The Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), is unfortunately once again unable to be with us, so may I just gently remind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that we have an ever-growing queue of applications for debates? Would he therefore consider allowing protected time, particularly on Thursdays, for Backbench Business debates? That might mean that this House would sit slightly later, but it would also mean that we could get at least two debates in and clear the decks.
Speaking on my own behalf, the Mayor of London has not only called in, but directed approval of, a planning application in Harrow which comprises two tower blocks next door to two-storey housing. The planning committee of Harrow Council has on a cross-party basis rejected this unacceptable planning application. The Mayor of London has called it in and directed approval, against the wishes of Harrow Council, all the residents and everyone—and not only that, it is hideous. May we have a debate on planning in London?
It was good to see the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee in his place earlier this week and I hope it will not be long before he is again playing a regular part in our Thursday exchanges. In the meantime, I say to my hon. Friend that we always take seriously the Backbench Business Committee’s requests for time, but the reality is that there is pressure on both Government and Backbench Business time and we must all select priorities. I am very happy to look at the case my hon. Friend and the Committee make for protected time on specific Thursdays, but I would be reluctant to agree a general rule for all Thursdays because sometimes Backbench Business debates peter out before the allotted time has been completed—that may be rare, but it does occasionally happen. I think my hon. Friend will acknowledge that we have in the past tried, where we know that there are statements coming, to protect the Backbench Business agenda.
On my hon. Friend’s point about Harrow, he, as always, speaks strongly on behalf of his constituents, and I am sure he will seek to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, for a possible Adjournment debate.
May I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week and wish everybody a happy St Patrick’s day?
There is so much kicking around this morning that it is difficult to know where to start, but how about we start with securing an urgent statement on the Electoral Commission’s record fine on a political party for breaching electoral law? We need to hear in that statement that this Government are taking these allegations seriously, and not hitting out petulantly, as some Members have done this morning, at the Electoral Commission and treating it with contempt. Our electoral laws are critically important to protecting our democracy, and the Conservative party will now be investigated by the Metropolitan police, just as I asked the police to do last year. A sum of £70,000 is absolute peanuts to the Conservative party, so will the Leader of the House now say today that it will fully comply, and take part in every single one of those police investigations? This could well be the “cash for honours” of this Parliament.
May we have a debate on automotive manoeuvres? The screeching of yesterday’s U-turn on national insurance contributions is still ringing in our ears, and the skid marks go all the way from here to the doors of No. 10. I do not think we have ever seen a Budget unravel as dramatically as last week’s has done. Perhaps we need to get our Budgets manifesto-proofed, or perhaps we should get Laura Kuenssberg to deliver next year’s Budget from the Dispatch Box.
Lastly, will there be a statement from the Government approving a section 30 order to approve a legal independence referendum if, as is likely, the Scottish Parliament votes next week to request one? Surely there can be no case for standing in the way of democracy or defying the will of the democratically elected Parliament in Scotland. I say ever so gently to the Leader of the House that if this Government are thinking for one minute of standing in the way of Scottish democracy, that would be the biggest possible recruiting sergeant for the cause of Scottish independence.
The Government will of course consider carefully any recommendations from the Electoral Commission for a change in regulatory powers. We are already considering a number of possible changes to electoral arrangements, following the report by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) on electoral corruption. I have to say to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), however, that complaints from his party, of all parties, about the use of battle buses are more than a little odd. It is not exactly a secret that, at the 2015 general election, the Scottish National party flew Nicola Sturgeon from constituency to constituency in support of its candidates, which suggests to me that some of his party’s complaints in this respect are both spurious and hypocritical—
Order. The Leader of the House must not use that last word. He is a versatile fellow: he can use another word, and I feel sure that it will spew forth immediately.
I am happy to withdraw that, Mr Speaker. I make no allegation against any hon. Member, but I think that the party in question has not displayed consistency of approach when it comes to this matter.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about a referendum in Scotland. Obviously we will want to look at whatever request might come from the Scottish Parliament in due course when it has debated whatever motion is put before it, but I say gently to him that the autumn statement and the spring Budget together have given roughly £1.25 billion of extra spending to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament, and that they could use that money to reduce the tax hikes on businesses and middle income families in Scotland. They could also use it to improve failing schools in Scotland, or to help struggling hospitals in Scotland. That would be a much better service to the people of Scotland than posturing about a further referendum.
I call Mr Charles Walker.
Oh sorry, Mr Speaker, you took me by surprise!
As the hon. Gentleman was standing and seeking to catch my eye, his expression of incredulity is perhaps a tad misplaced.
And as I am only the Chair of the Procedure Committee, these things are lost on me!
May we have an urgent debate on the conduct of the Hertfordshire local enterprise partnership in relation to its possible misuse of £6.5 million of public money to promote and ease a planning application on behalf of Veolia? The relationship between Veolia, the LEP, Hertfordshire County Council, the relevant planning authority and the owner of the Veolia contract is too close to carry the confidence of my constituents.
As always, my hon. Friend makes his point powerfully on behalf of his constituents. I note that he has been successful in securing an Adjournment debate on Thursday 23 March, so I am sure that he will pursue those arguments then.
He certainly has been.
I would like to sign my question. Is the Leader of the House aware that 18 March marks the 14th anniversary of the UK Government’s recognising British sign language? Will he agree time to debate giving British sign language legal status like other recognised languages?
The hon. Lady has eloquently reminded us of the importance of British sign language to a number of our fellow citizens who live with deafness or a severe hearing impairment. The Department for Work and Pensions has under way a review of the provision of signing services in this country and has received several hundred submissions. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will bring forward the conclusions in due course. I can also tell the House that the Department for Education plans to accept British sign language as an alternative qualification to functional skills in English within apprenticeships, which I hope will be one step towards giving opportunities to more people who live with deafness to play a full part in the labour market.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate aimed at promoting projects to deter young people from drinking to excess and taking drugs? I recently saw the Smashed Project perform at St Thomas More High School, and I am convinced that a hard-hitting message can make a real impact.
I share my hon. Friend’s concern about the devastating impact that drug and alcohol misuse can have on the lives of too many young people and their families, who are often distraught about what has happened to a loved son or daughter. The Government take a broad approach to prevention, supporting investment in a range of different programmes. We announced earlier this week new funding for Mentor UK to continue to deliver the ADEPIS programme, which includes a range of resources to give young people the tools and confidence they need to resist being drawn towards drug misuse in the first place.
When can we debate early-day motion 1079, which covers the House’s abject failure to deal with the potentially corrupt revolving door between ministerial office and outside jobs?
[That this House recalls former Prime Minister David Cameron’s condemnation in 2010 of politicians who are out to serve themselves and not the country by lobbying; notes the abject failure of the Government’s watchdog, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, to reduce the abuses of the potentially corrupting revolving door between ministerial office and big business lobbying; and calls on the Government to establish an effective watchdog that would enhance the House’s reputation for probity, removing the opportunities for former Ministers to sell their inside knowledge and contacts for financial advantage by prohibiting their lobbying for companies they influenced or regulated in their Ministerial roles.]
The temptation is there for former Ministers to use their insider knowledge and contacts for their private gain. How is it right that the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which is responsible for approving such appointments, saw fit to give its blessing to a former Minister receiving £13,000 a day in addition to his parliamentary salary? Does that not bring this House into deeper disrepute?
It is right that we have a committee that is not part of the Government and not a Committee of this House or the other place to make rulings on individual cases. It is important that former Ministers stick to the proper procedures in seeking clearance before taking on any new external appointment.
Now that the Government have expressed their determination to honour both the letter and the spirit of manifesto commitments, may we have an urgent debate on how the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government can be persuaded to honour the letter and the spirit of the Government’s commitment to Parliament and to my constituents on 7 December 2015, as reported in column 822 of Hansard, that they would not force structural change on any local authority against its will?
As he has done previously, my hon. Friend speaks strongly about the continued existence of Christchurch Borough Council. He will continue to press the matter strongly with Ministers, and I am sure that his opportunity will arise in an Adjournment debate at some point.
Following a High Court judgment, the Government have to produce a new air quality plan by next month. Fifty thousand people a year die as a result of air pollution, which has an impact on my congested city of York. Even in Micklegate ward, we have five poor air quality hotspots. May we have debate in Government time about the steps that are needed ahead of the publication of the air quality plan so that we can have a real input into the Government’s plans?
The Government have given that very clear undertaking. There was a plan in place that the courts deemed to be inadequate, and the Government will respond to that court judgment by July. The right occasion for Parliament to consider the issue in greater detail will be when the plan is available.
As the economy continues to thrive, the claimant rate in my constituency is just 1.9%, but the local economy is quite dependent on European workers. Can we have a debate in Government time on how we can have a sensible work permit system for those valuable workers post-Brexit?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and reminds us that, when debating immigration policy, we should not get trapped into criticising people who come here from European countries and elsewhere to play an important part in our economy by working hard, paying taxes and contributing to our society. As he knows, the Government are committed to trying to agree a reciprocal deal on the status of EU nationals here and British nationals in the 27 other EU countries at the earliest possible stage of the negotiations. Although we will need a system of immigration controls subsequent to our exit from the European Union, we are alive to the need to be sensitive to British industry’s continuing need to staff posts.
Last week the Leader of the House assured me that the Government are seeking urgent clarification from the Israeli authorities on the new law banning foreigners who call for the boycotting of illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. There has been a week of absolute silence from the Foreign Office on that issue and, on Monday, Hugh Lanning, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was the first UK citizen to be deported from Israel following the passing of that law. May we please have a statement from the Foreign Office clarifying how the application of the law will affect UK passport holders and UK foreign policy?
The straight answer is that, since the hon. Lady raised the issue with me last week, we have not yet had the detailed clarification that we are seeking from the Israeli Government. As a result, the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office is raising the matter directly with Israeli officials this week.
I am grateful for the fact that you have called me before calling any Liberal Democrat Member, Mr Speaker. This week unemployment, at 4.7%, was at its lowest rate since the summer of 1975. It has always been a rule of thumb that Labour Governments increase unemployment and Conservative Governments reduce it, but there is another link—[Interruption.] I apologise to Labour Members, but the link is clearly different. What happened in the summer of ’75? That was when the country decided to stay in the European Economic Community, so unemployment has gone up all the time we have been in, and now we are coming out, it is going down. May we have a debate on that?
The hon. Gentleman has already had the debate.
The growth in employment and the fall in unemployment should be welcomed unreservedly on both sides of the House, and it is due to the hard work and enterprise of British business in creating jobs and to the Government’s creating an economic climate in which businesses want to invest and are willing to hire people. I hope that every Member, whichever party they come from, will welcome the fact that unemployment is now at its lowest since 1975 and that employment is at its highest in our country’s history.
As the Leader of the House knows, next week marks the second anniversary of the conflict in Yemen that has resulted in the death of 10,000 Yemeni people and brought that country to the brink of famine. The Yemeni people now face the four horsemen of the apocalypse: al-Qaeda, Daesh, starvation and airstrikes. When can we have a debate on that important subject? Britain holds the pen on Yemen so far as that matter is concerned, and it is vital that the House is updated before Yemen slides into the greatest catastrophe of this century.
We all share the right hon. Gentleman’s sense of horror at what has happened in Yemen. The British Government are extremely active in the international work, but it would be foolish to pretend that we have a quick and easy solution to this conflict. We continue to support the tireless efforts of the UN special envoy to broker an agreement between the warring parties inside Yemen, just as we continue to commit large sums of our overseas aid budget to relieve humanitarian suffering in Yemen. That political work and that humanitarian work will continue.
In the unlikely event of the Scottish people following the advice of the Scottish National party and voting for independence, they would be very much poorer. Many of my constituents are already concerned about the foreign aid budget. May we have a debate on the aid budget, so that the Government could make it clear that they will not sanction an increase in order to bail out the Scots?
There is some really good news for Scotland: since 2010 employment in Scotland has gone up by 171,000; 90,000 fewer Scots are out of work, and women’s employment in Scotland has gone up by 76,000. We should celebrate that.
The Leader of the House might know that people in Huddersfield are deeply disappointed in a Budget that does so little for the NHS and for our hospital accident and emergency unit, which might be closed. But they are good people in Huddersfield, so they wanted me to prioritise today in this House the need to do something to save the children starving in east Africa. We must have a debate on that, raise consciousness about it and get this country to donate to save those children and families from starvation.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the need to remember that humanitarian crisis in east Africa. The Department for International Development is extremely focused on that, but anything that can be done to raise public consciousness about the need for charitable donations to supplement the Government’s work is very welcome.
Last Friday, I visited Great Addington Church of England Primary School, where I was asked lots of difficult questions, inspired by the pupils’ visit to Parliament last year. They asked me to convey to the House their sincere appreciation for the excellent tour, and I ask the Leader of the House to join me in thanking the staff of the House for their help on that. May we have a debate next week about the important role that this place plays in educating young people about our democracy?
I am delighted that the pupils from Great Addington’s school enjoyed their visit. Obviously, they put their lessons to good use in interrogating my hon. Friend. That will prepare him for his future ministerial career, I am certain. I know that you have given very high priority to enhancing the House’s educational work, Mr Speaker. I certainly share that objective and am seeking to do this in programming my future external engagement. I hope that we all in our individual constituencies will try to interest young men and women in our work, because capturing the imagination of boys and girls at a young age is the surest way in which we can rebuild confidence in and enthusiasm for our democratic processes.
The answer from the Leader of the House is of great interest to me and to colleagues, but it may also be of considerable interest to a number of young people who are observing our proceedings from not very far away, at whom the Leader of the House, to his credit, is now smiling beatifically.
Race hate crime in the north-east is up by 48% since Brexit, and the English Defence League is to march again in South Shields this weekend. My constituents and I have always challenged extremism, and such groups are not welcome in South Shields, yet the process to have such marches banned is complex and arduous. Will the Government make a statement on what they are doing to stem the rise of racially charged demonstrations, which have no place in Britain?
I face the challenge of EDL marches in my constituency. A balance has to be struck between the rights of freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate, which we all cherish in the United Kingdom—and they cannot be only for the people with whom we agree—and the importance of demonstrating our rejection of extremist groups. My view is that the best way to respond to the EDL or similar groups is for the entire community to speak and to show in their actions that they utterly reject and are repelled by the venom and hatred that those groups seek to sow in our society. In particular, those of us in leadership positions should show solidarity with the minority groups who feel so threatened.
There are housing association tenants in my Bury constituency who would like the opportunity to buy their property. May we please have a statement on the progress on extending the right to buy to housing association tenants?
In last year’s autumn statement, the Chancellor announced a large-scale regional pilot that will enable more than 3,000 housing association tenants to buy their own home. We are undertaking pilots to ensure that we get the policy right. We will test its key features and look at the evidence to decide how we can take forward the scheme.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union admitted that the Government have made no full assessment of the potential impact on the UK economy of our leaving the EU without a deal. May we have a debate in Government time on that specific issue so that the House can hold the Government to account on that very important matter?
There will be an opportunity in the debate on EU exit and international trade that I announced in the business statement. I should correct the hon. Lady, though: my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday that the Government are looking across the piece at the impact of our leaving the EU on various sectors of the economy. He was asked about a new overall economic assessment, and said that his Department, and others in Whitehall, are in the process of carrying out a programme of rigorous and extensive analytical work on a sector-by-sector basis. That, surely, is the constructive way to approach the matter.
We all know that the Government are very keen on manifesto commitments and following through on them. I think all parties would welcome a debate on what the Government mean by “shortly”. Before Christmas, we had a debate on elephants and the ivory trade, and were told then that a decision would come out shortly. In February, we were told again that it was coming out shortly. May we have a statement on when we will know when we are going to follow through on the Conservative manifesto promise to ban the trade in ivory?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plans to take the decision and announce her proposed way forward soon.
If we could try to speed up, that would be really good, because there is a statement to follow.
The Leader of the House will no doubt be aware that at the recent Beacon awards, which are known as the Oscars of the further education sector, Bridgend College, which sits in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), won an award. Will he find some time for a debate on the success of the FE sector, particularly its contribution to enabling people of any age to continue on their learning path?
The hon. Gentleman is right to remind us of the importance of that sector, and I join him in congratulating Bridgend College on its achievement.
Medway hospital in my constituency has been in special measures for nearly four years. The staff and the leadership in partnership with the Government have worked tirelessly to improve standards. Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to the excellent staff who have won awards for their work, including Excellence in Maternity Care? May we have an urgent statement on the performance of hospitals in special measures?
It is always tough when staff have to face up to criticisms of their record and to see their institution placed in special measures. I am delighted to hear from my hon. Friend that staff at Medway hospital have responded so positively, and I hope that their efforts soon receive the public tributes that I know that he hopes for.
Yet another GP surgery is closing in my constituency—the sixth in recent times. The patients are being dispersed to other surgeries, but the length of time that people have to wait for a GP appointment is growing. Can we have a statement from the Minister about the performance of NHS England in providing GP services, because the situation in my constituency is intolerable?
We want to see GP practices open for longer so that more people can benefit from the excellent services they offer. Some 17 million patients have already benefited from evening and weekend appointments. We have increased investment in general practice by nearly £2.5 billion, and there are 1,100 more GPs now compared with 2010. I will certainly draw to the Secretary of State’s attention the particular difficulty in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
May we have a debate on the northern powerhouse schools strategy? Last month saw the launch of the Pendle challenge, with more than 80 organisations involved in the provision of education from nought to 18 years coming together to improve the aspirations and achievements of young people in Pendle. I am keen to see how we can better work together across the north on this issue.
As my hon. Friend says, it is really important that we look to raise not just the standards of achievement by children in schools, but their aspirations and their expectations about what is possible in their lives. The northern powerhouse schools strategy aims to do just that, which is why the Government are putting in £70 million over the course of this Parliament. I hope that we will see a further announcement on that before very long.
Given that, shamefully, there was no mention of help for the WASPI women in the Budget, can we have another opportunity to speak on behalf of the women affected, including my constituent who was denied, with little notice, the chance to retire when she had planned and has now found out that she is terminally ill, as her voice and others deserve to be heard?
I point the hon. Lady towards questions to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on Monday 27 March. There has been about £1 billion of investment in transitional arrangements to help those women who are worst affected by the equalisation of pension age. None the less, the equalisation of pension age did have cross-party support in this House when it was brought in.
Millions of people have installed cavity wall insulation successfully, but many have experienced failures, leading to damp, fungal infection and structural difficulties in their homes. Those people are often elderly and disabled, and they thought that they were participating in a Government scheme. The industry’s response has been defensive and evasive most of the time, and the Government seem to be hoping to keep out of what could be a very expensive mess. Can we have an early debate on the CWI scandal?
Without checking, I do not know to what extent this is a legislative and regulatory problem and to what extent it is a matter of consumer law to be resolved in the normal way. If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me with details about his experience, I will happily consider the case.
I am sure that I am not the only Member of this House to be disappointed that the Chancellor made no mention of extra police funding in his Budget statement last week. Cuts to frontline policing in Bradford South have been profound, with 75 fewer officers engaged in neighbourhood policing today than in 2012. Will the Leader of the House allocate time for a debate on this important issue?
The spending total for the police, as for every other Government service, was announced at the time of the spending review. Crimes traditionally measured by the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales have actually fallen by a third since 2010; they are now at a record low. That shows that the police have been extremely professional in managing their budgets to ensure that the public are protected and that crime comes down.
May we have a debate or a statement on funding third sector organisations to assist the long-term unemployed into work? I refer the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1003, which seeks to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the GalGael Trust, an organisation in my constituency that maintains the skills and traditions of woodwork and metalwork.
[That this House recognises the 20th Anniversary of the founding of an inspiring and life-changing community project based in Govan, the GalGael Trust, founded by the late Colin McLeod whose vision for the project is still upheld today; notes that this groundbreaking boat-building and woodcraft workshop upholds the proud Glaswegian traditions of hard work, community spirit and skilled craftwork whilst changing lives by restoring pride through achievement and developing skills; further notes that GalGael shows that supporting the long-term unemployed with respect and a creative vision can be more effective and engaging than traditional methods; notes that re-using Scottish timber from landfill respects the environment and the roots of the project lie in that vision of positive action coming from protest; and supports the view that the sustainability of this project is due to the inspiring people who have been at the heart of the community in Govan, working to maintain the skills and traditions of crafts in woodwork and metalwork, and building a future whilst honouring the past.]
Does the Leader of the House agree that the sustainability and finance of such organisations can help the long-term unemployed?
I do not know any more about the GalGael Trust than what the hon. Gentleman just told the House. I am happy to salute the work that it does and the work of many other such organisations in all parts of the United Kingdom in trying to provide mentoring and support, which is often so valuable to people who have been unemployed for a very long time in helping them have the confidence and basic skills to get back into the marketplace.
Yesterday, there were three separate illegal Traveller encampments across my constituency. This problem plagued my constituents for most of last year and is taking up where it left off. I recognise that Travellers have rights—as do my constituents, especially to enjoy the public parks that they pay for. This issue does not just affect my constituency; it is a problem right across the country, and there is real confusion about the law and enforcement. May we have a debate in Government time where Ministers set out clearly the Government’s expectations about how the problem of illegal encampments should be tackled?
This might be good material for a Backbench Business debate, as it does indeed affect a large number of constituencies. Sanctions and processes are available to both local authorities and the police to deal with the problem of illegal encampments. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think what riles residents more than anything else is the sense that they are expected to stick by the rules and obey the law when it comes to any kind of planning matter, yet they see people getting away with it apparently scot-free, which they quite rightly get angry about.
A constituent recently came to see me about his zero-hours employment with the leading automotive retailer Evans Halshaw, where he has worked for six years with no sick pay and no job security. May we have a debate on how we can strengthen the legislation in relation to this kind of insecure employment?
Of course, it was a Conservative-led Government that outlawed exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts. Although we keep a close watch on this—I am sure it is one of things that Matthew Taylor’s review will want to look at—it remains the case that fewer than 3% of the workforce see a zero-hours contract as their main job, and roughly 70% of those people say that they are happy with the number of hours that they work.
The Leader of the House is of course no philistine, so he will know that this year is the bicentenary of the birth of the eminent Scottish architect Alexander “Greek” Thomson. Will he join me in congratulating the Alexander Thomson Society on putting together a whole year of events to remember the architect’s work, and may we have a debate on his contribution to Scottish-built heritage?
This is the question that the hon. Gentleman would have asked if he had been present for his question at Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions. He was not, so he did not, and he is therefore doing it now. I just thought I would make that by way of a public information statement.
I am happy to pay tribute to the work of the Alexander Thomson Society. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will pen a brief note to all Members so that we know where we can go to see more of Thomson’s work when we come to Scotland.
In recent weeks, there have been a number of reports of foxes being hunted by hounds in Cheshire. Graphic and disturbing images have been plastered all over the internet. This barbaric practice is illegal, and I thought this Government were keen to implement the will of the people. May we please have a debate on what more can be done to uphold the law?
The enforcement of the law is, rightly, a matter not for Ministers but for independent police and prosecuting authorities.
The Prime Minister said in this House on Tuesday that at the recent European Council meeting she encouraged the EU to
“complete the single market and the digital single market.”—[Official Report, 14 March 2017; Vol. 623, c. 180.]
May we have a statement or a debate in this House on why it is in the UK’s national interest for the EU to complete those markets but it is not in the UK’s national interest to be part of them?
It is in the UK’s national interest that the European Union, with which we are negotiating a new partnership, has a system of economic co-operation that is as friendly to open markets and free trade as possible, because that will enhance the opportunities for our companies and citizens when it comes to that new relationship. I would have thought that was an objective that the hon. Gentleman would support.
May we have a statement on car manufacturers who cheat on emissions tests? Volkswagen, and now it seems Renault, have serious questions to answer. If there is fraudulent behaviour, senior executives need to be held to account.
I have seen the reports of alleged malpractice by Renault. I would hope that any such allegations were properly investigated, and that those responsible for any wrongdoing were held properly to account.
Chester continues to be blighted by student housing developments built by speculative developers. Those developments are favoured because the distortion in the council tax rules mean that they get higher investment, and they take up land that should be used for family accommodation. May I add my voice to that of the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) in calling for a debate on planning law, so that we can tackle these issues?
With the best will in the world, I suspect that we will never get a system of planning law that satisfies everybody in every sector of the economy, but I encourage the hon. Gentleman, as I encouraged my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), to seek an Adjournment debate or Back-Bench business debate on this matter.
Today is the 708th anniversary of Robert the Bruce calling his first Parliament in St Andrews. Of course, he spent a bit of time in my constituency, too. Can we have a debate on Scotland’s distinct parliamentary tradition, given that it is a story that is still being written?
That might be a suitable subject for a Scottish National party Supply day debate. Convinced Unionist though I am, I am happy to salute Scotland’s parliamentary and constitutional tradition. I see the declaration of Arbroath and the Scottish parliamentary tradition as being among those constitutional and ultimately democratic traditions in our national life that have helped to enrich the United Kingdom as a whole.
You may be aware, Mr Speaker, that I have campaigned on periods and have, within that, looked at period poverty. I recently spoke to BBC Radio Leeds, which highlighted that in that city, a significant number of girls are playing truant because they do not have any sanitary protection around the time of their period. One can only imagine the indignity that that causes. May we have a debate in Government time on whether there is anything that we can do to provide sanitary protection for low-income families and those who simply cannot afford it in these days of austerity?
This is probably a matter to be raised initially in an Adjournment debate, but of course one of the things that we will be able to deal with when we have left the European Union is the rates of value added tax that are obligatory under the fifth directive. The hon. Lady knows that the tax on sanitary products is one of the matters that the Government are committed to re-examining.
Recently, I asked the Prime Minister whether she would at the very least exempt older people from the local housing allowance cap that is being introduced for social housing tenants in 2019. Unfortunately, she did not seem to understand the question, so to assist her—and, more importantly, to avoid causing undue hardship to thousands of people across the country—may we have a debate on the implications of the proposals as soon as possible?
I am happy to refer the matter to the Department for Work and Pensions so that it can look at the problem, if the hon. Gentleman would like to let me have a few details, but the principle of a cap is right. Funds are available to councils for discretionary use in cases of hardship, as he knows. If he thinks that there is a particular case for reform to the regulations, he can write to me and I will pass that to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
May we have a statement on the lack of Changing Places toilets across the UK? It cannot be right that parents of disabled children are having to change their children on unhygienic toilet floors in this day and age. Surely this must be put on a statutory footing. Something must be done to bring us into the century that we should be in.
That is an interesting point. I absolutely understand the difficult position for parents who find themselves in such a situation. The hon. Lady might want to raise the matter in an Adjournment debate. I also suggest that she writes directly to the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work; I am sure that she will get a very reasonable hearing.
I had a Westminster Hall debate yesterday, which a number families travelled from across the UK to attend. The debate was also attended by six MPs from majority parties throughout the House. We were debating police widows’ pensions, as the widows lose their pensions should they remarry or cohabit. It is basically a tax on love. Unfortunately, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service gave only a seven-minute response—including taking an intervention—in the 15 minutes that he had in which to speak. Can we now have a debate here in the main Chamber so that a further and fuller answer is provided to those families, who feel they are facing a terrible injustice?
I am sure that the hon. Lady would acknowledge that the Minister, since he speaks last in such debates, only has such time as is available from the 90 minutes or 60 minutes that has been allotted for that particular debate. I am sure that she will be able to air her concerns further if she seeks the opportunity to raise this matter at Home Office questions, via the Backbench Business Committee or in an Adjournment debate.
It is a pleasure to get back to my usual place in business questions—at the end.
I am not sure whether the Leader of the House is aware of the Daughters of the Vote event that was held at the Canadian Parliament on International Women’s Day. Young women from each of Canada’s 338 constituencies or ridings sat in Parliament to gain experience and communicate their vision for Canada, hopefully inspiring them to participate in the political process for years to come. Can we have a debate in this place on how we can encourage more women into politics?
Before the Leader of the House replies, I say to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) that he can always tell himself and the people of his constituency that we keep the best till last.
The way in which some of today’s exchanges have highlighted the need to engage better with young people as an institution, and the way in which we have addressed, through these exchanges, the need to encourage greater opportunities for women, help to contribute to the hon. Gentleman’s objective. I hope that he would agree that it is not just about women. We also want to encourage young men, particularly those from working-class backgrounds, who often feel disaffected and alienated from mainstream democratic processes, and people from black and minority ethnic communities to be involved more. We can all do this through leadership in our constituencies and by using the services of the parliamentary education service, which really does provide first-class education materials and will happily host visits from schools and colleges here.