With permission, Mr Speaker, before I announce the business, I should like to update colleagues on one or two practical matters following the terrorist attack yesterday. As is apparent to us all, the security checks and the rules on access to the Palace remain, for the time being, more restrictive than those to which we have become accustomed. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will not only accept the need for patience and compliance but ensure that their staff understand the need for these arrangements at present.
Allusion was made in earlier exchanges to the possible health needs of staff and others who may have witnessed what took place yesterday, and I want to take this opportunity to remind all colleagues of the parliamentary health and wellbeing service based at 7 Millbank, which is available to provide that kind of support to staff as well as to Members. The books of condolence for PC Palmer are now open in the Library, the Royal Gallery and Westminster Hall. Finally, on this point, the Chapel in the Undercroft will be open all day for any Member or staff member who wishes to say prayers or to reflect, and your chaplain, Mr Speaker, will be conducting short services there at 12.30 pm, 3 pm and 6 pm, which anybody is welcome to attend.
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 27 March—Remaining stages of the Bus Services Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 28 March—Consideration of Lords amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill followed by debate on a motion on the conflict in Yemen. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 29 March—Remaining stages of the Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] followed by opposed private business that has been named by the Chairman of Ways and Means for consideration.
Thursday 30 March—Debate on a motion on animal welfare followed by a general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 31 March—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 17 April will include:
Monday 17 April—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 18 April—Second Reading of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business and for mentioning where staff who work in the House can get extra support if they need it. I should also like to thank him and his deputy for the leadership they showed yesterday. This is a sad day, because we have lost a superhero who has kept us safe every day. His family are suffering, and they are trying to make sense of his death. Their lives will be utterly changed, but we will always remember Keith Palmer.
I also want to thank colleagues, who were extremely patient yesterday, as well as the year 12 politics students from Dr Challoner’s High School, who were up in the Gallery, and the pupils from a primary school in Birmingham. I especially want to thank the police, the security service and the emergency services for all they did to protect us and keep us informed in their usual professional manner and for the dedication that they show as public servants, day after day, allowing us to go about our lives safely. I also thank the Serjeant at Arms and the magnificent team of Doorkeepers. We all know how good they are every day, but on behalf of us all, I want to offer them an extra-special thank you for their calm professionalism and kindness in dealing with the situation yesterday. It is a real tribute to the House service. The Clerk of the House and his team also ensured that decisions could be made promptly and sensibly.
The Prime Minister said that this is business as usual, so I will proceed with business as usual and ask the Leader of the House a question. The convention is that there is a debate when a statutory instrument is prayed against, so may I express my concern that that convention has not been followed in the case of early-day motion 985 on personal independence payment regulations and early-day motion 948 on tuition fees and awards?
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 (S.I., 2017, No. 194), dated 22 February 2017, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23 February, be annulled.]
Under those regulations, those in psychological distress are denied access to additional support. Epilepsy Action is deeply concerned about the regulations and how they affect people with epilepsy or other long-term conditions. For students, the inflation-linked rise represents a 2.8% increase, and if that continues, fees could rise above £10,000 in the next few years. The House rose early on Tuesday, and the last Opposition day was a month ago. The Government seem to be thwarting the Opposition, preventing effective opposition by controlling the business in that way, so may we have time for a debate on those two important statutory instruments?
Article 50 is triggered next week, and there will be a vast amount of legislation to enact, so will the Leader of the House ensure that White Papers, draft legislation and an impact assessment are made available before the Bills are published? Will he ensure that the Government use secondary legalisation not to stifle debate, but to allow Parliament to scrutinise that secondary legislation?
May we have a debate about leaving the BBC alone? Back Benchers may have time on their hands, but they said in a letter sent round by many hon. Members that the BBC is focusing on regretful voters, which is absurd. I have had emails from people who voted to leave and have regretted it, but the letter contains not a single piece of evidence—it was all opinion. After all, the Opposition have had to put up with the fact that the new editor of the “Today” programme used to openly support the Tory candidates for Mayor of London and the fact that the current editor of the Evening Standard is a former Tory Chancellor. More importantly, there should be no intimidation of or pre-emptive strike on a public broadcaster.
Another manifesto promise has been broken. While the consultation on the new funding formula closed yesterday, the Government promised in their 2015 manifesto a real-terms increase in the schools budget during this Parliament and that
“As the number of pupils increases, so will the amount of money in our schools.”
However, nearly half of schools would face a funding cut. In Walsall South, schools face a reduction of £490 per pupil. May we have a debate on the impact of the new funding formula to set out the losers and the losers, because every school will be a loser? Schools will bear the brunt of unfunded rises in pay, pension and national insurance contributions that could amount to between 6% and 11% of their budgets by 2019-20.
This is the last business questions for the Leader of the House and me before the Easter recess, so I again want to thank the Clerk of the House, his staff, the Library, the Doorkeepers, and you, your Deputies and your office, Mr Speaker—everyone who has made my work as shadow Leader of the House easier. I wish everyone a happy Easter. Finally, I want to say, from every corner of this United Kingdom and every corner of the world, blessed are the peacemakers.
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words and associate myself unreservedly both with her final remarks and with the tributes that she rightly paid not only to the police, but to the staff of the House for what they did yesterday in their various roles.
I have to say to the hon. Lady that I intend to be here for a business statement next Thursday. I would be very sorry to lose her across the Dispatch Box, but perhaps this is another Opposition Front-Bench change that has been heralded in advance.
The hon. Lady asked about a number of pieces of forthcoming business, and I can tell her that the Government will make provision for debates on the two statutory instruments about which she expressed concern. I cannot give her a firm date yet—work is happening and discussions are continuing through the usual channels about the precise date—but time will be found.
On the items of European legislation that will be needed, there will of course be ample opportunity to debate their content and impact. Although it is no secret that I expect the repeal Bill to include some secondary legislative powers, the scope and definition of those powers will of course themselves be subject to the full parliamentary process. The definitions and scope will have to be agreed by both Houses of Parliament through the normal process of enacting a Bill into law.
On education, it is a fact that more is being spent on schools than ever before, but the national funding formula, to which the hon. Lady expressed particular objection, has been the subject of a consultation that closed only a couple of days ago. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will now consider the responses of local authorities, schools and others to that consultation, and she will come forward with the Government’s proposals in due course. For a long time, it was common ground between political parties that the existing funding formula is grotesquely unfair in that it provides, in some cases, for a child attending school in one authority to receive almost twice as much funding as an equivalent child in a comparable school in a different local authority, despite the basic cost of providing education being the same. That is why the Government committed themselves to introducing a national funding formula.
Finally, the hon. Lady asked about the BBC. I note that she did not allude to the presence of a former Labour Cabinet Minister in a senior role at the BBC, although I suspect he has probably been airbrushed out by the current Labour party leadership. For as long as I have been in this place, robust, strongly held and strongly expressed views about the BBC, for and against, have been voiced by Members on both sides of the House. My feeling is that, if hon. Members have a sin in that respect, it is that we spend too much time watching or listening to political and current affairs programmes. When I think of the BBC, I think of the Proms and Radio 3, which enable me to approach the subject with a degree of serenity.
We are urged to follow business as usual, which is difficult given what happened yesterday, not because any of us is affected by terrorism but simply because we are so horrified and saddened by those events and the terrible deaths and injuries. We wish everyone well, and our thoughts are with those who have suffered as a result of these terrible murders.
I will try to engage in business as usual by asking this of the Leader of the House. Many of us were surprised to learn that the apprenticeship levy, which is a good idea that has been rightly passed on to local, upper-tier and unitary authorities, has wrongly in turn been passed on to schools. Schools in my constituency of Broxtowe find that they are paying £300 or £400 but are receiving no benefit from the levy. They are having to pay the burden, which is wrong. When will the Leader of the House arrange for us to have a debate on that outrage?
Although we rightly return to business as normal to demonstrate that our democracy and our free society will not be disrupted by terrorism, it is important that we always remember that the families of those who lost their lives and the families of those who were severely injured will have to live with the events of yesterday for the rest of their days on this earth. We should have that in mind, too.
On the apprenticeship levy, the situation my right hon. Friend describes in Nottinghamshire is not, as I understand it, the case for every local education authority in the country. My understanding is that some local education authorities have decided to deal with the levy themselves, rather than pass it on to schools, but I will draw her concern to the attention of the Secretary of State for Education.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I join him and the Labour shadow Leader of the House in all their tributes to the members of staff who worked so exceptionally yesterday. I commend him for the leadership he showed in the Chamber yesterday, for which I thank him. It is appropriate and right that we continue our business as normal. We will not be deterred from our important work on behalf of all the people we represent.
This institution lost one of its own yesterday, and I express my heartfelt condolences to the family of Keith Palmer and to the families of all the others who lost their life. As a Scottish Member of Parliament, one of the things I have noted is the inspiring resilience and determination of this great city and its people. We are all Londoners today. As a tribute, perhaps we could consider a debate on the value of our emergency services to this nation, on the risks they take on our behalf, and on their immense contribution to keeping our nation safe. That would be a fitting tribute from us, as Members of Parliament, to the memory of Keith Palmer.
Because of the events here, the Scottish Parliament suspended its business yesterday and no vote was taken on seeking a section 30 order so that a legal referendum can be held to determine the future political arrangements of Scotland. That vote will now happen next Tuesday, and it is anticipated that it will be passed. The will of the Scottish Parliament will be expressed, and surely it is incumbent on this House to respond positively to the democratic voice of the Scottish Parliament. There can be no good reason for the voice of Scotland’s Parliament to be ignored, so will the Leader of the House tell us how this Government intend to respond, and how they intend to respond positively, to what is agreed in our national Parliament?
It is also beyond pernicious that this Government will seek to put through the rape clause via a negative statutory instrument without any debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) attempted to secure a debate on that issue. Will the Leader of the House please reconsider? Something so important should rightly be debated on the Floor of the House.
Article 50 will be triggered next Wednesday, but I cannot see anything in the business statement to say that there will be a statement or some sort of debate in the House of Commons, so will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be at least a statement next Wednesday to mark this immensely depressing event?
Finally, as we all go home to our friends and families this afternoon, it is right to remember that one of our number who worked in this House will not have the same opportunity and advantage as we have today.
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks, and I associate myself with his condolences to the victims of yesterday’s attack and his salute to the emergency services and others.
On the hon. Gentleman’s political questions, I have said that the Government will find time for the statutory instrument to be debated. Of course the fact that that particular statutory instrument is subject to the negative resolution procedure was authorised by the Act of Parliament from which it is delegated, so the power was debated and approved by this House during the Act’s passage.
On the substance of the policy on the third child of a woman who has been subjected to the ordeal of rape, the Government recognise that that is a very difficult and sensitive issue, which is why we have adopted a third-party model to allow us to make sure that neither Department for Work and Pensions nor Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs staff will question the mother about the incident. Instead, staff will simply take the claim and receive the supporting evidence from a third-party professional, which seems to us to be the right balance between making sure that mothers get the support they need without the need for unnecessary, intrusive processes while providing the right assurance that additional support goes to those for whom it is intended.
On the hon. Gentleman’s question about article 50, I must say that we have not been short of opportunities up till now, but I am sure that before long there will be an opportunity for the House to debate that decision or for questions to be posed.
On the debate in the Scottish Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been very clear that we believe that now is not the time for a second referendum—particularly given that the 2014 referendum was supposed to be a once-in-a-generation opportunity—and that the United Kingdom Government and all three devolved Governments ought now to work very closely together to ensure that we get the best possible deal for all the people of every part of the United Kingdom in the forthcoming European negotiations.
I commend the Leader of the House for his calm and reassuring presence in the Chamber yesterday and, through you, Mr Speaker, I commend Mr Deputy Speaker; both performed magnificently in the Chamber yesterday.
May we have a timescale for a statement or debate on the fairer funding formula for schools? Preferably, the Government will scrap their current proposals, which are frankly unjustifiable. The formula will take money from schools in Bradford district, which is one of the worst-performing local authorities in the country with regard to education, and transfer it to some of the highest-performing local education authorities in the country, which is absolute madness. Every school in my constituency will lose money. How quickly will the Government realise that their proposals are unjustifiable and unacceptable?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will come forward with a response as soon as possible, but as the consultation on the draft national funding formula proposals concluded only this week, it is reasonable that she should have a while to consider the detailed representations that have been put forward by a number of different parties. Nevertheless, she will come forward with a response, and I promise my hon. Friend that there will be an opportunity for the Government to debate any proposals that are then submitted.
May I begin with an apology to Members of the House for my absence over recent weeks? I too add my thanks to Members, staff and security personnel for their activities yesterday. There is, though, one group of people we have forgotten about a little. Hundreds of members of the public were in this building yesterday for dozens of different meetings and dozens of other reasons. Over many hours, they showed great compliance, patience, forbearance and fortitude while the security situation was being resolved outside the confines of this building. We put on record our thanks to them.
I thank the Leader of the House for the notice that next Tuesday’s debate on the crisis in Yemen will be protected for 90 minutes, meaning that we will have a decent length of time to discuss the dreadful ongoing situation there. I also thank him for notice that we have two debates next Thursday: one on animal welfare and, of course, the pre-recess Adjournment debate. If at all possible, will he give early notice of any time allocated to the Backbench Business Committee in the weeks beginning 18 April and 24 April?
I am sure the Leader of the House is aware of this, but there is an anomaly in the Standing Orders. When we return on 18 April, the House will meet at 2.30 pm, but, under Standing Order 10(2)(b), Westminster Hall will commence at 9.30 am, which is an inconvenience not only to Members but to the staff of this House. A Backbench Business Committee debate is scheduled for that morning, to be led by the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), who will have to leave her constituency on Monday, a bank holiday, to get here in time.
It is indeed good to see the hon. Gentleman back in his normal place for these exchanges on Thursdays. I will do my best to make sure that he and his Committee have early notice of any allocated time in the weeks beginning 18 April and 24 April. I take his point about the anomaly in the Standing Orders. I have already spoken to my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip to see whether we can look for a way to make life easier for the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows).
Mr Speaker, I am sorry that I was such a poor substitute for the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee.
I was unsuccessful in the shuffle at Women and Equalities questions, so may I ask the Leader of the House for an early statement on the position of the promised consultation document on caste discrimination? It will allow the Hindu community in particular the opportunity to put its perspective on why this unwanted, unnecessary and ill-judged legislation can be removed from the statute book.
My hon. Friend raises a matter that I know is very important to his constituents, and he does so eloquently. I will suggest to the Minister concerned that she write to him about the Government’s current position. As he will be aware, this particular decision involves not only a policy commitment but the allocation of legislative time, which is currently under pressure from many Departments.
I welcome the Leader of the House’s assurances about support for staff after yesterday’s tragic events, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for what you said about the Commission, under your chairmanship, looking at the lessons learned and particularly the issue of support for staff.
May we have a debate on the work of the Taylor review before it completes, so that we can feed in our views on insecurity at work, particularly the huge growth in zero-hours contracts, the increase in the use of agency staff, and bogus self-employment?
The right hon. Lady makes a perfectly reasonable point, although of course there is nothing to prevent individual right hon. and hon. Members from making representations to Matthew Taylor. The best advice I can give her is to seek a Backbench Business debate.
It certainly is good to see the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) back in his place. I am glad that it was a back problem, rather than a heart problem.
Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for a debate on developments along the Thames estuary? Last week, the North Thames Fisheries Local Action Group was awarded £800,000, which will be spent on further enhancing the culture and heritage of the Thames estuary.
My hon. Friend asks his question in a great historical tradition, because Magna Carta itself mentions the importance of maintaining fish weirs in the River Thames. He has drawn attention to one of the great successes of recent decades: the renewal of marine and river life in the estuaries of the Thames and other rivers that serve our country’s great industrial cities. I hope the money that was announced recently will enable that development to be taken further forward.
This is not the day to labour the point—I do not expect the Leader of the House to reply to this in any detail—but when we finally have the long-delayed debate on whether the House should leave this building in the full decant that is proposed, we should, in the light of what has happened in the past 24 hours, give great consideration to both the symbolism of this place and the security considerations of dispersing MPs and peers around Parliament Square.
The security of not just Members, but of staff—let us never forget that there are something like 14,000 passholders to the parliamentary estate—is at the forefront of the consideration by the parliamentary officials who have been leading on this matter. I can assure my hon. Friend that, whatever is finally approved by this House and the House of Lords, as these works are carried through, on whatever timescale and in whatever fashion, security will continue to be at the forefront of everybody’s mind.
It was very striking this morning coming into this place to see so many police officers on duty, not only protecting us but mourning their colleague, the hero PC Keith Palmer. His death in active service, protecting us here, is a reminder that there are families of murdered police officers and of lost loved ones from our armed forces who have still not received proper compensation. Can we look at that issue again, and ensure that the families of every single person who dies in active service in our police force or in our armed forces are properly compensated for the rest of their lives?
It would indeed be good to find a way in which one could spare people the need to go through long and complex litigation to get the compensation that they deserve. That may be something that the hon. Gentleman can raise either in Westminster Hall or through the medium of the Backbench Business Committee.
As Chairman of the Administration Committee, may I support all the thanks that have been made to the staff, as they were fantastic yesterday. We will mop up and follow up afterwards.
Coming back to business as usual, may I anticipate that we will have a motion on the restoration and renewal of the Palace? When it arrives, may I ask that it is a full-day debate, and that it is held on a day when we anticipate the House to be as full as it ever is—in other words Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but not Thursday or, obviously, Friday?
I have represented this House for seven years on the NATO parliamentary assembly. During the lockdown yesterday, there were messages coming into me from all over the NATO parliamentary family, offering solidarity and support, including from the headquarters in Brussels where people had just commemorated the attack on Brussels a year to the day. I wanted to pass that on to the Leader of the House and Members present.
Can we have a debate on the issues of tolerance and understanding, which were so stressed during the statement from the Prime Minister, within the Church in Wales? We have many opportunities to question the Church Commissioners via their representative here in the House, but we have no such opportunity in relation to the Church in Wales. May we have a debate on how we can make that possible?
Like the hon. Lady, I have been very struck by the spontaneous and very strong expressions of solidarity that many hon. Members and the Government have received from democracies and elected representatives around the world. On her point about the Church in Wales, although I understand her wish for a debate, I cannot offer one in Government time precisely because the Church in Wales is disestablished. She may be successful in securing a Westminster Hall opportunity.
The negative procedure for statutory instruments should be used for uncontroversial matters. I am very grateful that the Government have accepted that when they are prayed against they will be debated.
Returning to normal, we are obviously going to have a lot of Bills in relation to the EU in the next Parliament, and we will also want to continue with normal business. Has the Leader of the House given any thought either to extending the sitting hours, or sitting on the Fridays that we do not sit for private Members’ Bills, and could we have a statement next week?
I cannot promise my hon. Friend a statement next week. How we allocate time, given the exceptional pressure that there will be on legislative time because of the legislation that is needed to exit the European Union, is something that I and other business managers are taking very seriously indeed. We are spending a lot of our time reflecting on how best that might be achieved.
May I start by expressing my condolences to the family and friends of PC Keith Palmer? Today, more than ever, I would like us to think about the innate goodness and solidarity of people in this country.
In that vein, can we have a debate on the honours system? Jean Bishop, who is 94 and lives in Hull, dresses up in a bee costume and has been able to raise £117,000 for Age UK. Before her 95th birthday, she wants to get to £200,000 for that charity. She has been put forward for honours before, but has never received one. A 13-year-old girl in Hull has now started a petition. Some 3,500 people have said that they think that Jean deserves an honour. Can we have a debate about honouring people such as Jean?
The hon. Lady has put her case eloquently. Many of us here will know of comparable examples of local heroes and heroines who have voluntarily given of their time, effort and money often over many, many years in the service of their fellow citizens. The best advice I can give is for her to present a strongly argued, persuasive case with as many other supporters as she can from Hull to the secretariat at the Cabinet Office, which is in charge of making initial recommendations on honours.
May I associate myself and my constituents with the words of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House, and all other right hon. and hon. Members about yesterday’s events?
May I ask for a debate on the situation in Burundi? More than 1,000 refugees a day are fleeing into Tanzania. Although there has rightly been a concentration on other countries suffering from food insecurity and famine in central and eastern Africa, Burundi is being ignored at the moment. We therefore need a debate urgently.
I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are not ignoring the situation in Burundi. Considerable amounts of humanitarian assistance are being directed there through the Department for International Development. Clearly, we have to work through both international agencies and the existing authorities in Burundi, and that is not always straightforward. I will highlight the points that he makes to the Minister for the Middle East and Africa.
Yesterday morning, the British Government announced their intention to build a second Titan prison in Wales; this time at Port Talbot. Cardiff University estimates that that will lead to 2,400 surplus prison places across the Welsh estate. May we have a debate to help ensure that the prisons policy as it applies to Wales reflects Welsh requirements?
That is a matter that the hon. Gentleman will want to take up directly with Justice Ministers. The purpose of the prison-building programme is that we should have a new generation of modern prisons that really are fit for purpose, in order to deliver a regime that is both secure and—precisely because it is secure— that provides greater opportunities for work and education, which are so vital if we are to make a success of rehabilitative policies. At the same time, the programme would free up older prisons, usually in city centres, which, frankly, should be phased out now, and which could mean a significant capital return for Government that we can then invest in modern facilities.
I, too, put it on record that my thoughts are with the family and friends of PC Palmer and all those who suffered as a result of yesterday’s events.
New Waltham Parish Council in my constituency has written to the Transport Secretary about what it regards as a complete waste of money—a proposal by North East Lincolnshire Council to install traffic signals at Toll Bar roundabout in the parish. That proposal has angered and perplexed many people in the area. It is being carried out with Government money, so could we have a debate on how local authorities spend the many billions of pounds that the Government hand to them?
One of the important roles of both lower-tier authorities, such as parish councils, and Members of Parliament is holding local authorities to account for their stewardship of the scarce and finite resource of taxpayers’ money. I am in no position to comment in detail about traffic lights at roundabouts in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but he is clearly not going to let this issue go.
The cuts to the personal independence payment explicitly exclude people applying for mobility support if the problem arises from psychological distress, despite the Prime Minister’s commitment to treat mental health problems on a par with physical health. I am grateful for the Leader of the House’s commitment that we are finally going to have a debate, but can I press him for a date? Those cuts have already taken effect, but it sounds as though the debate will now have to be after the Easter recess. Can he at least give us a firm date for when it is finally going to happen?
I want to reassure the right hon. Gentleman on the design of the personal independence payment. It is at the very core of the personal independence payment system that non-physical conditions should be given the same recognition as physical conditions. We already see the outworking of that in the fact that a significantly higher proportion of people who have mental health issues receive the top rates of PIP than was the case with disability living allowance.
May I also associate myself with all the tributes that have been paid today? We have seen the House at its very best and, ultimately, our democracy will not be silenced.
The Corby urgent care centre is a vital NHS service, and I am pleased that the local clinical commissioning group has confirmed that its doors will absolutely not close on 31 March. Will the Leader of the House join me in urging the clinical commissioning group to resolve some of the contractual issues with Lakeside+ to give my constituents greater reassurance and to make sure that we continue to have the quality of service that people have come to expect—and, of course, can we have a debate next week?
I think that my hon. Friend will have to take his chance with Adjournment debates on that particular subject. It is clearly important that, while decisions about the configuration of health services are taken possibly in light of local circumstance, commissioning groups manage their relationships with their contractors effectively so that local people can be assured of receiving the decent service to which they are entitled.
I associate myself with all the remarks and condolences that have been expressed so eloquently this morning. I refer particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) who mentioned going home; I am going home tonight, and I am very grateful to be doing so. Unfortunately, I will miss a rally at the bottom cross in Wishaw; it has been organised quickly to support the refugees that we will soon be welcoming and against a proposed Scottish Defence League march in Wishaw against refugees.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee convener, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), and the Leader of the House for their consideration of the changes to timings of Westminster Hall debates on Tuesday 18 April. My debate is on the child maintenance service; I have received support from Members across the House, and it really is important. I do not mind travelling on bank holiday Monday to get here—I know how important it is—but I understand the difficulties that many Members will have in getting to a debate at half-past 9 on that day. I appreciate all the efforts that the Leader of the House has said he will look to make.
Item No. 3 on today’s Order Paper, titled “Business of the House (29 March)”, makes reference to a motion being tabled
“in the name of the Prime Minister relating to exiting the European Union and the Environment”.
That was not mentioned in the business statement, so could the Leader of the House clarify the matter? In the light of yesterday’s events, may we please have a debate on community cohesion and the Prevent strategy?
The answer to my hon. Friend is that yesterday’s business was interrupted for the reasons we all know about. That business on the Pension Schemes Bill has had to be rescheduled, and conversations through the usual channels agreed that that slot on 29 March was the best way to accommodate that.
I was surprised to receive a letter from the Minister of State for Transport this week. My surprise was because it referred to improvement works on the M25 motorway, which is some distance from my constituency. I was even more surprised, because I had just written to the Secretary of State about a number of serious accidents at Switch Island, which is in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House please remind the Secretary of State of the need to respond to my letter? Serious accidents are happening far too often. My constituents care about Switch Island, not the M25, and all that has happened is a repeat of the idea that investment happens in the south-east of England at the expense of the north-west.
I know from personal experience that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport takes very seriously his responsibility to ensure that hon. Members receive accurate and comprehensive replies to points that they make about their constituencies. I will draw to the attention of the Secretary of State’s office the need for that reply to be sent.
May I take this opportunity to thank you, Mr Speaker, and your staff—I notice Mr Deputy Speaker there—for the way you all conducted yourselves yesterday? Indeed, I also thank the Leader of the House and the Serjeant at Arms? As chairman of the all-party beer group, I invite everyone and their staff to share a great British pint and then to carry on at a later date and place to be confirmed. May we have a debate on the contribution of the brewing industry to the United Kingdom and its culture?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. One of the remarkable things we have seen in the brewing industry in the past couple of decades has been the surge in the growth of small-scale breweries. It is a real tribute to the sector’s enterprise that we have seen microbreweries and craft breweries taking off and continuing to win new discerning drinkers as their customers.
I put on record my thanks to the staff and to all those outside this House—members of the public—who have sent their kind thoughts and wishes in the past 24 hours. It has been very touching, and I thank them very much.
I also add my voice to the chorus of Members who are calling for more time to debate the Government’s new funding formula—or, as Labour Members call it, education funding cuts. Headteachers across Norwich and Norfolk have taken the unprecedented step of sending letters to children’s parents about the impending budget crisis at a time when precious financial resources are being spent on more free schools and grammar schools rather than those schools that we already have. Some 25 out of 31 schools in my constituency will receive funding cuts, and I would like more time to debate that.
As I have said, the Secretary of State will be considering the recently concluded consultation on the new funding formula. She will announce her proposals in due course, and that would be the appropriate time for her to be questioned, or for any debate to take place.
I was honoured to open two new business premises in my constituency earlier this month—for 4D Data Centres and Inspiration Healthcare. I was also pleased to visit two new facilities at Crawley hospital: a clinical assessment unit and a 26-bed ward. May we have a debate on the importance of further engendering economic growth, as this Government are doing, so that we can afford better public services?
My hon. Friend makes an important point: we cannot distribute wealth unless business has created it in the first place. It is the job of government, and this Government’s commitment, to foster the economic climate in which businessmen in every part of the United Kingdom—[Interruption]—and indeed businesswomen, can help to generate economic growth and drive the numbers in employment up even higher than the record levels that they have now reached.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to share in the sentiments that have been expressed today and the condolences that we have sent from the House. I also thank all the staff for their work yesterday.
I have been quite concerned about recent comments from people on social media who have boasted about signing a UK parliamentary petition 2,000 times. Given that these petitions often influence what MPs debate, will the Leader of the House reassure the House by setting out what measures are in place to ensure the validity of signatories to any parliamentary petitions so that we can all be confident about the integrity of petitions, and that they are signed only once by those who are entitled to do so?
There is a system in place to try to check for the risk of bogus signatories to petitions. Given the pace at which information technology moves, those systems clearly need to be updated from time to time. The Petitions Committee and the House authorities are keen to act on the basis of any evidence of malpractice such as that described by the hon. Lady.
Following the horrific events of yesterday, the Prime Minister said in this House today that she wanted all MPs to learn life-saving first aid skills. With that in mind, can we revisit the debate on compulsory first aid education in schools, which was the subject of a private Member’s Bill that was sadly talked out by Government Members?
I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister encouraged people to acquire those skills. Whether the best way to do that is by making such education a compulsory part of the school curriculum is a slightly different question. It is a perfectly reasonable element of the debate, but allocating time to such skills lessons would inevitably mean prolonging the school day or taking time away from other activities. The Government’s general approach is that we want to give local schools and headteachers discretion about such things.
May I associate myself and my constituents with everything that has been said this morning about yesterday’s horrific attack, which goes to show that evil will never prevail? I recently met a constituent called Ellen Höfer-Franz. She is a German national who, despite having lived in Scotland for nine years, is very concerned about applying for permanent residency to guarantee her status following Brexit due to changes made in 2011 to the rules on comprehensive sickness insurance. May we have a debate about this specific issue to clarify the situation for EU nationals such as Ellen who are concerned about their future?
The hon. Gentleman could raise this matter on behalf of his constituent in any of the frequent opportunities that we have to debate European matters. I hope that he understands that the Government’s objective is to seek, at a very early stage in the forthcoming negotiations, an agreement with the 27 other members of the European Union that each other’s nationals should continue to have rights of residence and other connected rights, if they have been lawfully established here.
Will the Leader of the House and the Environment Secretary please consider the need for an urgent debate on the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, the alarming inadequacy of which has been exposed at South Lakes Safari Zoo in my constituency, which the Leader of the House might have seen in the news of late? There is a catalogue of reasons why the Act and licensing regulations need to be modernised and professionalised. The matter has not been debated in the House for many years; in fact, the last debate was four years ago in the other place.
I did, indeed, read the newspaper reports about what seems to have been a pretty appalling case of mismanagement and the ill treatment of a large number of animals at that zoo. There will be questions to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Thursday 20 April, but the hon. Gentleman will probably want to seek an Adjournment debate in the Chamber or a debate in Westminster Hall.
The Leader of the House keeps suggesting that people apply for debates in Westminster Hall, but what is the point when Ministers’ responses are so woefully short? There seems to be a particular problem with the 11 am slot on a Wednesday. Library research shows that the average ministerial response to such debates since January has lasted 10 minutes and that the debates are finishing early. I understand that Ministers need to rush up here to fill the Back Benches for Prime Minister’s questions, but surely those debates, which are important to our constituents, should have the courtesy of a decent response from Ministers.
A courteous and decent response can also be pithy and succinct. In the days when I had to reply to numerous Westminster Hall debates, we always seemed to need additional time to accommodate the many speeches, but I often found that my remaining time at the end of a debate was squeezed hard, including by spokesmen for the hon. Gentleman’s party.
May I associate myself with all the tributes that have been paid in the House regarding yesterday’s tragic events?
It should send a strong message to the Secretary of State for Education when Opposition Members like me are entirely united with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) on the funding formula for education? Many schools face severe deficits and need to be able to plan ahead urgently. I hear what the Leader of the House says about the consultation only ending yesterday, but I urge him to say to the Secretary of State that we need an early statement so that schools can plan ahead.
The Prime Minister stated in her speech last night that the UK sets an example for advancing freedoms, including the freedom of religion or belief. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also made a commitment at the October conference to pursue the freedom of religion or belief at the Human Rights Council. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the relevant Minister to make a statement to confirm that FCO and Department for International Development desk officers, as well as UK embassies, fully recognise the importance of religious freedom and promote it in their daily work?
I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seize his opportunities at questions to those two Departments. From my fairly recent experience of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I can assure him that human rights, including religious freedom, are taken very seriously throughout our network of posts abroad and in London. It is also sometimes the case that persecuted religious minorities themselves prefer for their plight to be addressed in the context of the expression of broader concerns about human rights, precisely because they do not want to be further singled out for additional persecution. There is an element of judgment in how we go about this task, but the centrality of that to the mission of the FCO and DFID is something about which I hope I can give him some firm assurance.
Last week, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence issued guidelines that introduce a financial cap on access to medicines. Major research charities such as Alzheimer’s Research UK and Cancer Research UK warn that lives will be lost because of this new rationing system. Should there not have been a statement about such an important change in policy? In the absence of such a statement, may we have a debate?
It is important that decisions about individual medicines are taken by a body such as NICE, where clinical judgment is to the fore, rather than being subject to political pressure or the question of who has the most effective group of supporters to lobby on their behalf. I will ask the relevant Minister at the Department of Health to write to the hon. Gentleman.
May I associate myself with the expressions of sympathy today and with the appreciation that has been expressed for those who keep us safe, including the brave police officers?
May we have an urgent debate on the plight of the Chennai Six, who include my constituent Billy Irving, given the Foreign Office’s shocking lack of disclosure and communication with families and MPs about the horrific assault on one of the men, who suffered forced incarceration in an Indian mental hospital and the forced administration of drugs, and given that the Minister concerned is apparently currently unable to personally meet terrified family members to reassure them?
I do know that the question of the Chennai Six has been raised with the Indian authorities at the highest political level, as well as repeatedly at official levels. I will ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), as the Minister responsible for policy towards India, to write to the hon. Lady.
My constituent Steven McColl from Darvel worked for Royal Mail for 28 years and absolutely loved his job. Fifteen years ago, he overcame adversity when he lost his young daughter, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, aged just two and a half. He went through that traumatic time, and his Royal Mail manager then wanted to sack him, which is unbelievable. He has since recovered, and he won postman of the year a few years later. However, 15 years after losing is daughter, he was off work ill, due to muscle injuries. Royal Mail forced an ill-health retirement settlement on him after he was off for just four months—it did not even wait a full six months—and his appeal is still ongoing. Royal Mail has refused to engage positively with my office, but the Government still have a Minister with responsibilities for Royal Mail, so will the Leader of the House outline what role that Minister can play and what assistance can be given to stick up for this fantastic and popular employee?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment on the individual case, particularly because, as he has just said, it is subject to an appeal, presumably through an employment tribunal. I will draw his concern to the attention of the Minister responsible for Royal Mail, but it would not be at all usual for Ministers to intervene in individual employment cases. Royal Mail exists as a corporate entity, and it has to take management decisions about its personnel, among other things, without being second-guessed by Ministers.