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Business of the House

Volume 628: debated on Thursday 14 September 2017

The business for week commencing 9 October will be:

Monday 9 October—General debate on Gypsies and Travellers.

Tuesday 10 October—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the European Union (Approvals) Bill, followed by a general debate on Baby Loss Awareness Week.

Wednesday 11 October—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

Thursday 12 October—General debate on exiting the European Union and data protection.

Friday 13 October—The House will not be sitting.

In response to the many requests from Members right across the House, I am delighted we have been able to find Government time for a debate on Gypsy and Traveller encampments, a subject that I know is a concern to many colleagues and has been for some time. May I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), for their work in raising the tragic issue of baby loss? I am very pleased that we are able to announce a debate on this issue during Baby Loss Awareness Week.

Finally, I wish all Members a very successful conference season. I look forward to seeing them all when the House returns in October.

I thank the Leader of the House. I share with her an understanding of the difficulties people face. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) lost a baby, so in our family we know exactly what that is like.

Yesterday was absolutely jaw-dropping. I heard the numerous points of order at the end of our first Opposition day, for which we had waited for so long. It became clear that the Government had cynically decided not to vote for or against the motion. Madam Deputy Speaker said that the matter should be raised at business questions, so I am raising it here. The House voted to lift the cap on nurses’ pay and to revoke the rise in tuition fees, which means that students and nurses have a legitimate expectation that that is the intention of Parliament. We would like to know how that will be enacted.

It is clear, and has been said on social media, that this is what the Government are going to do with every Opposition day motion. I would like you, Mr Speaker, to have a meeting with the business managers to work out exactly how to take this forward, because it makes Parliament look ridiculous. On Tuesday, an hon. Member read from the confidence and supply agreement. Will the Leader of the House publish that document and schedule a debate on it, given that Government lawyers have said that it

“will have appropriate parliamentary authorisation”,

and that

“No timetable has been set for the making of such payments”?

On Tuesday, the House debated proposals relating to Standing Committees. If the Government truly believe in parliamentary democracy, all those Committees should have an equal number of places for the Government and Opposition, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) pointed out, so that we can all work together in the interests of this country. To support Parliament, will the Leader of the House please commit to equal numbers on all Public Bill Committees? Otherwise, it will look like the Government are afraid of debate, accountability and transparency. This has been a bad week for parliamentary democracy.

Moreover, week after week, the Leader of the House never responds to any of my questions. She did not respond to my question about how many statutory instruments would follow from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The White Paper says between 800 and 1,000. Has she had any discussions about timetabling, and what resources will be provided following the Procedure Committee report published on 2 May? She also said last week that the UN report on the disabled did not accurately reflect the evidence given. Will she please schedule a debate on the issue, following the point of order by the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams)?

The Leader of the House said that the NHS was not privatised. Will she explain why NHS Professionals was being marketed for sale? Following the persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), who asked the National Audit Office for a report and tabled 17 written parliamentary questions, the Government announced in a written statement that NHS Professionals would remain in public hands. Now we see that profit-driven hospitals are seeing a 15% to 25% increase in their profits year on year, at the same time as patients are being denied care as a result of long waiting times; the Government’s abolition of the 18-week target means that people are having to pay £14,000 for hip and other operations.

Yesterday, the Back British Farming campaign came to the House. The farmers are asking for access to existing markets, in or out of the EU. When will the White Paper on trade be published? A recent survey has found that 66% of people believe that leaving the EU without a mutually agreed deal would be bad for Britain. Will the Government publish an impact statement, therefore, on what would happen to the country’s economy if we left without a deal?

This week, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the vote that established the Scottish Parliament. As leader of the Labour party, John Smith committed a future Labour Government to establishing that Parliament. Robin Cook and Robert Maclennan looked at the constitutional issues and put flesh on that policy. Donald Dewar was the first First Minister of the Scottish Parliament. All were great exponents of parliamentary democracy, as is the Father of the House, so there are many good role models to show what Parliament can do.

Finally, I congratulate all the new Members who made their first speeches in the House this week: my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) and my hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill). We look forward to their expertise in Parliament. I also join the Leader of the House in thanking all the staff. It seems amazing that after the break they managed to get us running in smooth order for these two weeks. I wish everyone a very happy conference recess.

First, I join the hon. Lady in congratulating the Scottish Parliament on its first 20 years. It seems like that was only yesterday. It was obviously a while ago, but doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? I wish the Parliament much further success. I also congratulate all the new Members who made their maiden speeches this week. We heard some excellent contributions, and I wish them every success.

The hon. Lady talked about yesterday’s Opposition day debates. Let me say to all Members that we take incredibly seriously the issues underlying tuition fees and pay for public sector workers. As Members will know, there have been many statements, many briefings to the House—both written and oral—and many discussions about those subjects in recent months, during, for instance, urgent debates initiated by the Opposition and business questions.

Yesterday there was an equal number of speakers on both sides of the House, and some excellent contributions were made. There is no doubt that we have engaged at every level. I should point out, however, that the Opposition’s intention yesterday was purely political. They will be well aware that the vote on their tuition fees proposal has no statutory effect. The regulations concerned are determined under the negative procedure. There is a 40-day period in which such a statutory instrument can be annulled, and that period expired. As the Opposition know, a debate was scheduled for 18 April, but the general election interrupted that, so for the hon. Lady to suggest that yesterday’s vote would have had a statutory effect is simply not correct.

The hon. Lady asked about Committees. On Tuesday evening, the House voted for Committees to reflect the majority on the Floor of the House. Let me make clear to the hon. Lady, who did not seem to understand this point on Tuesday, that it is proposed that in an even-numbered Committee there will be parity. I think she was asking me to confirm that. That was set out clearly on the Order Paper, but unfortunately she does not seem to have noticed.

The hon. Lady asked how many statutory instruments would arise from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. It is not possible to give a definitive number, because the volume of legislation will depend, for instance, on the outcome of negotiations, on policy decisions still to be made and agreed by the House and on further work connected with how we introduce secondary legislation. However, as my right hon. Friends have said from the Front Bench, we are listening very carefully. We are hearing submissions from Members in all parts of the House about how we can ensure that secondary legislation is covered in an efficient and effective way. I can assure all Members that the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee, which I chair and which looks at all legislation, has been assiduous in ensuring that statutory instruments are properly timetabled, properly ready for introduction and prioritised. There will be more information about that in due course.

The hon. Lady asked about the United Nations report on disability. She will be aware that this country is spending £214 billion a year on welfare matters, including disability. It is spending more each year than at any time since 2010. We are absolutely committed to improving the situation for people with disabilities: more disabled people are getting into work than ever before, and we are doing all that we can to give them more rewarding opportunities.

The hon. Lady asked about the NHS. The Government, and all parties in the House, are fully committed to an NHS that is free at the point of delivery. No party takes a different approach. The Government are determined to ensure good value for taxpayers’ money, good improvements in NHS productivity, and fair pay and terms for our excellent public sector workers, but at the same time we are committed to an NHS that is free at the point of delivery, supporting all of us when we need it.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of farmers’ access to the single market. She will be aware that there is to be an agriculture Bill. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working very hard in his Department—as I did when I performed the role before him—to bring about positive outcomes for food and farming, a critical sector for which enormous opportunities are arising from Britain’s departure from the European Union.

The hon. Lady asked about the UK’s leaving the EU without a deal. As all Members would expect, the Government are looking at all eventualities. We fully intend to reach a fair, clear, broad-ranging free trade agreement with the EU, with collaboration across a number of areas to ensure that the clear and close special partnership of which the Prime Minister has spoken is our aspiration and, indeed, is achieved at the end of this negotiation.

Given the suggestion that Nelson’s column be taken down, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the criteria for erecting statues? It took a long while for the monument to Raoul Wallenberg to be erected outside the West End great synagogue. I hope it will not take so long for statues to be erected in London to Princess Diana, the first woman Prime Minister and Sir Bruce Forsyth.

I love my hon. Friend’s ideas; he always surprises and pleases us in this House. Following the passing of the Deregulation Act 2015, consent from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is no longer required to erect statues; the process is now determined through the planning system only. But since I am sure all Members will agree that it feels as though my hon. Friend has represented his seat of Southend West for at least a century, perhaps his constituents would like to consider erecting a statue of him on Southend pier.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for when we return.

This has been an absolute stinker of a week for the democratic arrangements of this House. First, there was the repeal Bill with its grotesque Henry VIII powers, then the manipulation of the Standing Committees of the House in the Government’s favour, and now the downgrading of Opposition day debates to little more than Adjournment debates. Next, Mr Speaker, they will be coming for your Chair.

The Leader of the House said when she assumed the role that she wanted to reach out to the parties of the House, to seek consensus and work across this Chamber, but this Government are now behaving little better than a dysfunctional tinpot dictatorship, although they are doing that so ineptly that they will probably end up oppressing themselves. This is a Government who singularly fail to accept their minority status, and delusionally assert they have a majority even when their billion-pound friends desert them.

Turning to that, apparently the Government’s Democratic Unionist party deal requires parliamentary approval—something they were pretty keen to keep from this House when it was first announced. So what are they going to do to bring a debate to this House? Apparently, that has to be done through the estimates process, but debates on estimates are purely in the gift of the Liaison Committee, so what plans does the Leader of the House have to bring this grubby deal on to the Floor of the House, so that all the issues can be considered?

And what are we doing about the time for Committee stage of the repeal Bill? The equivalent of seven eight-hour days have been set aside for it, but there will be hundreds of amendments, and we know that there will be real interest from Members, as we saw on Second Reading. What is the Leader of the House doing to ensure we get sufficient time?

Lastly, we have just got back from a long summer recess, but apparently we are taking a break again so that three voluntary organisations can have the equivalent of their annual general meetings. The public will be baffled that we can find only seven days for that Committee stage in the House, yet can find a week to let our 12 Liberal Democrats go to their conference.

First, may I advise you strongly, Mr Speaker, to nail down your Chair, just in case? The hon. Gentleman is clearly concerned that someone might run off with it.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman shows his usual contempt for this place, which is actually a bastion of democracy. [Interruption.] He calls it a tinpot dictatorship, which is pretty contemptuous. It is a great shame, but it comes as no surprise; that attitude pervades his approach to this place.

The hon. Gentleman raises the question of, as he calls it, the “grubby deal”. The confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP provides funding to the Northern Ireland Executive, once reconstituted, and frankly I am sick of Opposition Members putting it forward that this is somehow finding its way to a political party. They know full well that that is not the case. They also know full well that there have been many support packages for different parts of the United Kingdom. The money being provided for Northern Ireland will go towards tackling incredibly important problems and challenges in Northern Ireland, such as mental ill health, the consequences of the troubles, and infrastructure.

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s question on the hours allocated for the eight-day Committee of the whole House on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, we have provided eight hours a day of protected time. In fact, that compares rather favourably with the 39 hours and 17 minutes provided for discussion of the Lisbon treaty. As we showed when we extended the time for debate on Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill following a request from Members, we will of course look carefully at this matter. Finally, it is a bit rich of the hon. Gentleman to say that the conference recess is held at the behest of the Liberal Democrats when he himself came to me to ask whether we could consider changing the dates to suit the Scottish National party conference—[Laughter.]

Order. In thanking the Leader of the House for her kind invitation, I can confirm to the House that my Chair is not going anywhere. Neither am I, for that matter. I call Mr Peter Bone.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. This is none the less a serious point that you bring up. Parliament clearly voted for two motions yesterday, so it seems to me that the Government are going to have to listen carefully to what the House says, or at least, as a minimum, if they lose a vote in the House—

Someone has shouted “When?” It is probably likely to happen again. Could we have an undertaking from the Leader of the House that in those circumstances the Government would subsequently make a statement in reaction to any such vote? This also applies to debates arranged by the Backbench Business Committee. If the House passes something, the Government need to respond to it. It would therefore help the House if the Leader of the House were able to give such an undertaking.

As usual, my Northamptonshire neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) makes a good and constructive suggestion. As I tried to indicate to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), the Government have taken very seriously and considered in great detail the issues of public sector pay and tuition fees, both in the Chamber and outside it. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point about areas that have not been so thoroughly discussed in this place, and I will certainly take that away and look into it.

May I crave your indulgence for a moment, Mr Speaker? Members across the House might be aware that a light aircraft crashed on the Sandringham estate in the North West Norfolk constituency on Monday evening. Two people were killed, and it was subsequently discovered that they were both from Gateshead. They were the pilot, Nigel Dodds, who was from Gateshead but lived in Menorca, and a friend of mine, a lady called Val Barnes, who lived in Whickham, in the adjoining constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist). Val used to be the school administrator at Kelvin Grove Primary School, where I am the chair of the governors. She was a volunteer with the breakfast club and worked with the parent-teacher association. She was a long-standing governor and a genuine friend of the school, with her energetic enthusiasm, her vibrant personality and her real passion for the school and its children. She will be very sadly missed.

The Backbench Business Committee is open for business, and I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could let us know as soon as possible about the allocation of time for Backbench Business Committee debates from the week beginning 16 October. Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House, this is your time. This is your opportunity to raise issues about the interests of your constituents. Applications are very welcome, and we already have a number on the stocks. All Members will want to be reassured that the Backbench Business Committee will be given a fair allocation of time in the Chamber in this untypical two-year parliamentary Session. The Standing Orders state that in a typical parliamentary Session, we will get 35 days, 27 of which will be in this Chamber, but this two-year Session is untypical. We would therefore welcome an assurance that we will be given a pro rata time allocation.

I am sure that I can speak for all Members in expressing our enormous condolences and sympathies regarding the loss of those two individuals—such wonderful people, by the sounds of things. The hon. Gentleman makes an impassioned case.

As for the Backbench Business Committee, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be delighted that his request from last week was heard and acted upon, and that the Committee is now up and running. I have also heard his request for a decent number of days for the Committee. I assure him that that is fully my intention, and that I am always happy to discuss any particular requests with him.

Will the Leader of the House make a statement about Ministers being stopped during their winding-up speeches? It happened yesterday when the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation was discussing an important topic and that cannot become a precedent.

My hon. Friend is right to raise that. When Ministers are speaking about important topics, it cannot be allowed for them to be stopped mid-flow through unreasonable interventions and deliberate blocking practices.

I ask the Leader of the House to look at yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on the representation of women. It was led by a truly excellent speech from the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), which elicited a wide consensus across the parties. There are more women in the House than ever before, and that is not just welcome; it is a democratic imperative. There are more babies being born to women MPs, which is a fact of life. Since 2010, 17 babies have been born to women Members of this House, and there is no maternity leave or paternity leave.

At the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill debate on Monday, the only way for my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) to record her vote was to bring her lovely new baby—just a few weeks old—to the House, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Frith) had to leave his baby, who is just a few hours old. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking Mr Speaker for setting up a reference group to consider the matter and in supporting his work? We can square the circle to ensure that we can be good parents and excellent MPs and that constituents can be properly represented, but we need change. Mr Speaker, although you arrived in this House as a man and as a Tory, since you have been in the Chair you have really proven yourself to be nothing less than an honorary sister.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her point. I absolutely share her passion for resolving such issues. There are many barriers to women entering Parliament and, in the centenary year of women’s suffrage, it is important that we do all we can to help resolve the matter. Many colleagues across the House, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, are also working hard on these issues. I am sure that “Mr Sister”—otherwise known as Mr Speaker—will be keen to make some progress.

Order. I am bound to say to the Leader of the House, to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and to the House as a whole that, as Members can probably tell, my cup runneth over. I am in a state of overwhelming excitement. On a formal level, I should just tell the House that as chair of the Commons reference group on representation and inclusion, of which mention has been made, I can say that we are fully seized of the right hon. and learned Lady’s proposals relating to baby leave. Indeed, we discussed them fully on Tuesday afternoon. We are committed to vigorously pursuing them with a view to an effective motion being brought before the House for its decision.

I call Mr Philip Davies.

Order. I should just say, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be very relieved to hear this, that nobody has ever suggested he should be granted the status of an honorary sister.

I was just about to commend you, Mr Speaker, for identifying the other honorary sister on the Conservative Benches, for I presumed that was why I had been called.

It is bad enough that we have a bloated, wasteful and unaffordable overseas aid budget, but it is even more ridiculous that we now learn we cannot spend our overseas aid budget on our overseas territories. As we are getting back control from the unelected and unaccountable European Union, may I suggest that we now get back control over our overseas aid spending from the unelected, unaccountable, out-of-touch morons at the OECD, so that we can spend our overseas aid budget on the things that we want to spend it on, rather than on the things that they tell us to?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising what is a very important point in his usual way. Hurricane Irma, which sparks his question, is an unprecedented disaster, and it was absolutely right that the UK responded immediately to the needs of people affected. That was our primary focus, and it continues to be our priority. We are now looking at how the current overseas aid rules apply to such disasters.

So that all hon. Members are aware, the Prime Minister announced yesterday that a further £15 million of assistance for the overseas territories has been committed, on top of the £32 million already committed last week. We have already deployed more than 1,000 military personnel to the area and we have sent more than 40 tonnes of aid. There is no lack in the UK’s assistance for these people who have been devastated by this awful natural disaster.

On Tuesday evening, the Leader of the House justified the changes to Standing Orders on the basis of the Government having, in her words, a “working majority.” That working majority was not much in evidence yesterday afternoon, when the Government sat on their hands on two motions. We now read that that is to be the Government’s approach to all Opposition day debates. Can she tell us whether that is the case? I remind her that, without Opposition day debates and the insistence of her party, the situation on Gurkha immigration status would never have been resolved. Does she really understand the danger of what she is doing to our parliamentary procedures?

The right hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he reads in the press. As I said to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), the subjects of yesterday’s two debates, public sector pay and tuition fees, are very serious issues that the Government have been looking at. We have provided information to the House, and we have had debates and comprehensive statements in this Chamber. The policies are very clear. These are very serious issues, and Government Members participated fully, matching the number of Opposition speakers—there were as many speakers as were permitted. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O'Brien) was not even called because there was not enough time for his contribution to be heard. There is no question but that this Government continue to fully engage in Opposition day debates.

I know the Leader of the House is fully aware of the importance of ring-fencing local housing revenue, which is vital to all our constituents, but I have evidence here showing that Taunton Deane Borough Council has been siphoning off huge sums to spend on new computer equipment. May we please have a debate on propriety in local government?

My hon. Friend has raised that point in the Chamber a number of times, and I know he continues to raise it with the appropriate Ministers. I encourage him to keep doing that.

As someone who has served in this House for some years, I add my voice to those who are saying that some of the decisions of the past week will usher in a very unpleasant atmosphere in the House.

On a lighter note, I highlight a new report, “Women unbound. Unleashing female entrepreneurial potential,” which I helped to launch in the House this week with PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Crowdfunding Centre, which is based in Yorkshire. Women in this country have huge potential. They are starting new businesses and creating wealth. Will the Leader of the House and Mr Speaker read the report? Let us get on with unleashing that potential and get this country moving again.

I am happy to endorse completely what the hon. Gentleman is saying. The female employment rate is at a record high and there is a higher percentage of women on FTSE boards than ever before. There are now about 1.2 million businesses led by women, which is more than ever before, and the gender pay gap has fallen to a record low. However, as the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) was saying, we need to address issues in terms of getting more women into Parliament—getting more people representing those who share some of their particular interests. I am happy to read the report he mentions and I congratulate him on doing it.

The Government are funding the installation of almost 600 mobile phone masts in remote areas as part of their emergency services network roll-out. It would be hugely helpful for rural constituents in areas such as mine if the Government were to allow mobile phone operators to freely locate on these towers and strongly encourage them to do so, to broaden mobile phone coverage in rural areas. Will the Government make a statement about their plans in this area?

My hon. Friend raises an issue that matters a great deal to lots of our constituents, including mine in rural areas. The mobile network operator EE is delivering about 500 new sites, of which just under 300 will be part of those Government-funded sites. He will be pleased to know that EE is making sure that those new Government-funded sites will be open to site applications from other operators.

Will the Leader of the House bring forward an urgent statement on integrated data services? Last week, we saw one of the biggest data breaches in the world at Equifax, a company with which the British Government set up a joint venture to provide debt recovery services in 2014. People in this country have a right to know whether a British Government company was involved in one of the biggest data breaches we have ever seen.

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point and if he would like to write to me, I shall be happy to take it up with the relevant Department separately. However, he may well want to raise it at the next oral questions opportunity.

I am pleased that the Leader of the House is in her place today, because she will understand better than almost anybody here the importance of buses for children to get to schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, having been educated in the wonderful town of Tonbridge herself. Sadly, the buses in my community and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) are struggling to get children to school on time and to get them home safely. Will the Leader of the House make time available so that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells and I could hear views from other Members and put pressure on those running the buses to serve our children better?

My hon. Friend is right to say that so many communities—schoolchildren and many others—rely on bus services. When I was at Tonbridge girls grammar I used to cycle to school, so I can thoroughly recommend cycling. I occasionally used to take the train, but as I always managed to get the wrong one and end up in London instead of Tonbridge, it was not always a success—[Interruption.] Yes, possibly by design. I probably should have stuck with the bus service. My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. He will have heard what the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee had to say—it is open for business—and I am sure that would provide a perfect opportunity for my hon. Friend to raise the issue of local bus services.

Thank you for allowing me to raise an important issue, one that might require parliamentary privilege, Mr Speaker. TTX Express in my constituency has been in business for 40 years. It employs 90 people and is Tesco’s haulage company of the year. It has an outstanding complaint with Clydesdale bank, whose chief executive we met in this place, when a commitment was given to review the complaint and to hold a meeting before action was taken to sell the land from which this company trades from under its feet. The bank carried out a thin internal review and then refused to meet in the way it had agreed to.

The business is due to go into administration tomorrow, and I understand that the bank has agreed the sale of the land to a third party. That puts at risk 90 jobs and a long-standing business in my constituency. When it has gone to the Financial Conduct Authority for support, the FCA has concluded that it cannot review the complaint because it is outside its scope. Having seen the evidence, it is my belief that potentially criminal activity has been taking place, so my question is this: will the Leader of the House support my call for the bank to hold off on the sale and the administration? In addition, will she use parliamentary business to look at the support available to businesses with complaints of this type?

The hon. Gentleman was quite fortunate that I was immersed in conversation with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies); I think he probably owes him a cup of tea.

The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) raises a serious issue. A number of businesses feel that they have significant complaints about how banks have treated them in recent years. He has put that issue on the record and I am sure he is taking it up with the Treasury. I encourage him to continue to try to address the matter with the FCA.

The defence industry employs a great number of people in this country, not least in my constituency, where we make helicopters. I notice that the Government are blithely entering into various agreements on joint procurement and possible joint defence arrangements with the EU. May we have a debate in Government time on the relationship between defence businesses and Government procurement in the UK and the EU? I am not yet confident that the House has really decided what our strategy should be or that we have had adequate time to consider it.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the position paper on defence co-operation came out in the past two weeks; I urge him to take a look at it. The UK Government clearly intend to achieve a close relationship, as we have had in the past, with the EU and other allies in terms of both procurement and defence collaboration. Nevertheless, all these things are not yet decided. They will be subject to many debates in the House and, potentially, legislation, so there will be many opportunities for my hon. Friend to raise such matters.

The Leader of the House is no doubt aware that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has announced that while foreign direct investment was £1.66 billion in 2016, it collapsed in the first half of 2017 to £313 million. Will she find time for a debate, linked to the Brexit debate she announced in the business statement, on Brexit’s impact on manufacturing and the motor industry?

I am quite sure—I hope you can confirm this, Mr Speaker—that the hon. Gentleman would find that such a discussion would be in order during the general debate in the first week back after the recess.

The number of people claiming out-of-work benefits in my constituency is now 67% lower than it was in 2010, but that brings a different challenge: several employers, particularly high-tech manufacturing employers, are struggling to fill vacancies. May we have a debate on the availability of technical training to enable the workforce to fill successfully the technical jobs gaps in my constituency?

My hon. Friend points to the amazing employment performance in this country. We now have some of the highest employment numbers in the western world, with employment up by almost 3 million and at its highest rate since the early 1970s. That does bring its own challenges, though. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be delighted, as I am, by the Department for Education’s extreme efforts to improve skills. He will no doubt wish to raise his particular issues at Education questions after the recess.

I am a member of the Work and Pensions Committee, and yesterday we heard from eight organisations that all agreed that the UK is not yet ready for the roll-out of universal credit. As it is due to be rolled out to almost half a million households in the next month, will the Leader of the House please prevail upon her colleague the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to halt or at least delay the roll-out so that all those people do not suffer?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the point of universal credit is to address the plight of people out of work and to improve their opportunities to get back into work. Even if someone is working for only a few hours a week, they still qualify, which improves the incentives for working. She raises a very important point about the readiness of the complete roll-out. I shall certainly take that up with the Department on her behalf, and she may also wish to raise it herself with the Minister concerned.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, Britain is rightly providing aid and assistance to the thousands of people who have had their homes destroyed and their lives ruined. Ministers have kept this House up to date with what is going on. However, at the same time, on the Indian subcontinent, hundreds of people have lost their lives and thousands have lost their homes and their livelihoods, yet we have had no statement about that from the Government. Given that this is part and parcel of our Commonwealth responsibilities, as well as our wider responsibilities on international development, will my right hon. Friend make sure that, on our return, we have a statement to the House on the work that we are doing as the United Kingdom to support our Commonwealth partners?

That issue has been raised in business questions a number of times. I know that our colleagues in the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development are following very closely what is going on with the appalling floods in south-east Asia. Our pre-positioned relief supplies ensured that thousands of people in Bangladesh and Nepal did receive immediate support following the terrible floods. We have allocated a further £400,000 to the Nepal Red Cross Society for monsoon flood response that will provide clean water, and help with food, financial support and so on. India has not requested international assistance, but we continue to monitor the situation very closely, and I will take up that point with Departments.

I just wish to follow on from the question about universal credit asked by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George). The Leader of the House stated why the credit has been introduced. However, we are currently taking evidence on the matter—we have heard from several organisations including the Local Government Association and Citizens Advice—and it seems that the system is not working and that the Government need to pause any further roll-out of universal credit.

As I said to the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George), we are absolutely committed to universal credit as a means of supporting more people to get into work. That must be a good thing for those individuals, for our economy and for our society. However, the hon. Members for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) and for High Peak have raised an important point. Ministers are very aware of the issue, and we will be listening carefully to what people have to say.

Can the Leader of the House tell us how many Members contributed to the two Opposition day debates yesterday? Is she satisfied that both sides of the House fully engaged with those debates?

My hon. Friend will be aware that we on this side of the House engaged very fully with those debates. In fact, there were equal numbers of Opposition and Government contributors—unlike on Tuesday, when there were only two or three Members from Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition present to debate the incredibly important Finance Bill. Opposition Members need to be a bit careful. We are fully engaged with all matters in this House, but they seem to be cherry-picking the things that they feel give them political advantage.

Peel Ports has announced a massive investment of £750 million in rail freight at the Port of Liverpool. Will the Leader of the House ask Transport Ministers when the Government will match that investment in much-needed rail freight across the whole of the north of England? The private sector is playing its part; it is time for the Government to do the same.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have committed more to infrastructure than at any time in recent history—£49 billion since 2010, which is 17% up on the comparable period under the last Labour Government. We are investing more than £13 billion in the north of England’s transport infrastructure. From major new infrastructure schemes to local transport improvements, we are trying to transform journeys for passengers and drivers and to create the capacity that the north really does need.

Opposition days and general debates are vital to the relevance of this House, as is the opportunity to discuss community, family and constituency matters in Westminster Hall, so I roundly welcome the forthcoming debate on baby loss. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the impact of the Opposition’s determination yesterday to squeeze in together the two large issues of the NHS and education? Doing so diminished speaking time for Members on both sides of the House, including the time for the relevant Ministers to respond.

The subjects of Opposition day debates are obviously a matter for the Opposition. Nevertheless, it is the case with these very important issues that they squeeze in two for the price of one. My hon. Friend makes the good point that some of these matters are worthy of more debate. There were certainly many Government Members who would have liked to have made their case, but were unable to do so.

When the former Chancellor, Mr George Osborne, left office, he took on a job with BlackRock finance, working four days a month for a remuneration of £650,000 a year. In pursuit of the investigations of the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs into possible abuses of the revolving door by which former Ministers might be using their inside knowledge for financial gain, the Committee invited Mr Osborne to come to this House to explain allegations that he had had dealings with BlackRock finance when he was Chancellor, as a result of which the laws were changed in favour of BlackRock. Should we not insist that we debate this issue and renew the invitation to Mr Osborne to explain his position to the House to guard our reputation?

There are very tightly enforced, clear rules regarding what ex-Ministers are able to do both when they have left office and while they are still in office. The hon. Gentleman is merely putting forward a hypothesis in which I see no merit. He is taking the opportunity to criticise something when he has no evidence to support his case—that is extremely unfair.

The clock is ticking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where elections are still nowhere on the horizon, despite the agreement at the end of last year that they should be held within one year. The United Kingdom has been highly engaged in the process. Could we have a statement from the Minister responsible—perhaps a written statement, or some kind of indication during the recess—about what we can do to ensure that the Democratic Republic of the Congo does not fall into a period of great uncertainty, but holds the promised elections?

We remain deeply concerned about the political crisis in Burundi and continuing human rights abuses. The current crisis can only be resolved by inclusive dialogue that preserves the Arusha agreement. We still believe that the east African community dialogue led by former Tanzanian President Mkapa offers the best prospect for a mediated solution. We call on all parties to engage without preconditions. On my hon. Friend’s request for a ministerial statement, I will ask the Department concerned whether it can provide more of an update.

I am sure the Leader of the House is aware that the Department for Transport’s annual publication “Reported Road Casualties” is being substantially delayed and is now scheduled for 28 September—three months late. During my time in this House, I have campaigned for improved road safety in my constituency and for tougher sentences for dangerous driving. If, as expected, this year’s figures reveal an increase in road deaths and serious injuries, that would represent a shocking reversal in the decade-long trend towards safer roads. Given that delay, and given that publication now falls in the recess, will the Leader of the House arrange for time to be made available to discuss this important issue when the House returns?

First, I congratulate the hon. Lady on her work to raise this important issue and on being a champion for safer roads—she is absolutely right to do that. I will look into the point she raises about the delay to the report, and I will get back to her to let her know what we can do.

Last week in Westminster, there was the launch of the manifesto on strengthening families. The Leader of the House found time to attend, and I commend her for the work she has done in this area. Can she find time for a debate on strengthening families, particularly with an angle on the important link between prisoners and families? The odds of reoffending are 39% lower if people retain contact with their family while in prison. Perhaps she could also find time to commend Lord Farmer for his work in this area.

I am delighted to commend Lord Farmer for his work on the relationship between prisoners and strengthening families. I was delighted to attend the launch of the families manifesto last week and to see the extensive number of Back-Bench Members who had put their names to it. I know my hon. Friend shares my passion for all children to have the best start in life, and he 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 and young people over this Parliament. I am proud to say that £365 million has been made available to provide specialist mental health services to mums before and after having their babies, and that is being led by NHS England. That will make a huge difference to families.

I hope that the House will join me in praising the efforts of Epilepsy Connections in working with people who face this condition, such as my constituent Carol McNeil, and supporting them with the challenges and difficulties they face. Perhaps we could have a debate in Government time about the organisation’s concerns about access to face-to-face support for epileptics at all stages of the personal independence payment process—from initial application to appeals against negative decisions.

The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point, and I completely share his enthusiasm for highlighting the importance of understanding what to do when faced with somebody who is suffering an epileptic fit. He should use the opportunities that are open to him—perhaps by securing an Adjournment debate or a Backbench Business Committee debate—to try to raise this issue more widely.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will be reflecting, like me, on the fact that it is truly bizarre when the biggest complaint of someone who comes to this Chamber is that no one turned up to object to their proposal the day before. May we therefore have a debate on what it means to put proposals forward and how to act positively in this Chamber, rather than just looking for opportunities to score cheap political points?

I am very sympathetic to what my hon. Friend has to say. We have discussed this issue during today’s business questions. The important point is that we engage in clear and coherent debate, although it can be as feisty as we like. The point is also that the choice of subject for Opposition day debates is a matter for the Opposition. The Government will always engage with debates, but we will not always take part in the political point scoring that was the objective behind the Opposition’s particular subjects yesterday, and that point is backed up by the fact that they chose to hold two debates on very serious subjects on which Conservative Members would very much have liked to contribute, and at greater length than was permitted by an Opposition who just wanted to get in as much political point scoring as they could.

I really do not know how the Leader of the House is keeping a straight face when she makes those comments to the heart of democracy in this country.

I am sure the Leader of the House will be aware of the landmark news this week that offshore wind energy is now cheaper than new nuclear energy, so can we please have a debate on this new industry and on what more the Government can do to support it—particularly to meet our carbon targets—and to ensure we have continued access to the EU export market after Brexit?

The hon. Lady raises a point that I am sure all Members will be delighted by, which is the extraordinary rate at which the cost of offshore wind has come down. As an ex-Energy Minister, I remember having whole stakeholder meetings with offshore wind developers urging them to compete more for the contracts for difference paid for by bill payers, so that we could get these costs down as quickly as possible. We should be very proud in the United Kingdom that we have led the world in the development of this technology. We are the third best country in the world, according to the independent Climate Action Network, for tackling climate change. We have outperformed our closest EU counterparts, with the largest cut in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. There is more to do, but we are absolutely committed to doing it. If the hon. Lady wanted to generate a debate in this Chamber, I am sure that many Members would be delighted to take part in it.

The weakness of the House’s scrutiny of delegated legislation was illustrated yesterday afternoon by the fact that the House passed a motion calling for the regulations on tuition fees not to go forward that the Government propose to ignore. The Leader of the House knows that amendments have been tabled by Members in all parts of the House looking for changes to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but amendments to the Bill alone will not solve the problem. We may need a new Select Committee, changes to Standing Orders and extra resources, and we will need to consider these in parallel with the Committee stage of the Bill. Will she commit today to bringing forward proposals and making time to do that in parallel with the Committee stage of the Bill?

The hon. Lady is conflating two separate issues. Let me be very clear with her on yesterday’s debate that she says, had the Opposition won, would have revoked the tuition fees rise. The 40-day annulment period is set out in the Statutory Instruments Act 1946, not in Standing Orders, so it is an entirely separate point. [Interruption.] Yes, it is an entirely separate point.

On the hon. Lady’s question about scrutinising secondary legislation under Brexit legislation during the course of this Parliament, Ministers are listening very carefully. As my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary said on Monday night in response to questions from this House, we are looking very carefully at what more can be done to reassure Members that secondary legislation that has a more significant impact than merely to change little bits of wording here and there can be properly scrutinised by all Members. We are looking very carefully at what we can do.

During the summer, I met Renfrewshire charity No Strings Attached, which supports young asthma sufferers to self-manage their condition by improving their knowledge of asthma and by teaching them a wind instrument. May we have a debate on how we better support organisations such as No Strings Attached?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising such an important issue. Asthma is often taken very lightly by people, but it is a very serious condition with very serious implications if it is not properly taken care of, so anything that can be done to highlight its importance is welcome. I myself have a son who has suffered from asthma, and it something that we worry about quite considerably. I urge the hon. Gentleman to use the opportunities that he has for an Adjournment debate or a proposal to the Backbench Business Committee to raise this important issue.

Is it true, as quoted on Twitter by Paul Waugh and briefed elsewhere, that Government MPs are no longer expected to vote in the—very, very rare—Opposition day debates? I think the last one was in January. I know that the Leader of the House has been asked this several times, so she might want to consider answering with a yes or a no.

I certainly think we should consider changing Standing Orders to suggest to hon. Members that they do not take their facts from Twitter. The hon. Lady’s information is from Twitter, so it is, by definition, not Government policy and not therefore to be relied on.

Reinforcing the points made by my hon. Friends the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) and for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), may we have an urgent debate in Government time about the confidence of DWP decision makers in the rules they work under? The Leader of the House may recall that I raised a case last week. I have had another case in my constituency where the DWP rejected a request from a constituent to do a paper assessment, even though this constituent has severe mental health and learning difficulties, placing her in the lowest 1%. I sometimes wonder whether those in the DWP are intent on inflicting pain and misery when their time could be better spent helping others. May we have a debate or a statement about their qualities?

It is important to set out that this Government are absolutely committed to supporting disabled people. That is why we are spending over £50 billion a year in 2017-18 on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions—up by more than £7 billion since 2010. We are trying to focus the support on those with the most severe conditions. I absolutely recall that the hon. Gentleman raised a particular issue with me. We all know that unfortunately we sometimes have to put an extra case for a particular constituency case that we feel has gone wrong. I will always help hon. Members if they feel they are not being listened to on individual cases, but the overarching policy of trying to help people with disabilities more is the right one.

Infertility is a disease, never a lifestyle choice, and access to treatment should not be a postcode lottery—yet it is. A number of clinical commissioning groups across the country are deciding no longer to offer free cycles of IVF, and the Government do not appear to be interested in enforcing the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance. Could we have a debate or a statement from the Government on this very important issue?

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that infertility is heart-breaking for so many people. I have had constituency cases myself where people have tried to get infertility treatment and not been able to do so. I absolutely sympathise with the point that she makes. I urge her to use all the opportunities she has to raise this very significant issue.

During the summer recess, I was informed that the hours for the phone lines for the Scotland and Northern Ireland inquiry team at UK Visas and Immigration were temporarily reduced to 11 am to 4 pm. On 31 August, this was further reduced by half an hour. Thirty per cent. of my caseload is immigration cases, and this restriction is making it very difficult for me and my staff to support constituents with complex cases, including asylum issues, removals and visas. How long will this unacceptable situation continue? Four and a half hours to serve 77 MPs is just not enough. May we have a debate on staffing levels and capacity in UKVI?

The hon. Lady did not give me prior notice of her question, which I am interested to hear. I also heavily use the MPs’ hotline she mentions to try to make progress with cases. I have always found it to be very efficient, and we are able to make progress quite quickly. If she would like to write to me, I am happy to take it up, but she might find it quicker to put in a notification to the Home Office that she intends to ask a question at Home Office questions.

Last week, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs published a report noting that addiction services are facing disproportionate and severe cuts in funding, hitting the amount and quality of treatment across England. May we have a statement or a debate on how the Government are going to respond to the report and address the problem?

This is a very important subject that we try to address as a Government to do all we can to help people to end their addictions. It is absolutely vital that we do that. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 was designed to ensure that we can get on top of new addictive substances as they emerge. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this point. I am sure that the Government will respond to the report as soon as we can.

This morning, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), informed me that my constituents were very satisfied with the service they were receiving from Greater Manchester police. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. My constituents regularly contact me about their fears and concerns for their safety, from the lack of visible policing to difficulties with the 101 system. May we have an urgent debate on funding and resources for Greater Manchester police?

The hon. Lady raises an issue that affects MPs right across the country. Members of the public always feel nervous about crime, quite understandably, regardless of the facts of the case. Their concern can be sometimes with good cause, and sometimes without. As the hon. Lady knows, she can speak to her police and crime commissioner and take the matter up locally, or she can do so directly with the Department if she feels as though she is not getting proper answers.

My constituent Mr John Foley is asking, as are many others, for a general debate or a statement from the Government on sepsis awareness. Does the Leader of the House agree that the Government must expand and promote awareness of this potentially deadly condition?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and he will be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) almost died of sepsis. This subject is live in the Government, and we are looking at it carefully. An estimated 37,000 people die every year as a result of sepsis, and every death is a tragedy. We need to get much better at spotting sepsis right across the NHS, and the NHS England commissioning for quality and innovation scheme for sepsis incentivises providers to improve identification and timely treatment. As the Prime Minister said in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, we will be doing all we can to encourage better identification and early diagnosis.

This week, the Government announced a badger cull in Cheshire. The scientific evidence shows that a vaccination programme would be far more effective, but the Government insist on carrying out this cruel and barbaric practice contrary to the science. Can we have a debate, please, on why the Government insist on operating in this way?

I know from my time as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that the science is not entirely clear. There is very clear qualitative evidence that culling badgers reduces the incidence of bovine tuberculosis. We know that badgers carry bovine TB, and that there is a worldwide shortage of the vaccine that could be used for badgers. World guidelines state that we should not be using that vaccine—it is a human vaccine—on badgers for the time being.

There is a lot of work going on in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make sure that the culling is humanely carried out under very strict conditions and supervision. I think that we must allow the best science to prevail, because bovine TB is destroying farmers’ livelihoods and their lives. It is heartbreaking to see the stories of farmers who are trying to deal with having to have their whole herd culled as a result of one breakout of bovine TB. It is not something that we can just ignore.

Can we have a statement on tax evasion by websites such as Amazon? Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs believes that Amazon is being obstructive about providing data that would make it possible to crack down on fraud. When are the Government going to stop this digital giant helping to rip off the taxpayer?

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that HMRC has been enormously successful in its compliance measures against avoidance and evasion, and that since 2010 it has achieved more than £150 billion of revenue from its work in this area. The Government are working hard to tackle online VAT fraud, and we have announced joint and several liability from September 2016 as part of a package of Budget measures to tackle VAT fraud in online sales. The problem is a complex international one, but the UK is the first country to introduce a power making online marketplaces jointly and severally liable for the unpaid VAT of overseas sellers. We are leading the world in this work, but there is more to do. I share the hon. Gentleman’s disgust at any company that seeks to avoid taxes in such a way.

Devonport-based HMS Ocean is doing a superb job as part of the response to Hurricane Irma, but despite having proven its worth, the ship is due to be scrapped. The new carriers cannot replicate the unique role of HMS Ocean in littoral waters. Can the Government bring forward a debate about the risk of losing littoral helicopter carrier capabilities when HMS Ocean is scrapped or sold?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard the statement in the last two weeks by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on shipbuilding in the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman will therefore be aware that this is an expanding area and a great UK story. In Scotland, and in the south-west and the north of England, we are expanding our shipbuilding to become a great naval force again, and there are big opportunities. He may well wish to take up his specific point at Ministry of Defence orals.