The business for next week will be:
Monday 10 July—Second Reading of the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill.
Tuesday 11 July—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing Bill followed by motions relating to the Hybrid Bill procedure.
Wednesday 12 July—General debate on the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry.
Thursday 13 July—General debate on the commemoration of Passchendaele, the third battle of Ypres.
Friday 14 July—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 13 July will be:
Thursday 13 July—Debate on supply of homes and affordable homes to buy followed by debate on the introduction of an opt-out system for organ donation in England.
Colleagues will want to be aware that the election of Select Committee Chairs will take place on Wednesday 12 July from 10 am to 4 pm in Committee Room 8.
Finally, Mr Speaker, I was delighted to hear of the hard work that both you and the Lord Speaker have put into ensuring that Parliament properly marks Pride weekend. Among other activities, the rainbow-coloured flag will be projected on to the Palace for the duration of the weekend. I am sure that Members from across the House, in this, the most diverse Parliament ever, will join me in sending our best wishes to all who are celebrating this weekend and the rest of Pride month.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. She made no mention of the specific debates that I asked for last week on the High Court judgments concerning the plan for clean air and the benefits cap. She also made no mention of Opposition days, the last of which was in January. She made no mention of when she will schedule the debate on the statutory instrument on tuition fees, which the Opposition prayed against. That is particularly important in view of the latest Institute for Fiscal Studies report, which states that students will graduate with average debts of £50,800 after interest rates on student loans are raised to 6.1% in September, and points out that such interest rates are very high compared with current market rates. The report goes on to state that with their
“higher principal debt, students…from the poorest 40% of families now accrue around £6,500 in interest during study.”
The First Secretary of State said in a speech earlier this month that there is
“a national debate that we need to have”
about university tuition fees. I do not know where he was from 3 May to 8 June, but he actually got an answer: a minority Government. Will the Leader of the House please honour the parliamentary convention and let us debate that statutory instrument? It seems as though young people are being rejected by this minority Government.
May we have a debate on early-day motion 63, on the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, which has so far been signed by 124 hon. Members from all parties?
[That this House believes it has a moral duty to ensure that there is a fair transition for women born on or after 6 April 1951 regarding their pensions; recognises the need for a non-means tested bridging pension that will secure the financial stability of those affected by the 1995 and 2011 Pension Acts and compensation for those at risk of losing in the region of £45,000, creating a fairer pension system for all; and calls on the Government to bring forward transitional arrangements to provide pension certainty for the women disproportionately affected by this system.]
The debate in Westminster Hall yesterday was totally oversubscribed—it was standing room only—so will the Leader of the House find time to debate this injustice to 1950s women, or are 1950s women also rejected by this minority Government?
So far, the financial black hole includes the £1.5 billion for the deal; the £2 billion hole in the public finances over the next five years left by the national insurance U-turn; the concession that was, quite rightly, made last week in support of women in Northern Ireland, but which not been costed; and the extra money that many Secretaries of State are asking for, such as the £1 billion for education and the money asked for by the Health Secretary. The financial black hole is getting bigger. The Government announced in the Queen’s Speech that they will have three Finance Bills over the course of this Parliament, so will the Leader of the House say when we will have the summer Finance Bill? The Treasury has suggested such a Bill—that has certainly been picked up by the shadow Treasury team—unless, that is, there is to be no debate in Parliament, but just an announcement in Manchester in October.
Guess who said:
“tell others who’ve got their own opinion to shut up…There is a sense you have at the moment of everybody doing their own thing…Nobody actually asserting very clearly what they want to do in the national interest…We can’t go on living from hand-to-mouth in this sort of shambolic way.”
It was the former Tory party chairman Lord Patten, and this is why he said it. This is the response on 3 July to a written question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West):
“The government’s manifesto includes a free vote on the Hunting Act 2004, but we are not planning to bring forward a free vote in this session.”
That is a U-turn. On free school meals, a Minister responded this week that the Government have decided it is “right to retain” the existing universal infant free school meals provision. That is a U-turn. On grammar schools, the Secretary of State for Education, again in a written answer to my hon. Friend, has confirmed:
“There was no education bill in Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech, and therefore the ban on opening new grammar schools will remain in place.”
That is another U-turn. On the triple lock on pensions, which the Government wanted to scrap by 2020, they have made another U-turn. On the winter fuel allowance, the Government’s planned means-testing has been dropped, which is another U-turn. Everything in their manifesto has been dropped; there is no policy. What is left? Oh yes, “strong and stable”—I think that is another U-turn.
Mr Speaker, you will remember that the Prime Minister was billed as the second incarnation of another female Prime Minister, whose nickname, for those of us who can remember it, was TINA—“there is no alternative”. We in Her Majesty’s Opposition—here we are—say: there is an alternative.
On the subject of what the hon. Lady calls U-turns, as she and all hon. Members know, the result of the general election was not what we wished—we do not have the majority we wished for—but Members can be satisfied that the proposals the Government have brought forward are therefore focused on measures that we can all support.
Those measures are, first, about making a success of leaving the European Union and making sure that we can continue to trade and collaborate with our EU friends and partners. Secondly, there are measures to strengthen the economy by bringing forward new proposals on matters such as being a world leader in electric and autonomous vehicles, commercial space flights and other industries that will create the jobs of the future. Thirdly, there are measures to improve our society: we want strengthened support for people affected by mental health problems and measures to protect people from domestic violence. Those are measures that the whole House can get behind. Lastly, there are more measures to strengthen the United Kingdom, to prevent extremism and to protect us from terrorism. Those are the sorts of measures that the Government will bring forward, and I urge all Members to look at them and take them very seriously. They represent the real progress that this Government will make.
Let me turn to some of the hon. Lady’s specific points. On the court judgments, such cases remain with the judges, so as she will know, we cannot comment on them in the way she wishes.
Arrangements for Opposition days and for private Members’ Bills on sitting Fridays will be brought forward in due course. We are looking at them very carefully. The number of them will be at least in line with the number of days provided for in the Standing Orders, but additional days will be provided through the usual channels.
The hon. Lady asked for a debate on student fees, and mentioned the interest rates on student fees. I should make it clear to the House that student debt is not like normal commercial loans: student fees are made available to all students, regardless of their financial history; they are repayable according to income, not according to the amount due; and they are of course written off by the taxpayer after 30 years. They are less like a commercial loan, and more like a contribution—only a contribution, because the taxpayer continues to pay significant sums—towards the cost of a degree that will mean the individual concerned earns more during their career than taxpayers who do not have the benefit of a degree. The system attempts to be fair to the student and to the taxpayer who does not have such a benefit.
Finally, I want to point out that our measures to improve apprenticeships—there was a commitment to nearly 3 million of them in the last Parliament, and there is a commitment to many millions more in this Parliament—are offering real alternatives for young people who do not want to go to university. The Prime Minister made the point at Prime Minister’s questions that disadvantaged 18-year-olds are seeing the highest ever level of entry to higher education, which is a good thing and should be celebrated by the whole House.
I am sure the Leader of the House agrees that the House would want an early debate on any Government programme where the costs are rising, and it does not look as though it is good value for money for the taxpayer; where senior personnel are leaving, and the governance of it is deteriorating; where procurement processes are breaking down; and where the technology is being overtaken by other, more modern, developments. May we therefore have an early debate on HS2 phase 1 before we start on the folly of bringing in a Bill for HS2 phase 2, and to consider whether, if work on the route is to go ahead, it should be used for another form of transport, such as the autonomous vehicles on which the Leader of the House is so keen?
My right hon. Friend and I have worked for a very long time on representing her and my constituents in every way we possibly can. My constituents, just as much as hers, have grave concerns about the impact of HS2 as it passes through the Chilterns and South Northamptonshire, and all the way along the route. I am extremely sympathetic to her calls, but she knows as well as I do that there is a commitment to HS2. The Bill for phase 1 has received Royal Assent, but we will of course continue to look at what more can be done to provide mitigation and compensate all of our constituents during the construction phase.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing what passes for the business for next week. I join her in wishing well all those who are participating in Pride week during the next few days.
There were no votes this week. There are not going to be any votes next week, and there will probably not be any votes during the week after that, so there will be no votes before we get to the summer recess. This is quickly becoming the zombie apocalypse Parliament where the Government undead wander the streets of Whitehall looking for brains, only to discover they have all left the country because of Brexit, like everybody else. I do not know how much longer the Government will be able to pad out the business with uncontroversial Bills and measures, but at some time the will of the House will have to be tested once again.
There will, however, be votes next week—thank goodness—because we will all be deciding who the Chairs of Select Committees are to be. I declare an interest in that matter. It is good to see the Select Committees up and running, but what on earth is happening with Standing Committees of this House? We have already passed a couple of Bills on Second Reading—I know they will be taken in a Committee of the whole House—and there is another Second Reading debate next week. We must have a conversation and discussion about Standing Committees, because they are important in passing legislation. I looked at the arithmetic and figured out that there should be nine Conservative Members, seven Labour Members and two SNP Members on a Standing Committee, giving no one an overall majority. That is my understanding, but the Leader of the House can correct me if I am wrong. When will a motion come to the House, and when will the Standing Committees be up and running?
I very much support the shadow Leader of the House in calling for a full debate on the WASPI issue. Westminster Hall was packed to the gunwales yesterdays, with so many Members of Parliament wanting to represent their female constituents born in the 1950s. We have to have the debate here on Floor of the House. I have noticed that there is a cooling in the mood of Conservative Members about the issue, as they recognise this injustice. We saw the £1 billion bung go to the DUP. Let us have a debate here on the Floor of the House, where Members can put the case.
Lastly, it is a year ago that we got the Chilcot report. You will remember, Mr Speaker, that we debated it for two days. Today, Sir John Chilcot said that Tony Blair was not “straight with the nation”. Is it not time for a parliamentary Committee to investigate this properly and take appropriate action against the former Prime Minister?
I encourage the hon. Gentleman to consider, perhaps by reading Hansard if he was not listening, the strong case I made for the measures the Government will be taking to take significant steps in improving the situation of all residents right across the United Kingdom. He says that there have been no votes. That is testimony to the agreement across the House that we are indeed doing the right thing. I encourage him and his hon. Friends to continue to support the Government’s efforts.
Standing Committees are being looked at and will be appointed in due course, and the issues the hon. Gentleman raised will be resolved.
We have had five debates on the WASPI issue. As with all high-profile issues that are of concern right across the House, the Government continue to look at the measures in question. However, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, unfortunately, we are still trying to deal with the problems in our economy left by the last Labour Government. We still continue—[Interruption.] Opposition Members might groan, but the reality is that this Government are still clearing up the last Labour Government’s mess. We have therefore had to take tough decisions to be fair right across the range of people coming up to retirement age, as well as to those still of working age.
The final point the hon. Gentleman raised was about the Chilcot inquiry. That was a seven-year inquiry. The Government have looked at it at great length, and it has been widely discussed. The Government continue to learn the lessons of the Chilcot inquiry and are absolutely committed to continuing to do so, but we do not have plans to reopen a further inquiry.
Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about dog theft and dog fighting? There are far too many dog thefts in my part of the world and probably in other parts of the world, and many of those dogs are used as bait for dog fighting, which is absolutely disgusting. The law enforcement and animal welfare agencies do not appear to do enough about that. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State on what he intends to do to clamp down on this disgusting practice?
My hon. Friend raises such an important point. There is no doubt that we are a nation of dog lovers. As Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I spent quite a lot of time trying to improve the rules on puppy licensing to get backstreet breeders out of the way and to improve animal welfare, training and so on. I encourage him to get in contact with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs again on what is a very important matter for all of us.
I welcome the hon. Lady to the House and wish her great success in her new role. She raises a matter that is important right across the country—that of policing. She will know that the Government have protected police funding in real terms. I met my own police and crime commissioner only yesterday to talk about the difference in how policing is happening. She will be pleased to know, as I am, that crime has fallen by a third since 2010, enabling police forces to put more into tackling cybercrime and into crime prevention, particularly in respect of online crime. Nevertheless, the relevant Minister will have heard her points.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a general debate on the criteria for awarding city status? In every respect, Southend-on-Sea, with its many and various qualities, should already be a city. I believe that is an oversight to which attention may be drawn in a general debate.
My hon. Friend is a huge supporter of his constituency. I am sure that all Members will have spent happy hours on the beaches there. Nevertheless, he will appreciate that city status is a rare privilege that is conferred on a town by Her Majesty on advice from Ministers and is not something for the House.
In the last Parliament, I rose to seek the support of the then Prime Minister in relation to a constituent, Lisa Brown, who has been missing in Spain since November 2015. I now find myself having to rise in the House in relation to another constituent, Caroline Hope, who after travelling to Turkey on personal matters was diagnosed with cancer and sought emergency surgery before returning home to Scotland. She has now been infected with E. coli and is having to rely on the support of family, friends and strangers to raise over £30,000 to bring her home to West Dunbartonshire. I ask the Leader of the House to seek from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Foreign Secretary a quick response to a letter I sent them this week on Caroline’s situation and on further support in respect of Lisa, who is still missing in Spain.
My village of Woodlesford was lucky in that it had one-in-200-year flood defences put in place before the Boxing day floods. However, the water still got within one inch of people’s doorsteps. My villages of Methley and Mickletown had similar problems. The devastation in Leeds was huge, and there has been a rush to put bigger flood defences in. May we have a statement from the relevant Minister on the flood strategy for Leeds, with specific mention of what modelling has been done to ensure that more water does not come down to my villages, which already have flood defences in place but came perilously close to having them breached?
I had the great pleasure of going to Leeds last year as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to see the new moveable weirs, which should make a big difference to the ability to prevent water overwhelming towns such as Methley and Mickletown. The Environment Agency is working closely with Leeds City Council and the local flood groups to understand the latest flood modelling results and identify the most appropriate options. A lot of work is being done, involving £3 million of additional Government funding, on the Leeds flood alleviation scheme.
In west Yorkshire, our blue light services and those who represent rank and file staff are very clear that our emergency services are in crisis and staff are struggling to cope. West Yorkshire has lost more than 1,200 police officers and 554 firefighters since 2010. It is no wonder that my constituents feel less safe. Given that we have not had an Opposition day since January, will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate on this important subject before the summer recess?
I refer the hon. Lady to what I said to the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock): crime is down by a third since 2010 and the Government have protected police funding. She may wish to raise the specific issues in her constituency by applying for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate.
At the weekend, I joined a group of volunteers from the Heart of Hednesford group, who were planting up hayracks on the platforms of Hednesford station, which will give passengers a colourful welcome to the town. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating and thanking that fantastic group of volunteers? May we have a debate in Government time about the role of volunteers and community groups in local communities?
I am delighted to have this opportunity to share in my hon. Friend’s congratulations to her volunteers. We all appreciate the amazing work done by volunteers—litter picking, planting flowers or supporting vulnerable people and so on. We have frequent debates in this place on volunteers, and I encourage my hon. Friend to seek a further one to show our appreciation.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to clarify who is responsible for dealing with the increasing problem of urban foxes, about which I have had huge numbers of complaints recently? No one takes responsibility. I am not suggesting, Mr Speaker, the setting up of a Vauxhall hunt, but I am seeking to satisfy and help those of my constituents whose lives in their homes are being made intolerable by foxes. What can be done, and who takes responsibility, other than people saying, “They’re lovely”?
Yes, Mr Speaker, I was going to say that the foxes have a cheek going to Vauxhall, given the hon. Lady’s views on them; it is very brave of them.
There are very strict rules on wildlife in urban, as well as rural, areas, and keeping the fox population down is an important issue. I suggest that the hon. Lady write to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Given the number of terrorist acts carried out in the UK by people who were prevented from going to the middle east, may we have a statement from an appropriate Minister setting out the arguments for and against preventing would-be adult jihadists from travelling abroad and keeping them at home, when we know that they cannot all be monitored at home around the clock?
My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Approximately 850 UK-linked individuals of national security concern have travelled to engage with the Syrian conflict. We think about half of them returned to the UK, while over 15% were subsequently killed in fighting in the region. Our priority is, of course, to dissuade people from travelling to areas of conflict, and our Prevent strategy includes a lot of work to identify and support individuals at risk of radicalisation. This is clearly something for the commission for countering extremism, which is being set up, and I am sure the Foreign Affairs Committee will also be interested in this subject.
The Leader of the House mentioned extremism in her opening remarks. Will she make Government time available for a debate on the report on extremism and the funding of extreme activity in the UK that the Government have not yet published? Members are entitled to know, for instance, whether that is because there are many references to the activities of the Saudis in the report. May we find time for such a debate?
Childline, which is now part of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, was founded 30 years ago and over that time has helped more than 4 million children in need. May we have a debate about how Government could work even more closely with Childline and the NSPCC, particularly in areas such as online abuse and children’s mental health?
My hon. Friend has been a huge advocate of the excellent work of Childline, and I think everybody across the House will want to congratulate it, too. He will be aware that teachers and school staff across the country have started training to be able to identify, and respond to, early signs of mental health problems among pupils, which is a very good thing. My hon. Friend might want to expand on that discussion by applying for a debate, and I encourage him to look at early years, infant mental health, which is so important to set young people up with lifelong emotional wellbeing.
The M56 is the principal economic artery for not just west Cheshire but large parts of north Wales, and it continues to jam up regularly, at which point all the roads surrounding it jam up, too. May we have a debate in Government time on why their road strategy has failed to find any investment for the M56 in the last 10 years?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this Government have significantly invested in roads and continue to do so. If he has a specific issue about the M56, I encourage him to apply for an Adjournment debate, but this Government are fully committed to improving our infrastructure to get the economy going, and to give the boost of even more jobs for people in this country.
The Leader of the House and I share a strong interest in perinatal mental health and giving babies the best start in life, and I declare an interest as chairman of the charity she set up, so I am greatly encouraged by the Government’s commitment to a mental health Bill in the Queen’s Speech and particularly to amending equalities legislation to reduce any discrimination against people with a mental illness problem. Can my right hon. Friend give us an approximate timeline for that legislation, and say what it might cover to promote perinatal mental health and giving our children the best start in terms of mental health in their lives?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue, which is very dear to his heart and mine. Giving babies the best start in life through secure early bonding is absolutely vital. I am sure that will be a part of our new mental health Act mentioned in the Queen’s Speech and that Members across the House will be keen to put forward their views. The timing of this will be decided in due course.
After Home Office questions on Monday—when the Home Secretary claimed police funding had been protected, although it has not been on Merseyside—there was yet another firearms discharge in my constituency. That makes over 100 shootings across Merseyside in the last 18 months, including five murders. May we have a debate in Government time about the increase in gun crime across Merseyside and what the Government will do better to equip our police to deal proactively with the serious threat to public safety it represents?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue, which is very serious in her constituency. She will be pleased to know that since 2010 there have been over 370,000 fewer violent crimes a year, but that does not help at all when in her constituency there have been many of them, and I suggest she take that up via a Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate.
May we have a debate on the accountability of local councils? Taunton Deane council is giving permission for 17,000 houses. One company alone has built up a multimillion pound land bank on the assumption that the council will give it permission. May we please have a tightening of the rules and a debate before councils are accused of all sorts of serious things that I suspect they do not want to be?
My hon. Friend raises the important point that housing must be sited in an appropriate place and there must be clear and transparent rules around planning. However, a balance needs to be struck, as we desperately need to be building more houses. We have a great record of building—over 800,000 new homes since 2010 in this country. That is a very good contribution, but more needs to be done. My hon. Friend might want to raise his specific point at the Department for Communities and Local Government questions scheduled for before the summer recess.
Further to the point made by the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and in the light of the recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester and yesterday’s report by the Henry Jackson Society on the foreign funding of extremism in UK, may I ask when the Prime Minister will either publish the report on the foreign funding of terrorism commissioned when she was Home Secretary or make a statement to this House on the foreign funding of extremist groups in the UK?
The hon. Gentleman will know that this is an enormously important issue for the Prime Minister personally, and she has committed to doing everything possible to keep our people safe. She is setting up the commission for countering extremism and is fully occupied in resolving this issue. I am sure he can rely on the fact that she will do everything possible to stamp out extremism in all its forms.
Among the regular issues that land in my inbox are litter and fly-tipping. I am sure that this affects other hon. Members as well. Fly-tipping alone cost local authorities in England £49.8 million in 2015-16, and that is on top of the cost of litter clear-ups. May we please have a debate in Government time on how effective the enforcement of the relevant regulations is and on what more can be done to encourage members of the public to dispose of their litter and waste properly?
I am very happy to encourage everyone to take their litter home with them. My hon. Friend is right to say that street cleaning cost local government nearly £800 million in 2015-16—a huge amount of money that could be better used doing other things. I was pleased to launch our national litter strategy for England recently. It covers three areas: enforcement, education and infrastructure for bins. That consultation has now finished, and further announcements will be made very soon.
Today is a sad day for Glasgow politics, as the funeral was held this morning of Councillor Alistair Watson, whose life is celebrated in early-day motion 139. He gave 22 years of public service to the communities of Cardonald, and I send my condolences to his family and friends, and to the Glasgow Labour family.
[That this House recognises the life and work of Councillor Alistair Watson, trade unionist, railwayman, transport campaigner, tireless local champion for the community of Cardonald for 22 years and sends condolences to his family at this sad time; notes that Mr Watson was an exemplary councillor with a clear local focus but also a bold strategic vision, a local champion and city-wide advocate, with a vision of a city region with integrated transport at the heart of Glasgow’s regeneration at the same time as working every day on the issues that mattered to his community neighbours; and further recognises that Mr Watson was well known for being a robust debater but with a smile and a handshake for his political opponents, was respected and valued by everyone who worked with him and who experienced the pride and passion he had for his work.]
May we have a debate or a statement on public service, to celebrate those who have served our communities with distinction, such as Councillor Alistair Watson?
I, too, would like to offer my condolences to the family of the councillor the hon. Gentleman mentions. There are people right across the country who put in many years of public service to improve their own local communities or the country that they live in. That service is vital to all of us. He makes the good point that we should have a debate not only to encourage more people to get involved but to celebrate those who have done so. I encourage him to apply for a debate on that subject.
As Daesh loses territory and fails to deliver the so-called caliphate, it grows ever more desperate in its death cult crimes, especially against the Yazidi people. May we have an early debate on the application of international law to bring prosecutions against Daesh fighters, and those who choose to partner and even marry them, to ensure that every terrorist is held accountable for their barbaric crimes?
We are very concerned about the appalling crimes committed by Daesh against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, as well as against the majority Muslim populations in Iraq and Syria. Ultimately, the only way to stop the abuse is to defeat Daesh and establish a long-term political settlement in those countries. We continue to work closely with the Government of Iraq and with the United Nations to do just that. My hon. Friend should be reassured that any Daesh supporters returning to the UK will face the full force of the law.
Developers in London routinely use a variety of methods aggressively to drive down levels of affordable housing. The Battersea power station development is the most recent high-profile example. May we have a debate in Government time on what more needs to be done to ensure that private developments include sufficient public gain and adequate affordable housing?
We all share a desire to see more affordable housing; there is a big commitment to that on the part of this Government. More than 300,000 new affordable homes have been built since 2010. Of course, it is a matter for local planning authorities to ensure that the right proportions are built in every development.
I heard what the Leader of the House said earlier about student loans. The original policy, introduced by the coalition Government, was widely supported and remains progressive, but things have changed slightly. The level of interest at which living costs and studies loans will be repaid will rise to 6.1% this September. That, allied with compound interest over a 30-year period, led to the calculation in yesterday’s Institute for Fiscal Studies report that the total debt could rise to more than £55,000. A number of us are very concerned about this. May I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to find Government time for a debate, which the First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), has also intimated he would like to see?
Of all people, my hon. Friend should recognise that student finance is not like a normal commercial loan. The taxpayer still contributes significantly to the cost of higher education for university students, and it is right that those who will benefit from the higher earnings attracted by graduates should contribute to that cost. However, the mood of many colleagues has been heard, and I am quite sure that the Department for Education is considering this matter.
Gun and knife crime is up across London, and this month marks the two-year anniversary of a high-profile drive-by mistaken identity shooting in Wood Green. Despite a number of representations, this homicide remains unsolved. May we have a debate in Government time on resources, particularly for London boroughs that are experiencing an increase in gun and knife crime? In the light of the fact that 230 officers have been moved over to do important work following Grenfell, we need to be able to rely on there being enough detectives working to solve that two-year-old crime.
It is important to be clear that, although there are pockets in which terrible incidents take place—it sounds like a really awful experience in the hon. Lady’s constituency—there have nevertheless been 370,000 fewer violent crimes since 2010. It is important that we speak in measured terms, because it is easy to scare people into thinking that things are getting worse when in fact they are getting better. It has been made very clear that police funding has been protected, but the police themselves are changing the way in which they manage things operationally and putting more money into cyber-policing, into dealing with online crime and into counter-intelligence. None the less, the hon. Lady might wish to raise the specific issues in her constituency via an Adjournment debate.
My right hon. Friend might be aware of the problems that riding schools up and down the country are having with the valuations being ascribed to their premises by the Valuation Office Agency. Some are now closing as a result, which will undoubtedly have an effect on Riding for the Disabled. May we have a debate on the subject, and could she raise it with her Cabinet colleagues?
I am very much aware of the issue of rates for riding schools and other large premises in rural areas. My hon. Friend might know that, as part of the £435 million package of support launched at the Budget, the Chancellor announced a £300 million discretionary relief fund over four years from 2017-18 to enable local authorities to provide additional support to local businesses. I encourage my hon. Friend to suggest that his constituents apply to the local council to see whether they are eligible for that discretionary relief.
Following the revelation in an independent audit of loans by Credit Suisse and VTB Capital to state-owned companies in Mozambique—loans that now fall on the shoulders of every man, woman and child in that country—may we have a debate or a statement on what measures the UK Government are considering to ensure that loans given to Governments under UK law are transparent?
There is some concern about the broadcast media’s coverage of the Brexit negotiations, and we only had to watch “Newsnight” last night to see why. One of my constituents has emailed me about this, stating:
“I need to know whether I made the right decision but the mainstream media just do not cover EU developments.”
Will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to explain this, or indeed to justify the statement that the BBC is continuing to comply with its royal charter?
We all want to see balance in reporting, giving as much time to the opportunities of leaving the EU as is given to the other side of the argument. A number of people have expressed concern that that balance is not there, and I think that all of us across the House would wish to see that addressed very closely.
Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on local government funding? Kirklees Council, which covers my constituency, is losing £1 million a week. Services are close to breaking point, with vulnerable people suffering the most. As the Cabinet now seems to be conducting a public debate on austerity on the front pages, may we also have one in this House?
I remind the hon. Lady that, actually, it is this Government who are sorting out our public finances. It is under this Government that we have seen employment up by 2.9 million people, over 800,000 fewer workless households and a pay rise for 30 million people through income tax cuts. Basic rate taxpayers are £1,000 a year better off under this Government, so to suggest that everything is falling apart is simply not true. Opposition Members need to stop scaremongering, and I urge the hon. Lady to look at the facts.
Hamble Lane, Eastleigh town centre and the Botley Centre on Botley high street leave constant queues and jams, and the resultant air pollution remains a key concern for my constituents, and particularly for parents of children with asthma. Will the Leader of the House kindly find Government time for a debate on air pollution so that we can talk about and really tackle this growing public health concern?
Air quality is a serious public health issue—my hon. Friend is right to say that it has a major link to asthma, which is a serious condition in itself—and we take it seriously. She will have many opportunities to raise it when we have the High Court judgment and when the consultation proposals are published later in the summer.
Some 200 staff who were supposed to be working at a Green Day concert were let go on Tuesday after it was cancelled at very short notice by the promoter, PCL Presents. The staff were offered only their bus fare by the employer in this case, OnPoint. May we have a debate on zero-hours contracts and workers’ rights? Does the Leader of the House agree that in this case these workers have clearly been exploited, which is unacceptable?
If that is indeed the case, I agree that it does not sound acceptable. On the wider point, there has been a lot of discussion in this House about the measures this Government have taken to stamp out the abuse of zero-hours contracts. Of course, many people are content with their zero-hours contracts, which work for them. The hon. Lady raises an important specific point, but the broader point has been well debated in this Chamber.
Some illegal Traveller camps in Dudley have left behind criminal damage and large clean-up bills for council tax payers. May we have a debate on the use of police powers to remove illegal camps and on proposals to allow combined authorities to pool provision for authorised Traveller sites, rather than insisting that each local authority has its own provision?
My hon. Friend raises a subject that has been raised at every business questions so far in this Parliament, which highlights the importance of the issue in every constituency. Local authorities and the police have a wide range of strong powers that help them to take action, including being able to direct trespassers to leave the land, removing any vehicles and property, when there is a suitable pitch elsewhere in that local authority area. I hear my hon. Friend’s point about pooling local authority resources. That is not currently possible, but he may wish to raise it directly with Ministers.
I too want to raise the need for an early debate on illegal encampments. In the past few months there has been an unprecedented rise in the number, scale and frequency of encampments in south Birmingham, often with public concern made even worse by the antisocial behaviour associated with those encampments and by the mess they leave behind. The encampments are often evicted from one place only to reappear down the road. We need an early debate, and I ask the Leader of the House both to review the status of the existing powers and to review what best practice is available and where it can be applied. If the available powers need further review, will she set the ball rolling?
Again, there are already strong police powers. There are occasional issues with enforcement, but where Travellers fail to comply with police direction, it is a criminal offence punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment. So, too, is re-entry on land within three months by a person subject to a direction. There is an issue with enforcement, but the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) should be aware that 84% of Traveller caravans are now on authorised land, compared with 77% in 2007. The Government are committed to reducing the number of unauthorised sites by making sure there is reasonable provision for Travellers that takes account of their particular cultural requirements, to enable them to avoid being on unauthorised sites.
The players and supporters of Gwernyfed rugby club in Brecon and Radnorshire have recently completed a sponsored bike ride across Wales, raising £45,000 towards the cost of purchasing their rugby pitches from the local authority. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all of Gwernyfed—she does not have to pronounce it—on that outstanding achievement? Will she also allow a debate on what more can be done to transfer assets to local community groups without exceptionally high costs to those groups?
I congratulate all those involved. It is a very impressive sum for a sponsored bike ride, and I commend my hon. Friend if he was involved. As he will know, responsibility for grassroots sport is devolved to Wales. Sport Wales has responsibility for investing in and supporting grassroots sport. This year Sport England launched a community asset fund worth up to £15 million, and he might want to ask Sport Wales whether it has any similar schemes upcoming.
Like many of us, the Leader of the House likes to be patriotic and use our national carrier airline, British Airways, but may we have a debate about the shameful way it is treating its mixed-fleet cabin crew and about how the Government have given it permission to wet lease the planes and staff of Qatar Airways in order to keep flights going during the current industrial dispute, despite the terrible record of Qatar Airways on female workers? Is it not time for a debate on that subject?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point on workers’ rights, and applying for a debate in Westminster Hall or for an Adjournment debate would be a good opportunity to raise it further. However, it is important in all industrial disputes that passengers are also taken into account. I am sure he would agree that that is the right balance in all disputes.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to extensive investment in our road network, such as the A303 and A358 in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time on how we can capitalise on that investment to deliver jobs, housing and skills development?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency. I have spent many hours queuing patiently on the A303, so I understand his desire to see it upgraded. More specifically, new infrastructure brings jobs and growth in every constituency, and the Government have committed to massive new investment in capital infrastructure spending. He may wish to raise that in a Westminster Hall debate to give all colleagues the opportunity to talk about this Government’s work to build the economy.
I hope the Leader of the House heard my question to the Prime Minister yesterday about my constituent Lola Ilesanmi and her daughter, who is under threat of female genital mutilation. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s response was not adequate—it was almost as bad as the letters and responses I have had from the Home Office—so may we have a debate on the processes of the Home Office and the measures in place to protect women suffering from domestic violence and women and girls under threat of FGM?
Nobody in this House would for a moment condone or have anything other than disgust and abhorrence at the whole subject of FGM—it is an appalling abuse of young girls and young women, and nobody would condone it for a moment. This Government have made a huge effort to stamp out FGM. It is extraordinarily difficult to do that, but we are breaking through. At least through the hon. Lady’s question today we will be able to highlight again the plight of those suffering this appalling abuse. She raises a specific constituency point, and I urge her to raise that in Home Office questions or indeed to continue to raise it in PMQs. She has the support of the whole House in seeing this stamped out.
Colin Smith received contaminated blood in 1983, when he was just eight months old. That blood turned out to be from an Arkansas prison, and he died aged just seven, having spent his whole life fighting illness. Please, for Colin’s family and for all those affected, may we have an opportunity before the recess to debate the new reports that suggest that risks of contaminated blood were known and discussed from 1980, because those affected need a public inquiry to get to the truth?
I totally agree that the contaminated blood situation over several decades, which has affected people in so many different ways, was a terrible thing to happen. The hon. Lady will appreciate that successive Governments have, over decades, reviewed the situation and made compensation available to all those victims. I am aware that the last review, in 2015, made further recommendations and that there are concerns about the possibility that there was some cover-up. I encourage her to seek an opportunity for a debate, to try to air that issue further.
As we have heard, the broken business rates system is very detrimental to business. Frankly, it is a shambles—that view is echoed in businesses right across York, including those trading in the Shambles. May we, as we heard in the Budget, have the consultation brought to this House, because we were promised this in February and it has not seen the light of day? I would therefore like an urgent statement on why it has not been.
The hon. Lady will know that rateable values are set independently by the Valuation Office Agency and reflect open market rental value. The Government do not intervene in that independent exercise, but I do understand that if the market rent for the area has changed, rateable values change with that. She will be aware that the Chancellor announced a £300 million discretionary fund over four years, from 2017-18, to deal with issues of business rates changing for particular businesses. That has been made available to local authorities so that, at their discretion, they can support individual businesses in dealing with their issues.
The “Companies & Markets” section of the Financial Times carried an article this Monday on how investment in the car industry has slumped amid Brexit concerns. That issue was raised with me numerous times during the election, as I have a large Ford plant in my constituency. What is clear from the article and from the experience of Ford workers is that new investment is not coming to the plant, and it has slumped by 30% across the UK. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has said that there will be a devastating impact, and it will “permanently damage” the UK car industry, if this is not addressed when Britain leaves the customs union and the single market. May we have a debate on the impact of Brexit on the automotive industry?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue for her constituency. The UK has a thriving automotive industry, and I am sure she will be delighted that we are bringing forward measures to support electric vehicles and to be a world leader in that area. She may also be pleased to know that the Department for International Trade figures released today show a record-breaking number of foreign direct investment projects coming into the UK—up 2% on the 2015-16 figure. The direction is absolutely the right one, but she may well wish to raise specific issues for Ford in her constituency through a Westminster Hall debate.
Before the 2015 general election, Chancellor Osborne made a commitment to the residents of Warrington that the new Mersey gateway bridge and the existing Runcorn bridge would be toll free. Early this year, a junior Transport Minister broke that promise. May I request that the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to come here to make a statement to inform Members as to when the Government will announce that they will keep their promise? Alternatively, will she arrange a debate, as this issue is affecting the whole region?
May we have a debate on Home Office intransigence? Will a Minister come to this House to explain why, despite following all Home Office advice when submitting his application for extension of leave to remain, my constituent Akakpo Dosse Kangni-Soukpe and his wife have been stripped of their status and forced to quit their jobs, leaving their children, two of whom are British citizens, destitute? May we have an urgent debate on and review of Home Office procedures that leave so many people in such vulnerable situations?
The hon. Gentleman raises a worrying case in his constituency, and I am sure he will want to raise it either at oral questions to the Home Office or through writing to Ministers. As we all know, the UK Border Force does have an MPs’ hotline and deals as a matter of priority with MPs’ cases, so he may he wish to take this up directly with that body.
In 2015, the Government promised not to sell HMS Ocean and not to close Stonehouse barracks and the Royal Citadel in Plymouth, but the helicopter carrier and both bases are now up for sale. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on base closures and how we retain helicopter carrier capabilities at Devonport?
First, let me welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place and wish him success in this House. He is raising something dear to all our hearts: the fortunes of our military, be it the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force or Army. Sadly, I fear that his views are not shared by many on his side of the House, who argue against protecting our citizens. Nevertheless, his point has been heard and I am sure he will be raising it with Ministers whenever he can.
It has been common practice in the NHS, for example, for employees to be required to repay redundancy payments if they secure another job in the health service within a certain period of time. Given that several former Members who lost their seats at the last election have now taken up paid roles as Government advisers, will the Leader of the House set aside some time for a debate as to whether it is appropriate for Members to receive redundancy payments if they shortly thereafter take up a taxpayer-funded role?
The hon. Lady shouts from a sedentary position, “Name names”. My concern, and that expressed by many Members across the House, has in fact been that Members who have lost their seats, particularly this time around, have in some cases genuinely struggled. The Leader of the House role comes with an ability to feed into the policies for Members’ pay and expenses. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but I think he will find that Members from across the House are in fact concerned that Members who lose their seats are not being fairly treated—that is quite the opposite of the point he is raising.
I am sure that Members from both sides of the House would want to wish a happy 69th to the NHS, which clocked up that milestone yesterday, but local provision seems to be less and less healthy. My area has lost two accident and emergency facilities and if the current transformation plan goes ahead, there will be more beds in an average DFS than in Ealing hospital. May we therefore have an urgent debate, in Government time, on the future of this cherished, Labour-created institution, because, after all, we cannot give it the bumps?
The hon. Lady will know that this Government are totally committed to the NHS and are funding it to a far greater extent than the Labour party’s manifesto pledged. Under this Government, we have seen millions more operations and A&E visits. We have seen enormous strides forward in medical science and technology which enable people to have far better treatments. The Commonwealth Fund says that the NHS is one of the best health services in the world—that is not the UK but the Commonwealth Fund saying that. The Government are absolutely committed to the success of the NHS, and all Members should do more to support the excellent work of our NHS staff, who do so much to support all of us.
The shadow Leader of the House and other Members have raised an important question: why has there not been an Opposition day since 25 January? Given the scarcity of substantive Government business and the huge number of issues raised by the Opposition, why does the Leader of the House refuse to schedule one before the summer recess? Or does she want to commit to one now?
Last week I mentioned just a few of the failings of the Secretary of State for Scotland and challenged the Leader of the House to list some of his achievements. In her response, she said that
“he has spoken up for energy in Scotland”
and that he has been
“an enormous advocate for…Scottish agriculture”.—[Official Report, 29 June 2017; Vol. 626, c. 745-46.]
What about the fact that he stood by when the Government pulled the plug on carbon capture and storage and on onshore renewables—investment in renewables is now down 95%—and that the Government have withheld nearly £200 million of EU funding that was meant for Scottish farmers? If those are supposedly his achievements, can the Leader of the House list any other outstanding achievements that make my point—that he is not standing up for Scotland—for me?
May I say that that is utter nonsense and not worthy of the hon. Gentleman? Would he like to mention the Secretary of State for Scotland’s support for the Scottish oil and gas sector? He gave hours and hours of committed time to the discussion of a package of fiscal reliefs to support the oil and gas sector in Scotland. I was an Energy Minister myself, so I know very well what he did in the energy space: he spent hours with me working on a supply chain to give Scottish fabrication yards the chance to build the parts for the offshore wind sector that this Government have supported. We have half the world’s offshore wind turbines, but the hon. Gentleman does not mention any of that. This is a petty and spiteful act from an Opposition who should be ashamed of themselves. The Secretary of State for Scotland has spoken up for the people of Scotland at every opportunity.
In the previous Parliament, the Public Accounts Committee and several constituency Members from all parties expressed concerns about Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs estate reorganisation. It appears that major contracts were signed while Parliament was dissolved, which appears to fly in the face of official guidance to the civil service on not making big decisions on commercial contracts during purdah. Will the Leader of the House, the champion of the House in the Government, undertake to look into this matter and report back, or ensure that a Minister reports back? As HMRC is not a ministerially led Department, will she grant a debate in Government time so that Members can express their concerns directly?
If the hon. Lady would like to raise specific issues relating to HMRC processes, I will certainly take them forward for her, but I wish to use this opportunity to point out that since 2010 HMRC has secured £150 billion for this country in additional compliance revenues as a result of its actions to tackle tax evasion, tax avoidance and non-compliance. In 2016 alone, HMRC collected record revenues of £26.5 billion from compliance activities. We have secured nearly £3 billion from offshore tax evaders and more than £2.5 billion extra from the very wealthiest since 2010. If the hon. Lady or anyone else in the Chamber would like to praise HMRC for its contribution to sorting out the economy and getting us back to living within our means, I would be delighted to hear it.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Earlier, the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) described the NHS as a Labour institution. The NHS is not a political organisation: it does not belong to any political party. There are Government Members and Opposition Members who have served the NHS, as there are Members who have served in the armed forces and other public services. Were she still in her place, I would have asked the hon. Lady, who is a reasonable woman, to withdraw her remark. Is it in order to ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, whether that remark could be withdrawn?