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House of Commons Hansard

Commons Chamber

13 July 2017
Volume 627

    House of Commons

    Thursday 13 July 2017

    The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


    [Mr Speaker in the Chair]

    Oral Answers to Questions


    The Secretary of State was asked—

    Local Transport Projects: Funding

  • 1. What steps he is taking to provide funding for large local major transport projects. [900451]

  • 11. What steps he is taking to provide funding for large local major transport projects. [900461]

  • Before I start, may I welcome the new members of the Labour Front-Bench team to their positions? I also congratulate the new Chair of the Select Committee on Transport, the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), on her success in the election yesterday.

    Under the large local majors programme, the Department has already given two schemes the go-ahead. We are currently looking at the case to approve up to four more and are funding development of a further 13 schemes that will be considered in the near future. Last week, we announced the creation of a major road network that will enable an even greater number of local road improvement projects to come forward. The details of that scheme will be consulted on later this year.

  • The road to nowhere in Yate was built in the 1970s and was abandoned. It is now used as a film set. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the road should be reopened? What financial assistance is his Department making available for projects such as that, which would dramatically reduce congestion in Yate?

  • Having walked the road to nowhere with my hon. Friend, I rather agree that it would be better if it had genuine motorists on it, rather than ones in soap operas. I hope that he will continue to encourage his local enterprise partnership and others to bring forward proposals for that road. Through the growth fund, we provide support for schemes such as that. The scheme may also be eligible for consideration as part of the major road network, depending on the connectivity at either end, but I commend him for his work on the issue. I rather agree that it would be better if the road were open for motorists.

  • As you know, Mr Speaker, Dorset is a wonderful place to live, work and visit, but Dorset’s roads, including the A350, north-south, and the A31, east-west, do become congested, especially in the summer months. What assurances can the Secretary of State give me and my constituents that major infrastructure projects in Dorset are a priority for the Government?

  • There are two ways in which I hope we can deliver support for my hon. Friend and his constituents. For those parts of the strategic road network that run through Dorset, Highways England is currently reviewing needs and looking at what the next generation of projects should be. There is also the creation of the major road network and the opportunity to develop far more bypasses. I think that will play an important role in places such as Dorset, where many towns suffer intensive through traffic and are not suited to such traffic.

  • Tyne and Wear Metro customers are affected daily by failing trains; it has the lowest performance level of any equivalent system in the UK; that includes the oldest rolling stock on the London underground. That is largely due to the fact that the metro is well past the 35 years for which it was designed. Is the Secretary of State aware of the situation? When will he provide the funds to replace the fleet?

  • I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his re-election as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. I am well aware of the issue that he has raised. I recognise the importance of the metro to Newcastle and the Newcastle area. I am pleased that, in the last few years, we have put several hundred million pounds of investment into the network. My Department is looking very carefully at what the best options are. I understand the need to make changes, so that the metro can carry on serving people in the way it has in the past.

  • Will the Secretary of State commit to supporting the Welsh Government’s plans by providing a comprehensive funding package for the South Wales Metro?

  • Of course, central Government are providing a substantial contribution to the South Wales Metro. I have also extended an offer to the Welsh Government to enable them to take over that infrastructure, so that they can run a truly integrated service on that route. I am waiting with interest to see what plans they bring forward to make that vision a reality.

  • It is 30 years since Crossrail and the Thameslink upgrade project were first proposed. Does my right hon. Friend welcome the fact that it is a Conservative Government who have seen those projects make such progress towards completion in a few months?

  • My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am very excited by Crossrail, not only because of what it will deliver for London but because it is the biggest engineering project of its kind in Europe. I hope that we will be able to build on that expertise, and that UK plc will take advantage of what has been done by winning contracts internationally. When it opens next year, Thameslink will make a real difference to passengers to the north and south. I am proud of what we are achieving.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for coming to my constituency during the general election campaign. What does he intend to do about the terrible transport infrastructure investment and the inequality that exists between London and the north-east, resulting in £1,943 per person being spent in London and just £220 per person being spent in the north-east? I do not begrudge London that investment, but people in North West Durham are as important.

  • I have never doubted that. Of course, the balance between regions will depend on what projects are happening at the time. The hon. lady will have seen in our manifesto the commitment to the northern powerhouse rail programme, which will mean a significant change in the balance. I am waiting for Transport for the North to come forward with its recommendations on the form that should take. There are other benefits for her constituency. It will see the arrival in the very near future of a new generation of express trains on the east coast main line, which will be vastly better than her constituents have at the moment.

  • The Gibb report put forward a solid business case for the electrification of the Uckfield line, which runs through my constituency of Wealden. Will the Secretary of State meet me and local campaigners to get this project on track?

  • I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, and I absolutely recognise the issue. The other part of deliberations around the Uckfield line is the private-sector proposal, which I have said we will happily look at, to create BML2—the Brighton main line 2. We should look at all these things in the round and ask what is the best future for that route, but I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend.

  • Why does not the Secretary of State for Transport tell his friends that some of these so-called projects are pie in the sky from a Government who are already committed to spending more than £80 billion on High Speed 2, under which there are going to be two tracks through Derbyshire—not one, but two: one a slow track and one a fast track? Why does he not get real and understand that there should be a reassessment of HS2? He only has a tiny majority, and believe me, a lot of Members on both sides of this House are fed up with the idea of spending money in the far distant future on HS2 when there are all these projects on today’s Order Paper on which they want action.

  • I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman is opposing a scheme that will deliver capacity improvements and journey improvements between the great cities of the north, and link Birmingham to Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds, and that will make a real difference economically to the areas he represents. It is a project that is overwhelmingly supported by those who represent those communities in the north.

  • Airports/Ports: Effect of Leaving EU

  • 2. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the potential effect on passenger capacity at airports and ports of the UK leaving the EU. [900452]

  • My Department is working closely with a number of other Departments, including the Home Office, to ensure that ports, airports and other transport operators are fully prepared for when we leave the EU. I am committed to putting passengers at the heart of our transport policy, and that will certainly apply to the arrangements that exist when we leave the EU.

  • Brexit will present profound challenges for immigration at our ports and airports, but the Tourism Industry Council forecasts that there should be a 200% increase in resources for the UK Border Force while in effect there has been a 15% cut, despite an 11% increase in passenger numbers. How does the Secretary of State square that circle, and how can we ensure that we will have passenger safety after Brexit?

  • Our ambition after Brexit is to have borders that function as closely as possible to the way they currently do. We do not want to deter tourists or businesspeople from coming to the country. Having a managed migration system does not mean that we suddenly have to create barriers to tourists, and that is not our intention.

  • The Secretary of State did not provide any substance in that answer on the discussions he is having. Some 23 million inbound passengers from the EU pass through UK airports each year, and they are processed quickly using special lanes and scanning. What funding has the Secretary of State identified is required for infrastructure and resources to avoid queues for those coming here? He might also be aware that the EU is planning an ESTA-type visa system for non-EU citizens, so has he had discussions about the impact of that when the UK leaves the EU?

  • Of course, we have discussions all the time across the Government about post-EU exit arrangements—we had a Committee meeting to that effect yesterday—but as I said to the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), it is not our intention or desire to erect barriers at the borders, for tourists arriving, for example. Indeed, we are investing in things like automated gates to speed the flow through our borders, and we will carry on doing things like that.

  • Another potential impact on passenger capacity is the negative impact if the UK does not remain part of the open skies agreement. That is very important for regional airports such as Prestwick, adjacent to my constituency. The Prime Minister said this week that she had discussions with President Trump on open skies, but can the Secretary of State provide an assurance that the UK will remain part of open skies and the single aviation market?

  • I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that I am absolutely confident that after we have left the EU there will be an open skies agreement with the United States. I have had discussions with my US counterpart; there is an absolute desire on both sides of the Atlantic to make sure that the aviation arrangements remain as they are at the moment.

  • Can the Minister clarify that on leaving the EU we will remain members of the European Aviation Safety Agency, so as to maintain and grow our passenger capacity in accordance with our economic needs?

  • Obviously the details will come out in the negotiations, but we want to continue to collaborate with our European partners on air safety issues, just as we do with other organisations around the world, such as the US Federal Aviation Administration, and I see nothing to suggest that that will change after we leave.

  • But have we not already seen this Government’s shocking acceptance of departing from EASA safety standards by condoning the wet-leasing of Qatar Airways services to replace the poverty-paid British Airways mixed-fleet crews, in which the substitute crews’ hours will not be subject to the safety standards prescribed by EASA?

  • I am sure that all the international airlines that operate into and out of the United Kingdom maintain proper safety standards. They are subject to regulation at European and international levels, and they would not be able to use UK airports if we were not confident that they were safe airlines to fly with.

  • I call Lloyd Russell-Moyle. Not here. I wish he were here. I hope the fellow is all right. Anyway, we move on. I call Rachel Maclean.

  • Cycling and Walking

  • 4. What measures his Department is taking to encourage cycling and walking. [900454]

  • The Government very much seek to make cycling and walking the natural choices for short journeys, or as part of a longer journey. In April this year we published the first-ever statutory cycling and walking investment strategy for England. The strategy details our plans for increasing cycling and walking and identifies £1.2 billion of funding, which may be invested until 2021.

  • I very much thank my hon. Friend for his response. My constituency has many footpaths, cut-throughs and small tracks that link our green spaces together. These are extremely pleasant for residents to make use of in their leisure time. However, they are not always visible on mapping platforms such as Google Maps. We would like to encourage their use to promote health and wellbeing in the constituency, so will the Minister tell me what discussions he has had with those technology platforms to make those paths more accessible to local residents?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for her question and share her delight in these informal paths, of which we have an enormous number in Herefordshire, as she might imagine. Local authorities are best placed, in the first instance, to use their knowledge and understanding of local networks, as are tourism agencies and local map providers. From my point of view, there have not yet been any discussions with the electronic mapping services, but I very much take my hon. Friend’s point and I have already made plans to meet some of them in order to take forward this agenda.

  • The Minister will know that many cyclists are killed and injured on the roads every year. Just on the edge of my constituency, one person was killed and two were injured this week. We need to look at the question of improving cycling, and we must have discussions with the Health Department. What discussions has the Minister had with the Health Department to ensure that people get more exercise but are also kept safe on the roads?

  • I absolutely recognise the problem that the hon. Gentleman raises. I have not yet personally had any discussions of that kind, but the Government are making significant investments in improving safety for cyclists. That includes training and improved cycling facilities such as cycle lanes. That will continue to be part of our programme over the next few years.

  • Can the Minister assure me that he is having regular discussions with the Department for Communities and Local Government about promoting cycling and walking networks in new developments? We have a massive opportunity in Taunton Deane now that we have garden town status. In particular, I know that constituents would love to link up Bishop’s Lydeard, Cotford St Luke and Norton Fitzwarren with a cycleway. Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss providing help with some pots of money to unlock that?

  • Possibly even on the prospective cycleway.

  • As a keen cyclist, I look forward to meeting my hon. Friend and discussing that matter. There are plenty of existing pots of money that are potentially available for applications, and we as a Department work closely with the DCLG, notably on the local growth fund.

  • Rail Electrification: South Wales

  • 5. What steps he is taking to electrify the rail network to Swansea and further west. [900455]

  • I congratulate the hon. Lady on her election to this House. Electrification work is continuing on the Great Western main line, but the good news for her constituents and others in south Wales is that the new generation of electric trains will arrive in Cardiff and Swansea this autumn, providing more seats and better journey experiences. That is good news for rail users in south Wales and the west country.

  • It has been reported that the Secretary of State is preparing to announce yet further delays to the Great Western main line electrification programme, and my constituents in Gower are fed up with the contempt that the Government continue to show them on investment. The Secretary of State has said that the programme will happen, but will he promise that it will not be delayed any further? We need to make Swansea the gateway to west Wales.

  • I appreciate the importance of transport to Swansea, and that is precisely why I am doing what the hon. Lady’s constituents will want, which is to deliver them a better journey experience not in several years’ time but this autumn. They will have a new generation of trains that will provide much better journeys to London, which is exactly the kind of service they want. When the first new train comes to Swansea, I hope that she will be there to see it and will realise what a difference it will make to her constituents’ rail journeys in south Wales and elsewhere.

  • I congratulate the Secretary of State on moving ahead with the electrification of the rail line into south Wales and through Swansea. I remind him that the electrification of the railway as far as Swansea was announced by a Conservative Secretary of State, and that the Labour Government did not electrify a single inch of the rail lines in Wales to improve the Welsh economy.

  • If I remember rightly, the Labour Government electrified only 10 miles in 13 years. My right hon. Friend will understand that we have to ensure first and foremost that we are delivering better journeys for passengers, and I am pleased that this autumn’s changes and the new trains arriving in Swansea and other parts of south Wales will lead to an immediate improvement in passengers’ journeys. That is what they really want.

  • In order to make the most of the benefits of electrification in south Wales, we need new stations to take advantage of capacity on the line. The proposals for St Mellon’s parkway in the east of Cardiff are good, and they are backed by the private sector, the Welsh Government and Cardiff Council and have cross-party support. When can we expect a decision about money from the new stations fund?

  • I also think that that is an interesting proposal, and it does not actually need quite the same mechanism of approval as a station built with public funding. I am happy to see the project go ahead. The real issue is ensuring that it can work with the timetables, so that trains can stop and the service can work. As a private sector-funded project, if it is practical, I can see no reason why any of us would do anything other than support it.

  • Transport Infrastructure Investment

  • 6. What steps he is taking to balance the distribution of transport infrastructure investment between London and other regions. [900456]

  • It is always a delight to perform under your benevolent gaze, Mr Speaker. The industrial strategy Green Paper set out the Government’s commitment to take account of the balance of spending per head on infrastructure between different regions. The hon. Lady will be familiar with the transport investment strategy—published just last week—which sets out the Government’s priorities for transport investment, supporting growth right across the country. I assure her that how projects contribute to creating a more balanced economy will in future be weighed, measured and valued in a way that it has never been before.

  • But we know that London gets 10 times the investment that Yorkshire and the Humber does. While Crossrail 2 has already been earmarked for £27 billion, the rail electrification to Hull has been scrapped by Transport Ministers, the A63 upgrade has been delayed, and the Hull chamber of commerce is concerned about the downgrading of TransPennine services. In Hull, we pay our taxes and we pay higher fares, so when are we going to get a fair deal on transport investment?

  • The hon. Lady is being untypically churlish—[Interruption.] No, untypically churlish. The Government have committed to build the infrastructure to support regional growth. She knows that that is why we are increasing Government infrastructure investment by 50% over the next four years, supporting growth and jobs right across the country. That includes the £15 billion we committed to the first road investment strategy, which she will know involves schemes right across the country—south, east, west and north. But let me find common ground with her; she is right that her part of the country deserves its place in the sun, which is why we must rebalance our investment to reflect local needs such as hers.

  • Bradford is one of the biggest cities in the country and, in the last Parliament, the Government were very supportive of it being a stop on Northern Powerhouse Rail. Is it the Government’s position that they will make sure that the investment is provided to ensure that Bradford is a stop on Northern Powerhouse Rail?

  • My hon. Friend has made that point previously to champion the cause and interests of people in Bradford. We are waiting for proposals from Transport for the North. I have no doubt that he will lobby for and so contribute to those proposals, and that he will make his case to Transport for the North. We will consider the proposals when we get them, but I fully understand the strength of his argument.

  • 22. While I do not dispute the need for investment in transport infrastructure across the country, the fact remains that promised investment in London, such as for additional carriages on Southeastern services, has yet to materialise. The rail Minister, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), said on 30 March that it will be happening “very soon”. Can we have an update? [900475]

  • The rail Minister has made it a priority, and when he makes things a priority, they get done.

  • The Minister spoke about places in the sun a minute ago, and I am sure he was thinking of Cleethorpes. As he knows from his recent visit to my constituency, one of the urgent priorities is the resurfacing of the A180 to remove the concrete surfaces. Does the Department have any plans that will help that project? As he was unable to answer Question 3, perhaps he could develop the role of apprentices in major schemes.

  • I am always willing to do that, as you know, Mr Speaker.

    I was pleased to visit the Cleethorpes constituency to unveil the new road we built as part of our road investment strategy. My hon. Friend is right, however, that there is a challenge associated with the nearby road surface. I considered that at the time, and the Secretary of State has asked us to look at these things in greater detail. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) that ensuring roads are fit for purpose, as well as investing in new roads, is at the heart of all we do.

  • We are very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, I am sure.

  • The east coast main line between London and the north is in urgent need of infrastructure investment to end the disruption caused by failures of the antique overhead power lines. How much does the Minister expect Virgin Trains East Coast to contribute to that?

  • The east coast main line is the line I use regularly, and I am extremely familiar with the quality of that service. The hon. Lady will know that the new express trains we will be using on that main line by the end of 2018 will offer greater capacity, reduced journey times and more reliable services.

  • So not only does the Minister not answer my question but he does not know the amount the operator has to contribute, yet he is about to dig into the back pockets of taxpayers to bail out the Stagecoach-Virgin consortium when, just two years ago, the Government took East Coast out of public ownership after returning £1 billion—£1 billion!—to the Treasury. How much will the Virgin Trains East Coast contract retrofit cost the taxpayer? Does he not draw the same conclusion as the Labour party that, as we pay for private and make savings from public rail, only a publicly owned rail franchise can operate in the public interest?

  • My goodness, Mr Speaker. This is like a journey to a past that never happened. I remember one of British Rail’s last, and perhaps most poignant, slogans: “We’re getting there”. Well, getting there is a pretty fundamental requirement of any journey. Could there be a less ambitious objective than merely getting there? That is what nationalised railways were like—we all remember them. They were a disaster. The cost of renationalising the railways in the way the hon. Lady recommends would be at least £19 billion, which is £19 billion that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and others want to spend on all these other schemes.

  • Our only surprise is that neither Yeats nor Samuel Taylor Coleridge featured in the answer provided by the right hon. Gentleman.

  • Roads: Mid Sussex

  • 7. What plans he has to improve the road network in Mid Sussex constituency. [900457]

  • I will also attempt to keep Keats and Coleridge out of this answer.

    Mid Sussex will benefit from the investment of over £100 million on local road maintenance and small-scale transport schemes in West Sussex County Council up to 2021. In addition, the county benefits from access to £304 million-worth of local growth funding over the same period which has been secured by the Coast to Capital local enterprise partnership.

  • Mid Sussex is greatly looking forward to the Secretary of State’s visit in early September to see the serious problems we have on the roads. Does the Minister agree that it is cardinally bad, rotten government to go on pushing housing into constituencies such as mine without investing in the infrastructure there in the first place? It is not a matter for West Sussex County Council; it is a matter for Mid Sussex District Council, which cannot go on accepting this volume of house building without a significant investment in dealing with these major bottlenecks on the roads.

  • My right hon. Friend has made his point eloquently in the House. All I would say is that the major roads network that we announced last week, along with the bypass fund, is specifically designed to be part of a wider strategy whose purpose is to provide the infrastructure that new housing development requires. That should be part of the solution for any of these schemes.

  • Order. This question has been narrowly confined to Mid Sussex, from which the right hon. Gentleman’s Warley constituency is a considerable distance away. If he is going to focus his question exclusively on Mid Sussex, not “and elsewhere” or “and other places”, we will hear him.

  • Will the Minister accept that the improvements to the road system to East Sussex—

  • Mid Sussex. Does the Minister accept that the road system to Mid Sussex would be considerably improved if money was diverted from the ever-deepening, bottomless pit of HS2, thus enabling those projects to move forward much more quickly? May I join my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) in calling for a reassessment of this increasingly troubled scheme?

  • Mr Speaker, it is a mark of your grace that you were able to allow the right hon. Gentleman to proceed with a question so evidently unrelated to the issue, so much so that he was not able to make it to the actual name of the constituency or the area concerned, although that came in the first 10 seconds of his question. The answer to his question, if I may dignify it with an answer, is that there will be plenty of investment in both sides of that equation.

  • Certainly I was generous, but generosity is my middle name.

  • Ticketing Information

  • 8. What steps his Department is taking to improve ticketing information for rail passengers. [900458]

  • 14. What steps his Department is taking to simplify ticketing information for rail passengers. [900464]

  • Passengers are frustrated by the lack of information they get when choosing their ticket. The problems can be deep-rooted, but when I started as rail Minister I wanted to make rapid progress. I have been working with industry, the regulator and consumer groups, having launched an action plan on fares and ticketing. We are getting on with the job of delivering the many, many proposals contained therein.

  • Does the Minister agree that if rail franchises do not adopt a more transparent ticket price system voluntarily, the Government should step in to ensure that rail passengers are offered the best value for money?

  • We certainly recognise that fares revenue is crucial to funding the day-to-day operation of the railway. I agree that all franchises should listen to passengers, and ensure that their fare structures are both fair and logical, as well as keenly priced, to support the many passengers who rely upon them.

  • Southend has two train lines and multiple stations within the Southend boundary. Would it not be simpler if the same ticket could be used on both lines, which would be good for residents and visitors alike? It would clear things up for visitors, allowing them to do journeys into Southend and then pop in somewhere else on the way back to London.

  • I agree that Southend’s beauties merit a journey by all passengers, wherever possible. We are seeing rapid technological change on the railway. The growth in smart ticketing and the various ticket media within a relatively short period will enhance the possibility for passengers to experience the flexibility to which my hon. Friend refers. I am looking forward to working with the industry on driving that technological change to make that vision a reality.

  • I call the Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood.

  • The ticketing information in which passengers are most interested is the price. Since 2014, commuter rail fare increases have been capped to the retail prices index, but in an answer to me yesterday, the rail Minister said that that fares policy is “under review”. Next month’s inflation figures will determine the cap for January 2018. If the Department reverts to the old formula, fares could rise by 5% or more, pricing many off the railways. Next week, when the Secretary of State announces his investment plans for control period 6, will he pledge that the improvements that passengers need will come at a price they can afford?

  • I suppose that I should start by welcoming the hon. Lady to her new position, although she has started to prognosticate already about what may or may not occur in the future. We have no intention of seeking to raise fares in the way that she describes, and it is not an appropriate path to go down. We always seek to put passengers first. We are continuing to maintain the cap at the moment, but we keep policies under review at all times. She should not read more into that than is actually there.

  • Kettering Rail Bridge

  • 9. If he will ensure that work to strengthen the Kettering rail bridge (a) starts and (b) is completed to schedule. [900459]

  • Network Rail has announced that the A6013 Northampton Road, from Northfield Avenue mini roundabout to Lake Avenue, will be closed between 24 July 2017 and 4 Sep 2017. Network Rail is confident that the work will begin and finish as scheduled, and we are in regular contact with Network Rail in regard to this work.

  • The Northampton Road railway bridge is located right next to the busiest road junction in Kettering town centre. The junction will be closed for six weeks and will cause major disruption to the town. The frustration of local residents will at least be partly assuaged if the Minister could reassure all of us who live in Kettering that he is at least actively considering proposals to reinstate the half-hourly mainline train service north from Kettering, which will go over the repaired bridge in the new franchise.

  • I recognise why my hon. Friend’s constituents would have concerns, having seen a similar closure in my own constituency and the issues and problems that that has caused. I have also heard his observations and views on the extra services that he wishes to see from Kettering. We will shortly be launching a consultation on the new east midlands franchise and I am sure that his request will figure prominently in our thinking on what we do next on that franchise.

  • Liquefied Natural Gas

  • 10. What steps his Department is taking to promote the use of liquefied natural gas as an alternative to diesel fuel. [900460]

  • The low carbon truck trial, which ran to 2016, provided over £11 million to support industry-led trials of alternative fuels in the road freight sector, the majority of which involved liquefied natural gas.

  • I thank the Minister for his answer. Statebourne Cryogenics, based in my constituency, produces a world-first portable LNG refuelling station, which eliminates the release of methane into the atmosphere with significant cost reductions to the process. This is seen as an alternative to diesel for large HGVs, especially in the light of discussions around diesel pollution. Will the Minister commit to meeting me, Statebourne Cryogenics, and other partners in this project such as BOC and Calor Gas to discuss this matter further?

  • Well, the short answer is yes, but I do not want to give a short answer. Let me say this: the hon. Lady’s constituency is a beacon for low emission vehicles of all kinds. I have visited the Nissan plant in her constituency, which builds the Nissan Leaf, but I feel that my visits to her constituency have been too few, so I will meet not only her, but representatives of the businesses that she describes to find out what more we can do.

  • It is obvious that the hon. Lady is in a state of quite overwhelming excitement at the prospect, as I am sure will be the people of her constituency—particularly those of them who know the right hon. Gentleman—when they realise that they are to be privileged with such a visit.

  • Especially if there is an unveiling to go with it.

  • Towed Trailers

  • 12. What steps he is taking to improve the safety of towed trailers on roads. [900462]

  • I salute the hon. Lady for the work that she has done to raise the issue of towed trailer safety with my predecessor following the tragic death of Freddie Hussey. I very much look forward to meeting her to discuss this matter further on 19 July. As she will know, in November 2016, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency led a campaign about safety checks when towing trailers with the #TowSafe4Freddie. DVSA and stakeholders plan to relaunch the campaign this summer. The Government have also consulted about the law relating to causing death by careless and dangerous driving. I look forward to discussing all those issues when I meet her.

  • I welcome the Minister’s comments and look forward to our meeting. I am grateful for the work of his predecessor, as are my constituents Scott and Donna Hussey, whose three-year-old son, Freddie, was killed by a loose trailer in 2014. Will the Minister offer his support to a new road safety initiative from the National Trailer and Towing Association that will see member organisations across the country offer free towing safety checks to members of the public?

  • I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Lady has mentioned this important initiative in the House and that the National Trailer and Towing Association has established the scheme. People can go to one of their participating service centres and get a visual inspection or report on their trailers. This should make a difference in helping trailer owners to identify any defects and have them rectified. Not only do I welcome the initiative, but I welcome the fact that the association and other organisations are working closely with Government to improve the safety of towed vehicles.

  • Railways: Cheshire

  • 13. Whether he plans to expand the rail network in Cheshire. [900463]

  • We are investing more than £1 billion in the great north rail project to transform rail travel for passengers across the north of England. In addition, we are supporting local enterprise partnerships and Transport for the North in progressing their priorities for investment in new stations and upgraded infrastructure.

  • I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, and I want to impress on him the urgency of getting the mid-Cheshire rail link and the Manchester airport western link. Our population is expanding, businesses are increasing in size and the local plans will mean tens of thousands of new homes in the area. This cannot be catered for on the local roads and High Speed 2 will not be an answer. Will the Minister commit to support these schemes and come to meet me and the Mid Cheshire Rail Users Association?

  • First, let me welcome my right hon. Friend back to her place in this House. It is good to see her here again. As a regular commuter to school on the mid-Cheshire rail line, from Cuddington to Hale, I am all too aware of the attractions of reopening the line to Middlewich. I am more than happy to meet her and local campaigners, and it is really important that all local transport authorities and local enterprise partnerships are supportive of such projects. I am sure that in her early days as the Member for Tatton she will work with those groups to make this a reality.

  • The Mersey-Dee Alliance, which includes the Cheshire West and Chester local authority, has a growth deal bid that includes rail improvements and the Chancellor indicated in his Budget that that might get some support. Can the Minister say whether any money has been given to the Department for Transport, in particular to improve the links between Crewe and Chester and on to north Wales?

  • We certainly recognise that our decision to take HS2 to Crewe by 2027 opened up a range of possibilities for improving connectivity into north Wales, considering the potential outcomes that passengers might want in terms of improved capacity, improved service frequency and so on. We are looking forward to doing more work on the Crewe hub and seeing what potential is unlocked by development at Crewe. Hopefully that will benefit not just Cheshire but north Wales.

  • One pound is spent per person on transport infrastructure in Cheshire and the north-west for every £7 spent per person in London and the south-east. Can we have our extra £6 per person, please, to spend on things such as rail and road links to the port of Liverpool, which will help jobs and growth across the north-west?

  • We are always looking to ensure that we balance our investment across the country over time. I know that during my time on the Select Committee on Transport we looked very carefully at the relevant regional transport spending figures and what they do and do not tell us. We could have a very lengthy answer to this question, but that would displease you, Mr Speaker, so I point out once again the £1 billion investment across the north to improve rail infrastructure, including in the hon. Gentleman’s area.

  • A27 Upgrade: Lancing to Worthing

  • 15. When he plans to publish his proposals for the upgrade of the Lancing to Worthing section of the A27. [900466]

  • Departmental officials are in discussion with Nexus and the Tyne and Wear Metro regarding their proposals for new rolling stock.

  • Order. The hon. Gentleman who asked the question is a dedicated Member, but he represents a constituency in Sussex.

  • Well done. I call Minister Jesse Norman.

  • We got there, Mr Speaker. The £15 billion road investment strategy, published in December 2014, announced a scheme to improve the Lancing to Worthing section of the A27. Highways England has developed proposals and a public consultation will run from 19 July to 12 September 2017. From 19 July, Highways England’s website for the scheme will have key information about the proposals, including the brochure, online questionnaire, frequently asked questions, background reports and supporting information.

  • I am sorry to see that the Minister took the wrong turning, and I am pleased to see that, since I posed the question, we now have a timetable. The Minister knows how vital upgrading the A27 is to the whole of West Sussex, but there are serious concerns that the £80 million allocated to the Worthing-Lancing section—Worthing being a town of 100,000 people—will be inadequate compared with the £250 million to bypass Arundel, which has just 5,000 people. If the consultation shows that this is not satisfactory, will he, in order to come up with some really meaningful solutions, seriously consider looking at the more expensive options?

  • I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that we recognise the A27 as a strategically important corridor across the south coast, and we will look very closely at any further proposals that he wishes to make.

  • Topical Questions

  • T1. Número uno, Señor Presidente: if he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [900476]

  • Order. Just because the King of Spain visited yesterday and the hon. Gentleman felt it necessary to show off his language skills on that occasion, there was no need for him to do so again, but he obviously felt the need, and we have all seen what an edifying spectacle it was.

  • All three of us have taken part in business questions, so I am sure that you were not totally surprised by that contribution, Mr Speaker.

    On a serious note, I pay great tribute to the officers of the British Transport police and the staff of Northern Rail for the way in which they responded to the bomb attack in Manchester. The rail staff in particular, whose job description that was in no way part of, responded heroically, and they deserve our thanks.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thought you might have picked something up from the Queen of Spain yesterday—[Interruption.] Some Spanish. I wholly concur with what the Secretary of State said about the staff in Manchester.

    When the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us, may I urge the Secretary of State to come to the Rhondda to visit the Rhondda tunnel between Blaencwm and Blaengwynfi? That would be a magnificent tunnel if it were open for the public and cyclists to go through. It would be a great tourist attraction if only his Department would hand the project over to the local charity, and give it £250,000 as well.

  • I know that relations between the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party in south Wales can sometimes be slightly strained, but I am sure that he will use his influence on the Welsh Government, to whom we have offered to give the tunnel. They have not responded—I am waiting for their response—but it is there for them. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could encourage them to give us a response.

  • T3. May I ask the Secretary of State to sit down with the West Yorkshire combined authority to ensure that the Shipley eastern bypass, which is badly needed by my constituents and the local economy, is actually delivered, and that neither can blame the other for a lack of progress on it? [900478]

  • I regularly meet the combined authority, so I will happily discuss that issue with it. The creation of the major roads network and its bypass fund will, I hope, mean that in future we can unlock some of these schemes that will make such a difference to towns like Shipley around the country.

  • Two weeks ago today, the High Court gave the Secretary of State 14 days to make a decision over Southern rail’s claims that its appalling service was not its fault, but was all down to industrial action. With the record fine that has been imposed today, such nonsense has been totally blown out of the water. After months and months of the Secretary of State and his Ministers coming to the Dispatch Box and blaming the unions, they have had to come clean and accept that Southern rail is simply not fit for purpose. Does the Secretary of State now accept that continuing to tolerate such ineptitude—expecting a rail service to rely on workers’ overtime, and compromising safety and accessibility—simply will not wash any longer, and that he has to call time on Govia Thameslink Railway?

  • The hon. Gentleman clearly still has not read the judgment from two weeks ago in this case—a case that we actually won. Let us be clear about what is being done today. For months I have said that the problems on this railway are not purely down to industrial action; there are other reasons. I am very clear, and so is Chris Gibb’s report, that the prime responsibility for the trouble on that network in the past few months lies with trade unions fighting the battles of 30 years ago, and still they get support from the Labour party. The reality is that the Labour party and the unions are colluding to bring trouble to passengers, and it should stop.

  • Order. Before we proceed, may I say to the hon. Gentleman that his second question must be shorter? The right of Front Benchers to come in on topical questions is not sacrosanct. I have to cater to Back-Bench Members, and if Front Benchers take too long, I might reconsider the entitlement of Front Benchers to come in, trespassing on Back-Bench time. Please, a sentence. Be brief.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker.

    We are missing appendix 9 from the Gibb report. Can we see it, and will the Secretary of State tell us which claims he accepts and which he rejects?

  • Today’s penalty has been for partial non-performance of contracts. The House and the country would expect me to impose penalties where they are needed and I have not sought to do anything otherwise. The reality is that, this afternoon, we expect the result of a ballot for yet further strike action for a 23.8% pay rise and a deal that has already been accepted by the ASLEF union on the same routes for the same company. This politically motivated set of threats of action should stop, and the Labour party should stop supporting it.

  • T5. For the first time in 45 years, there is a commercial rail service between Swanage and Wareham in my constituency, thanks to the dedication and hard work of the volunteers and members of Swanage Railway. What assurances can the rail Minister give that he will support our rail heritage and ensure that this trial becomes a permanent success? [900480]

  • I am pleased to hear what is happening on Swanage Railway. I have met the all-party group on heritage rail, and it is always good to hear examples of where heritage rail can work with main line operators, although I agree that that has to be done safely. We are looking to build on more franchise agreements when there are sensible schemes that we can support.

  • T2. Last year, Nexus published its ambitious plans to expand the Tyne and Wear Metro, which included a welcome reference to extending the metro to Washington in my constituency. Will the Minister assure me and my constituents that the Government will act to upgrade this crumbling 37-year-old network, and to ensure that the proposed extensions, such as that to Washington, go ahead? [900477]

  • The hon. Lady knows that the Government invest a great deal in the metro, and it is right that we should. Part of that is about improving the existing stations, ticketing and rolling stock. I understand her point about the extension of the metro. Perhaps she can articulate that, among the other things that we shall doubtless discuss, when I visit her constituency.

  • T6. Queuing traffic and air pollution are the public health concerns for those living and working in my constituency. The local economy continues to grow and thrive under this Government, but air pollution affects the maritime industry, especially at Hamble Lane, where queueing is a real problem. Will the Minister outline the commitment to fund bypasses in my constituency in order to tackle air pollution? [900481]

  • Was it not Hegel, Mr Speaker, who said that nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without passion? My hon. Friend is certainly a passionate advocate for this scheme, which is important to her constituents. It is also important to the port, which she champions as well. We will look at these matters closely because port connectivity is vital if we are to make our maritime future as glorious as our maritime past.

  • T4. Will the Minster say whether the new rolling stock for Merseytravel, HS2 and Crossrail will be procured using private or public finance, and why that is the case? [900479]

  • There has been a long tradition, under Governments of both parties, of a railway where we lease trains from the private sector. There have equally been occasions, as in the procurement of railway carriages for the east coast main line and the great western main line, when the Government have stepped in and taken that decision. We will have to look at which packages are available for those individual schemes. In the case of Merseytravel, the hon. Lady will have to talk to the Labour-controlled Merseyside councils.

  • It is very good of the new Chair of the Select Committee on Education to drop in on us; we are obliged to him.

  • T7. With Southend airport booming, there are great opportunities for associated business parks and businesses around that expanding airport. Will the Secretary of State agree to look at how we can expand business around successful regional airports? [900482]

  • It is really important that we make sure that our regional airports are successful. My hon. Friend and I visited Southend airport a few years ago. I was very impressed by what it has achieved and the way in which it can be a driver of growth in the surrounding area. That applies across the whole country. It is one reason why the expansion of Heathrow is so important for regional airports further afield, and it is also why I hope that we will work together in a smart way to ensure that airports such as Southend flourish.

  • We have had many flowery words from the Government about understanding the experience of our constituents in the north-east who are forced to use crumbling rolling stock on Tyne and Wear Metro, but flowery words will not get our constituents to work on time unless they are matched by investment. Will the Minister now commit to investing in our rolling stock from the public purse?

  • The hon. Lady should know that investment is central to what we want to achieve. We are investing £370 million through an 11-year asset renewal programme. We are undertaking a major programme of track and infrastructure renewals. We are refurbishing most of the 90 vehicles, modernising 45 stations and introducing new smart ticketing. What is not to like about that?

  • T8. Chelmsford is one of the busiest commuter stations in the country, but Chelmsford commuters have experienced frequent and significant delays. Will the Minister please provide an update on what actions are being taken to counter these delays? [900483]

  • I am sorry to hear of the delays that are being experienced by my hon. Friend’s constituents. Clearly we have had a period of very hot weather, which does impact on rail reliability, and speed restrictions do help to protect overhead line equipment. I met the industry forums just this week to discuss what lessons can be learned about repeated periods of hot weather and how we can best protect critical infrastructure, and I hope the decisions they now move on to take can start to improve reliability.

  • When the Chancellor came to Bristol in May, he refused to confirm whether electrification of the Great Western line into the city centre would go ahead. Will the Transport Secretary confirm whether it has been deferred, as we were told last year, or has it really been ditched?

  • As I said earlier, we are focused on delivering service improvements right now. The electrification process is continuing—there is no secret about the fact that this project has not gone as well as expected—but the key thing for the hon. Lady’s constituents is that, from this autumn, there will be brand-new trains, more capacity, a better service and six trains an hour from Bristol to London. This is really good news for her constituents.

  • T9. A number of my constituents are deeply concerned about the impact of High Speed 2—particularly residents in Ashley, who came to see me in a surgery last week. I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, will be pleased that I am not going to go through every point they raised with me, but could the Minister meet me to go through every concern they had? [900484]

  • At the same time as we meet to discuss the mid-Cheshire line, I will be more than happy also to discuss some of the issues with the HS2 phase 2b route, which goes through my right hon. Friend’s constituency.

  • When the Conservative manifesto was published, there was no mention of Crossrail 2. Will the Minister tell us whether that was by accident or design? When does he plan to make a decision on the business case?

  • First, I absolutely support the need for the capacity improvements that Crossrail 2 will bring to London—indeed, not just to London, but to areas outside. We are working our way through the business case. I do not think it is any secret that the Transport for London funding package has not quite lived up to initial promises, but I want this to work. I am seeing the Mayor next week, and we will do everything we can to make it work.

  • Does my right hon. Friend agree that Belper, in my constituency, which is part of the world heritage site, is a great place to live, apart from the traffic? The A6 is far too clogged. Could we look at a bypass for Belper and at a new cycleway right up the Derwent valley?

  • Not only can we look at it, but we would be delighted to receive an application for a bypass. I look forward very much to cycling that section of the Derwent valley when I come to visit it on a future occasion.

  • The Transport Secretary is due to outline his plans for rail investment in the coming days. There is real concern that the promised electrification of the midland main line, which has the best business case, will be delayed again or dropped completely. Keeping promises is important. Will Ministers be keeping theirs?

  • The promise I will be keeping is on the services that people want. We will be delivering, by around 2020, the faster journey times to Sheffield and the capacity improvements that are needed to make this route fit for purpose for the next century.

  • Will the Minister join me in congratulating Michelle and Mark Williams, who run the C&C taxi firm in St Austell? They have recently replaced all 14 of their diesel vehicles with electric vehicles. Theirs has been hailed as the greenest taxi firm in the country. Does he agree that more taxi firms should follow their example?

  • Indeed. I have visited the new factory in Coventry that is building electric London cabs and the future is certainly for low-emission vehicles. That applies to vehicles that we might own, as well as to private hire vehicles and taxis. I certainly support what my hon. Friend suggests.

  • Business of the House

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

  • The business for next week will be as follows:

    Monday 17 July—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to international immunities and privileges, followed by general debate on the abuse and intimidation of candidates and the public during the general election campaign.

    Tuesday 18 July—General debate on drugs policy.

    Wednesday 19 July—General debate on exiting the European Union and sanctions.

    Thursday 20 July—Motion relating to the appointment of a new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, followed by general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.

    Friday 21 July—The House will not be sitting.

    Colleagues will also wish to be aware that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise at the close of business on Tuesday 7 November and return on Monday 13 November; and for the Christmas recess, the House will rise at the end of business on Thursday 21 December and return on Monday 8 January 2018.

    Finally, colleagues will also be pleased to know that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will be presented to the House today. As the Brexit Secretary has said, this is one of the most significant pieces of legislation that has ever passed through Parliament, and it is a major milestone in the process of our withdrawal. It means we will be able to exit the European Union with maximum certainty, continuity and control. That is what the British people voted for, and it is exactly what we will do.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the—oh, do I call it business? I am not quite sure. Quite frankly, I and other Opposition Members are appalled, saddened and bewildered in equal measure. We have asked the good citizens of this country to vote for us, and they have. As we are in a parliamentary democracy, they have given their consent to be governed, to enable MPs to form a Government, pass legislation, and hold Ministers to account. We have not been allowed to do that. This is not the end of term where we have no lessons and a light timetable, or where we are spending our time singing or whistling; it is a time of critical importance to this country, and the clock is ticking. We have been back for 31 days and in that time we have had only seven votes. Calling it a “zombie Parliament” makes it sound amusing, but this is serious. It is a threat to our parliamentary democracy.

    Why does it take a Standing Order No. 24 application, as we had on contaminated blood, before a debate is scheduled, and then a concession by the Government, immediately before the debate, on an inquiry? Statutory instruments on tuition fees and personal independence payments were prayed against, and no debate was granted. Again last week, I raised the statutory instrument that enacts a 6.1% interest rate on university student loans, and asked for a debate. The Leader of the House said to one of her hon. Friends that

    “the mood of many colleagues has been heard, and I am quite sure that the Department for Education is considering this matter.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2017; Vol. 626, c. 1346.]

    Will she confirm when and how the Government will be considering the matter, and make a statement on these regulations, or at least give us time to debate it so that the Minister can come and explain why the most punitive interest rate is being applied to students?

    To make matters worse, last week the same debate was scheduled on the Gibb report on two successive days until that was pointed out to the Government. This week, we also see two debates on the same subject—one in Westminster Hall yesterday, and then another on Monday, on the abuse and intimidation of candidates. While this is an important topic in the week that Viscount St Davids will be sentenced—we will hear today—on his abuse of Gina Miller, will the same debate be going ahead, or is it a mistake? Could we have an Opposition day on Monday instead?

    The Leader of the House gave me no answer about whether there will be a summer Finance Bill. I do not know whether the Finance Bill will be in the autumn and the Budget will then be in the spring. Who knows, but it sounds to me like chaos, so can we have an answer?

    Why has the Leader of the House not responded to requests for an Opposition day? The last one was on 23 February, granted to the Democratic Unionist party, but the official Opposition have not been granted one since January—to be precise, 25 January. Why no Opposition day? Why not let us debate and vote on an issue that is relevant to our constituents, who only a month ago told us what they thought? I thought the Leader of the House believed in sovereignty—that is what she campaigned on. The Opposition do, so let Parliament be sovereign and let us have a debate on a votable motion.

    The Leader of the House said in June that the elongated Session would provide space to consider

    “a domestic agenda which aims to tackle the social injustices in our country.”

    So why has she allocated private Members’ Bill days for only one year of a two-year Session—13 dates? When will she say when the Opposition days will be for the first year of the Session, and when will we have the dates for the second year of the Session? Will she tell us her definition of what a Session is? If it is two years, we are therefore entitled to double the number of Opposition days.

    On Tuesday, following the Taylor review, the Prime Minister said:

    “We may not agree on everything, but through debate and discussion—the hallmarks of our Parliamentary democracy—ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward found.”

    The Opposition agree, so why does the Prime Minister say that we need debate while Government representatives do everything they can to stifle debate? Is she an outsourced Prime Minister, completely detached from what is going on here? She can be heard in No. 10 singing the song “Heartbreaker”:

    “Why do you have to be a heartbreaker,

    When I was bein’ what you want me to be?

    Suddenly everything I ever wanted has passed me by”.

    I should have sung it rather than spoken it.

    Finally, will you and the Leader of the House join me, Mr Deputy Speaker, in wishing everyone in the Black country a very happy Black Country Day? It is part of a month-long festival in Dudley, Walsall, Sandwell and Wolverhampton, and I invite everyone to come to Walsall.

  • I can certainly agree with the hon. Lady that that would probably be a more fun place to be today.

    The hon. Lady raises some important points about our parliamentary democracy, but I find it deeply disappointing that the Opposition are trying to make something of what is an absolutely normal situation following a general election, when the Government of the day take steps to put Select Committees back in place, for instance. As she admits herself, the sitting days for private Members’ Bills are already on the Order Paper, and we are making progress. I congratulate all the Select Committee Chairs on their appointment yesterday, and the individual parties now need to get on with electing their Select Committee members, which they are doing at pace. The chiefs of the Opposition parties have been talking about Opposition days, and I gather that there has been an offer of an Opposition day in the next short sitting.

    We are absolutely getting on with the business at pace and in accordance with normal procedures. I am left to conclude that this is just game playing by the Opposition. On the anniversary of her leadership of this country, the Prime Minister asked—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) is clearly not listening; she has other things to talk about. The Prime Minister asked all Members to come together in the interests of our country and give their ideas, input and support as we seek to fulfil the democratic will of the people in this country to leave the EU. What did the Opposition do? They ridiculed that. They absolutely reject the concept of working together in the interests of our country. Well, 13 million people voted for them, and they should support those people in their wish to see this country’s democratic will fulfilled.

  • Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 155, about the potential closure of London Road in Harlow?

    [That this House expresses concern over the decision taken by Harlow District Council to close London Road to motorists, restrict traffic with a bus gate and split the community in two; notes the record number of 409 objections to the planning application and 2,000-plus residents who have joined a protest group; understands that this road has been used as a primary route for residents to access health, educational and leisure services for over 20 years; and calls on the Government to investigate the decision that the local authority has taken to close this vital connection and encourage Essex County Council to reject this Traffic Regulation Order from the planning decision.]

    The decision by Harlow Council will cause immense problems to Harlow residents and motorists. May we have a statement on unnecessary road closures, as Harlow Council seems to be ignoring the wishes of thousands of people who have voiced complaints and the record 409 objections to the planning application?

  • I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment as Chair of the Select Committee on Education. He will be as delighted as all Members should be that there are 1.8 million more children in good and outstanding schools than there were in 2010. That is something for his Committee to build on. He is exactly right to raise the frustrating issue for all our constituents of unnecessary road closures. I am sure that he will give it his full attention, as he does everything he turns his mind to.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I join her in warmly congratulating my fellow Select Committee Chairs on their election yesterday. It is a great exercise in the democracy of this House, and we should be very proud of the way the Select Committees work, but we now need to get those Committees up and working. We need to get the membership of the Committees elected and we have one week in which to do it. Mr Speaker generously offered to facilitate with any issue, any party or any perceived blockage where he or the Deputy Speakers could help out. Did she take advantage of that generous opportunity? If not, why not?

    We have passed one full piece of legislation through all stages of Parliament and two pieces on Second Reading, but we still have no Standing Committees in place. Will the Leader of the House endeavour to get this fixed before the zombies leave the building?

    We have also not had a single debate about the perverse deal with the DUP, which has completely altered the usual funding allocations to the nations of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister may have shed a tear on election night, but the DUP are marching all the way to the bank, rubbing their hands with glee. They will be back, demanding another few hundred million pounds, like an extortionist knows when he has someone in a vice-like grip in those sensitive places.

    Hurray, the great repeal Bill will be out today, a Bill to unite the country in an invitation to climb aboard the battered jalopy as it trundles over the cliff edge. Apparently, Labour will oppose the Bill by defiantly agreeing with the Tory hard Brexit that will take us out of the single market and end freedom of movement. What opposition has been offered by the Labour party? In the meantime, we will continue to look after vital Scottish interests and fight for a place in the single market.

  • I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the membership of Select Committees. We want to get on with it, and on this side of the House we are getting on with selecting members. I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s democratic elections will be as clear as our own. I can assure him that through the usual channels an enormous amount of work is also going on to establish Standing Committees. No one wants that to happen more than we do on the Government Benches. However, his remark about “zombies” is very rude to his colleagues—a few of them are still here today, and I thank them for turning up.

    The hon. Gentleman talks about this Government not being democratically elected, but I remind him that we got 56 more seats than the official Opposition, which means that, in a democratic place such as this, we have the duty as well as the right to form a Government. I hope that he and his colleagues appreciate that fact.

    It is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman talks constantly about wanting to stay in the single market, which he knows for a fact means not leaving the EU. In other words, he, for his own ends and those of his Scottish nationalist colleagues, would seek to undermine the will of the United Kingdom. That is totally undemocratic. Government Members and, I hope, Opposition Members will fulfil the will of the people.

  • Is the Leader of the House aware of concerns regarding challenges to the democratic system of government in Hong Kong? Some elected representatives there are being prevented from taking their seats in the legislature, and a recent statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the Sino-British joint declaration as “a historical document”, which

    “no longer has any practical significance”.

    This month marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Hong Kong as a special administrative region on the principle of “one country, two systems”, so will she consider a debate in Government time about this concerning issue?

  • My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. The Minister for Asia and the Pacific met the Chinese ambassador on 5 July, when he stressed the UK’s strong commitment to the Sino-British joint declaration—a legally binding treaty, registered with the UN, which continues to be in force. As co-signatory to the joint declaration, the UK will continue to stress to the Chinese Government the need to implement faithfully the one country, two systems arrangement.

  • We do not yet know the allocation that the Government have determined for the Backbench Business Committee in this Session. We hope that the 27 days allocated in a normal Session will be doubled to 54 in this two-year Session.

    Will the Leader of the House try to facilitate deciding the membership of the Backbench Business Committee quicker than that of the other Select Committees? The Backbench Business Committee is not a normal Select Committee; it is here to determine the Chamber’s business.

  • First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his reappointment as Chairman. He did a great job in the previous Parliament and I am sure he will do so again. I am also sure that he recognises that we have tried to bring forward some of the carry-over requests from the previous Parliament for debates. As with Opposition days, the allocation of Backbench Business days is set out in Standing Orders. However, it has been the custom in longer-than-usual Sessions to offer additional days and we fully intend to do the same. More will be said about that in due course.

  • I call “Our Man in Havana”—Alec Shelbrooke.

  • Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. In the previous Parliament, I introduced a private Member’s Bill to ban unpaid internships. The Matthew Taylor report outlined this week that they are indeed damaging to social mobility and an abuse of power by employers. May we have a debate in this Chamber on all aspects of the Matthew Taylor report? For all the crowing on the other side, no Opposition Member bothered to turn up to debate the private Member’s Bill.

  • My hon. Friend has really pushed this issue and he is right to do so. It is of great interest to the House, even when Opposition Members do not bother to turn up to support a Bill on it. The Government’s position is clear: employing unpaid interns as workers to avoid paying the national minimum wage or the national living wage is illegal, exploitative and represents a real barrier to social mobility by squeezing out candidates from less wealthy backgrounds.

  • Last week, I visited Shelley College, an outstanding-rated school in my constituency, where staff explained that the budget had already been cut to the bone. Every school in my constituency faces further cuts. May we have a debate on the Government’s worrying plan to cut funding for local schools?

  • The hon. Lady will know that the Government have protected cash spending on schools and we have created many thousands of new school places to meet demand. There has been a great deal of investment in the fabric of buildings. We fully appreciate that schools are under pressure. The hon. Lady will also know that we have accepted the recommendation of the independent schools’ pay body and we will do everything we can to ensure that, as I said earlier, the number of children who are in good and outstanding schools—1.8 million more than in 2010—increases and that we do more than ever particularly to help disadvantaged pupils.

  • I call Mike Penning.

  • It has been a long time since I asked a question on health from the Back Benches. I am sure that the Leader of the House knows that Hemel Hempstead is the largest town in Hertfordshire, but that in 2006—we know which Government were in power—the acute services at Hemel Hempstead Hospital were closed. We now have clinical commissioning groups, but they seem to be completely unaccountable. The CCG for our part of the world costs £10 million a year and it has just rubber-stamped more closures at Hemel Hempstead Hospital. May we have a debate on the power of CCGs and their accountability—or lack of it?

  • My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Many colleagues from all parties are concerned about what happens to hospitals in their areas. My right hon. Friend will know that there are clear rules about accountability and consultation with patients and that, of course, any decisions should be led by clinicians in consultation with users of the service. He makes an important point and he may well wish to raise it in Westminster Hall or in an Adjournment debate.

  • Yesterday, during the debate on the tragic events at Grenfell Tower, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), was asked whether local authorities—such as Coventry, for example—would be helped to introduce safety measures. He said that the Government would help with the process. In view of the number of cuts that the Government have inflicted on local authorities over the last seven years, may we have a statement to clarify what help local authorities will actually be given?

  • Grenfell Tower is one of the most appalling disasters that the country has ever faced. We will all continue to be absolutely focused and determined to get to the bottom of what caused it, and the top priority is to try to help the people who have suffered so terribly. At the same time—as the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government have made clear—we want to take steps to ensure that such a disaster cannot happen again, which will include requiring other local authorities to check what fire regulations and what sort of cladding their areas have and what other risks are being faced. The Government are giving as much support as possible to that process.

  • The public consultation on the future of the children’s congenital heart disease service at Royal Brompton Hospital will close on Monday. If the proposals from NHS England are implemented, all CHD services at the hospital will be closed, including the adult research centre, the children’s intensive care unit, and specialist children’s respiratory services for conditions such as cystic fibrosis, asthma and muscular dystrophy. Will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to explain how those services will be provided for my constituents and others in the south-east and London if the proposals go ahead?

  • My hon. Friend has raised a very important point, which I know is of huge interest throughout the House. No final decisions have been made, and there is no plan to close the Royal Brompton as a provider of CHD services. NHS England is currently conducting a review of congenital heart services across the country before finally deciding on and implementing any change. Let me make clear that the review is not about cutting services or costs, but about ensuring that patients have the very highest standard of care now and in the future, regardless of where they live or which hospital provides that care.

  • Given the mess that the United Kingdom Government are making of the economy and Brexit, and given how successful the Scottish Government have been with their recent economic measures, will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on devolving further fiscal responsibilities to Scotland?

  • I think it behoves the hon. Lady to look very carefully at what the Scottish Government are doing now. Their track record of managing their current devolved powers leaves something to be desired.

    The hon. Lady says that the UK Government are not doing well with EU withdrawal. I beg to differ from her completely. Today we are introducing the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which seeks to implement the will of the people. The Scottish National party clearly does not care about the will of the people. The Scottish people decided that they wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, but, rather than trying to get on with the day job, SNP Members focus entirely on who makes the decisions to which the hon. Lady has referred. That is not a democratic approach.

  • Alderley Park in my constituency is the largest bio-centre in the United Kingdom. It is a true world leader, and it is currently undergoing a 10-year transformation. Will the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy make a statement on the country’s industrial strategy and how Alderley Park fits into it? [Interruption.]

  • Is it not interesting that Opposition Members are just chuntering? That is because they are not interested in the strength of our economy.

    I congratulate my right hon. Friend on one of her first interventions since she retook her seat, and I welcome her back to this place. We should be talking about jobs, economic growth and areas in which the UK can lead the world. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be keen to talk about the Government’s industrial strategy. We are determined to ensure that it means that we have the high-skilled, highly paid jobs of the future, throughout the United Kingdom.

  • The previous chief executive at Hull Royal Infirmary left having put the hospital into a terrible state. He moved to another hospital, which subsequently moved into special measures. During that time, he was investigated by NHS Protect, the anti-fraud body of the NHS. I understand that he has now retired and set up a consultancy to offer his services to the NHS. Can we have a debate on the revolving door of failed NHS managers and their role in the NHS?

  • The hon. Lady raises what sounds like an extremely concerning issue regarding one individual, and the bigger issue of the revolving door of people who have failed in one job and move on to another one, often at significant expense to the taxpayer. She will be aware that there have been a number of Public Accounts Committee reports on that issue, but she may want to raise it herself through a Westminster Hall debate.

  • The Leader of the House will be aware of the looming crisis involving the amount of plastic entering our seas and oceans. We are quickly getting to the point where there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. In the light of that, I warmly welcomed the comment by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that the Government are now considering introducing a plastic bottle deposit return scheme, but can we have a statement from the Secretary of State, so we can discuss and indeed promote that scheme in the Chamber?

  • As my hon. Friend will know, I am passionately concerned about that issue. I was delighted with the results of the consultation on the banning of microbeads in face wash and other products and with the results of our litter strategy, which looks at what else we can do to eradicate plastics from our oceans. Eighty per cent. of the plastics that end up in the ocean come from the land, and it is important that we deal with litter on the land as well. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be keen to do just that, and that he will come to the House in due course when he has something clear to say.

  • Can we have an urgent debate on the role and remit of the Homes and Communities Agency? I have two businesses under threat of closure after the HCA triggered break clauses in their leases. The HCA has also damaged communities in east Durham, notably in Horden, through its failure to act after the Accent housing association disposed of its housing stock. Will the Government take control of that public body, which has delivered little benefit and caused no end of misery in areas such as east Durham?

  • Again, the hon. Gentleman raises what sounds like an important and serious issue. I am sure that he will want to raise it directly with the Secretary of State, or perhaps at oral questions, to ensure that a spotlight is shone on the issue.

  • Mr Deputy Speaker, you look like a gentleman who enjoys a glass or two of English sparkling wine. [Interruption.] Forgive me. I invite you and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to tour the many vineyards in my constituency, including the Fox & Fox and the Bluebell vineyards—award-winning vineyards supporting jobs and the local economy. Can we have a debate on the best of British produce, including English sparkling wine, and how we can best promote it in new markets and harness the opportunity of Brexit?

  • I can tell my hon. Friend that I have only ever seen Mr Deputy Speaker have a cup of tea and a Chorley cake. Isn’t that right, Mr Deputy Speaker? She raises an important point. English sparkling wine is taking the world by storm. We are winning prizes and competing with famous brands. She is right to raise that valuable and growing sector and I would be delighted to take her up on her offer.

  • I can assure you that Mrs Hoyle will be the one who will come.

  • Can the Leader of the House arrange an emergency debate on the re-routing of HS2 in South Yorkshire? At the HS2 briefing for Members last night, the chairman of HS2 said that the reason it is not in favour of the Sheffield Meadowhall station is the lack of backing by Sheffield City Council and the Sheffield chamber of commerce, blatantly ignoring the wishes of the other three councils in South Yorkshire. Can we have an urgent debate on those matters?

  • The right hon. Gentleman will know that there has been wide consultation on the routes for HS2, as I discovered during phase 1, which has now received Royal Assent, so there have been and will continue to be many opportunities for consultation. I urge him to take every opportunity to feed in to the process as early as he can.

  • May we have a debate on sharp practices by private car parking companies? Smart Parking has taken over the car park behind the Co-op in Saltaire and has changed the rules so that people have to get a ticket for the first 20 minutes of their stay even though it is free, when previously they did not, and with very minimal and inadequate signage, and it then introduced draconian fines of £100 for anybody who does not meet that new requirement. This is not only ripping off its customers and my constituents, but is having a terrible effect on local businesses in the area. May we have a debate so that we can stop some of these practices of rogue companies such as Smart Parking?

  • I am sure all Members will share my hon. Friend’s disgust at some of the activities of rogue and unfair private parking operators, and he will be pleased to know that the Government have taken steps to tackle this, including the banning of wheel-clamping and towing. Consumer protection regulations have also been amended to make it simpler and clearer for consumers to bring their own actions to seek compensation when they have been the victims of misleading or aggressive debt collection practices, but I do think this is an area that we will come back to.

  • The Leader of the House says that the business she has announced for next week is business as normal, but it certainly is not. Normal business in this Parliament is when Select Committees are able to meet and are able to quiz Ministers, when every second sitting week includes an Opposition day debate on a votable motion, and when there is a Backbench Business debate every sitting week, but she is not allowing any of that. Will not voters start to conclude that this Government are absolutely terrified of the House? Since she has congratulated the new Select Committee Chairs, will she at least guarantee that they can actually chair a Committee because they will be able to sit by next Thursday?

  • The hon. Gentleman is talking about what are routine measures after a general election to re-establish the Select Committees. If he looks back through history, he will see that we are moving exactly as quickly as any other new Government. We are trying to establish these Committees as quickly as we can. He says we are not discussing anything of any value; I think he must agree that we had the Grenfell Tower debate, and there is the issue of abuse and intimidation of parliamentary candidates, which is damaging—[Interruption.] He is not listening to the answer; he is not interested in the answer. [Interruption.] So, he is saying that discussing abuse and intimidation of candidates, which is clearly putting people off actually standing—[Interruption.] He will appreciate that not nearly enough time and effort has been given to what is a very significant matter. [Interruption.] He waves his hand; people have had death threats and people are being put off from standing for Parliament—[Interruption.] So he does not care about that. Next week on the Order Paper are very important—

  • Order. I do not think that is the case; I think every Member cares about every other Member here—let us be clear about that.

  • The Metropolitan police recently revealed that up to 50,000 crimes a year are now being committed by thieves on motorbikes and pedal cycles. That is reflected in correspondence I receive from my constituents across Hornchurch and Upminster. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on whether police have all the powers they need to tackle this alarming new crime wave?

  • May I start by welcoming my hon. Friend to her place? I can confirm that the Home Office is currently in discussion with the Metropolitan police about the problem of motorcycle and moped theft in London and will look very carefully at the evidence on what more can be done to prevent it. Of course, how the police enforce the law and deploy available resources is the responsibility of individual chief officers, taking into account specific local problems and the demands they are faced with.

  • On Tuesday, the Foreign Secretary told this House that the UK Government will

    “work closely under the Joint Ministerial Committee to bring in the devolved Administrations and make sure the great deal we are going to get has their endorsement and approval.”—[Official Report, 11 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 139.]

    The truth is that the JMC plenary last met in January, the JMC Ministers last met in February and there was no JMC agreement on triggering article 50 before the Prime Minister triggered it. Indeed, since the election no meeting date has yet been set with the Welsh and Scottish Governments. May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the JMC and its role in the process of the UK exiting the EU?

  • As many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have made clear, it is fully the intention to consult widely on all matters regarding devolution, and those conversations have indeed taken place before. It has been made clear that no powers that currently reside in the devolved Administrations are to be withdrawn, and that there will be further opportunities for devolution. The hon. Gentleman is focusing on process, and I am trying to explain that we are absolutely attending to process but what is important is the intention of this Government, which is to consult widely and to seek the agreement of all colleagues across the House as we fulfil the will of the people of the United Kingdom.

  • Could my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the laws relating to the unauthorised arrival of travelling people in parks and open spaces? Only last week, a group of very hostile people arrived in a local park and caused much damage to play equipment, not to mention the cost to the council officers and police who had to remove them.

  • My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I am aware that this is a matter of interest to Members on both sides of the House who understand the frustration when Travellers arrive on unauthorised land and cause damage and upset to local communities. I can tell him that local authorities and the police have a wide range of strong powers that enable them to take action, and the Government really want to see them working together to address this issue.

  • Please allow me to refresh the Leader of the House’s memory. It was on 25 January this year that we last had an Opposition day debate. She referred earlier to Opposition Members needing to represent our constituents, and we wish to do so. Why will she not commit right now to granting Opposition day debates and to correctly doubling the number of Back-Bench business debates? Why not?

  • As I mentioned earlier, an Opposition day has been proposed for the next short session of Parliament, and that is going through the usual channels—[Interruption.] As a matter of convention, those things go through the usual channels. The Standing Orders set out the number of Opposition days and Back-Bench days. It is also the convention in a longer than usual Session to offer more such days, and it is our intention to do exactly that. It is absolutely the case that we will set up the Committees as soon as possible, as has happened before, and offer more Back-Bench and Opposition days than would normally be allocated through Standing Orders. I genuinely do not see why the Opposition are making such a big fuss about this. [Interruption.]

  • In the agreement made with the Democratic Unionist party, the Government generously and wisely offered a detailed study into the benefits of lower VAT for the tourism industry. May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on the benefits of such a study elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and potentially in coastal communities such as the Isle of Wight, and more generally on measures to support coastal tourism in the UK? May I recommend the Isle of Wight, not least because it has the highest rates of sunshine in the United Kingdom? Half our GDP comes from tourism, and it is a self-contained area that would greatly benefit from such a study into lower VAT on tourism.

  • I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. He will obviously be a strong advocate for the Isle of Wight, and I am sure that all hon. Members will be keen to go there just as soon as their summer recess plans permit. He has campaigned on the issue of tourism, which is vital for the economy of the Isle of Wight, and I completely understand his desire for more effort to be made for coastal communities. That is shared by this Government and he might wish to apply for an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate in which to put forward his suggestions.

  • When can the House express its disdain and contempt for the rip-off decision made by a gullible Government in agreeing to buy the dearest electricity in the world from a French company and guaranteeing that price for 35 years? Only months after starting out, the project is £1.5 billion over budget and a year behind schedule. Like all other European pressurised reactors—EPRs—this one will involve vast cost overruns and long delays, and none of them has ever produced enough electricity to light a bicycle lamp. May we debate this, to address the continuing rip-off of the taxpayer for the next 50 years?

  • I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman, who has been an anti-nuclear campaigner for a long time. I respectfully say, as an ex-Energy Minister, that I just disagree with him. On average, nuclear energy provides around 20% of our electricity needs at all times, and our ageing fleet of nuclear power stations must be replaced. If we want to continue to keep the lights on, we have to take steps. This particular project protects taxpayers from the costs of budget overruns.

  • As I understand it, the Government will deposit the High Speed 2 phase 2a Bill on Monday next week. According to parliamentary procedures, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) and I understand them, that leaves only 56 days of consultation over the summer holidays and summer recess, which is simply not enough. Will my right hon. Friend consider extending the period for six weeks or delaying the deposit of the Bill until we return in September?

  • I completely agree with my hon. Friend that consultation is important, and I will certainly take up this issue with the Secretary of State for Transport.

  • The Leader of the House has been asked several times about having an Opposition day debate so that we can represent our constituents. I want to ask her a simple question to which she may answer yes or no: can we have an Opposition day debate next week?

  • The hon. Lady will be aware that the business for next week has already been announced.

  • The exploitation of leasehold agreements by house builders and management companies is a national scandal that is leaving homeowners in my constituency in financial difficulty. May we have an urgent debate to explore an industry-wide solution to address the actions of such companies across the board?

  • My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. The Government are working with partners who have an interest in reforming residential leasehold, as outlined in our housing White Paper, to try to improve fairness and transparency for leaseholders. The White Paper responded to leaseholders’ concerns that were raised by MPs in a debate on reforming leasehold in December 2016, and we will be consulting on what more needs to be done to promote greater transparency and fairness for leaseholders, including whether all developers and managing agents are acting in the best interests of those thinking of buying and living in a leasehold property.

  • On 25 July, we mark 18 years of brutality against Falun Gong practitioners in China. So many families have been destroyed and so many people have lost their lives for their faith in Falun Gong’s guiding principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. Despite all its resources and the inside knowledge, China has not provided any information to show that the forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience is not happening. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or, better still, a debate on this important issue?

  • The hon. Gentleman raises a harrowing issue, which many hon. Members across the House will have been made aware of. It is certainly something that he should raise at Foreign Office questions, and it would also be worthy of debate either on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall.

  • I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has had enough time to look at my blog today. More’s the pity if not, but if she has, she will have been concerned to see that Taunton Deane has built up a secret land bank of houses with a nod and a wink from the leader of the council. Many millions of pounds are involved, and it smells and looks like corruption on an enormous scale. Before things get out of hand, please may we have time for a debate to discuss the matter, and to consider local government and how planning authorities are working in this country?

  • My hon. Friend knows that I spend most mornings doing nothing but read his blog. He raises a serious issue that I am sure he will want to take up directly with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

  • May we have a debate on the National Audit Office’s damning report on the closure of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs offices, such as the one in my constituency? I received a letter from the Chancellor just yesterday, confirming that a decision about committing public funds was made during the election period, which looks very much like a breach of the ministerial code. This Parliament must have the opportunity to scrutinise such things properly before decisions are made.

  • As the hon. Lady knows, the consultation took place over a long period of time, and the decision on the closure was not contrary to the ministerial code. She will also be aware that, as we discussed last week, the decisions on closures have been taken to try to maximise the best use of taxpayer resources. More coaches are being provided to try to help people get back into work, and costs of travel are being accommodated where it can be shown to be further than would be reasonably expected.

  • May we have a debate in Government time on the activities of rogue debt management companies such as Compass Debt Counsellors? The company operated in my constituency and went into liquidation last year, owing 1,700 people a total of £5.5 million after it emptied the coffers year on year, taking out hundreds of thousands of pounds. Is it not time that this kind of spivvery was outlawed once and for all?

  • I am incredibly sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s point. There have been some pretty awful examples of the behaviour of debt management companies. I am not familiar with the specific case, but I encourage him to take it up with the Financial Conduct Authority, which has responsibility for looking at some of these issues.

  • One of the many casualties of the recent general election has been the Government’s consultation on sentences and penalties for those causing death by dangerous driving. The consultation finished on 1 February 2017, and my attempts to find out the results have been met with evasive non-answers. May we have a statement on the progress of that consultation?

  • The hon. Lady raises an important point, and I will certainly look into it. If I may, I will write with any information I am able to give her.

  • On a similar point to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), three weeks ago I raised the issue of HMRC office contracts being signed during purdah. The Leader of the House received a letter from me, but I have not had a response. The Chancellor was asked this question two weeks ago, and he has not responded to me either. May I press upon the Leader of the House the urgency of having a debate or a statement—preferably a debate—on the issue, which affects all nations and regions of the United Kingdom, of why this Government negotiated contracts during purdah when, at the general election, four political parties opposed HMRC office closures?

  • Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that he has written to me and not had a reply?

  • I apologise for that. I have not seen his letter, but I can assure him that I will always try to reply within a week to any hon. Member who writes to me. I reassure him that I specifically checked, and there was no breaking of the ministerial code. I cannot find the note in my folder giving the precise detail, but I am aware that the consultation took place over a much longer period of time. In order to protect against some quite significant costs, the decision was taken to announce the decision to close during purdah, but that was not in breach of the ministerial code. He will forgive me for not having the precise detail, but I will certainly write to him with it.

  • This weekend, at Pontypool Park in my constituency, many of my constituents will take part in the 24-hour Cancer Research UK relay for life, not only to raise funds but to show solidarity with families touched by cancer. May we have a debate on the contribution that our communities can make to supporting families blighted by this terrible disease?

  • The hon. Gentleman raises a point that all hon. Members will be keen to support. Every one of us knows or is close to someone who has been touched by cancer, which is a frightening and horrible disease. It is fantastic to see the work of so many volunteers to try to contribute to research, so that we can get on top of cancer and find ways to cure every aspect of it. I congratulate his constituents on their efforts and I hope they enjoy their relay.

  • The Leader of the House will be aware of the terrible neglect, which has proved a national scandal, at South Lakes safari zoo. May we have a debate—a debate was in train before the snap election was called—on the lamentably inadequate national regulation? Many senior members of the organisation team that was in charge while the neglect was happening have had to be granted a new licence simply because they changed the guy at the top.

  • I recall the South Lakes zoo case that the hon. Gentleman mentions from my time as Environment Secretary, and we were all very concerned about it. It would certainly be worth his while trying to obtain an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate to raise the issue. As I recall it, the real challenge is enforcement, not the rules being inadequate, but this may be well be something worth debating to try to ensure that we get to the bottom of it.

  • Last week, Barclays bank announced the closure of its branch in Neston, following which there will be no high street banks left in the town. May we therefore have a debate on how we can prevent communities being isolated in this way, and on what more can be done to ensure that banks are more responsible to the communities they are meant to serve?

  • This has been an issue right across the UK. The Post Office has really stepped up to the plate and I believe it now offers basic banking services for all the main UK banks and certainly for Barclays. The flexibility of post office opening hours means that many constituents can get better banking services. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman raises this issue, because one of the biggest challenges is making people aware of that fact. He knows that the banks have an agreed consultation process before they decide to close. Nevertheless, I urge him to look at the prospects for post offices stepping into the gap.

  • By September, we will not have had an Opposition day debate for a staggering seven and a half months. In the interim, may we have a debate in Government time, because I, for one, want to debate the capped expenditure process, which will lead to massive cuts in York’s already underfunded NHS?

  • This is obviously the subject of the day for Labour Members. I have explained several times that we are making efforts to deal with all of these normal things: the re-establishment of Committees, the dates for Opposition day debates and so on. The hon. Lady will be well aware that next Thursday there is a pre-recess Adjournment debate, where she will have the opportunity to raise the specifics of the NHS in her constituency, for which I know she is a great advocate. I urge colleagues right across the House to try to understand that this is normal following a general election, and we need to focus on working together to try to deliver for the people of this country.

  • Last week, in a very animated response to a question from me, the Leader of the House advised that the Secretary of State for Scotland spent

    “hours and hours of committed time”


    “the discussion of a package of fiscal reliefs to support the oil and gas sector”.

    The reliefs that came through were welcome. She continued by saying that,

    “he spent hours with me working on a supply chain”.

    But she omitted to say that the oil and gas sector is still awaiting action on late-life asset transfers and loan guarantees promised in 2016. I want the Secretary of State for Scotland not to spend hours on these matters, but to spend days, weeks and months, if necessary, to get Government action. Will the Leader of the House therefore advise what discussions the Secretary of State had with her in her role as Minister in this area? She concluded her answer last week by saying that he has always

    “spoken up for the people of Scotland at every opportunity.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2017; Vol. 626, c. 1354.]

    Will she therefore explain why he always avoids answering my questions on the discussions he has had with the relevant Departments? Will she speak to him about that, and will she once again list his achievements for Scotland?

  • The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot possibly explain to him why the Secretary of State for Scotland thinks something or does something; I am sure he will realise that that is not a question for me. However, I am extremely pleased that the hon. Gentleman now acknowledges what I did say in some spirited fashion last week, which was that I absolutely recall the Secretary of State for Scotland standing up for Scottish people on protecting and promoting the oil and gas sector—he continues to do that. If the hon. Gentleman would like to talk to him about it, I am sure he will be able to speak for himself about exactly where he is on his support for the people of Scotland.

  • I am lucky in my constituency to take part in parkrun on a Saturday morning; hundreds of local people now run regularly because the Parc Bryn Bach athletics club has its own Couch to 5k programme. May we have a statement on promoting physical activity and improving public health? Finally, why will the Government not give us our fair share of Opposition day debates for the next two years?

  • I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his evident fitness and healthy approach to life. I hope that that will extend to his approach to the work in this Chamber over the next few years. It is absolutely vital that we do more to promote a healthy lifestyle. This Government have put a great deal of money into new cycling programmes, new sports for children in schools and so on, but I must also mention all the work that volunteers do to develop these programmes for running together through the park. It is a lovely thing to do and it also adds to the health of the nation, so I congratulate him on that.

  • May we have an early debate on this week’s report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration on the failure of the Border Force to monitor properly small ports for immigration, smuggling and illegal migration issues—issues that were raised by me 18 months ago in parliamentary questions in this House. Perhaps it is the sort of issue that we could have an Opposition day debate on if we were granted one.

  • The problem is that, by the time we get to an Opposition day, there will be about 20 different subjects, and no one will agree on what exactly they want to debate. Let us get away from the process, and focus instead on the important subjects. The right hon. Gentleman does raise an important subject and I am quite sure that he will want to put in for an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss that very report.

  • The Manchester Royal Infirmary has had to stop congenital heart surgery because staff have been leaving following the uncertainty caused by the review which the right hon. Lady referred to earlier. Patients now have to travel up to 150 miles for treatment. May we have a statement on how we can continue to deliver local congenital heart services to those patients in advance of the review?

  • The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. As I said earlier, NHS England is running a review of congenital heart services across the country before finally deciding on and implementing any change. This review is not about cutting services or costs, but about ensuring that patients have the very highest standards of care. He will appreciate, as will all hon. Members, that as improvements in medical technology and medical capabilities continue, we will need to look at the best delivery to give every child and adult the best outcomes that we can.

  • May we have a debate in Government time on income inequality, because research from the Resolution Foundation shows that, for the decade to 2020, we have had the lowest wage growth in 210 years? In that debate, may we also look at the contract-cutting wage promoted by Her Majesty’s Government that discriminates against the under-25s?

  • Youth unemployment in this country has dropped dramatically since 2010. It has been one of the enormous achievements in this country. Another enormous achievement has been the number of new apprenticeships that have been taken up. A third achievement of this Government has been the number of disadvantaged 18-year-olds going into higher education. We have a very strong, positive track record for what we are doing for the under-25s. There is still much more to do, but in terms of getting them into work, into apprenticeships and into higher education, we have a good track record.

  • The planned closure and relocation of Department for Work and Pensions offices will have a major negative impact on the local economy of towns such as Merthyr Tydfil in my constituency as well as many others across the country. It will also cause major travel difficulties for employees with caring responsibilities. May I ask the Leader of the House to urge the Secretary of State to carry out a full impact assessment and bring the results of that assessment, together with the results of any consultation, to the House as soon as possible—perhaps for an Opposition day debate?

  • The hon. Gentleman knows that, in looking at maximising the value for taxpayers from managing the estate, any Government Department will always look at ensuring that access is good enough and that the service is at least as good as it was previously. He will also appreciate that we need to live within our means. We have taken huge steps to getting back to a position in which we spend only what we take instead of adding to the debt and deficit that was left by the last Labour Government. It is vital that, where we can, we seize the opportunities to get better value for the taxpayer out of our Government estate.

  • May we have a debate on the future of Durham Tees Valley airport, the promise made by the Tees Valley Mayor to buy it, and the Government’s position on whether his nationalisation plans will be funded from the public purse?

  • I think we all welcome additional air travel opportunities, and this sounds to me like an ideal opportunity for an Adjournment debate.

  • As we rapidly approach summer and our thoughts turn to holidays, many of our constituents might need to send money abroad. May we have a statement from Ministers on the payment services regulations and the results of the Government’s recent research on transparency and consumer decisions on foreign exchange transactions?

  • The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the very important issue of people going on holiday. I wish everybody who is about to embark on their holidays, including those in this place, a good time. He should probably raise his specific point during oral questions, as I am not sure that he has given me enough information to respond with exactly what he is after.

  • On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

  • Let me just clear something up. Normally, points of order would come after a statement, but if this is a special point of order on a point of clarification and is relevant to business questions I will take it now.

  • Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I, through you, ask the Leader of the House to clarify whether she announced new business in the form of an Opposition day in the short sitting in September, and if so, on what date that will be?

  • Does the Leader of the House want to respond?

  • Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. What I said to the House is that through the usual channels I am aware that an Opposition day debate is being offered during that short sitting in September.

  • Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Can you clarify that there is a means by which the Leader of the House can correct the record? She has suggested today that it is utterly normal for us not to have Opposition day debates at this stage, but in fact in 2015, by the summer recess after the general election, we had already had five—

  • Order. We are not opening up the debate. The question has been dealt with and we will now move on.

  • Counter-Daesh Update

  • With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to update the House on the counter-Daesh campaign in Iraq and Syria and the UK’s involvement in this collective effort by some 68 coalition nations as well as the Arab League, Interpol, the European Union and NATO.

    On Monday, three years after Daesh leader al-Baghdadi declared his so-called caliphate at the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, Prime Minister Abadi declared victory in Mosul. It was an important moment. Today, Daesh’s black flags no longer fly. Its fighters are dead or fleeing, and only very small pockets of resistance remain in west Mosul. I am sure that the whole House will join me in praising those involved in the operation. Over the past nine months, Iraqi security forces, including the Kurdish peshmerga, have fought in incredibly challenging conditions to root out a callous enemy. Over 1,200 Iraqi soldiers have been killed in the fight for Mosul and more than 6,000 have been wounded; I pay tribute to their courage and sacrifice. They have been supported since September 2014, with the permission of this House, by the RAF, whose precision strikes represent two-thirds of the coalition effort outside the US operations against more than 750 Daesh targets. The Army has trained more than 58,000 local Iraqi personnel in skills from counter-IED to medical support. The Royal Navy has helped to protect the US and French aircraft carriers from which strikes have been flown. The UK’s cyber-capability has helped to disrupt the extremists’ activities. As a result, in Iraq more than 1.8 million people have been freed from Daesh’s cruel rule.

    Daesh has now lost more than 70% of the territory that it once occupied in Iraq, but the liberation of Mosul does not mean that Daesh has been defeated in Iraq, or indeed in Syria. We in this country need no reminding of the danger that Daesh still poses. In the past few months, our nation has suffered three appalling attacks inspired by the ideology shared by Daesh. We must continue our comprehensive strategy to defeat it, and I want to update the House on three areas.

    The first is the military effort. We must ensure that there are no safe havens for Daesh in Syria and Iraq. That is why Iraqi security forces, with United Kingdom support, will go on to defeat Daesh in Tal Afar and Hawija, uproot it from the Euphrates river valley, and clear the area of the improvised explosive devices that threaten the lives of so many innocent civilians. As Iraq is secured—we have some months to go—we will in Syria continue supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have so far ejected Daesh from around 51% of the territory it once held in Syria.

    The battle for Raqqa—Daesh’s command and control centre—has begun. Syrian Democratic Forces currently control around 20% of that city. The SDF is relying heavily on coalition air assets, surveillance, reconnaissance, and pinpoint missile strikes, which we will continue to provide as part of the global coalition. As we maintain pressure on Mosul and Raqqa, we will continue to tighten the net around this callous organisation, squeezing the terrorists on simultaneous fronts, striking their senior leadership, countering their poisonous narrative, and cutting off their finances, as they progressively lose access to the oil infrastructure on which they relied.

    The second area is humanitarian aid. We will continue to provide stabilisation and humanitarian assistance. My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary updated this House yesterday on the humanitarian response required in Mosul, yet while that city can at last begin to look forward, the humanitarian situation in Syria remains dire: 13.5 million people urgently need humanitarian assistance; 4.5 million of them are in areas that are hard to reach, and 1.3 million of them live under siege-like conditions. It is estimated that around 100,000 civilians remain in Raqqa city, caught between Daesh and Assad, and in desperate need of aid.

    Our response has been to commit £2.46 billion to support for Syria—the largest ever British response to a single humanitarian crisis—while pushing for better access, so that much-needed food and medicine can reach people, and for an end to attacks on civilians. UK support has helped to stabilise the region more widely. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have become hosts to large-scale Syrian populations. The Department for International Development has helped to ensure that those countries have been given the assistance that they need in hosting large refugee populations; this improves regional security and reduces consequent migration pressures in Europe.

    The third area is stronger governance. Humanitarian aid is only part of the answer. A meaningful political settlement is needed now to guarantee sustainable peace, so we are working with our international allies to strengthen regional governance. With regard to Iraq, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary emphasised to Foreign Minister al-Jaafari at their recent meeting in London, that means focusing on inclusive politics post-Mosul, allaying fears, addressing the grievances that led to the rise of Daesh, and sticking to the April 2018 election timetable.

    In Syria, the barbaric chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April reminds us that the Assad regime is no partner for peace. We continue to work for a transition towards new governance, which is fully representative and committed to protecting the rights of everyone in Syria. It is for Syrians to decide how that happens, as part of a Syrian-led transition process, but to reach that goal we continue to support the work of United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura as well as the political process he is overseeing in Geneva. We are engaging with the opposition to help them move towards a political settlement, and we use our role in the Security Council and our participation in the International Syria Support Group to push for progress.

    The recently negotiated ceasefire and de-escalation agreement brokered by the United States, Russia and Jordan is welcome. We hope it will lead to further de-escalation agreements and generate renewed momentum in the political process, but that all depends on all the parties involved, which we encourage now to comply. We have seen these agreement before. What will count is what holds on the ground.

    As I took office three years ago, Daesh were closing in on the gates of Baghdad. Today it is a failing organisation, but one that remains a threat. Mosul has now been liberated, but the war remains to be won in Iraq as well as in Syria. Our resolve, as a leading member of the coalition, is unwavering. We will continue to do all we can to defeat Daesh, counter its warped ideology, bring stability to the region, and provide greater security to our people and our allies at home and abroad.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it.

    The liberation of Mosul marks the end of three years of Daesh control of the city, and we pay tribute to all the personnel who have taken part in the campaign, especially to our servicemen and women who have served in Operation Shader. Although the battle for Mosul has almost concluded, the fight against Daesh in Iraq and the wider region is far from over. Will the Secretary of State tell us about the nature of the support that the UK will continue to provide to Iraqi ground troops as they advance westward to clear the remaining towns and cities in Iraq that are under Daesh control?

    Our armed forces have taken every precaution to prevent civilian casualties, and intelligence and targeting are vital to that, but the Secretary of State will be aware that Amnesty International has produced a report that is highly critical of the Iraqi Government and the coalition. It has been alleged that the actions of the coalition in Mosul have been “disproportionate” and even “unlawful”. Major General Rupert Jones, the deputy commander of the international anti-Daesh coalition, has condemned the report in the strongest possible terms, saying that it is “deeply irresponsible”. He has emphatically stated that we should not forget that it is Daesh that is “deliberately killing civilians”. What is the Secretary of State’s response to Amnesty’s report?

    The Iraqi Government have concerns about the possibility of Daesh fighters crossing back into Iraq from Syria, so what role will our armed forces play in ensuring the security of the border between Iraq and Syria? As the operation against Daesh moves from one of counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism, the training that the UK provides to Iraqi forces will prove all the more essential. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the support and training that we will continue to give to the Iraqi ground forces?

    The campaign against Daesh in Syria is undoubtedly more challenging and complex than in Iraq. Although I appreciate that there are limitations on what the Defence Secretary is able to tell the House, will he be a little more specific on the role our armed forces will have in the liberation of Raqqa from Daesh control?

    Finally, as the Secretary of State will be aware, a number of Members on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend the shadow Defence Secretary, have been calling for an operational service medal for personnel on Operation Shader. As the campaign in Mosul draws to a close, I would suggest that it is now the time to provide proper recognition to all those who have served on that operation and played a vital part in the fight against Daesh and its perverse ideology.

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said, particularly about the role of our servicemen. A large number of our servicemen and women have now served in this theatre for nearly three years, sometimes under the most intense conditions, and it is right that we should, on both sides of this House, pay tribute to them.

    The hon. Gentleman asked me about the next stage of this campaign. It is important to emphasise that Mosul itself has not finally fallen; there is still a small pocket of resistance. Indeed, a Tornado and a Typhoon were over the city yesterday, bombing a final Daesh position, so there is still work to be done there. There will be work to be done to assist Iraqi forces in the capture of Tal Afar and Nineveh, so the campaign goes on and may well become more complex as Daesh spreads out and moves to some of the less populated areas.

    The hon. Gentleman asked me about the Amnesty report. I have not seen the Amnesty report as of yet, but I would certainly recommend that he does heed, as he has done, the words of Major General Rupert Jones, who is the deputy coalition commander. I can reassure the House that, so far as our own participation in the coalition is concerned, the airstrikes that we carry out are absolutely lawful and are conducted in accordance with the law of armed conflict and international humanitarian law. We have rigorous rules of engagement, which I set at the beginning of the campaign. There are very robust targeting procedures. Where the RAF are involved, they gather intelligence about the target they are aiming to strike. They strike it with a choice of weapon that is designed to absolutely minimise the risk of civilian casualties. They go back afterwards and do an assessment of the blast area and whether there were any unforeseen consequences.

    Where there are allegations that the wrong building was hit or that there have been civilian casualties, again, we on the coalition side absolutely investigate those allegations. We publish the findings. This is in distinction to what the Russians and the Syrian regime have been doing in Syria. We investigate, we publish the findings, and if mistakes were made and procedures need to be corrected, that is done. But I want to assure the House that I have seen no evidence as of yet that an RAF strike has involved civilian casualties. I wait to see that evidence being produced, and if anybody has any evidence, it needs to be forwarded to us, as, indeed, other organisations, like Airwars, have been doing throughout the conflict, and we are ready to investigate. Otherwise, I would urge extreme caution in the handling of the Amnesty report.

    The hon. Gentleman asked me about the border area between Iraq and Syria. It is that middle bit of the Euphrates river valley where we now anticipate Daesh will coalesce, having been driven out of Raqqa in Syria eventually, and from Mosul and Tal Afar in Iraq. Our training effort will now be, of course, in Iraq. The training we do at al-Asad airbase in Anbar province will be to improve the capability of the Iraqi forces to police their border, having secured it. We will be doing more of that in conjunction with our other allies.

    The hon. Gentleman asked about the campaign in Syria. We will continue with airstrikes. Again yesterday, a pair of our aircraft were in action on the edge of Raqqa, assisting that campaign. There is a lot of work to be done before Raqqa is liberated, and other towns in the Euphrates river valley, such as Mayadin, remain under Daesh control. The air campaign—the reconnaissance and the intelligence-gathering—will probably become even more important as Daesh eventually moves from Raqqa and starts to disperse round some of these smaller towns.

    Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about medallic recognition. I think the whole House would want to see this huge effort properly rewarded. I am awaiting final advice from the military on that, and I hope to make an announcement shortly.

  • On his re-election, I call Dr Julian Lewis.

  • Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

    The reason why, surely, these cities have not been liberated sooner is precisely the care that is being taken in the targeting of the aerial bombardment. Does the Secretary of State accept that whereas the intervention with airstrikes in Iraq was non-controversial because we were prepared to see the army of the Iraqi Government win, the same does not apply in Syria? Apart from the Kurdish elements in Syria, who else does he expect to run the country when Daesh’s land is taken from it, if not the Syrian Government, with or without Assad?

  • Let me repeat your congratulations, Mr Deputy Speaker, to my right hon. Friend on resuming his chairmanship of the Select Committee. I look forward to working with him on that.

    I know that my right hon. Friend and I have always differed on the nature of the Syrian campaign and that he has had reservations about it. He is right to recognise the difference in that we are not working with the Syrian regime. However, we do want to see Daesh driven out of Syria. It remains a threat—in Syria, to this country—and it needs to be defeated in Syria. But of course, as he says, we then need those parts of Syria returned to civilian control—a control that properly involves the Arab population as well as, in the north, the Kurdish elements. That is all part of the process that we are encouraging in Geneva. He is right that the solution lies in Arab-led governance.

  • I, too, thank the Defence Secretary for his statement and advance notice of it. Let me put on record the tribute of Scottish National party Members to the forces who have been involved, particularly in liberating Mosul to the extent that it has been. I also extend our congratulations to the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) on his re-election as Chair of the Defence Committee.

    Scottish National party Members, and indeed the whole House, will welcome the diminished status that Daesh now has. While there is a difference of opinion as to how to move that from a diminished status to being defeated, there is of course unanimity that defeated it must be.

    There are two particular areas of concern that I would like the Defence Secretary to address. The first is the dramatic rise in civilian casualties in the past few weeks. In June alone, there was a 52% increase on May’s estimated figure of 529 to 744, according to Airwars, which he mentioned in response to the shadow Minister. Airwars claims that of the 1,350 UK personnel fighting Daesh, not one is permanently tasked with monitoring civilian casualties. Will he make a commitment to greater scrutiny and transparency on that, and will he ensure that there are dedicated monitoring and investigation mechanisms within Operation Shader for UK forces?

    The second point—the Defence Secretary knows of my particular concern about this because I have written to him specifically about it—is about the operation in Syria itself. The 2015 mandate of this House was very clearly about targeting Daesh, and nobody else in Syria. I tried to get some clarity from him on this on Monday. I do not know whether he misunderstood my question, but I did not get the clarity I was seeking. Will he confirm that the 2015 mandate to target Daesh stands, and that the Government have no plans to expand that target to any other actor; and that if they do, as the US President seems to wish the United Kingdom to do, it will happen only on the back of a debate and vote of Members of this House?

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the tribute he has paid to our armed forces. It is worth reminding the House that the Scottish nationalists voted against military action in both Iraq and Syria. It is all very well to say that they now welcome the fact that Daesh has been defeated in Iraq, but how much longer would Daesh have continued to behead people, to shoot people and to throw gays off buildings without air power, including British air power, and without the involvement of 68 countries around the world, but not the support of the Scottish nationalists? He should reflect on that.

    We work with Airwars when it has allegations and suspects that there might have been British aircraft in the air at the time in question. We look at that information and investigate it. So far we have not found any evidence of civilian casualties being caused by a British strike, but we continue to work with Airwars, and if it has fresh evidence it should put it to us and we will investigate it. As I indicated, we also carry out what is called a battle damage assessment after any strike to see exactly what effect it has had and whether there is any risk that there may have been casualties.

    The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the increase in civilian casualties in the final weeks of the battle in west Mosul. It is a highly compact and densely populated city, and Daesh pushed civilians into buildings, held them hostage and shot them if they tried to escape. This was intense urban warfare of a type that we have not been involved in since probably the second world war—a very complex military operation. However, it would not have been easier if it had been extended and we had let it drift on for months. The job had to be done, and I pay tribute to those involved in it, including our pilots for their skill and precision alongside the rest of the coalition.

    Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about Syria, as he did on Monday. He has also written to me about it—I have in fact replied to him; I signed the letter yesterday, but he may not have had it yet. It certainly gives clarity on the point that he raised with me.

  • Is the expectation of sufficient reform in Iraq realistic?

  • Yes, indeed. The Abadi Government are representative of all parts of Iraq. Abadi himself is a Shi’a; the President of Iraq, whom I met, is a Kurd; and my opposite number, the Defence Minister, is a Sunni. They are a genuinely representative Government, but they have work to do to provide reassurance, particularly to the Sunni populations and tribes of Nineveh and Anbar provinces in the west, that they too have a stake in modern Iraq and must feel part of it, and that they will be protected from any kind of Shi’a aggression such as they have suffered from in the past. The Government are representative and have lasted longer than some critics originally suggested they would, but they now have a huge amount of work to do to stabilise the areas that have been liberated and promote genuine political reconciliation.

  • The Secretary of State referred twice to Staffan de Mistura’s negotiations in Geneva, but he did not mention the Russian-Turkish-Iranian initiative and the meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan. What is the British Government’s assessment of the role of that process and the fact that it seems to be undermining efforts in Geneva?

  • We support any genuine efforts to reduce violence in Syria and bring the civil war to an end, but we cannot endorse the Astana process for a number of reasons, principally because of the status it gives Iran as a guarantor of Syria’s future. That is not acceptable. We want the pluralist type of governance in Syria that we now have in Iraq, and that does not require further interference from Iran.

  • I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend refer in both his statement and his answers to the need for inclusive politics post-Mosul in order to win the peace, as well as the war, in Iraq. Can he assure the House that Her Majesty’s Government will keep up the pressure on the Abadi regime to ensure that the new governor of Mosul fully respects the rights and needs of all sections of the population there?

  • Absolutely. The answer to that is an unequivocal yes. It is now so important that the city administrations and the governorates get engaged in the process of political reconciliation. My Foreign Office colleagues and I continue to urge that on the Abadi Government as an absolute precondition for the kind of reconciliation that we want to see.

  • I welcome the liberation of Mosul and pay tribute to members of our armed forces who have been involved. The tactics used by Daesh mean that the cost to both the infrastructure and the people of Mosul has been great. Will the Secretary of State outline what strategy Iraq could take to rebuild the infrastructure of Mosul and to allow the return of those refugees who have fled Mosul over the past few years?

  • An encouraging number of dispossessed Maslawis—people of Mosul—are returning to east Mosul. They are returning in quite large numbers now, and markets and schools are beginning to reopen. West Mosul has of course been much more badly damaged than east Mosul and a huge amount of reconstruction has to be done there. That will be led by the United Nations Development Programme and its co-ordinator, but we will be playing our part financially and in the organisation of the rebuilding programme.

  • RAF pilots and service personnel have played a vital role in this coalition campaign, particularly my constituents flying from RAF Coningsby. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking my constituents who have taken part in Operation Shader? Will he explain, please, the vital role that the RAF plays in ensuring freedom of movement on the ground, which enables Iraqi forces to combat Daesh?

  • It is right that we pay tribute to the RAF, and not only to the pilots, who are always mentioned on occasions such as this, but to the huge numbers of other RAF members, such as the air crew, those who service, maintain and guard the planes, and those involved in the intelligence work of studying and preparing the targets. It has been a massive effort. The RAF is working at probably its highest tempo for more than a quarter of a century, and it is right that we should pay proper tribute to it.

    The role of the RAF has been huge. Noticeably, more than 60% of the strikes not conducted by the United States in Mosul were conducted by the RAF and not by any other country, simply because of the precision of our pilots, the intelligence that goes into the selection of targets and the precision of the weapons that were chosen for each of those strikes. Now, the RAF will be increasingly involved in close air support as Daesh moves out of the cities and starts to coalesce along the Euphrates river valley.

  • I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the men and women of our armed forces and the civilians who support them. Given that operations against Daesh are likely to endure for some time and that since the previous defence and security review we have had a change to our national security context, a general election and a referendum in which Britain decided to leave the European Union, what plans do the Government now have to conduct a strategic defence and security review?

  • On the first point, as I indicated, the campaign in Iraq is not over. It has many months to run, and I expect British forces to be involved well into 2018. The situation in Syria is even more complex. The work of the RAF and Army trainers is likely to continue for some time.

    The previous strategic defence review was only 18 months ago. The threats that were set out in it—from Russian aggression, Daesh, other terrorism and cyber—remain the principal ones facing this country. That review did not forecast the referendum or indeed its result, but I do not think we can blame defence intelligence for that—a lot of people did not predict that event. However, the review was only 18 months ago, although we will of course have a look to see if any of it needs any kind of refresh.

  • The role of the British armed forces in mentoring and training our Iraqi allies has been critical to the success of the operation. What plans do we have for continuing that support to the Iraqi military into the future?

  • I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question and I pay tribute to his own service. It is worth reminding the House that we are in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi Government. Everything that we have done as part of the coalition has been with the authority and at the request and invitation of the Iraqi Government. Although we have not entered into those discussions, I anticipate that the Iraqi Government would welcome the continuation of the coalition’s training effort and indeed the support of air power until Daesh is completely eliminated from their borders.

  • We all welcome the progress made in defeating Daesh in Mosul and Raqqa and pay tribute to the bravery and tenacity of the forces on the ground and in the air in liberating so many people from Daesh’s cruel yoke. The Secretary of State has set out in great detail the effort that the RAF makes to avoid civilian casualties—rightly, in view of the terms of the resolutions of September 2014 and December 2015 that the House passed. Is he satisfied that all our partners in the air campaign are making the same efforts to avoid civilian casualties?

  • Certainly, as far as I can be. There are coalition rules of engagement and there are slightly different rules of engagement for each country involved in the campaign. It is perfectly true that targets have been offered or discussed within the coalition that we have chosen not to strike because of the rules that we apply. Each country approaches the matter in a slightly different way. However, the principal dozen air forces involved all work together in the same headquarters, and the rules that apply have become closer over the duration of the campaign. It is worth saying that, sadly, it is simply not possible to liberate a densely populated city such as Mosul without civilian casualties. Of course, those casualties have been made much worse by Daesh’s policy of holding civilians hostage in buildings, shooting people trying to escape the city and generally making the population continue to suffer.

  • I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the role that our armed forces have played and the progress that has been made. Will he reassure me that he is working closely with the Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt)—I know that we all greatly welcome him back to the Front Bench—and our allies in the region to ensure that, as Daesh is pushed back, its fighters are contained and not displaced to pop up elsewhere in the region?

  • Yes, that is an increasing part of the work of the counter-Daesh coalition, in which I participate in so far as the defence effort is concerned, and in which my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for the Middle East participate on foreign policy. We work across the coalition to ensure that we can share intelligence on returning fighters, explore how Daesh leadership can now be held properly to account—let us not forget the British hostages who were beheaded two to three years ago—and that, where possible, those who committed those most heinous crimes can now be brought to justice.

  • With more Yazidi women being freed this week with the liberation of Mosul, will the Secretary of State say more about the particular case of the Yazidis and whether the Government have reached a conclusion on whether their treatment by Daesh is genocide?

  • We continue to look for more evidence, specifically on the Yazidis, to ascertain whether the brutal treatment that they suffered was genocidal. We are also accumulating evidence across the board so that those who are eventually detained can be properly held to account.

  • Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying particular tribute to the Kurdish peshmerga, who have made a vital and continuing contribution to the defeat of Daesh? Can he assure the House that we will give them every possible assistance in training, equipment and weaponry, but also, importantly, access to medical care and treatment for their wounded? Is not there a case for providing additional, specialist care here in the UK for their most badly wounded?

  • I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East is looking at that specific point, but I too pay tribute to the peshmerga, and, indeed, to what has been an all-Iraq effort. There has not been the distinction that people fear between the different groupings in Iraq. The campaign to liberate Mosul was conducted by agreement between the different parts of the Iraqi forces, and that was done successfully. We played our part in helping to train peshmerga forces, and much of the training that we supplied was designed precisely to reduce the number of battlefield casualties that they might otherwise have suffered, particularly from improvised explosive devices.

  • I welcome the statement, and I agree with the Secretary of State that an important element of progress is countering the violent extremist ideology of Daesh and others. Does he agree that one of the most eloquent ways of doing that is demonstrating, through the reconstruction of Mosul and Raqqa and the establishment of law and order and security for the people who live there, that there are better systems of governing than those provided by ISIL?

  • Absolutely. It must be central to the work of stabilisation and reconciliation that we have a form of governance in Mosul, in the council there and in the wider provincial government, that is genuinely representative of all interests in Mosul, which is a very complex city, to ensure that all those living there have a proper stake in its future, and that the conditions under which the likes of Daesh originally flourished do not re-emerge.

  • I join others in welcoming the statement and the liberation of Mosul, but what steps are the Government taking, as Daesh is defeated, to deal with the threat posed by dangerous individuals who seek to return to the United Kingdom?

  • The purpose of part of the work that is being done in the coalition is to recover sensitive material in both Mosul and Raqqa—as the Syrian democratic forces move into Raqqa—that will enable us to track down foreign fighters, particularly British fighters, who have been based in either city, and, indeed, foreign fighters in those cities who have been involved in planning external attacks on the cities of western Europe. We are urgently trying to recover that material, which will enable us to identify more of those who are involved in planning of that kind and thus ensure that they are detained and properly held to account.

  • May I ask a question on the same theme? The Secretary of State mentioned Interpol. Welcome though the liberation of Mosul is, we know that the capacity to deal with returnees from Iraq poses a challenge to our already overstretched intelligence and counter-terrorism services. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that the Government have sufficient capacity, not just in this country but throughout Europe, to ensure that returnees are dealt with appropriately?

  • Yes. We are putting extra resources into our agencies to ensure that that is being done in this country, and we are working with other police forces across the coalition to share intelligence about the foreign fighters who are identified so that we have better information when they attempt to cross the borders back into western Europe, and so that each of us understands how we are now likely to prosecute those who have been involved in the fighting.

  • Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), does my right hon. Friend agree that we should pay special tribute to those in the Kurdistan region? They are building democracy, they have a rule of law, and they made a huge effort in defeating Daesh. Can my right hon. Friend guarantee not just that we will give military support, but that we will do everything possible to help them to build their emerging democracy?

  • I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to the chairmanship of the Education Committee. I am sure that my colleagues look forward to working with him.

    We work very closely with the Kurdish authorities—I meet the Prime Minister and president there regularly—and we want to see the economy and stability of the region improve. It is, of course, part of Iraq overall, and the future of Iraq, ultimately, is for the Iraqi people to determine.

  • The fact that, apparently, there is currently no evidence that a single civilian casualty has resulted from an RAF strike during this campaign is extraordinary and commendable. Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), may I ask what influence the UK armed forces can have on some of our coalition partners, in whose cases the rules of engagement have clearly been different and the civilian death toll has been higher?

  • I was, I hope, careful to remind the House that this is war. While we as a coalition do everything to try to minimise the risk of civilian casualties, it is not possible to eliminate that risk entirely when we are trying to free cities from terrorism of this kind. I was equally careful to say that there is no evidence yet from an RAF strike. I am not claiming that that might never be the case, but so far no such evidence has been presented to us.

    We work across the coalition with the other countries involved in airstrikes to ensure that we apply broadly the same rules of engagement: that we are selecting the same targets, for instance, and that we have the same institutions, such as mosques and hospitals, on our no-strike lists. Each country is slightly different; there are variations; but what we encourage our partners to do—and I think this is the best possible answer to the regime in Syria—is to be straight, and when an allegation is made, to investigate it, publish the findings, and if it then becomes clear that there were faults in procedures, set out how they will be put right.

  • Daesh’s atrocities have failed to deliver a caliph, let alone the so-called caliphate. As Daesh are flushed out of Mosul, they will convene in other parts of Iraq and Syria. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must recognise that our military will continue to play a role in defeating Daesh for a considerable time to come?

  • Yes. The military campaign is not over yet, in Iraq or indeed in Syria. We have every interest in staying the course, because we need to keep our country safe. There are still people in Raqqa who wish us harm and want to carry out attacks in this country and in other western European cities. We must not rest until that threat is removed, and then we must pay attention to what the Iraqi authorities want and to the scale of the training that they may now require.

  • It is good to see so many Members entering the Chamber to hear my question. [Laughter.]

    I pay tribute to our amazing armed forces personnel, who have acted with the utmost bravery and dedication in this conflict, and I second the calls for an operational service medal to be awarded. Given the special role that the Army has played in training during the conflict, among its many other roles, and given the depth, breadth and complexity of the operations that it now faces not only in this theatre but around the world, does the Secretary of State agree that this would be exactly the wrong time to reduce the number of our regular Army personnel?

  • I am grateful for the tribute that the hon. Gentleman paid to our armed forces. He will have heard what I said earlier about the issue of medallic recognition for personnel who served in this particular campaign. We have no plans to cut the size of the Army; indeed, in our manifesto we made a clear commitment to maintain the size of our armed forces.

  • The liberation of Mosul is a significant moment in our battle against Daesh, but does the Secretary of State agree that the real victory will be the creation of a modern Iraqi state that is capable of governing itself for all the people of Iraq and of ensuring that it resists any infiltration by Daesh as we clear it out of Iraqi territory?

  • I absolutely agree. The kind of modern Iraqi state to which my hon. Friend aspires would not only reduce any threat to our country but would be good for the stability of the region. Iraq is already a democracy—a fragile democracy, but it is a democracy. It has called on its friends and allies throughout the world for help. Sixty-eight countries are in there, helping to bring about the kind of modern Iraq that he and I want.

  • I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and thank him for his commitment and leadership. I also thank our soldiers for the significant contribution that they have made to delivering the peace. The peshmerga have been a critical part of the allied forces to defeat Daesh, with many peshmerga fighters coming from Kurdistan. The regional government in Kurdistan wishes to have more devolved responsibilities and is seeking the release of moneys held in Baghdad for reconstruction. To deliver the transition to new governance that is fully representative and committed to protecting the rights of everyone, will he agree to those two issues being dealt with right away?

  • I am grateful for the personal words with which the hon. Gentleman began his remarks. Discussions are under way between the Kurdish authorities and the authorities in Baghdad on precisely those issues. We encourage those discussions. In the end, where there are disputes of that kind, they have to be resolved between the different parties in Erbil and Baghdad.

  • The progress militarily in Mosul is welcome, but the poisonous ideology that underpins ISIL continues. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the number of UK citizens fighting on behalf of ISIL/Daesh? What is happening on those who choose to return home, so that we can apprehend them and ensure that they are not a danger to UK citizens?

  • On the first point, we have not yet defeated the virtual caliphate. It is important that, across the coalition, we now intensify our efforts to destroy that caliphate in cyberspace as effectively as we are beginning to undermine it in Iraq itself. On returning fighters, that is predominantly a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, Daesh is a proscribed organisation. Fighting for Daesh is a criminal offence and, where those people can be properly prosecuted, they will be charged on their return.

  • In December 2015, we were assured that, with the support of UK airstrikes, we could expect to see a transitional Government in Syria within six months, and that there were 70,000 moderate ground troops ready to carry out a ground war in tandem with coalition airstrikes. What is the Secretary of State’s current assessment as to when we can expect to see a transitional Government in Syria? How many of those 70,000 ground troops ever actually existed?

  • On the first point, of course we want Syria to move towards a new political settlement and we continue to encourage that. So far as the existence of moderate armed opposition in Syria is concerned, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that the civil war would not be in its seventh year if there had not been formidable moderate armed opposition to the Syrian regime. Who does he think has been fighting Assad? It is important to recognise the progress that has been made since December 2015 in reducing Daesh and the amount of Syrian territory that it holds, in starting the battle to defeat it in its capital, Raqqa, and thus overall to reduce the threat that Daesh poses to the UK. I am only sorry that, although we had the support of 67 other countries throughout the world, we did not have the support of the Scottish National party.

  • I, too, welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. In particular, I welcome his comment about reducing the risk and the number of civilian casualties. Perhaps for the benefit of those who have just entered the Chamber he could repeat the number of civilian casualties there have been as a result of our actions and repeat his confirmation and assurance that he will do all he can to reduce further such risks?

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend but I am not sure that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, would welcome me repeating too much of the statement that I gave earlier. However, I emphasise that I believe it is because of the rules of engagement that we set, the careful use of intelligence and reconnaissance from the air, the skill of our pilots, and the precision of the weapons that are selected for each strike that we are able to say that, to the best of our knowledge, we have not caused significant civilian casualties on the ground.

  • I join the Secretary of State and Members of all parties in paying tribute to the work of the men and women in all three services. Does he agree that the important and prominent role played by the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force further reinforces this country’s place as the United States’ most important ally and a vital partner in the region to ensure the ultimate defeat of Daesh and to ensure peace in the region?

  • I agree. The United States has led the coalition. I was able to review the next steps in both Iraq and Syria when I met the US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis in Washington last Friday. He and his predecessor have played a key role in leading the coalition. Like us, they now want to see us move on in Iraq to the work of stabilisation and reconciliation that must follow the military campaign.

  • I, too, pay tribute to all those who have served so diligently to make such progress. My right hon. Friend rightly mentioned in his statement the continued determination that we need to battle this warped ideology and to achieve long-term stability in the region, but what reassurance can he give my constituents and all communities throughout the UK that the Government are determined to share intelligence during Brexit and beyond to keep us all safer?

  • We have made it clear that, beyond Brexit, we want to continue the various arrangements there are for security co-operation across Europe, including co-ordination between our intelligence agencies and the work of police in tracking foreign fighters. It is only by working together that we can ensure that this ideology is defeated not simply in Iraq but on a wider basis.

  • I return to the question of the skill of our pilots in avoiding civilian casualties wherever possible. Can my right hon. Friend please confirm that that extends to the selection of hot and cold targets, so that targets can be changed even at the last moment to avoid those casualties?

  • Yes. These are operational matters for decision by our commanders in the Gulf, but they keep those matters under review before each mission is planned and while each mission is being carried out. We had evidence of that yesterday in the strikes that a Tornado and a Typhoon together undertook in Raqqa and Mosul on the same day.

  • I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. Like him, I welcome the fact that the RAF has played a key role in defeating Daesh on the battlefield. However, my concern is that it will now move from the battlefield to being a guerrilla organisation. Therefore, what support can he reassure me will be given to training local forces to deal with threats such as improvised explosive devices and others involved in a guerrilla war?

  • That is already a key part of our training effort. We are working with the Iraqi forces, for example, as I said earlier, in strengthening their border force. We are working with the police, not simply the military, so that they are better equipped to deal with the threat of insurgency when the final remnants of Daesh go underground, particularly in the Middle Euphrates River valley.

  • Defeating Daesh in its twin capitals is a key step to demolishing the myth of the caliphate but in the statement the Secretary of State also referred to undermining the poisonous ideology elsewhere. Will he expand on the steps that the Government are taking to do just that?

  • Yes. We are working with our colleagues in the coalition to deal with the extremist ideology that lies behind this terrorism. We are working to counter it in cyberspace, taking down the messaging that is posted there. We are working here at home on steps to improve the deradicalisation effort where extremism exists in colleges, mosques and elsewhere. We work with the Muslim community to ensure that it is properly recognised and tackled.

  • Last, but hopefully not least, I would like to ask the following question of the Secretary of State. The war against Daesh is a complex form of unconventional warfare: a hard insurgency fought with other tools—cyber, governance, propaganda and so forth. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that this war will be properly studied and the lessons actually learned? There has been a tendency to see unconventional warfare as an occasional accident, when in many ways it is becoming the new norm; will it be understood and studied as such?

  • That is a very important point and I hope it was recognised in the strategic defence review that we carried out in 2015. This war has had to be fought using the full spectrum of responses; it has been fought predominantly by, with, and through local forces, but involving a spectrum of responses right across the different domains, and it is very important that we recognise that this may well become the fighting of the future and we learn the lessons appropriately.

  • Parliamentary Business

    Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24).

  • I rise to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration: the scheduling of business by the Leader of the House.

    The title of the debate, if granted under this application, is that this House has considered the matter of the scheduling of parliamentary business and that, given the announcement by the Government of a two-year Session, references to “Session” in the Standing Orders should be interpreted as per year, therefore with dates allocated to be pro rata.

    I have asked the Leader of the House several times for debates on issues that directly affect our constituents. We have just completed an election where we asked people to vote for us. As a parliamentary democracy, they expect us to debate and vote on motions that were relevant to their lives 31 days ago. Our constituents expected us to come back to work straight away; instead, since the Gracious Speech there have only been seven votes. [Interruption.]

  • Order. The hon. Lady must be heard. She has three minutes. Afterwards, if hon. Members wish to have an argument, they can have one; but the hon. Lady will be heard for her three minutes.

  • Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. My next sentence was “This is undermining our democracy”, and there that is, right in front of us.

    As you are aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have asked a number of times for a debate on statutory instruments that have been prayed against, as is the usual convention, but no time has been allocated.

    The second reason is to do with the days allocated for private Member’s Bills. Only 13 have been allocated for one year up until November 2018. The current Session lasts for two years.

    Thirdly, at the same time not a single date has been offered, or allocated for, an Opposition day for any party. Earlier, the Leader of the House said in response to a business question that a date was offered in September, but I am not aware of that. In this debate, we would also need to clarify what a Session is. It is now two years, but we would not expect one year’s worth of Opposition days to be allocated over the two years.

    In support of this application, I repeat the Prime Minister’s words: “through debate and discussion,” these are the

    “hallmarks of our parliamentary democracy”.

    It is also important to our constitution to have the debate when required by convention as a number of statutory instruments will flow from the repeal Bill. That is why I make this application today.

  • I have listened carefully to the application from the hon. Member and have had the benefit of knowing the view expressed by Mr Speaker on the basis of the written material that the hon. Member supplied to him in advance, and I can tell the House that he is satisfied that the matter raised by the hon. Member is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. I now wish to ascertain whether the hon. Member has the leave of the House.

    Application agreed to.

  • The hon. Member has obtained the leave of the House. Mr Speaker has decided that the debate will be held on Monday 17 July, as the first item of public business. The debate will last for three hours and will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in the hon. Member’s application.

  • Points of Order

  • On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that in a moment the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will be presented. It has already been online on the parliamentary website for the last hour and a half. This is a complete breach of the Standing Orders of the House: the convention is that it is presented to the House before it is presented to anybody else. Also, we cannot get a copy of it in the Vote Office, but we can get a copy of it online. I hope that there will be an investigation into this matter.

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter to the attention of the Chair, and I understand that indeed the text of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been located on the Parliament website this morning, in advance of its presentation. This should not have happened, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that an investigation is currently under way into this most regrettable matter.

  • Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Has there been any indication from the Government Front Bench whether a Minister will come to the House to apologise for that transgression?

  • I have said that the matter is being investigated, and I am sure that the Treasury Bench has heard the points that have been made. Interruption.] Order.

  • I call Sir Desmond Swayne.

  • Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Do Ministers have any responsibility for the website of the House? [Interruption.]

  • Order. [Interruption.] Order. The House is lively this morning. Let us have a little order. I have already said that those who are responsible are carrying out an investigation, and in due course I am quite certain we will be able to report to the Chamber just what went wrong and make sure it does not happen again.

  • Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

  • Mr Gapes, is it really further to that point of order, because I have answered the point of order?

  • During the investigation, will Government Ministers be questioned about how the House of Commons website obtained the document?

  • I have already answered that point. We have important business to get on to.

  • Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that, immediately after the presentation of the Bill and its First Reading, the Second Reading will deal with the principle of the Bill, according to “Erskine May” and all the rules of the House? Will you also confirm, with respect to this particular Bill, that although some do not seem to have seen it yet, it is about leaving the European Union and repealing the European Communities Act 1972 and that anyone who votes against its Second Reading will be in breach of that principle?

  • As the hon. Gentleman and the House know, the Bill in question is about to be presented. When the Minister presents the Bill, it will then be there for all to see. Each Member can make their own consideration of what the Bill is about and how they would like to interpret it. If they wish to try to amend it, that is what Parliament is for. I am quite sure that we will have plenty of discussion about that in the forthcoming weeks and months.

  • On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice on an issue that was debated in Westminster Hall on Wednesday 5 July —namely, the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign. The debate was very well attended, and the resolution to accept the motion was rejected. Given that we have no Opposition day debates and no opportunity for Back-Bench business debates before the recess, would it be possible to have a deferred Division on this question so that Members can have a recorded vote on it?

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. It is also refreshing to have a point of order that is a point of order. My understanding is that, following the debate in Westminster Hall last week, the motion—that this House has considered the state pension age for women—was, most unusually, negatived. This might reflect the strength of feeling on the matter, but it does not have any procedural effect. The fact is that the question was put to the Members present in Westminster Hall and they came to a decision, which was to negative the motion. That has no procedural effect, but I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman and any of his colleagues wish to have the matter further considered, they will use their ingenious knowledge of parliamentary procedure to ensure that that happens.

    Bill Presented

    European Union (Withdrawal)

    Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

    Secretary David Davis, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Damian Green, Mr Secretary Johnson and Mr Secretary Lidington, presented a Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and make other provision in connection with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU.

    Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 5) with explanatory notes (Bill 5-EN).

  • Passchendaele

  • We now come to the general debate on the commemoration of Passchendaele—[Interruption.] I trust, as we are about to consider such a sombre and serious matter as those who gave their lives a century ago for the freedom that we now enjoy, that hon. Members who wish to leave the Chamber will have the decency to do so quietly. We now come to the general debate on the commemoration of Passchendaele, the third battle of Ypres.

    Just before I call the Minister to introduce the debate I would like, most unusually, to welcome to the Palace of Westminster the two police officers who apprehended the murderer of our late colleague, Jo Cox. Craig Nicholls and Jonathan Wright are here with us, and we welcome them and commend them for their bravery. It is fitting that we should do so as we are about to have a debate commemorating those who gave their lives for freedom and democracy.

  • I beg to move,

    That this House has considered the Commemoration of Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres.

    Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to reiterate your words of welcome to Mr Nicholls and Mr Wright. I am sure that the whole House is very pleased that they are with us today.

    The commemoration of Passchendaele is just one of the national events in our first world war centenary programme, as announced by the previous Prime Minister in 2012. This four-year programme has seen us deliver national events on 4 August 2014 to mark the centenary of Britain’s entry into the war, with services for the Commonwealth at Glasgow Cathedral, at St Symphorien military cemetery and at Westminster Abbey. In April 2015, we marked the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey and at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

  • I also congratulate the two police officers on their bravery. Does the Minister have any plans to commemorate the battle of Loos?