With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for the week commencing 4 September.
Monday 4 September—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 5 September—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill.
Wednesday 6 September—Motion to approve ways and means resolutions relating to the Finance Bill.
Thursday 7 September—Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 1).
Friday 8 September—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 11 September will include:
Monday 11 September—Conclusion of Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 2).
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 7 September will be:
Thursday 7 September—Debate on the transparency of the BBC followed by a debate on 16-19 education funding.
I congratulate all Members from across the House who presented their private Member’s Bills yesterday. I know that many of them are on subjects that Members care deeply about, and I wish them well. I can confirm that, through the usual channels, the Opposition have been offered an Opposition day in the short September sitting, and we also plan to provide further Opposition days in October and November.
Finally, as this is the last business questions before the summer recess, may I send my best wishes to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and colleagues across the House for a productive, and also a restorative, summer break from Parliament? I also thank the hard-working staff of the House, whose efforts in supporting us are greatly appreciated by colleagues on both sides of the House.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. I am afraid I have not been informed of any Opposition day—not even a careless whisper. Let me make it clear again: the Opposition had to call a debate on Monday because there was no discussion with the Government on our right to have those Opposition days. The Government need not have had that debate; they could have said, “Yes, have your Opposition day on Monday.”
This is a Government struggling to get a grip. Back Benchers are calling for the sacking of the “donkey Ministers”, with Tory grandees describing them as ferrets in a sack. The EU knows that the current Government are without authority, with the Prime Minister having to call for calm. Is this the image of the country that we want to present to the world?
The Conservatives do not want to debate major policy issues; they would rather discuss the leadership crisis than debate or appoint to their Select Committees. We already have our Chairs in place and have decided our membership of the Committees. The Chairs could have called a meeting this week to set out their programme, and then had a meeting in the next sitting. The public cannot even present their petitions.
In the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), he said:
“I have found a group of middle-aged men protecting their egos in a bid to take over from a lame duck Prime Minister.”—[Official Report, 17 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 628.]
The Leader of the House in her subsequent point of order confirmed that she is one of the group trying to take over, and did not even support her Prime Minister by saying that she was not a lame duck Prime Minister: still the nasty party. This obviously is a Portillo moment: not putting in the phone lines, but a run on SIM cards. I would contrast that and seven years of a Government who are not working for the many with our vision for all stages of life spelled out in 124 pages of a manifesto that is on its third reprint. [Interruption.] I have five minutes.
The electorate believed us, not the robotic tautological mantras. That is why we need an Opposition debate to clarify some myths. Let me list some. Who actually is responsible for the financial crash? Not the Labour party. [Interruption.] Listen. The United States investment bank Bear Stearns collapsed in March 2008. In September 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed. The problem was cheap money, house price bubbles, financial deregulation and sub-prime mortgages—remember those?
May we also have a debate on the NHS, please? Last week, a point of order was raised suggesting that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) had described the NHS as a Labour institution. What she actually said was that it was a Labour-created institution. I refer hon. Members to the excellent book, “Nye: the political life of Aneurin Bevan” by my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), and to chapter 10, page 133, which deals with the creation of the NHS. Let us contrast that with the book written by the Secretary of State for Health, who wants to privatise the NHS.
What about a debate on that other myth—namely, that the deficit is larger under a Labour Government? The deficit is the difference between what the Government spend and what they receive. According to House of Commons Library information based on Office for Budget Responsibility and Office for National Statistics figures, the sum of all annual deficits between 1997 and 2010 was £437 billion, or £506 billion after adjusting for inflation. However, the sum of all annual deficits between 2010 and 2017 was £690 billion, or £728 billion after adjusting for inflation.
As women seem to be in the news at the moment, I want to mention some notable women who have passed away recently and to whom we have not yet paid tribute. Simone Veil was born in France and sent to Auschwitz. She carried the camp number that was tattooed on her arm. As a result of her experiences, she was passionate about peace in Europe and became the first female president of the European Parliament and established a woman’s right to choose in France, in very difficult circumstances. Sheila Michaels promoted the use of the title “Ms”. Maryam Mirzakhani became, in 2014, the first woman under 40 ever to win the Fields Medal for mathematics. Mary Turner was a trade unionist who fought for all of us to have a better life. She started her working life as a dinner lady and became president of the GMB, president of the TUC and chair of the Labour party. She was a giant of the Labour movement. She was formidable, and I can only ever remember her smiling. She will be sadly missed.
Those women’s inspiration lives on in the six schoolgirls from the Afghan robotics team who beat the Trump ban and took silver in the first global robotics event, as well as in England’s cricket team in the world cup final and our football team in Euro 2017 this Sunday. I think that the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) played alongside some of the Scottish team. Maybe she should have been in the team! This month we also celebrate 100 years of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. And not only can we drive trains, but we are now driving the Tardis.
I want to thank everyone from the Speaker’s Office, the Speaker and all the Deputy Speakers, the Office of the Clerks, and the Doorkeepers, all of whom make our lives very easy. I also want to thank Hansard, the House of Commons Library and of course all our staff. I say to every hon. Member on both sides of the House that we had a very difficult time during the lockdown and we then went straight into the general election. I know that it has been very difficult, and I wish every Member, new and old, a peaceful and restful summer.
I join the hon. Lady in celebrating the achievements of women, not least yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker and the shadow Leader of the House. I also welcome the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) to her position as the new shadow Deputy Leader of the House. I wish her every success and look forward to working with her. I want to add one other great lady to those on that lovely list, who I am delighted to join in celebrating. It is Jane Austen, who will feature on the new £10 note. She is one of our greatest living authors—[Laughter.] Greatest ever authors! I think many of us wish that she were still living; I absolutely share that sentiment. It is fantastic that we are at last starting to recognise this.
It has been a problem that the Opposition have sought to criticise process at a time when in fact there has just been business as usual in a new Parliament. The general election took place in June, and we have had 18 sitting days so far. Six of them were given over to the Queen’s Speech debate, whose topics for debate were selected by the Opposition. That leaves 12 sitting days, during which we have had three debates under Standing Order No. 24, 10 urgent questions, 17 Adjournment debates, 19 oral statements and 21 departmental oral questions sessions. In addition, this is our fifth—hopefully feisty—business questions session in the Chamber. I am sure that the shadow Leader of the House will look forward, as I do, to the normal Committees of the House getting up and running as soon as we get back in September.
May I thank the Leader of the House for her efforts to get business on track as quickly as possible? Connected to that, as Select Committee memberships will finally be settled on the first day back, which is the Tuesday, may we have an assurance that the relevant motion will be tabled at the earliest possible opportunity, namely the Wednesday, so that we can have meetings in the first week back? That would enable us to get approval, possibly even for public hearings in the normal way, in the second week back, rather than having to wait until October.
We all share my right hon. Friend’s desire to get the Select Committees up and running. He will be aware that the 1922 committee has some say in holding elections for the Conservative Committee members. We are all keen to see those elections, and I am sure that they will be held as soon as possible.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for the start of the Daily Mail fortnight. We break for the long summer recess in a matter of hours, but the Select Committees are still not up and running and we still do not know the arrangements for Standing Committees. Every single piece of business has had to be taken on the Floor of the House. Regardless of what the Leader of the House said, we could have done all that—we have always done it. I have never known a Parliament so lax in putting together the normal structures and arrangements of the House, so the Leader of the House should vow and pledge that one of her priorities for when we come back in September will be to get this House back working properly.
At least we made it to the summer recess pretty much intact and with a Prime Minister in place. I do not know a group of people more in need of a summer holiday than this beleaguered Conservative party and its Government. A couple of weeks in the sun might quell their feuding desires and put a stop to the leadership contests. With their daiquiris and margaritas in hand, they might even agree to a temporary ceasefire to some of the briefings and counter-briefings across Whitehall. However, this might be the last summer bar one for the ordinary freedom of movement right across Europe. All sorts of special arrangements might be put in place for our constituents in 2019 as they try to enjoy their time on the costas and the playas but, as the repeal Bill comes forward, we see the reality of the hard Brexit as we move closer to it. We should therefore ensure that we can enjoy our summer holidays unburdened by having to worry about freedom of movement.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all in the Speaker’s Office the best possible summer recess. I extend that sentiment to the Leader of the House, who has been kind and courteous to me since she became the Leader of the House, and to my friend the shadow Leader of the House. We have not done too badly as a team over the course of the past few weeks. I also extend that to staff right across the House. We have become so accustomed to being looked after so diligently and so well, and they have kept us safe. It has been one hell of a year, so I wish my colleagues all the best over the next few weeks.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. We all share that desire to come back ready to go, having had a break, and with a new vigour to make the most of leaving the EU in a way that works for the entire United Kingdom. The negotiations will obviously be tough and will require us to work together to achieve success. As I have said both privately and in the Chamber, I am keen to work across the House to enable ways of improving the legislation and to ensure that we get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom.
Thanks to the Prime Minister’s insistence that the salaries of those who earn over £150,000 working for the BBC ought to be declared, I learned today that a gentleman called Derek Thompson, who apparently plays Charlie in “Casualty”, earns up to £400,000 a year, and yet real nurses earn around £23,000 a year. There is a double—[Interruption.] I am getting to that. There is a double injustice when somebody who makes real life and death decisions on a daily basis earns a fraction of the salary of an actor playing somebody who makes such decisions. May we have a debate as soon as possible about top-slicing £1 billion from the BBC’s taxpayer licence fee revenue and giving it to the national health service and people who really deserve bigger salaries?
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. We have had a lot of discussions about public sector pay and about people who are just about managing. It has been a difficult number of years in which this Government have been trying to deal with the deficit and the debt that we were left in 2010, and it has been a case of trying to balance giving decent pay rises to our public sector workers, who do such a good job for us, with trying to make sure that we live within our means.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about BBC pay, the pay of actors and so on, and about the Government urging transparency in pay. We were successful with boardroom pay and now with BBC salaries, and all Members will want to see more clarity around what is fair, both between women and men and between different public sector workers.
The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation this morning delivered a major speech to a think-tank, Reform, setting out major developments in the Higher Education and Research Bill. He did that not having made an oral statement in this House, not having laid a written ministerial statement in this House and not having spent any time in his 32-minute speech yesterday on this area alluding to those developments.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you might think, I might think and many of us might think that that is a contempt and abuse of this House. It is the second year running that this Government have tried to make major statements about higher education on the last day of term, with the intention of evading scrutiny. Will the Leader of the House prevail upon the Universities Minister or another Minister to come to the House today and explain why, for example, the Government will make major changes to the teaching excellence framework, for which they are laying material today, and the Office for Students? [Interruption.] The chuntering Whip says from a sedentary position, “It is far too long”. We have had far too little from—
In the hon. Gentleman’s “speech” on the subject, he made a number of very important points. On his substantive point about a speech that the The Government’s record on universities has been exemplary, with more students going to university, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds—up by more than 40% since 2010.
The hon. Gentleman criticises the number of written statements brought forward at the end of term, so I just point out that in 2007 there were 30 written statements; in 2008, there were also 30; in 2009, there were 33; and today I believe there are 22. Of course, as he will appreciate, it is vital for many Departments that they bring forward important—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The point that I was trying to make was that, as the hon. Gentleman and indeed all hon. Members will know, it is important that hon Members get the chance to see the last update possible before the House rises, so that they have the latest information, Department by Department.
Early-day motion 189 on Krishna Maharaj’s federal evidentiary hearing in Florida has the support of many Members.
[That this House recalls parliamentary support over 20 years for Florida and the US’ reviews of the 1987 murder convictions and sentencing of British citizen Krishna Maharaj, born on 26 January 1939, including asking for the overturning of the initial death sentence, for an appeal on the grounds of innocence and defects in the investigation, of ineffective defence representation and of significant concerns in the prosecution, including critical non-disclosures and of questions about the conduct of the original judges; welcomes the recent Federal Appeal Court order for a full evidential hearing by the Federal Court in the state of Florida; notes the helpful initiative by hon. Members and Members of the House of Lords for the Amicus Brief in support of Reprieve and its director Clive Stafford Smith who are making the case for the issue of innocence to be sufficient reason for Krishna Maharaj to be released after 30 years of imprisonment; and trusts that the evidence and arguments for innocence will now be considered effectively and fairly.]
May I suggest to the Leader of the House that the Foreign Office be encouraged to work with Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve to help the Americans to decide that innocence is a sufficient ground to release Krishna Maharaj after 30 years, after they have had the hearing?
On early-day motion 207, can we have a debate on leasehold and commonhold legislative reform and sector regulation? We need to make sure that responsibility for commonhold moves from the Ministry of Justice to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, that the abuses of the leasehold sector are stamped out and that effective advice is given both to those who are doing the abuse and to those who will benefit when that abuse has ended.
Dangerous driving is a blight on the roads of my Bradford South constituency. The consultation of the Ministry of Justice on strengthening the punishment for drivers who kill or seriously injure others on our roads closed on 1 February 2017. Is the Leader of the House aware of when the outcome of that consultation will be published? Will she commit to making parliamentary time available to debate that important matter?
The United Nations Human Rights Council special rapporteur on Sri Lanka published a report following his recent visit to that country, in which he described progress on fulfilling resolution 30/1 as “slow” and the use of torture in Sri Lanka as “endemic”. Can we have a debate in Government time on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka in the lead-up to the next session of the UNHCR in the autumn?
My hon. Friend has done a lot of work in this area, and I congratulate him on his new position as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group. The Minister for Asia and the Pacific, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), has registered our serious concerns about the special rapporteur’s findings with the Sri Lankan high commissioner this week, and the FCO’s annual human rights report, which is published today, sets out our full assessment of the situation. I assure my hon. Friend that we continue to encourage the Sri Lankan Government to deliver against all their UN Human Rights Council commitments.
News has recently emerged that the patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church has been released after 10 years’ incommunicado house detention. He appeared at a mass on 16 July, following an alleged reconciliation with the Eritrean Government. The mass was billed as a celebration of that reconciliation and as an indication of his release from detention but, according to local sources, Patriarch Antonios was surrounded by guards, did not speak at the event and has made no statement about the supposed reconciliation. That has led many human rights organisations to believe that Patriarch Antonios has not been released but, rather, that his sudden reappearance is an attempt by the Eritrean Government to alleviate international pressure. Will the Leader of the House allow for a statement on the discussions between the Government and the Eritrean Government on how Patriarch Antonios’s detention still continues?
Although I welcome the clarity we now have on phase 2b of the High Speed 2 rail project, I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree it is unacceptable that my residents, some of whom have lived in the same home for more than 40 years, are being offered just two thirds of the value of their property. Will she therefore consider a debate in Government time immediately after the summer recess to scrutinise the property compensation schemes that are now on offer?
My hon. Friend raises the important issue of compensation for those affected. I have taken up a number of cases in my South Northamptonshire constituency, so I am very sympathetic to her. I am aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has said that he will take up individual cases, and I urge my hon. Friend to contact him about her specific points.
Two women a week are murdered at the hands of their current partner or ex-partner, many of whom have had previous histories of abuse and stalking. The Home Office produced a consultation paper last December, recommending introducing new legislation, including a stalkers register. In this year’s Queen’s Speech, the issue of domestic violence was mentioned, yet we have seen no legislation about this issue nearly a year after the consultation. Is it not about time the Government found time for us to debate this issue and allowed the House to vote on it, because we face a very serious situation?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is an incredibly serious issue. He will know that tackling the horrors of domestic violence and domestic abuse is an absolute priority for the Prime Minister, and that the Queen’s Speech mentioned that we intend to introduce legislation on this issue in this Session.
I know that the Leader of the House agrees with me that strengthening families and giving every child the best start in life are very much the business of government, given the cost of family breakdown and the impact that the early years and family relationships can have on children’s mental health and life chances. A number of Conservative colleagues will be producing a families manifesto in the first week of September, immediately after the recess, providing the Government with practical and realistic policies that could make a significant difference in this area. Could parliamentary time be found to debate this important issue in the days after the recess?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, and I commend her on the work she is doing. She and I share a passion for ensuring that all children have the best start in life, and I would love to see her families manifesto when it is published. She will be pleased to know that all Departments are committed to making progress, including the Department of Health, which has committed an additional £1.4 billion for mental health services for children, young people and new mothers for this Parliament. That will make a huge difference to families.
We are now too late for the implementation of the draft Value Added Tax (Refund of Tax to Museums and Galleries) (Amendment) Order 2017, which was announced as a provision in the Budget in March 2016. Glasgow Women’s Library in my constituency applied for this and was informed in September last year that it was successful, but it is still waiting for the Government to act. This measure was supposed to come into force in June. The library stands to lose tens of thousands of pounds if it cannot claim back and backdate under this provision the VAT for capital works it has carried out. Will the Leader of the House give some certainty as to when this statutory instrument will come before the House and when other galleries and museums listed under early-day motion 224—about 30 across the whole UK—will actually be able to make use of this provision?
[That this House notes that the draft Value Added Tax (Refund of Tax to Museums and Galleries) (Amendment) Order 2017 has not yet been laid before the House; understands that the draft Order was announced in the Budget on 16 March 2016, the consultation closed on 21 April 2017 and that the Order was due to come into force under the negative resolution procedure on 1 June 2017; believes that the Order will provide revenue that is vitally important to many museums, including the Athelstan Museum, Burns House Museum, Callendar House, Cumbernauld Museum, Dean Castle, Dick Institute, Elgin Museum, Glasgow Women’s Library, Kilsyth Heritage, King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum, Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery, North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre, the Pier Arts Centre, Pittencrieff House Museum, the Regimental Museum of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, Shotts Heritage Centre, Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum, Stockwood Discovery Centre, Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, the Fergusson Gallery, Wardown Park Museum, the West Highland Museum, the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, the Royal Academy of the Arts, the Royal College of Music, the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Towner Art Gallery, the University of Nottingham and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park; and calls on the Government to lay the Order for the approval of Parliament prior to the Summer recess.]
Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on electoral fraud, including double voting? Understandably, all MPs have a personal interest in this, especially if their constituency is a marginal one. I realise that the Electoral Commission watches us carefully, but such a debate just might concentrate minds a little.
This is a very important point. We have one of the oldest and proudest democracies in the world, and it is important that we continue to have rigorous electoral processes that cannot be fraudulently abused. I am sure my hon. Friend will find a way to have that debate and I encourage him to do so.
The Leader of the House will doubtless be aware that today the Transport Secretary has issued a written statement saying that electrification of the line between Cardiff and Swansea will now not be taking place. That has huge significance—not just for my constituency, but for constituencies right across the south Wales belt. Will she find time when we come back for the brief period before the conference recess for the Transport Secretary to come to the Floor of the House to explain why this promise to the people of Wales has been broken, despite multiple promises having been made by him and the Welsh Secretary?
Our decisions on electrification reflect how advances in technology are enabling a different approach that is less disruptive to passengers and to communities. Specifically on the Cardiff-Swansea route, although we are not proceeding with electrification at the present time, we are working to build a better and bigger railway for Wales so that passengers in Wales will see the benefits of electrification sooner, when brand new and more spacious—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) is clearly not listening. Perhaps he does not want to hear the answer, but there is a clear answer: there will be benefits for passengers in Wales as a result of brand new and more spacious bi-mode, intercity express trains, which will begin to be introduced in October 2017. These state-of-the-art trains will make journeys faster along the whole route sooner, without the need for wires and gantries and the disruption involved in erected them. So the advantages for passengers will be felt sooner, and that is as a result of changes in technology.
My right hon. Friend will agree that the safeguarding of democracy is vital at all levels. Will she therefore please make time for a debate about the dangerous antics of Taunton Deane Borough Council and its leader, John Williams? His council is trying to force a merger that has not been properly consulted on and certainly does not have universal approval. Frankly, this is municipal rubbish! May we please have time for a debate, because this sort of carry-on cannot be tolerated? We are proud of two levels of government and we are proud of the job they do. This is being run through roughshod, so Government time should be made available to discuss this important issue.
Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), may we have an early debate about rail transport? The rail system from Rochdale is grossly inadequate—the quality and quantity is not acceptable for a town such as Rochdale. We need an early debate so that the Secretary of State for Transport can explain the Government’s strategy for not only Wales but the north of England.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Government have put billions into new road and rail projects, and we continue to do so. He and his Front-Bench colleagues may wish to choose an Opposition day opportunity to debate that matter, but I have tried to explain to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) that we are looking at what improvements technology can offer ahead of the disruption that the installation of electrification would undoubtedly cause for passengers.
I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the problem with sleep-in shifts for careworkers and of the looming crisis for several of the companies involved because Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is demanding extremely large payments. There is no time for a debate or statement on this issue, so will she raise it with her colleagues in Government—in the Treasury and, indeed, in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—to ensure that this crisis is averted?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the careworkers who do such a fantastic job looking after elderly and disabled people. He is right to raise this matter and it is certainly something the Department are looking at carefully.
May we have a debate in Government time on UK relations with Turkey? The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has failed to meet the two-month deadline for responding to the Foreign Affairs Committee report published on 25 March, and the Select Committees are not likely to be able to deal with the matter for some time, so it is incredibly important that the Government explain whether they support the mass arrests, purges and arrests of Members of Parliament currently going on in Turkey. They must not hide behind the fact that we have not yet set up the Select Committees.
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt wish to raise that issue at the next Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions. With the House rising today, he may also wish to raise it at the pre-recess summer Adjournment debate this afternoon. Other than that, he can of course write to the Department and seek their specific advice.
The staff of Parliament have quite rightly been thanked by many Members today, but I have heard a rumour that the police officers who serve us so well and are part of the parliamentary family may be moved after a five-year stint. Many right hon. and hon. Members value enormously the continuity of service that we get from the police constables, so will my right hon. Friend use her influence and make every effort to ensure that those who have served us for a long time are able to stay?
My hon. Friend is exactly right to mention the police and how well they look after us in this place. Our thanks and gratitude extend to them. On the other hand, he will appreciate fully that how the police operate on the Palace grounds is an operational matter. Although we are involved as an interested party, it is nevertheless for the police to decide how to manage their operations.
I have repeatedly sought clarity on rail electrification to Swansea. A succession of Transport Secretaries and Secretaries of State for Wales responded that I had only to look out of the train window to see that electrification was on its way. Today, sneaked out in a statement, came the news that my worst fears have been realised and rail electrification is not coming to Swansea. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Transport Secretary comes before the House to explain to my constituents and the people of Wales why he has misled them on this issue?
I say very gently to the hon. Lady that there is no such thing as sneaking out a statement. It is a statement; it is designed to inform the House. Statements come out before the House rises because all Secretaries of State and Ministers are conscious of the need to keep the House informed as far as possible while it is sitting.
On the hon. Lady’s substantive point, as I have said to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) the point is that as technology changes there are ways to improve passenger services earlier for Welsh train users, so it is vital that we seize those opportunities to deliver improvements earlier in a more cost-effective way and with less disruption to passenger services.
Many of my constituents were delighted to see the Queen’s Speech and the announcement of trade, agriculture and fisheries Bills, as were many constituents across the west country. However, the Question Times for the Departments for Transport, for Exiting the European Union and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have been some of the shortest in this Parliament. Given that she is the former Environment Secretary, will the Leader of the House consider extending the time allowed for those questions during this important time as we leave the EU?
My hon. Friend shares my passion for the success of the agricultural and fishing sectors as we leave the EU. There are huge opportunities there and he is certainly a keen advocate for them. All the timings for oral questions are kept under review and they are adjusted as demand changes, so I can assure him that that will be considered in due course.
The Leader of the House has already heard from my colleagues about the fury there is in south Wales and Rochdale—and also in the east midlands, in Nottingham—about the Government’s reneging on promises that were made about rail electrification. Clear promises were made: it was not just, “Oh, it might happen.”
Communities were promised, rail communities were promised and MPs were promised and the Secretary of State should come to this House and explain to each and every one of us why he has gone back on that promise. I urge the Leader of the House to speak to the Secretary of State for Transport and tell him that he needs to make a statement at the earliest opportunity. We have had investment denied us; it is not good enough. The Government have broken their promises and they should stop it.
I am slightly astonished that Opposition Members do not seem to appreciate that the decisions on electrification reflect how advances in technology are enabling a different approach that is less disruptive to passengers and communities. In particular, bi-mode train technology offers seamless transfer from diesel power to electric that is undetectable to passengers and means that we no longer need to electrify every line to achieve the same significant improvements to journeys. Opposition Members should welcome the fact that technological advances mean less disruption to passengers and that improvements can be delivered sooner in the same way as those offered by electrification.
I was disappointed that Monday’s debate on abuse and intimidation during the recent general election did not happen as we ran out of time, not least because I wanted to raise the issue of graffiti on bridges and walls in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House update us on whether we will have another opportunity for a debate in Government time?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this matter. It was a very important debate and it was disappointing that the Opposition chose to squeeze it out earlier this week. The vile abuse that candidates suffered during the election is unacceptable and a threat to our democracy. We will look to reschedule the debate as soon as possible after the summer recess, possibly as early as September.
On rail electrification, it is clear that the Transport Secretary has broken the word of the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, who gave us an assurance that there would be electrification. Larger, heavier diesel trains will now run to Cardiff and switch on their diesel engines there, which is not environmentally friendly.
Will the Leader of the House admit to the House that the Public Accounts Committee has the solution to the problem? The project is £2 billion over budget and has been delayed by a year because the Department for Transport bought the trains before laying the track and did not anticipate that there were bridges in the way. The incompetence of the Transport Secretary has led to a slap in the face for the people of Swansea and Wales. Will the Leader of the House admit it and will she get her colleague to answer questions in this Chamber, rather than pushing out, under the cloak of darkness, stupid press releases that mislead people?
I do not for the life of me see why the hon. Gentleman thinks that earlier improvements for passengers with less disruption can possibly be a slap in the face. The Department for Transport is acknowledging that technology is enabling it to deliver less disruption and earlier improvements for passengers.
Growing public anger at the BBC is made worse by the fact that the public know that the BBC is funded by a highly regressive television tax. May we have an early debate not just on the accountability of the BBC but on its funding, with a view to getting rid of the television tax, which at the moment results in 10% of all cases in the magistrates courts and particularly impacts on women? Some 70% of the victims of that tax are women.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that as a public service broadcaster funded by the licence fee the BBC has a responsibility to set an example for others and lead the way in promoting equality in the workplace. He might well wish to have a further debate on how the licence fee is working, and he will be aware that the recent debates on the BBC charter took up that very issue. If he wants to seek further discussion, he can do so in Westminster Hall or through an Adjournment debate.
My 18-year-old constituent is severely diabetic and has been battling for a much-needed personal independence payment for more than two years. He has won two appeals, but the Secretary of State is challenging the decision in court. My constituent wants to live an independent life and experience university, in common with his peers. May we have an urgent debate in Government time to address the effect of this Government’s unfair practices towards those with disabilities?
That sounds like a very sad case. All Members have cases that they take up on behalf of their constituents, and from this Dispatch Box I urge people with similar problems and challenges to talk to their MP, because we can often help in individual cases. I am sure that the hon. Lady is taking this up with the Department separately. As for the bigger picture around disability, the hon. Lady will be aware that Conservatives are absolutely committed to supporting disabled people, and spending on disability benefits will be higher in every year to 2020 than it was in 2010. We spend more than £50 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions, which is up more than £7 billion since 2010. I think we have a good track record, but I absolutely accept that there are always individual cases that we as representatives need to take up on behalf of our constituents.
Like all hon. Members, I care passionately about the future of my local hospital. The hospital trust in Telford has spent four years deliberating over plans to invest in the future of hospital services, but, regrettably, the trust has been paralysed by indecision, bureaucratic incompetence, and a complete failure to communicate with my constituents. The proposals have descended into disarray, with local MPs, councillors, and clinicians losing confidence in the management’s ability to deliver. Can we please have an urgent debate to consider this important issue?
I know that that matter has been of great concern to my hon. Friend, and I commend her for raising it. I believe that, recently, she met the senior responsible officers of NHS Future Fit to discuss progress and a revised timetable. I understand that the Future Fit programme board will meet on 31 July to hear the outcome of the independent review and the work relating to the women and children’s impact assessment. The Joint Committee will then meet on 10 August to consider the recommendations made by the board and the next steps, including public consultation. She is absolutely right to keep raising this matter.
Can we have a debate on nuclear disarmament? My constituent, Brian Quail, is currently being held at HMP Low Moss, and his colleague, Angie Zelter, in HMP Cornton Vale after they took part in a peaceful protest against the nuclear weapons store at Coulport. Does the Leader of the House recognise the moral outrage against weapons of mass destruction that drives campaigners to these lengths? Can this House be given the opportunity urgently to reconsider the immoral and unjustified renewal of Trident?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, in this place, we absolutely do not interfere with matters of criminal justice. If someone is involved in breaking the law, it is very important that it is the police who decide what happens to them. On the substantive point about nuclear disarmament, I do not share his view. My personal view, and the view on the Government Benches, is that a nuclear deterrent is exactly that—a deterrent. It is an ultimate insurance that protects our people, and the security of the people is the first duty of any responsible Government.
I am sure that Members on both sides of the House are aware of this behaviour, but, over the past year, I have had to dial 999 three times in my surgery to remove people. I have had death threats—a gentleman was convicted of harassment. Only a week ago, walking down a high street, someone swore at me. What really has annoyed me, though, is what happened last Friday. I had a surgery in which three people were being disruptive. I asked them to leave. One stood face to face with me, like a prize fighter, threatening to hit me, and he called me a monkey. That sort of behaviour is not acceptable. What would have happened if a Member of Parliament had done that to a constituent? I absolutely urge the Leader of the House—I know that Members on both sides suffer from this—to ensure that we have this debate on abuse. In the general election, I was assaulted when defending a female Conservative candidate. This sort of behaviour has to end.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; this has gone beyond any reasonable level of disagreement. The intimidation, death threats, violence, abuse and disgusting acts, as well as the lower level anti-democratic pulling down of posters and putting graffiti on them and so on, were at unprecedented levels in the recent general election. As my hon. Friend knows, we scheduled a debate for Monday. Unfortunately, it could not take place because of an emergency debate on procedure that was called by the Opposition. It is fully our intention to reschedule that debate as soon as possible, because I know that many Members on the Government Benches, and some on the Opposition Benches, have suffered utterly unacceptable abuse. We need to have that discussion. The problem needs to be aired, and if people are involved in criminality, they need to be prosecuted.
Currently, it is taking a minimum of 48 weeks for people appealing Home Office decisions denying them asylum status to have their appeal heard. When they get a date, it is many months ahead. This is completely unacceptable. During that time, they cannot work or contribute to the UK economy, as many of them are capable of doing and wish to do. Can we have a debate in Government time, as soon as we return from recess, to discuss this serious issue?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. As all hon. Members know, we are often asked to take up cases on behalf of constituents, and it is right that we should do so, as we then have some success in improving the speed of the process. Since the end of 2014, we have consistently met our ambition of deciding 98% of straightforward cases within six months. If she is seeing some very bad examples, then of course she should raise them directly with the Home Office.
I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware that there are Conservative MPs who believe that cutting corporation tax somehow increases tax take. Lines have been parroted to that effect all week, with some dodgy analysis provided to prove it. If it does increase tax take, why does the last Budget show that the measure to cut corporation tax to 19% will cost the Treasury £23.4 billion? Will she make a statement, outlining where the magic money tree Budget lines are that offset the £23 billion and show the massive increase in tax take?
We on the Government Benches have been absolutely focused on ensuring that we get our economy back on track and that we start again to live within our means. Let us be absolutely clear about this: when we came into office in 2010, we had the highest ever peacetime deficit of £150 billion a year more being spent than we take in in tax revenues. Under this Government, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has massively improved its ability to take in tax revenues from avoidance measures, and from companies and individuals failing to pay. Significant billions of pounds of taxes have been gathered. What we have sought to do is to make the UK highly competitive so that companies come here to start businesses and people in this country start businesses. This has been a remarkable success story. Our deficit each year is now down by three quarters as a percentage of GDP. Not only that, but we have the highest employment figures ever and the lowest unemployment since the 1970s. Youth unemployment is down, and people are doing considerably better than they were in 2010. There is a lot more to do, but we are determined not to leave the next generation with the problems of this generation.
The Government have shaken the magic money tree bare to buy their majority. Is that not the reason why, at midnight on the last day of Parliament, they had to sneak out a statement on the cancellation of a long-established promise to the people of south Wales and then deny the House a proper debate on the subject? That is a disgraceful way to behave. When can we debate the other promises they made during the election, including the one to scrap the Severn Bridge’s toll. Will they rat on that promise as well?
Let us be clear about this: it is the Conservatives who have always said that there is no magic money tree. Labour Members talk about a magic money tree, but it is their tuition fee promise that was going to shake the magic money tree to find £100 billion. That was a false promise, which they immediately retracted after the general election. On the Government Benches, we are looking at measures to make our economy a success. I have answered the question on the electrification of trains four—possibly five—times. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not hear me. We are trying to bring forward improvements earlier that cause less disruption so that passengers and communities can benefit sooner.
I am not going to make any progress with an inquiry into bimodal, back-to-the-future trains for south Wales, so I will ask for something else. May we have a public inquiry into the recent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation on community rehabilitation companies, their inability to provide through-the-gate service outcomes for offenders, such as settled accommodation, the rise in reoffending, the rise in recalls to prison, the unrealistic workloads and the stressful working conditions? Is it not time we admitted that this experiment is an absolute disaster and looked at it again?
That is an incredibly important topic. Probation officers do a very difficult job, and they do very well in very trying circumstances. I understand that the hon. Lady intends to raise the matter with the Justice Committee so that it can consider it carefully once the Select Committees are up and running in September.
Only a week ago the Secretary of State for Transport told me that
“electric trains will arrive in Cardiff and Swansea this autumn”—[Official Report, 13 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 410.],
so I am not going to ask a question on that. The Government are reneging not only on their commitment to reducing pollution from diesel engines, but on their commitment to reducing carbon emissions, by delaying a decision on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. This false promise shows that they have no interest in Wales. May we therefore have an urgent statement when the House returns after the recess on the Government’s plan to secure the Swansea bay tidal lagoon?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place and look forward to working with her in the Chamber. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon, as she will know, is an enormous, incredibly ambitious and very expensive project. When I was an Energy Minister it had already been discussed for many years. There are challenges, from the perspective of value for bill payers’ or taxpayers’ money. Charles Hendry carried out a review, and the Government’s response will be brought forward as soon as possible.
Many individuals who convert to another religion or renounce faith altogether face being ostracised by sections of their community and even by family members, making them more vulnerable to hate crime. May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on what is being done to tackle crimes motivated by anti-apostasy?
I think that all Members across the House would respect the right of any individual to choose to worship as they wish, so I think the hon. Gentleman would have a lot of support if he applied for a Westminster Hall debate and there would be a lot of interest.
As the House rises for the summer recess, many of my constituents are today mopping up properties that have once again been flooded, 18 months after Storm Desmond hit Lancashire. During that time the Government applied for EU emergency funding to support communities and flood resilience, but my local authorities, Lancashire County Council and Lancaster City Council, have been prevented from bidding for that money. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can improve flood resilience and flood defences in communities affected by flooding?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. When I was Environment Secretary I visited Lancashire and other parts of the country that had been flooded. It is absolutely devastating, and we have seen yet more examples in recent days. She will be aware that we have a six-year commitment of £2.5 billion in flood defence projects to better protect an additional 300,000 properties by 2021. There are a number of projects and a number of sources of funding for them. I am sure that she will want to raise the specific case in her constituency at the next Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Question Time.
I point out to the Leader of the House that bimodal trains are not some modern technology; they were first patented in 1989. I am sure that she will know that Crossrail is costing £202 million per mile to complete and that High Speed 2 is now estimated to cost £403 million per mile. By contrast, rail electrification between Selby and Hull would cost only £3.2 million per mile. May we please have a debate on why Conservative Ministers blocked the Hull scheme, even though it was privately backed with funding, lower in cost and much better value?
The level of interest in this topic from the Opposition Benches suggests that it might be a good candidate for an Opposition day debate. I have answered this question six times now. The Department for Transport is spending billions on road and rail infrastructure, and delivering early wherever possible, and with the least disruption to communities.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I wish you a happy recess.
On the subject of abuse, will the Leader of the House take up the situation in Gloucestershire County Council, where a couple of weeks ago the Conservative Councillor Lynden Stowe referred on his Facebook page to the Leader of the Opposition as being comparable to Hitler and likened the Labour party’s campaign to attract younger voters to national socialism and other allied movements. Mr Stowe, who is also a cabinet member, has removed the comments but refuses to refute them. Given that abuse is a big topic on the Conservative Benches, would she like to have a word with the high command in Gloucestershire and get rid of him?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very specific case that I obviously know nothing about. Let me say again that abuse and intimidation is completely unacceptable, from whoever it comes and to whomever it is directed. Certainly, many colleagues on the Conservative side of the House have been subjected to vile abuse, and it is something that the House definitely needs to consider. We all need to work together to put a stop to it.