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Business of the House

Volume 630: debated on Thursday 26 October 2017

The business for the week commencing 30 October will be as follows:

Monday 30 October—Second Reading of the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 31 October—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 1 November—Opposition day (4th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 2 November—Debate on a motion on Calais and unaccompanied child refugees in Europe, followed by debate on a motion on sexual harassment and violence in schools. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 3 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 6 November will include:

Monday 6 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 7 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 13 November will include:

Monday 13 November—Second Reading of a Bill.

Tuesday 14 November—Committee of the whole House on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 1).

Wednesday 15 November—Committee of the whole House on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 2).

Thursday 16 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 17 November—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 2 and 6 November will be:

Thursday 2 November—General debate on HMRC closures.

Monday 6 November—Debate on an e-petition relating to mental health education in schools.

I am pleased to inform the House that there are motions on the Order Paper to establish, either today or on Monday, a further eight Committees, including the Committees on Standards and on Privileges, and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. All remaining Committees will be set up as soon as possible.

I would also like to direct the attention of Members to the written ministerial statement that I have laid this morning on Opposition day debates. Following the suggestions of many Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), when an Opposition day motion is passed by this House, the relevant Minister will respond to the vote by making a statement to the House. This will be within a maximum time period of 12 weeks.

Finally, this week I have updated Members of both Houses on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. This is an urgent matter for Parliament, so the Government are facilitating a debate in both Houses to ensure that swift progress can be made. It is key that the work to repair the Palace offers the best value for taxpayers’ money, as well as ensuring the safety of the many visitors and staff who work in and visit the Palace every year.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business. I am delighted that she has given us the business up until 17 November—even though one week is comprised of two days of Back-Bench business, with the other days in recess—and that we have two days of debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on 14 and 15 November. Will she confirm that we will have all eight days of the Committee of the whole House before the Christmas recess?

I am pleased that the Leader of the House raised Opposition day debates, but sadly I received her note only this morning. I think it was embargoed until 10.30 am. I checked with the Library just before coming into the Chamber. It does not appear to have a copy, so I am not sure that the statement has actually been published, and I am not even sure that you have seen a copy, Mr Speaker. I have concerns about this. As the Leader of the House said, Ministers will make a statement no more than 12 weeks after the passing of an Opposition day resolution. Will she please say whether Ministers will actually be attending in the Chamber? I had understood that that was the purpose of wind-ups.

The Leader of the House seems to have two tiers of resolutions of the House. There is one tier for resolutions of the House on Opposition days and another for all the other resolutions of the House. Will she say what discussions she has had with the Clerks and even Mr Speaker about these two tiers of resolutions, and do the Standing Orders need to be amended?

The last paragraph of the Leader of the House’s statement says:

“This is in line with suggestions made by Members across the House”.

There has been absolutely no discussion with business managers on our side and I do not think that that is acceptable. This is no way to treat the House. This is rapidly becoming like “House of Games”—a combination of “House of Cards” and “Game of Thrones”. The Government should get their house in order and deal with the democracy of why we are here. We are elected as representatives to speak on behalf of our constituents.

The Leader of the House might want to correct what she said to the House last week. She said that discussions about the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill were starting in the other place, but discussions there were none. My friends in the other place have said that they were simply told that the Bill would start in that House. There was a First Reading and then the Bill was published. That cannot possibly be right. It must be profoundly against the democracy of our country for a First Reading to take place and for no one to have sight of the Bill until the next day. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that process will not be used again?

All Members have received a letter about R and R. It is welcome that there will be a debate in December, but this means a delay of 18 months—the report was published in 2016—just to get to a position of a final option. This approach actually takes options away from Members, because it says that when the delivery authority comes back to the House, Members will just be able to vote yes or no. That cannot be acceptable. I see no reason why the three options cannot be placed before the House alongside setting up the delivery authority.

Will the Leader of the House write to me to let me know how many consultants there have been? What are the costs of the people who have been employed while the Government have delayed making a decision? If we follow one of the options set out in her letter with regard to State Opening, will she really be asking our Gracious Sovereign to attend a building site? Will hard hats be available for all of us?

In a week when a Government Whip has raised the spectre of Lenin and McCarthy stalking our fiercely independent world-class universities, we have now been told that his real inspiration was Lennon and McCartney, because he wants to be a “Paperback Writer”—he is writing a book. If he is writing a book, should he be writing on Whips’ headed paper? He should have been clear about the information that he wanted, and he could have found all of it out for himself if he had just looked on the universities’ websites.

Four years ago, students—the sort of students who are apparently being brainwashed by their universities—who were economics undergraduates at the University of Manchester and others around the world formed the Post-Crash Economics Society. They criticised university courses for doing little to explain why economists had failed to warn people about the global financial crisis, for focusing too heavily on training students for City jobs, and for not teaching alternative economic theories such as those of Keynes and, yes, even Marx. I am afraid that the Leader of the House is on her own. This was not a nice letter, because all those who received it found it menacing and threatening—[Interruption.] That is including the Prime Minister, as she too has distanced herself. We seem to be seeing a return of the nasty party.

Continuing that theme, let me add that nearly three months after the employment tribunal fees policy was struck down by the Supreme Court, the Government have only now revealed plans for refunds, the first phase of which will take place when officials start to write to 1,000 people. That was also hidden in a written statement. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the former Justice Secretary will apologise for acting unlawfully, and when all claimants will receive their refunds, including interest? Will she also explain why the Government are to press ahead with the reform of legal aid fees that are paid in criminal cases, despite the fact that 97% of the submissions to a consultation opposed the plan? People have said that the decision is reckless and could place justice in jeopardy. It might well be open to challenge if it is made against the evidence and no valid reasons are given.

And so to Brexit. The National Farmers Union says that no deal would have severe effects for UK farmers and growers, 71.4% of whose exports go to the EU. This week, UK business leaders wrote to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union asking him to establish, quickly, a Brexit transition deal that—in their words—mirrors existing arrangements, because otherwise we are at risk of losing jobs and investment. In her Florence speech, the Prime Minister referred to an implementation period, but if in March 2019 there is no deal, what will the Government be implementing? Yesterday, before 12 pm, the Secretary of State told a Select Committee that there would be a vote on a deal after March 2019. After 12 pm, he said that he expected and intended that there would be a vote before March 2019. If that is the way in which the Government are negotiating, no wonder we are stuck. They must remember that they are negotiating with friends, not enemies. We worked with these people on the common causes of growth strategies, climate change, tax avoidance, and the health and wellbeing and peace and security of our nations.

Finally, we say goodbye to Fats Domino and thank him, wherever he is, for all those wonderful songs. We send congratulations to the new Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. The Leader of the Opposition said at the time of the election, “Do it for us,” and she did.

First, I join the hon. Lady in wishing New Zealand well with a new female leader. In this Chamber, of course, we have had two now—aren’t we doing well—but I am not sure that the Opposition have ever welcomed the achievements of women on my side of the House. Nevertheless, I am very happy to welcome the achievement of the people of New Zealand.

Turning to the hon. Lady’s specific questions, she will be aware, I hope, that my office rang hers earlier this morning to give her advance notice of the laying of the WMS, which was in fact published at 10.30, as is appropriate. It has, indeed, been published; that is confirmed—it is online. I am sure that she is simply incorrect to suggest that it was not published.

The hon. Lady asks whether a Minister will attend the House. It is intended that Ministers will attend in person wherever possible, but it is possible that a written ministerial statement will be provided from time to time. It is also intended that 12 weeks is the maximum time before a ministerial response is provided.

The hon. Lady asks if Standing Orders need to be amended—they do not. She says there was no discussion of this with business managers. As the Government’s representative in Parliament and Parliament’s representative in government, it is for the Leader of the House to listen to all Members. It is Members across the House who have been urging a response from the Government, and that is what are responding to in my statement today.

The hon. Lady talks about the R and R options that have been put before the House. It is absolutely right that we do the work to ensure the best value for taxpayers’ money. It has been clear for a long time that the Labour party does not care about taxpayers’ money. Opposition Members constantly talk about just going with three options in front of this House, but the reality is that the full costs of each option have not yet been bottomed out. That is why it is important that we set up an independent delivery authority that can assess the costs in a short space of time—

No, 12 to 18 months. The authority can assess the costs in a short space of time to properly bottom out the costs.

This is not a blank cheque. We must get the best possible value for taxpayers’ money in restoring this Parliament for future generations, and Members right across this House should support that. It is right that both Houses take a decision on whether to establish this independent authority that will look at the full costs and then make a recommendation for a further vote by both Houses. It is also right that the sponsor board that oversees the work of that delivery authority has strong parliamentary representation.

The hon. Lady asked what the universities’ response should be to a question about their courses. Right across this House we support free speech. Our universities are total bastions of free speech, too, and they should welcome exploration of all sides of an argument. I will leave that point there.

The hon. Lady asks about refunds to claimants following the judicial review. I understand that that was fully discussed at the Justice Committee earlier this week, so I urge her to look at the record. I can write to her separately with information about that discussion.

The hon. Lady then asked about Brexit. I say again that the Prime Minister set out in her Florence speech a very generous and collegiate offer to the European Union. I am delighted that, following the European Council, there has been a warm and improving tone from European leaders about the prospects of moving on to discuss trade and co-operation across all areas. The Government remain committed to getting an excellent deal for the United Kingdom and for our EU friends and neighbours, and we believe that that will perfectly possible to achieve before March 2019.

May we have a debate on making better use of natural resources? Is the Leader of the House aware that in a few days’ time we are going to go through the ridiculous ritual of putting our clocks back an hour, thereby plunging the nation into darkness and misery by mid-afternoon? Can we look again at the possibility of moving our clocks forward an hour? That would boost tourism and could reduce the number of road accidents.

I am aware that this is a long-standing issue and that there are strong views on both sides of the argument. At this time of year, perhaps my right hon. Friend might want to raise the matter in an Adjournment debate. There are views on traffic accidents versus views on agriculture, and it is important that all those views are taken into account when making a balanced decision on this issue.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. So, another week, another no play in Opposition day debates. This Government could not even organise a vote in a Parliament! And now we have this woeful ministerial statement on Opposition days which says that a Minister will urgently respond within 12 weeks when the House has approved a motion. Instead of issuing a statement months later, why cannot the Government just agree to what the House has democratically agreed in these votes?

Scotland is to be the hardest impacted part of the UK with this Tory hard Brexit. We did not vote for it, we wanted nothing to do with it and we are being taken out against our collective national will. Now the Government say that they will not even let the Scottish people see the cost of this disaster. Surely the Scottish people have every right and entitlement to see what the cost of this disastrous Brexit will be, and surely they should then have the opportunity to assess all the options that will be available to them.

Finally, I wonder whether the Leader of the House and I could get together with your office, Mr Speaker, to assist our new Conservative colleagues from Scotland. They seem to have great difficulty in distinguishing between reserved responsibilities and devolved responsibilities, and I think the occupants of your Chair are getting a bit tired of constantly having to correct them on that. Perhaps we could give them the kind of lesson that Father Ted gave to Father Dougal: “These are the powers for this Parliament. Those are the powers for a Parliament far away.” However, it might not be such good news for them if we did that, because they would then have absolutely nothing else to talk about in this House.

I am concerned that the hon. Gentleman is showing an inability to understand how Parliament works. As you have said, Mr Speaker, it is not for Parliament to tell individual Members that they have to vote, or indeed how they should vote. That is a matter for the parties and for Members of Parliament. I am sure the hon. Gentleman can recall days when his Scottish nationalists have abstained on votes, and it is a matter for them to decide whether to do that. Likewise, it is a matter for Members on both sides to decide whether or not they wish to vote. Mr Speaker, you have also made it clear that when the House does express an opinion and a motion is passed, it is a motion of this House. I have set out today how the Government intend to respond to an Opposition day motion that is passed by this House. This is genuinely an effort on the part of the Government to listen to Members across the House, to respond to the concerns that they have raised and to come back to this Chamber to ensure that the Government’s response is seen and understood by all Members. I think that the hon. Gentleman should welcome that, rather than displaying his distinct lack of understanding of parliamentary process. He also insists on having plans for the costs of Brexit. Again, he does not really understand how this works. A negotiation is going on at present, and once that has happened, we will be able to assess precisely what the implementation arrangements will be and therefore what the costs will be. That is the way round in which it works. The negotiation happens first.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that the excellent Scottish Conservative MPs are somehow representing their constituents in a way that he does not like. I absolutely encourage my hon. Friends to carry on with their excellent work to hold the Scottish Government to account and to make clear the areas in England where people are being better looked after than people in Scotland. It is absolutely right that they should be doing that, and I encourage them to continue.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the provision of support in our schools for children who suffer from diabetes? Diabetes UK fully understands the challenges that our schools face, but it thinks that further training should be given to the staff who are charged with giving that support.

I am sympathetic towards my hon. Friend’s point. In fact, I have a brother-in-law who was a child diabetic some years ago, so I am aware that things have improved dramatically in schools. In 2014, the Government introduced a new duty on school governing bodies to arrange support for pupils with medical conditions such as diabetes. As a constituency MP, I am also aware of challenges when parents have found that schools have struggled to provide that support, so I encourage my hon. Friend to continue to take up this issue, perhaps through an Adjournment debate, because it is important that we solve it.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for advance notice of the allocations of time on 6 November, 7 November and, provisionally, 16 November. That is very useful indeed. We have received 21 applications over the past three weeks, and a number of debates have not yet been allocated time. Would what she said about Opposition days and the 12-week response time also apply to Backbench Business debates if the House divided on a Backbench motion, and would the response come within 12 sitting weeks or 12 calendar weeks?

Additionally, the House may remember that I ventured a crackpot theory last week that the House was suffering from a Faraday cage effect due to the scaffolding. I had a telephone call from technical services yesterday to confirm that my crackpot theory was in fact correct and that telephone signal is suffering because of that Faraday cage effect.

Well, not only is the hon. Gentleman an illustrious Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, but he has other qualities to boot, including a degree of technological or scientific or even physicist-orientated knowledge.

Ah, but the hon. Gentleman has recovered since then, and the House rejoices in his distinction.

I continue to look into the issue, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is ahead of me on that one. He will be aware that there are significant differences between Opposition and Backbench Business days. Backbench Business debate motions are selected by a cross-party Committee with cross-party support and, the vast majority of the time, they are non-partisan and designed to facilitate cross-party debate, which they do extremely effectively. My proposal for statements relates specifically to Opposition day motions, but I will take his point on board. Wherever possible, Ministers do come back to respond during debates on matters that they can take forward following those cross-party discussions.

We in this Chamber —especially you, Mr Speaker—know the power of language, and we also have a duty to respect that power outside of the Chamber. Can we have a debate on the use of misogynistic, anti-Semitic and homophobic language and its negative impact on political discourse?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. We have all been disgusted by some of the recent reports of the use of some appalling language, and it is right that we should have a debate on that subject. We have already had a debate in Government time on abuse and intimidation during the general election, but it is right that all Members, as the Prime Minister said, are careful and considered in how they refer to other people. Things go much broader that that, however, and we have seen an enormous amount of abuse against people in public life. We want to encourage people to feel that they can come into public life and not receive that torrent of abuse, so I would be happy to provide any support that my hon. Friend needs to bring forward such a debate.

Can we have an urgent debate, in Government time, on whether Ministers understand the concept of urgency? The Leader of the House said earlier that the state of the Palace of Westminster is an urgent problem, and the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, which was chaired by her predecessor but two, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)—we are getting through Leaders of the House at quite a pace—agreed that there is an impending crisis in this building.

The Joint Committee’s report was published on 8 September 2016, with the guarantee of a vote by Christmas last year. Now the Leader of the House is saying that we will have a debate by the end of this year, but we will not make a decision then—we are going to delay it for another 18 months. Honestly, this is downright irresponsible. Just let the House make a decision, if you understand the concept.

Mr Speaker, do you understand the concept? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman misspoke.

This is an urgent matter for Parliament to resolve. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, since I became Leader of the House, the House of Commons Commission, chaired by Mr Speaker, has let some contracts to ensure that urgent repairs to the House are carried out and to ensure that we have a safe space in which to work while the decision is taken. As I have already made clear, we have to ensure value for taxpayers’ money. The Joint Committee made a recommendation without being in a position to pin down the entire costs of its proposed option. It is essential that that work is done, and it will be done as quickly as possible.

Can we have a debate on the Puma HC2 helicopter? The aircraft can be deployed on contingency operations quickly and versatilely, and it often provides assistance and badly needed capabilities to those in desperate need.

RAF Benson, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, does a huge amount of work to promote Government priorities, including providing support to those suffering from the hurricanes in recent months. I encourage him to seek a way to have a debate on this important subject.

Will the Leader of the House draw the Chancellor’s attention to Tuesday’s Westminster Hall debate, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), on local authority funeral fees? The Leader of the House will be aware of my campaign to establish a children’s funeral fund, and she may wish to draw the Chancellor’s attention to the growing consensus on both sides of the House. If he were to make provision for such a fund in the upcoming Budget, it would be welcomed not only by colleagues but by the general public.

I commend the hon. Lady for her long-standing commitment to this issue. I urge her to seek a way to raise it directly with the Chancellor. I am very sympathetic to her concerns.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on health outcomes across the regions and nations of the United Kingdom? The highly critical Audit Scotland report on the state of the NHS in Scotland exposes how badly the Scottish National party has mismanaged the NHS since it came to power more than 10 years ago.

My hon. Friend raises an important point on the inequalities across the nations of the United Kingdom in certain areas. [Interruption.] SNP Members are shouting and yelling because they do not want a spotlight on their activities in government in Scotland, but Conservative Members will continue to raise those inadequacies and will continue to support their constituents in Scotland.

I wonder whether the Leader of the House can answer a question the Prime Minister failed to answer when I asked her on Monday, or ensure that I get a written answer: have the Government or their agencies received any requests from Robert Mueller, the special counsel, or the congressional investigators in the United States for help or information in connection with their inquiry into Russian subversion of the American presidential election?

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to write to me on this, I will see whether I can get him an answer.

My thoughts and prayers are very much with the people of Kenya today as they go to the polls. We wish for a peaceful outcome and dialogue between the Government and the Opposition for the future.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether we can have a statement on the current situation in the overseas territories in the Caribbean after the terrible effects of Hurricane Irma? It is vital that all possible support is given to these overseas territories, for which we are in some respects responsible. Various definitions of official development assistance from the OECD should not stand in the way of making that assistance available.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will be aware that every assistance possible has been given to those suffering as a result of those awful hurricanes and continues to be provided. A number of statements have been made in this House, and I suggest that he raise this matter during either Department for International Development or Foreign Office questions at the next opportunity.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) has again raised a crucial issue. We now have, almost every week, new proof that Russia and foreign billionaires are interfering with elections and referendums in other countries. May we have an urgent debate on the fact that we have no mechanisms to protect the integrity of our electoral system, given the possibility of sudden general elections or a second Brexit vote?

The hon. Gentleman is as concerned as Members from right across the House are about potential interventions in democratic systems. He will be aware that a lot of investigatory work is going on, and he will know very well of appropriate ways to raise this matter through a debate in this House.

The Government have helpfully published a number of sectoral post-Brexit plans. May I ask the Leader of the House to ask the Department for Exiting the European Union to publish a plan on financial services—our largest export sector and a big tax earner that employs many people in my constituency?

I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for this vital industry for the UK. I am sure he is as delighted as I am to hear that the UK’s financial services sector has extended its lead over all other financial services centres around the world; that announcement has been made only in recent months. I will be sure to pass on his request.

I wonder whether the Leader of the House might clarify the position from yesterday’s statement on supported housing. Would it be beneficial to have a general debate in Government time on fair rents in the social housing sector? I have been making representations on behalf of constituents who are tenants of the Bernicia Group, where new tenants are being charged lower rents than existing tenants. I have taken this up with Bernicia, but it is refusing to lower the rents for existing tenants, which is taking money away from vulnerable constituents—single parents, families and those struggling to make ends meet. If we could have a debate, it would highlight the need for genuine, accountable social housing, with fair rents, managed by the local authority.

As ever, I encourage the hon. Gentleman to take up specific cases directly with the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is vital that, as constituency MPs, we all represent people on the individual problems that crop up. He will be aware that we committed £400 million in the last spending review to deliver a further 8,000 supported housing units, and we have made an exemption from the local housing allowance cap. We are working towards a model that is responsive to the needs of this diverse sector and delivers long-term sustainability. We are absolutely on the same side in solving this argument, and he should take up his individual issues.

Last week, the Scottish Government gave themselves a bit pat on the back for being on track with their commitments on access to superfast broadband. However, the reality is that, as of 2016, 17% of premises in Scotland were still without superfast broadband, which compares with a figure of just 11% for the UK as a whole. The UK Government have given the job of delivering broadband in Scotland to the Scottish Government, but they are clearly failing rural areas such as those in my constituency in the Scottish borders. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on this important issue of improving broadband connections across Scotland and the rest of the UK?

Mr Deputy Speaker, it is important not only that we hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) but that I reply to him. He is absolutely right that SNP Members like to take credit for things going well and to blame this Westminster Parliament when things do not go so well. The UK Government have provided £100 million for the phase 1 broadband roll-out in Scotland, and we have committed nearly £21 million for the phase 2 roll-out. Superfast broadband now reaches 91.8% of homes in Scotland, but coverage is at only 78% in the Scottish borders. The Scottish Government plan to deliver full superfast broadband access by 2021, whereas the UK Government plan to achieve 95% coverage in England by 2017.

The UK Government’s own deadline for the ratification of the Istanbul convention is 1 November. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will make an oral statement next week on the progress of ratification? Does she agree that sticking to that deadline is an important step to ensure that we end violence against women and girls?

It is a very important convention and the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are committed to it. I cannot answer his question because he did not give me notice, but if he would like to write to me, I can look into it for him.

Prior to your taking the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the House announced a new convention for the House, whereby a Minister will respond to Opposition day motions that are passed by the House by making an oral statement within 12 weeks. That “Leadsom convention” is a slight movement back to the House and away from the Executive. May we have a statement next week, perhaps from the Deputy Leader of the House, on that very issue so that we can press the case and have that convention extended to any motion passed by the House, perhaps backed up by a written statement? Perhaps we could also have a progress debate in each Session on how the Government are dealing with the convention.

I think that I have already given an awful lot, considering that my hon. Friend did not buy me the glass of wine mentioned when he raised this matter a couple of weeks ago. I am always keen to hear further thoughts and I am open to suggestions from Members from all parties.

I am sure the Leader of the House knows that I was not trying to jump the queue earlier, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was eager to ask her whether she has read Sir David Attenborough’s comments this week about marine pollution and the growing evidence that we are poisoning the world’s oceans. May we have an early debate on the issue, followed by a series of debates and statements, because it is too important to leave it to Sir David Attenborough to lead on?

There is absolutely cross-party consensus that, first, Sir David Attenborough is a national treasure and, secondly, it is vital that we do everything we can to stop and reverse marine pollution. The Government have done an enormous amount to create a blue belt around our overseas territories to ensure the protection of those areas. We are looking into what further action we can take to reduce litter on land, because it often ends up in the seas, and of course we have the ban on micro-plastics, which I was keen to put forward when I was the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. My right hon. Friend the current Secretary of State is fully committed, and I am sure that many more Government initiatives will come forward to try to address this issue.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs this week rightly highlighted the dangerous effects of intensive farming on soil nutrient levels, and the Woodland Trust has highlighted the grave danger to the soil and the special environment in our ancient woodland and pastures. Will the Leader of the House consider scheduling a debate on the important issues affecting ancient and precious sites?

I think that we all value our ancient woodlands enormously, and if Members have not been to one, I would encourage them to do so. These woodlands, the oldest in the UK, are really quite astonishing and absolutely irreplaceable. My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of protecting our soils. As Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I had the great pleasure of attending a conference sponsored by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to discuss just this issue and the importance of reducing the intensity of agricultural activity to reduce the damage being done to our soils. This is something that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is determined to promote.

May we have a debate and/or a statement on the application of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985? A prominent animal rights campaigner, John Bryant, has sought to bring a private prosecution under section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 against a racehorse owner who has seen nine of his horses killed over the past 10 years at Cheltenham races. Section 9 obliges owners to protect their animals from injury, but Gloucester magistrates court has repeatedly refused to issue a summons.

Order. We cannot interfere with the law. A general answer might be all right, but we cannot go into an individual case. [Interruption.] If not, let us move on.

The weekend before last, I attended a brilliantly organised World Squash Day event, organised by my constituent James Roberts, but frustratingly we do not have any squash courts in Corby. May we have a debate to discuss the benefits of squash and the pressing need for squash courts in Corby?

I invite my hon. Friend’s constituents to come and play squash in Brackley, just down the road in my constituency, where we are doing rather well in the leagues. His constituents might like to come and get some training there. But he is exactly right. We want more sport in this country—he is a keen sportsman—and as Members we should promote more of it in our constituencies. I would encourage him to apply for an Adjournment debate to see what more can be done.

In the light of this week’s ruling by the Information Commissioner’s Office on unlawful calls made by Blue Telecoms on behalf of the Conservative party during the 2017 general election, will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate about the importance of all political parties fully complying with electoral law?

All Members agree that all political parties should abide by electoral law. If there are any accusations the hon. Lady wants to make, she can rest assured they will be taken up by the Electoral Commission.

May we have a debate about the recruitment of doctors to emergency medicine? Cheltenham A&E is hugely valued by me, my family, my constituents and the population of Gloucestershire, but in 2013, before I was elected, it was downgraded. NHS managers at the time used recruitment issues as a pretext. May we have a debate to establish whether this explanation still holds water?

My hon. Friend raises a vital constituency matter and is absolutely right to do so. Decisions by NHS professionals must always be taken in consultation with local people—I have a similar issue of great concern to my constituents right now. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate to hear from a Minister what more he can do to protect his own medical facilities.

I am sure the Leader of the House agrees that our armed services veterans deserve the very best treatment when they are suffering from mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder. My constituent, Colin, has benefited from treatment at Audley Court in Shropshire; but unfortunately, this is now under threat of closure. Given that the Government claim to care so much about parity of esteem for mental health, may we have a wider debate in Government time about facilities for our brave veterans?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise first the importance of looking after our veterans and secondly the clear issue of mental health problems arising from the trauma they often suffer in action. She will be aware that the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Foundation have publicly announced a new partnership to deal with the issues of stigma and the treatment of mental health problems across the defence community, and the Government are determined to do all they can to promote strong mental health. I am sure she can raise her specific point about the prospective closure in her constituency at Defence questions.

Before the election, the Government released an excellent White Paper on the future of housing policy, at the weekend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government suggested that the Government should borrow £50 billion to kick-start the housing policy, and we are told that the Chancellor will make housing a keynote element in his Budget statement. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time on housing policy so that Members can contribute ideas before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor makes his Budget statement?

My hon. Friend is right that sorting out our housing market is not just a priority for the Chancellor but a personal priority for the Prime Minister, who is determined to tackle the ever-increasing challenge facing young people trying to get on to the housing ladder, either by buying or renting. I am sure that my hon. Friend, as always, will find a way to raise this with the Chancellor before the Budget.

Yesterday, I wrote to the CEO of RBS, Ross McEwan, about my call for a judge-led inquiry into the bank’s treatment of smaller businesses. His reply was:

“I have no interest in supporting another investigation after four years of review.”

Many small business owners will regard Mr McEwan’s comment that he has no interest in their plight as dismissive and disrespectful, given the way so many have had their lives torn apart as a result of what the Financial Conduct Authority described as the inappropriate treatment of small and medium-sized enterprises. Will the Leader of the House ask a Minister to respond to my request for a judge-led inquiry and to comment on what Mr McEwan has said?

I would say that as City Minister I always found Ross McEwan to be incredibly sympathetic to the issues facing small businesses. [Interruption.] I just want to give an alternative view on that. The hon. Gentleman is right, however, that there have been some appalling cases of banks failing to support small businesses. The FCA has looked at many specific cases and carried out quite an in-depth review, but if he has further specific cases, he should raise them with either the FCA or the City Minister.

A constituent attended my surgery last week to inform me that she was repeatedly raped and beaten by her ex-partner and currently has an injunction against his contacting her. Much to her horror, however, her bank has told her that she cannot remove herself from their joint account without attending with her ex-partner and without his agreement to the change. May we have a debate or statement on how banks treat people who have been abused domestically and amend the necessary regulations to ensure their safety?

The hon. Lady raises an appalling-sounding situation with which I absolutely sympathise. I am sure there must be a way through this. I urge her to raise the matter with Ministers to try to find a way forward for her constituent.

I was delighted to attend the launch of the Scottish poppy appeal yesterday, when it became apparent to me that 2017 and 2018 would see many centenaries, particularly over the role of women in the great war. Will the Government allocate time to ensure we properly commemorate the centenary of these wonderful occasions and give proper notice to the country that we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and helped out in the great war?

I think there is cross-party support on this issue, and I am absolutely certain that the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee would be interested in promoting such a debate in the Chamber. I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice and remind hon. Members that next year we also celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage. The contribution of women over the last 100 years or so is something we can all celebrate.

Government reforms in 2015 led to the unlocking of pension pots for more than 200,000 people, but today’s Financial Times reports high-pressure sales tactics, scaremongering and mis-selling, so may we have a statement? It looks as if another pensions scandal is brewing.

I, too, saw today’s report and share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. It does look alarming, and I am sure that he will find a way to raise it with Ministers.

I am currently pursuing a meeting with a Minister on the case of my constituent, an Iraqi-born Kurd, who was granted British citizenship in 2009. He is currently trying to get his one-year-old daughter out of a war zone around Erbil where she was born during a visit home by my constituent and his wife. The issues he is facing—the problems with paperwork and the impossibility, it seems at times, of moving the case forwards—prompts me to ask whether we can have a debate in this Chamber about how we are helping families who are torn apart by war and who come here for sanctuary but have to leave family members at home. What are we are doing and how are we working to reunite them?

I am incredibly sympathetic to the hon. Lady’s point. She is absolutely right to stand up for her constituent. We all, as constituency MPs, have cases where procedures seem to get in the way. I encourage her to write to me, so that I can take it up with the Home Office, or she can take it up directly with Ministers herself.

Last Sunday, I attended a charity fundraising event in my constituency to help raise money to buy women and girls sanitary products, because they simply cannot afford them. That is a growing issue in schools up and down the UK regardless of which Administration are in control. Can the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on the impact of Government cuts, particularly those that impact on women and girls?

This Government have done more for women in the workplace, for women’s incomes, for reducing inequality, and for ensuring that more families have the security of a pay packet and a wage to protect themselves and their families than was achieved in 13 years of a Labour Government. The hon. Gentleman makes a very specific point that he may wish to raise in an Adjournment debate, or indeed through oral questions.

A plumbing firm in my constituency is going to close before Christmas rather than being sold as a going concern because of false debt accrued under the multi-employer pension provisions of the Pensions Act 1995. When will the Leader of the House and this Government make changes to those regulations to stop more firms going to the wall?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about a business in his constituency. He may well want to look into that further through an Adjournment debate. I urge him to raise the general point about regulations at Treasury questions to see what more can be done.

Given the Government’s recent and welcome conversion on the road to Manchester regarding council, social and affordable housing, may I ask for an urgent debate, ahead of the Budget, on what support the Government are providing to ensure that all local authority-owned land, such as that in the ownership of my local Warwick District Council, is used exclusively in its provision as that would be the simplest, cheapest and most significant action in its delivery?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the importance of ensuring that local authorities do all they can to facilitate new house building. He will be aware that the Government are looking into how we can facilitate exactly that. I encourage him to raise it with Ministers at every opportunity.

I was bitterly disappointed that the Leader of the House did not announce a debate around the NHS. We have heard cries from across the House about the state of the NHS. In York, our health service will run out of money within the month. Can we have an urgent debate, ahead of the Budget, on NHS funding, so that we can ensure that the money goes to the right place? We are having real-term cuts in York.

As I have said to a number of hon. Members, it is absolutely right that we all focus on the specific health issues in our own constituencies and that, where necessary, we defend them. The hon. Lady will be aware that NHS funding will be more than half a trillion pounds from 2015 to 2020, that the overwhelming majority of patients continue to be seen within four hours, and that the Government are investing more money in doctors, GP surgeries, nursing training and so on. On the specific issues for York, she should certainly seek to raise them in an Adjournment debate.

The citizens advice bureau in Wrexham is doing an excellent job at the moment, providing advice on universal credit and debt pressures, but, unfortunately, the local authority is proposing to withdraw funding for the CAB in Wrexham at the end of this financial year. Can we have an urgent debate on advice and the importance of funding advice for people who are under financial pressure?

I take this opportunity to thank citizens advice bureaux for all the excellent work they do in all of our constituencies. The hon. Gentleman raises the important point that they are very often largely volunteer funded—although they do a lot of their own fundraising—and we should all defend the budgets for those citizens advice bureaux as well as the budgets for other advisers who provide a lot of volunteer work to help people to stay out of debt.

It would be reasonable to expect that when right hon. and hon. Members email the Department for Work and Pensions hotline they receive an acknowledgement or a correspondence, details of who is dealing with the case and a rough timescale. Sadly, that is not the case, as it simply acts as a hub for passing on inquiries, and then we are left in the dark having to find out those things. Can we have a statement from Ministers as to how that can be reformed and made fit for purpose?

There is a very good service on universal credit from the DWP. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, Ministers are committed to incremental improvements. Every time they hear of some problem, they are determined to resolve it. We have seen in recent weeks that Ministers are responding. The roll-out of universal credit is slow and assured; 8% of benefit recipients are now on universal credit. That is expected to be up to 10% by January when the next pause is due to look at what more needs to be done. The hon. Gentleman has put his concerns on the record, and Ministers will be listening to them.

Ministers have said recently that the pay cap on public sector workers has now been scrapped, but the reality on the ground is that there will be no more money for the public services that have to find extra pay. Can we have a debate on the flaws at the heart of the Government’s pay policy to make sure that we do not see the erosion of our police and our other important public services?

Our public servants do a fantastic job for which we are all incredibly grateful. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that our economy is still struggling to recover from the state in which it was left in 2010. We are still spending far more money than we take in tax revenues every year. We have a choice: we can either tackle it ourselves in this generation or we can leave our children and grandchildren to deal with the problems of this generation, which were left to us by a Labour Government. What is absolutely vital is that we listen carefully and take the advice of the independent pay review bodies, which is what we are doing.

Can the Leader of the House find time next week to debate the decision, taken yesterday behind closed doors, of Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, which, as part of a VAT scam, agreed to set up a separate company registered at Companies House to run a large part of its activities, with the power to reduce the terms and conditions of new staff?

That sounds like a concerning issue. I urge the hon. Gentleman to take it up directly with Ministers in the Department of Health.

Can we have an urgent debate about the very worrying 13% increase in crime and the concerns raised by chief constables and the Office for National Statistics that that represents a genuine increase in crime, not just changes in reporting? The rises in knife crime, violent crime and homicides are putting pressure on police resources. I am seeing the impact in my constituency of activities relating to spice, drug use and dealing. The police need extra resources to cope with this rising crime.

We are absolutely committed to doing more. The Home Secretary has announced her intention to bring forward draft legislation to look at what we can do to stamp out knife crime. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 was passed last year to deal with the increasing use of psychoactive substances such as the ones mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The crime statistics this year cannot be compared with the previous year, because the previous estimate did not include fraud and computer misuse offences. In fact, crimes that are traditionally measured by the independent crime survey for England and Wales have fallen by 9% over the past year, which is a continuation of the overall downward trend.

May we have a debate in Government time about routine delays in the Home Office? The Immigration Minister promised a 90-minute Q&A session yesterday, but left after 12 minutes —an absolute insult to the staff and MPs who turned up. My constituent entered further submissions for his asylum claim in 2014, but they have still not been considered by the Home Office’s complex casework team. Does the Leader of the House think that a three-year delay is acceptable for someone who has fled persecution in Georgia?

The hon. Lady is right to raise that constituency case. I encourage her to speak to Home Office Ministers, who I am sure will take it up. The situation sounds very concerning, and I am extremely sympathetic to her.

I welcome the comments of the Leader of the House on the difference between this Government’s and the last Labour Government’s commitment to women. Would she like a comparative debate? If not, could we have a debate on the rape clause? Could we have a debate on the rise in maternity discrimination due to court charges for women? Could we have a debate on the one in four women who cannot get refuge any more? Could we have a debate on the number of split payments in universal credit? Could we have a debate on the gender pay gap, which is not closing? Could we have a debate on the women under 25 who are not entitled to the minimum wage? I could go on and on. I would like some debates.

The hon. Lady raises a smörgåsbord of issues. As a strong supporter of women, I heartily agree that we need to raise issues that affect women. We also need to raise issues that affect the entire population. The Government are determined to improve the lives of all people in this country. We have done a huge amount specifically focused on women, including having had two female Prime Ministers. We have improved the number of women on boards and in public life. We also have improved the employment rate for women, women’s wages and childcare support for families where both parents work. It is vital that we continue to do so; on that we can heartily agree.

If we are going to have some debates, could I add something? I have read the written ministerial statement by the Leader of the House, the cause of which is the Government not turning up for Divisions on Opposition day motions, so could we issue to the Government Whips Office white flags to wave every time we have an Opposition day debate? That would provide a visual representation of the reality of the Government’s craven attitude towards them.

The hon. Gentleman is plain wrong. The Government have turned up to all Opposition day debates. Senior Ministers have spoken from the Dispatch Box, introduced the debates, and answered and responded to all Members’ points. There have been an equal number of Government versus Opposition speakers. We have fully participated in all those debates. As Mr Speaker reminded the House, it is up to individual Members and parties as to whether and how they vote. The hon. Gentleman’s party frequently abstains from votes, and he would not appreciate the Government insisting that he turns up and votes against every single policy.

On 16 October, the Nepalese President signed into law a Bill that includes clauses that criminalise religious conversion and the hurting of religious sentiment. Such clauses have been widely misused in neighbouring countries to persecute religious minorities, and there are signs that this has already begun to happen in Nepal. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this important issue?

As ever, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point about religious persecution. It is the Government’s view that all religions should be protected. People have the right to express their views, free from fear and threats. The hon. Gentleman always finds a way to raise these matters, and it is right that he does.

Dr Maria Sapouna from University of the West of Scotland has been awarded £250,000 from the Erasmus+ programme. Universities across Europe will be collaborating to support learning around prejudiced-based bullying by using gaming technology. As we approach Anti-Bullying Week on 13 November, may we have a debate for Members to discuss how innovative approaches such as this one can stop bullying behaviour?

Bullying affects children and young people in particular right across our society. We are fully committed to stamping it out in every way that we can. I commend the hon. Gentleman for looking at innovative ways to achieve that, and urge him to suggest that all Members do so in their constituencies.

I recently launched my Small Business Saturday awards to celebrate the richness and diversity of small businesses in Bottesford, Kirton in Lindsey, Scunthorpe and the surrounding areas. Small Business Saturday is coming up on 2 December, so may we have a debate before that date on the contribution that small businesses make to our economy and communities?

I commend the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter. Of course, small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities. We all share a concern that, too often, the town centre dies when small businesses leave and close down, so we should do everything that we can to support them. The Government welcome and fully take part in Small Business Saturday. I think that we will all be visiting our local small businesses on that Saturday.