manifesto said no less than four times that a Conservative Government would not increase national insurance. Can we have a statement from the Government going through the pledges they made in that manifesto line by line so that we have a fighting chance of knowing what we are holding them to account for?

  • When the National Insurance Contributions (Rate Ceilings) Bill was debated in November 2015, it was said that

    “this Bill enacts the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge not to increase NICs in this Parliament. It is part of their wider pledge to cap income tax, VAT and national insurance contributions.”—[Official Report, 3 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 914.]

    That Bill delivered on the manifesto pledge, and those are not my words; they are the words of the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), who was shadow Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury at the time.

  • Last month, the Court of Appeal ruled in the case of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan that the Government’s failure to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples constituted a potential violation of human rights and that the “wait and see” policy of the Minister for Women and Equalities is unsustainable—the ruling also referred to my private Member’s Bill. Has the Leader of the House had any indication from the Minister for Women and Equalities about an impending announcement? If not, can we have a debate in Government time on equality of civil partnerships?

  • My hon. Friend has consistently championed that cause for quite a period of time. I am not aware of an imminent announcement, but I will remind the Minister for Women and Equalities of his persistence on the subject.

  • Given the timely reminder of the plight of the Yazidis on the BBC News on Tuesday past—when Amal Clooney spoke at UN headquarters about how 1,200 Yazidi women and girls are still being held hostage by Islamic State in Mosul, about which Mr Speaker and everyone in this Chamber is particularly interested—will the Leader of the House agree to a debate or a statement on expanding the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme to make the most vulnerable individuals from that Iraqi religious minority eligible for resettlement? They have been able to flee persecution but are unable to return home.

  • The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this challenge and the appalling abuses of human rights that have been taking place in Iraq and Syria. Victims of abuse and religious minorities are among the categories that we have identified as the highest priorities under the scheme to admit 20,000 people to the UK, which the previous Prime Minister announced; that will also apply in respect of the 3,000 children we are taking in from the region, in addition to those 20,000.

  • Following the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling), I wish to highlight the huge increase in fly-tipping across North Warwickshire and Bedworth in recent months. A recent episode near the village of Austrey led to an entire road being blocked by the rubbish deposited on it. The clear-up costs for just one council are estimated at £650,000, so may we have an urgent debate on this issue to see what more can be done to protect our countryside from this terrible scourge, which sadly seems to be on the increase across the country as a whole?

  • Many of us will have experience of what my hon. Friend rightly terms this “scourge” in our constituencies, and he is right to speak out today. Where fly-tipping involves hazardous waste or organised crime the Environment Agency has a role to play, so he might want to make representations to it. The Government last year gave councils the power to issue fixed penalty notices for small-scale fly-tipping incidents, and his local council might wish to explore that.

  • In yesterday’s Budget, the Chancellor made a welcome move to clear up a VAT anomaly by pledging to collect VAT on telecoms abroad. As that is going to bring some money, is it not now time to clear up another VAT anomaly: VAT being applied to Police Scotland and to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service? Will the Leader of the House make a statement confirming he agrees that that should be the case and committing the Government to agreeing to amendments to the Finance Bill?

  • I cannot make the commitment the hon. Gentleman wants me to make, but I will make sure the Chancellor is aware of the point he has just made.

  • In August 2015, 300,000 households in Lancashire were affected by the loss of drinking water as a result of the cryptosporidium outbreak, yet 18 months on the Drinking Water Inspectorate still refuses to publish the report or to say when it will be published. In fact, the response has been, “We will publish when we are good and ready.” Will the Leader of the House set aside time for a debate on the responsibility of organisations such as the DWI to the constituents I represent?

  • I have to say I am surprised that this report has not yet been published, and I shall draw my hon. Friend’s representations to the attention of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

  • Yesterday’s national insurance rise was not only a breach of the Conservative party manifesto, but an attack on small businesspeople, entrepreneurs, taxi drivers and others who take the risk to start a business and go it alone. Given the Leader of the House’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), may I ask the right hon. Gentleman by which parliamentary mechanism this rise will be enacted? Will it be through a national insurance Bill, a statutory instrument or another measure?

  • Legislation will be brought forward at the appropriate time later this year. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that he and others from right across the House have rightly been calling for more money to be spent on the NHS and on social care, and that money has to be raised in revenue. We have seen that the introduction of the new state pension system has removed the greater part of the disadvantage that previously applied to people who were self-employed rather than employed and which had justified the very significant difference between the national insurance contributions paid by self-employed people as against employees. The important narrowing of that difference in pension and other benefits, coupled with the Government’s further pledge to look at parental benefits, justifies the measure the Chancellor announced yesterday.

  • Today, knife possession sentencing statistics have been published, and they reveal that in the last three months of 2016 around 300 repeat offenders were let off going to prison, despite Parliament’s introduction of mandatory sentencing following the campaign for what became known as Enfield’s law. May we have a statement to reaffirm that it was and still is Parliament’s clear will that persistent knife offenders should and must be locked up, because they cause carnage on our streets?

  • We certainly want to see people who are convicted of knife crimes being sentenced severely, because they not only cause actual harm to fellow citizens but breed a culture of fear that poisons whole neighbourhoods. Ultimately, though, it has to be for the judge in an individual case to hear all the evidence and decide the appropriate sentence.

  • The northern powerhouse is supposedly a cornerstone of Government policy, but it was not mentioned in yesterday’s Budget statement. When are the Government going to facilitate a debate on the northern powerhouse, so that we can talk about the most significant project that needs to be completed: the M65 east-west extension between Preston and Leeds?

  • I am glad the hon. Gentleman has raised the northern powerhouse, because the Government have set out a northern powerhouse strategy to boost productivity throughout the north of England. The next steps include moves on the northern powerhouse schools strategy; more than half a billion pounds of local growth fund allocation; the upgrading of transport infrastructure in the north; and further science and innovation audits. I thought the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed those steps.

  • Yesterday was International Women’s Day. One of the great disappointments on both sides of the House is the fact that we have never had a woman leader of the Labour party, although the shadow Leader of the House made a clear bid for the position today. I will do anything I can to help her in that regard, but can she please resist spreading fake news? The suggestion that Mrs Thatcher would have been a remainer is absolutely outrageous. May we have a debate next week on fake news?

  • On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

  • No. Points of order come later; the hon. Gentleman can ventilate his thoughts at that time.

  • My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) was, uncharacteristically, slightly unfair, because we should pay tribute to what the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) did when they were acting leaders of the Labour party. Government Members might hope that, one day, the Labour party will summon up the courage to allow a woman to take over full time.

  • In recent weeks I have been contacted by a number of distressed and vulnerable constituents who have been turned down for employment and support allowance. The clear injustice in some of the cases is stomach-churning, even by Tory standards. They have had their benefits stopped and are reliant on food banks and handouts. This issue is raised frequently in the House, but the recent increase is alarming. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time to revisit the issue?

  • I am sure the hon. Lady will be taking up any particular cases with Ministers from the Department for Work and Pensions. The principle has to be right that if somebody has a condition that means they are able to work, as so many disabled people and people living with long-term medical conditions wish and are able to do—3.5 million today, which is a record number—they should be given help and support to do so. They should not be written off and consigned to a lifetime on benefits.

  • I welcome the Government’s positive move to ban the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics and care products by October. It will make a real difference to the cleaning up of our marine environment, but there is still so much more to be done on plastic pollution. Will my right hon. Friend find a time for the House to debate the issue? It really is critical if we are to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.

  • My hon. Friend is indefatigable in raising this subject. I cannot promise an immediate Government debate, but she will know that, from the Prime Minister downwards, the entire Government are committed to delivering on our promise.

  • In a written statement on Monday, the Government announced that they are scaling back their financial support for people who received contaminated blood products. On the same day, the chief executive of the trust that administers the money that currently goes to that group of people refused to meet the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood to discuss what is happening. I am sure that the Leader of the House agrees that transparency and openness is very much the best policy, so may we please have a statement from a Minister about the Government’s intentions so that MPs can raise their constituents’ concerns about what the Government are doing?

  • The hon. Lady makes a perfectly serious point. I will ask the relevant Health Minister to write to her.

  • Exercise, especially jogging, can be a lonely pursuit, so may we have a debate on the value of running clubs, such as the Atherton running club in my constituency, which provide a fun and motivating environment for that healthy activity?

  • I am delighted to be able to pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s local running club. I do not know whether he is a participant as well as a champion.

  • My hon. Friend nods—that is an even better sign. Perhaps another year he will join my hon. Friends the Members for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) and for Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson), who will take part in this year’s London marathon. We wish them well.

  • Will the Leader of the House tell us about the role and locus of his office in the preparation and passage of the great repeal Bill? Given that that office steered English votes for English laws, what assurance can he give us that that Bill will not be a vehicle for English votes over devolved competences?

  • My office will be involved, and I will be involved in the Cabinet Committee that reviews that legislation before its introduction in the same way as we review all legislation. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the impact of the whole Brexit process on devolved competences is one of the key issues we are considering. Many EU-level competences cut across devolved matters, although they also include some reserved matters—fisheries is one example—so we will continue to engage very closely with all three devolved Administrations to ensure that we get the right outcome and that there is no question at any stage of taking away powers that have been devolved under the three devolution Acts.

  • In February 2014, 14-year-old Breck Bednar was brutally murdered by a man he met via an online video gaming platform. Breck’s mum, Lorin, who bravely came to talk to teachers and parents in Kingston, is calling for a law to tackle that kind of online grooming to be brought into force urgently. May we have a debate on how all stakeholders —the Government, police and, particularly, internet companies—deal with online grooming and abuse to avoid tragic cases like the murder of Breck?

  • The whole House will have been shocked by the account that my hon. Friend gave and will want to express condolences to Breck’s family. There are laws in place to enable us to take action against online grooming, as we can against other types of grooming and abuse. There is sometimes difficulty in assembling sufficient evidence to put before a court, and I am sure that the police and prosecuting authorities constantly review the adequacy of current arrangements and practices, but I will certainty draw his particular concern to the Home Secretary’s attention.

  • Today is World Kidney Day. May I ask the Leader of the House to do two things? First, will he join me in commending all the kidney support groups that raise funds for research? Last week, my group in Porthcawl gave more than £2,000 for psychological support for children with kidney failure. Secondly, three people die every day because of the lack of available transplants, so may we have a debate on the need to increase their availability for people who otherwise would die?

  • Although I cannot offer the debate in Government time, at least in the short term, there may be other opportunities of which the hon. Lady will be well aware. I am happy to endorse her tribute to the Porthcawl group and to other kidney support groups throughout the country, and to emphasise, as she did, the importance of ensuring that more transplants are available, and that donors are available to help people in need.

  • I chair the all-party parliamentary group on Tanzania. Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) and I met Tanzanian business leaders in Dar es Salaam. One issue they raised was the length of time it takes them to get visas to come to the United Kingdom on business trips. By contrast, it takes us two or three days to get a visa from the Tanzanian high commission in London for a similar trip. May we have a debate on ensuring that the process is sped up for all those countries with which we will do increasing business over the coming years as we come out of the European Union?

  • When we are looking at visa policy, it is important that we get the balance right between giving potential visitors and business visitors the kind of swift service that my that my hon. Friend rightly wants to see and, at the same time, ensuring that we have an effective system of border control, including running the necessary background checks to guard against the risk of terrorism or other organised crime. I will draw my hon. Friend’s concerns about the Tanzanian experience in particular to the attention of the Immigration Minister.

  • On a connected matter, in preparation for Fairtrade fortnight, I have had to make representations to the Home Office to overturn arbitrary decisions refusing visas to Palestinians wishing to visit Fairtrade organisations in my constituency. Organisations such as Palcrafts, Hadeel, Zaytoun and the Scottish Fair Trade Forum have all invited Palestinians involved in the production of Fairtrade products to the UK for Fairtrade fortnight. Unfortunately, some—including representatives of Canaan Fair Trade, which I visited on the west bank last year—have had their visas refused. Given that the Government and the Department for International Development are eager to improve British-Palestinian trade links, may we have a debate about how the Home Office’s intransigence in dealing with visas is hampering fair trade with Palestine?

  • No one would want to see genuine business visitors delayed or having a visa application refused but, as I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), there are checks that we expect the immigration service to carry out to ensure that our immigration rules are properly observed and that we are protected against the real risk of terrorism. Potential visitors coming from an area where terrorism is rife will clearly be subjected to those checks. I do not know what happened in the individual cases described by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), but if she has concerns about them, she is right to take them up with the Immigration Minister directly.

  • The current political composition of Pendle Borough Council is 24 Conservatives, 15 Labour members, nine Liberal Democrats and one British National party member—the last BNP councillor in the country. That means that the Labour-Lib Dem coalition that runs the council currently has to rely on the support of that BNP councillor to get things through. Yesterday, the Lancashire Telegraph reported on the shabby deal done between the local Lib Dems and the Labour party, and the BNP for securing support for their budget. May we have a debate on racism, and how the Pendle Labour party and Liberal Democrats are happy to turn a blind eye to it in order to cling on to their position and expenses?

  • The one crumb of good news in what my hon. Friend said is that there is now only a solitary BNP councillor left in England. I would hope that all democratic political parties in Pendle and at national level would unite to say that doing deals with the BNP is utterly repugnant and unacceptable, whether at local council level or anywhere else.

  • A recent study by Time to Change found that almost a third of men said that they would feel embarrassed to seek help for a mental health issue. Last week, it launched the “In Your Corner” campaign to encourage men to support one another’s mental health. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the campaign, and may we have a statement or debate on how we can best improve men’s attitudes to mental health issues?

  • I strongly associate myself with what the hon. Gentleman has said. He is right to highlight the fact that men sometimes find it much more difficult to be open about mental health problems than do women. That is generalising, but I think that that generalisation is true, and I am delighted that work is going on in his constituency to try to change that.

  • The Chancellor’s announcement of £100 million for new NHS triaging projects is very welcome. In north Northamptonshire, there is a real desire to see a new urgent care hub open at Kettering general hospital, which fits perfectly with that agenda, and the Corby urgent care centre is a beacon of best practice. May we therefore have a statement next week on the Chancellor’s announcement?

  • My hon. Friend has the opportunity to raise that issue during the Budget debate, as this was a Budget announcement. We are looking at providing an additional £100 million to the NHS in 2017-18 for capital investment in A&E departments to help manage pressure on A&E services. Those localities that achieve some of the best results in A&E care are often those that have managed to get GPs and minor injuries units operating alongside A&Es, so I wish my hon. Friend’s health authorities in Northamptonshire well in trying to get access to this new fund.

  • Earlier this week, the Brexit Committee unanimously recommended that there should be an end to the practice whereby the Home Office sometimes writes to EU nationals who have established a legal right of permanent residence in the United Kingdom telling them to prepare to leave and threatening to deport them if they do not leave voluntarily. May we have an urgent statement from the Home Secretary confirming that she will act immediately to end this odious treatment of our residents?

  • The law is quite clear on this matter: we are still a full member of the European Union, and that means that all rights deriving from the free movement directive still apply in this country, and will do so until the date of exit. It is also the Government’s oft-repeated objective to ensure at the earliest possible stage of negotiations that we have a reciprocal agreement that guarantees the rights of EU citizens in this country and of British citizens in the other 27 member states.

  • May we have an urgent debate in Government time about the prospects of the 4.6 million people who are now self-employed and about those working in the gig economy? As we know, they have poor access to benefits, and they bounce along on very low incomes indeed.

  • All self-employed people who earn less than £16,250 will see a cut in their total national insurance contributions after the announcements made by the Chancellor yesterday. I would have thought that the hon. Lady would also welcome the fact that the new state pension will, for the first time, give self-employed people the right to accrue state pension rights that were denied to them previously.

  • On 16 February, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence in relation to ammunition technicians and ammunition technical officers serving in Northern Ireland and assisting the Police Service of Northern Ireland, by dealing with bomb scares, for example. The Army wanted to award these soldiers—our troops—General Service Medals for their part in Operation Helvetic. May we have a statement from a Minister on whether armed forces personnel will receive GSMs for assisting civil authorities in Northern Ireland as part of Operation Helvetic?

  • As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know, there are long-standing rules in place that govern the award of medals, but I will ask the Secretary of State to attend to his letter at the earliest possible opportunity.

  • Workers in the nuclear decommissioning industry face a very real threat to their pensions, despite cast-iron guarantees provided by Mrs Thatcher following the privatisation of the nuclear estate. That is of great concern to the workers at the Hunterston A site in my constituency. May we have a debate to fully discuss those concerns and the broken promises that are causing so much distress and alarm to workers across the United Kingdom?

  • I suggest to the hon. Lady that she might wish to question the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on that at the oral questions session coming up next week.

  • Following the unfortunate comments made by Peter Duthie, the chief executive of Scottish Events Campus, in which he appeared to defend ticket touts and said that any recent issues were down to just

    “a bit of…bad press”,

    can we have a debate on the secondary ticket market to ensure that our constituents do not continue to be ripped off?

  • I think we are all well aware of how aggrieved genuine fans of musicians and sports feel when they are denied the opportunity to get tickets to their chosen event because of the activities of touts. Passing a new Act of Parliament will not necessarily guarantee an answer of the type that the hon. Gentleman wants, but it is something that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), continues to keep under review.