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Business of the House

Volume 631: debated on Thursday 23 November 2017

In an attempt to be as helpful as possible to the House, and with your prior agreement, Mr Speaker, I should like to give the provisional business for the period up until the Christmas recess. The business for the week commencing 27 November will include:

Monday 27 November—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 28 November—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 29 November—Opposition day (5th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 30 November—Debate on a motion on treatment of small and medium-sized enterprises by RBS Global Restructuring Group, followed by debate on a motion on mental health and suicide within the autism community. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 1 December—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 4 December will include:

Monday 4 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 4).

Tuesday 5 December—Opposition day (6th allotted day): there will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 6 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 5).

Thursday 7 December—Debate on a motion on prison reform and safety, followed by general debate on the UK fishing industry. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 8 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 December will include:

Monday 11 December—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Tuesday 12 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 6).

Wednesday 13 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 7).

Thursday 14 December—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 15 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 18 December will include:

Monday 18 December—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 19 December—Continuation in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 20 December—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 8).

Thursday 21 December—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 22 December—The House will not be sitting.

I should like to inform the House that the debate on restoration and renewal will take place on Thursday 11 January 2018.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for December will be:

Monday 4 December—Debate on an e-petition relating to public sector pay.

Monday 11 December—Debate on e-petitions relating to a referendum on the deal for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Tuesday 12 December—General debate on funding for domestic violence refuges.

Tuesday 19 December—General debate on the steel sector deal.

This week, the working group on an independent grievance policy held further meetings. I am pleased to report the positive progress we are making, and I thank colleagues for the constructive way in which we are all working together. All members of the working group are committed to bringing our proposals to the House before it rises on 21 December. The group has already received a number of contributions, all of which will inform the final policy, and we have commissioned a survey, which will be distributed to staff who work in and outside the parliamentary estate this week. The working group is balancing the need for fast action with thorough due diligence, and I will continue to update the House.

In the light of our work on harassment, it is right to mention that this Saturday is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We in this House stand with all those who are working to put an end to gender-based violence.

Finally, I congratulate Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of their 70th wedding anniversary. I think the whole country has been inspired by their wonderful achievement.

Order. I should just say that there is heavy pressure on time today. The phenomenon of colleagues beetling into the Chamber after the Leader of the House has started to give the business has been growing in recent times. It is really very unsatisfactory. Members must keep an eye on the monitors and make sure that they are here on time. It is not fair to come late and then expect to be called, delaying progress to later business and opportunities for colleagues to participate in that business. Frankly, I am today disinclined to call people who turned up late. Their conduct must improve.

I thank the Leader of the House for helpfully giving us the forthcoming business all the way up to the Christmas recess. I also thank her for the extra Opposition day, which is very useful.

I am slightly saddened that the date given for the debate on restoration and renewal was not when the Leader of the House originally said she intended it to be—she said it would be before Christmas—and that it is now scheduled for a Thursday, which is not particularly helpful for Members who come from far-flung constituencies. Will she consider holding the debate earlier in the week, and may we have a look at the motion before we rise for recess? It has been 14 months since the report—[Interruption.] Sorry, is there a problem? The hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) is a lawyer, so he ought to know that judges would not put up with this. It has been 14 months since the report on restoration and renewal, and the costs are increasing every time they are mentioned.

Last week, I asked about the list of Ministers’ interests, but the Leader of the House did not respond to that point and nor did she write to me. As of yesterday, the list had not been updated since December last year. Will she ensure that it is updated as soon as possible, particularly as trade negotiations are ongoing? We want to ensure that there is transparency and no conflict of interests.

Is the Leader of the House aware of when the EU sectoral impact assessments that have been requested are going to be provided to the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)? I think the deadline is on Tuesday; I am sure she is aware of the possible sanctions for missing it.

May we have a statement on the £3 billion in the Budget for preparations for our exit from the European Union? No detail was given. We know that the Department for Exiting the European Union has 300 staff and that the Department for International Trade has 2,000. Will the Leader of the House be explicit about exactly what that money is for, or could the Chancellor make a statement?

Other than the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, we are still waiting for the Bills on immigration, fisheries and agriculture; will the Leader of the House please say when they will be published?

Despite the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union saying that we would not, we have lost the European Banking Authority to France and the European Medicines Agency to Holland. We are also losing our influence because we have lost our judge on the International Court of Justice.

Will the Leader of the House do the House the courtesy of providing time for a debate or oral statement on the forensic services? In 2012, the coalition Government sold off the Forensic Science Service. Despite warnings at the time and the National Audit Office warning that standards were slipping two years ago, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service confirmed in a written statement on Tuesday that tests by Trimega between 2010 and 2014 and by Randox Testing Services between 2013 and 2014 are being treated as potentially unreliable. The police were informed that there might have been manipulation of test results, affecting almost 10,000 cases. Customers include local authorities, individuals’ legal representatives, employers and the police. The House needs to know what the Government will do to restore public confidence in forensic science and to restore the Forensic Science Service. The Minister must come to the House, as requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) .

If it is not being sold off, it is being cut, so may we have an urgent statement from the Justice Secretary? In response to a written question from the shadow Justice Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), it was said that the Ministry of Justice will have suffered cumulative cuts of 40% in its budget in the fiscal decade ending 2020. The right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), the former Leader of the House, has now gone to a Department that has actually been cut in half. The Law Society says that the cuts are having a real impact on the ability of the most vulnerable in our society to access justice—so justice for the few, not the many.

The Chancellor has forgotten about defending our country, as there is nothing on defence; forgotten about the elderly, as there is nothing on social care; forgotten about students, as there is nothing on student finance or on the review of university finance; forgotten about those who work in the public sector or local government who provide services that underpin our communities; forgotten about affordable homes; forgotten how much was set aside for the liabilities that we will have to pay to the EU; and forgotten about mental health. There is £28 billion to a cash-rich local authority and nothing to anyone else. May we have a statement on all those topics?

There is no innovation, just stagnation. The Chancellor did not mention that the Office for Budget Responsibility had said that Brexit played a part in weak productivity, which has resulted in a revised downward growth forecast. There was also no measure to kick-start a stagnant economy. The pound has fallen today. Can we have a statement from the Chancellor on what will be done about that?

The Government cannot win an argument, which is why the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury, the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), had to resort to personal insults to the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. Mr Speaker, you were not here, but there were plenty of seats behind the Prime Minister at PMQs and during the Chancellor’s Budget speech, so there was no need to sit on the stairs. We debate in this Chamber, not sledge—that is for cricket matches.

Sorry, I have forgotten something—there was one innovative thing in the Chancellor’s speech. He and the Government seem obsessed by driverless cars. We know why—when driverless cars crash, there is no driver to take the blame.

Personally, I am delighted that the Government are embracing the opportunities of future technology and the high-skilled jobs of the future. I regret that the hon. Lady seeks to downplay the importance of new technologies in creating a bright future for the United Kingdom.

The hon. Lady asks about the debate on the restoration and renewal of the Palace. I encourage all hon. Members to please come to my third drop-in session next Tuesday evening where the engineers for the R&R programme will be on hand to answer questions. I will be there to hear all views on what we should be doing about this fantastic Palace of Westminster. It is right that we get a grip on it. That is what we are doing and why we will be having a debate on 11 January. I encourage all Members to ensure that they are aware of the issues before then.

The hon. Lady asks about the impact assessments. As I have said many times, we will absolutely meet the obligations of the motion that was passed by the House. She asks for information on the breakdown of the Budget for preparedness for leaving the EU. She will appreciate that, as we leave the EU, there are requirements that we be ready by having new systems and procedures in place. It is quite right that the Chancellor provide funding for those new systems and procedures. As we go through the Brexit legislation, the extent of excellent preparation work that is going on among all Departments will be very apparent. She asks about the immigration, fisheries and agriculture Bills; I can tell her that they will all be coming forward in due course. Much work is already under way to prepare for that.

The hon. Lady also asks about the UK’s influence in the world. I am sure that she does not mean to talk down our great country. We on the Government Benches are extremely optimistic about the future for the United Kingdom as we seek to leave the EU. We have very strong support: we are a key member of the United Nations Security Council; and we are absolutely key to many of the international agencies around the world, not least of which is in our support for international aid, which is something that I am sure she will welcome.

The hon. Lady asked specifically about the forensic science services. The report is very concerning and I am sure that much more will be said about it in due course. Hon. Members may well wish to raise the matter in questions at the first opportunity. She also asked about the 40% cuts in the Ministry of Justice budget. Justice questions are on 5 December. As she will be aware, all Departments are looking to make efficiency savings, and it is not the case that cuts automatically mean less access to any service. The efficiencies being made right across Government are to be welcomed as they offer better value to the taxpayer.

Finally, the hon. Lady mentioned yesterday’s Budget. The Chancellor delivered a Budget that will support a Britain that is fit for the future. We have scrapped stamp duty for more than 80% of first-time buyers, which is fantastic news for young people. We have increased the living wage, which is great news for low earners. We have also cut income tax and frozen fuel duty. These measures support everyone in the UK, providing a particular boost for the lowest paid and for young people looking to get on the housing ladder. The Budget proves that we are taking a balanced approach to the economy while supporting even more people in their everyday lives.

I am one of the offenders to whom you referred, Mr Speaker, as I said last time when I threw myself at your mercy. I am grateful that you gave us another telling off, but I was on time—

Order. I was not aware that the hon. Gentleman had been late. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is chuntering from a sedentary position to no obvious benefit or purpose, for the simple reason that I have not the foggiest idea from this distance what he is chuntering about. I am sure that he has a good point; in subsequent years, no doubt, he will tell me what it is. Meanwhile, he can sit quietly and await his fate while we hear from the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger).

I will not chunter.

The Leader of the House is fully aware that we are trying to get Hinkley Point C built as soon as possible. One problem is the A358, which is now subject to yet another consultation. Taunton Deane Borough Council has blatantly lied that the road go-ahead has been given. That is not true. Could we please have a debate on the issue, as the Hinkley C project is of massive international and national importance?

My hon. Friend raises a point that is of grave concern to him. I encourage him to take it up with Department for Communities and Local Government Ministers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has sent his apologies to you, Mr Speaker, and to his counterparts.

I welcome the appointment of Sarah Clarke as the new Black Rod—the first woman to hold the post. I notice that her appointment follows the announcement of the first female Doctor Who. One of them inhabits a weird and wacky parallel universe full of dinosaurs and relics from the past, and the other flies around in a Tardis. It seems that the Leader of the House has also acquired a time machine, though, because the pre-Christmas debate on restoration and renewal will now take place before Christmas 2018, in the new year.

Another pioneering woman was Winnie Ewing. We are grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for the use of your state rooms to mark the 50th anniversary of her maiden speech here and 50 continuous years of Scottish National party representation. It is quite timely that next Wednesday the SNP will have its first Opposition day since before the election. I know that the House is in a state of breathless anticipation, waiting to find out which topics we will choose and whether the Government will maintain their policy of abstaining on Opposition day motions.

We welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday that he is scrapping VAT on Scotland’s fire and police services, although there is still the unresolved matter of the £140 million that has already been paid. It is interesting that Scotland’s Tory MPs are trying to claim credit for the Chancellor’s change of heart, because they have tried to shout down SNP Members whenever we have raised the matter. That prompts the question: what is the point of the Scottish Tory MPs? A couple of weeks ago, the Leader of the House told us that it was their job to

“hold the Scottish Government to account”—[Official Report, 26 October 2017; Vol. 630, c. 461.]

But she told me in a written answer that of course the place to hold Scottish Ministers to account is the Scottish Parliament, from whence many of her colleagues came. If they are so obsessed with the performance of the Scottish Government, maybe they should go back. Perhaps when we announce our Opposition day topics, we will find out whether the Leader of the House’s Scottish colleagues are able to get on with their day job by joining SNP MPs in holding the UK Government to account.

First, I wish the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) well. He kindly gave the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) and myself notice that he would not be here, and we wish him well.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman raises—absolutely correctly—the SNP Opposition day next week, and we all await with bated breath the subject for discussion. I would encourage him to let the subject be congratulating my hon. Friends the Conservative Members for Scotland on the excellent negotiations they held with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to ensure that police and fire services in Scotland would indeed be able to recover VAT, which the Scottish Government decided to bring under Scottish rule, in the full knowledge that VAT would not be recoverable. It seems extraordinary that hon. Members on the SNP Benches should be criticising, rather than thanking, my hon. Friends for their contribution.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the debate on R and R. It is certainly not just before Christmas 2018—it is in fact just into the new year of 2018.

Order. I am sure the happier-than-ever disposition of the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) is because he is joining me in continued celebration, a mere five days later, of Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Tottenham. I call Mr Jeremy Lefroy.

Thank you, Mr Speaker—indeed I am.

My right hon. Friend has not mentioned the Second Reading in relation to High Speed 2 phase 2a, so I suspect it will be coming in the new year. However, may I ask for a debate on the importance of preparing for such a major project in terms of national road infrastructure? Phase 2a of HS2 will cut across the A38, the A34, the A51 and the M6, all within a relatively short space. It is vital that this national infrastructure is protected during the construction of phase 2a, if it is indeed to go ahead.

In specific response to my hon. Friend, I can say that the debate on HS2 will be as soon as possible in the new year. He is absolutely right to point out that proper infrastructure to accommodate this enormous project is vital. There are Transport questions on 30 November, and I encourage him to raise that matter then.

Order. In order to protect subsequent business, I am advising the House that I would like to move on to the next business by quarter to 12. Perhaps hon. and right Members can frame their contributions accordingly.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the provisional business up until the Christmas recess.

The Backbench Business Committee have been busy bees. We have already done provisional determinations for the dates that have been announced. On 7 December, as we know, we have prison reform and safety, and the important general debate on the UK fishing industry, prior to the EU Fisheries Council on 11 and 12 December. Our provisional determination for 14 December is equality of pension provision for women and hormone pregnancy tests. Our provisional determination for 21 December is Russian interference in UK politics and society, and a general debate on matters to be raised before the Adjournment for the Christmas recess.

May I just say to the hon. Gentleman that I am delighted he was able to accommodate the debate on fishing prior to the December Council?

Mr Speaker, I will not join in with your allusion to football—all I will say is good luck to Arsenal this evening in the Europa league.

We rightly devolve funding to metro Mayors and local authorities and expect them to spend the money wisely. Following the Budget yesterday, the Labour Mayor of London has been on the airwaves complaining about the funding for the Metropolitan police and other services, yet, he sits on £2.5 billion of unallocated reserves and has failed to spend a single penny of the record amount of money for social housing in London. Can we have a debate in Government time at some stage on the performance of our devolved institutions?

I am staying out of that one, Mr Speaker—Northampton Saints rugby side for me, any day.

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. It is absolutely unconscionable for the Mayor of London to point the finger constantly at central Government for a lack of funding whenever he falls short in providing for Londoners, given that he is sitting on enormous reserves.

May we have a debate on the plight of the Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, particularly Mubasher Ahmad, Ghulam Ahmed and Ehsan Ahmed, who have been sentenced to death simply because they are Ahmadi Muslims and therefore offend against the blasphemy laws?

The hon. Lady raises an incredibly concerning issue, both generally and specifically. Members throughout the House condemn the death penalty, especially when used against a particular ethnic grouping. I encourage her to write to the Foreign Office, which I am sure will be pleased to take up the issue for her.

Like many other Conservative Members, I have received a large amount of correspondence this week after voting against an amendment regarding animals being sentient. Given that the proposer of the amendment accepted that it would have limited practical impact, will my right hon. Friend reiterate the statement released earlier today by the Environment Secretary? It confirms that the Government believe that animals are sentient beings and outlines that Government Members—like all right hon. and hon. Members, I am sure—simply want a policy that protects animals, rather than supporting an amendment which would still allow bullfighting, fur farming and puppy smuggling in the EU.

My hon. Friend speaks for many people across the UK. We are a nation of animal lovers, and the Government are absolutely committed to the highest standards of animal welfare. We propose to increase sentencing for animal cruelty and introduce CCTV in all slaughterhouses. He is right that the current EU instrument, article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, has not delivered the progress that we want to see. It does not have direct effect in law, its effect in practice is unclear, and it has failed to prevent practices across the EU that are cruel and painful to animals. The Government are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare and will take all steps necessary to ensure that they are in law.

When do the Government plan to restart the debates on what was the Prisons and Courts Bill, which fell because of the general election? I have been told that there is not parliamentary time to restart a Bill that had cross-party support and would have ended the unnecessary deaths of children in the family courts system.

The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important point. The passage of the previous Bill was not completed by the end of the last Parliament. Different but similar measures are being brought forward in this Parliament and will be debated as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.

After the end of the third siege of Newark in 1646, when the Scots took Charles I up north for ransom, we did not think it would happen again. Unfortunately, Network Rail is doing it to us this time. The barriers at Newark station are down continuously, the town is cut off and the hundreds and thousands of people who want to come to my town to work and shop cannot get in. Will the Leader of the House please arrange a debate for us on the appalling performance of Network Rail, which incidentally is in national ownership? How we can get things moving again in Newark?

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. Newark is a fabulous town, and I am quite sure that his constituents are very annoyed about what is going on. He will be reassured to know that Transport questions will be on 30 November, which will be a good opportunity for him to raise his real concerns.

Has the Leader of the House had time to read a leaked report by Irish embassies around the world, which paints a rather unflattering picture of the UK Government’s negotiating skills in relation to Brexit? It talks of feeling sorry for British ambassadors who are trying to present a coherent picture when there is confusion at home. Will she make time available for a debate on the Government’s incompetence and inability to deliver Brexit, increasing the risk of no deal?

The right hon. Gentleman might have noticed that there are quite a number of debates on Brexit going on at the moment. Perhaps he has not been present in the Chamber. I encourage him to stop talking the country down. We are extremely optimistic about the prospects for the UK as we leave the EU, and his constant pessimism is not helping.

I was delighted to hear the Chancellor focusing on infrastructure, air pollution and productivity in his speech yesterday. Infrastructure and link roads are key, and they are vital to improving air quality. Will the Leader of the House consider finding time for a full debate on this issue?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Air quality is vital for this country. We all want to see transport moving, to ensure that we are not polluting unnecessarily. She is right to raise the Chancellor’s announcement of more money for infrastructure funding, particularly for link roads. I am sure that she will find a way to discuss the specific issues for her constituency, perhaps through an Adjournment debate, but as a general picture I think the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday showed a commitment to solving the twin problems of transport and air pollution.

I congratulate the Public Accounts Committee on yesterday revealing a financial calamity of giant proportions. The Committee has calculated that instead of the anticipated £6 billion, the subsidy for Hinkley Point will be £30 billion, and the costs will fall on the poorest consumers. The EPR reactor has not produced a single watt of electricity, and every other example is years late and billions over budget. Is it not essential that we debate this, before we create more sinkholes into which we dump billions of pounds of public money?

As has been the case for a long time, I thoroughly admire the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to always talking down nuclear. I say gently to him that, as he will be aware, this country depends greatly on nuclear electricity generation to keep our lights on, and it will continue to do so. He will also be aware that our nuclear power plants are nearing the end of their useful life. We need projects such as Hinkley Point C, not just to generate local jobs and growth but to keep the lights on, as a low-carbon source of electricity generation that will take us into the decades ahead.

Even these illustrious knights of the realm have to learn to arrive on time. Now, which of them is the more deserving? I think we will hear Sir David Amess.

To echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) has said, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on animal welfare? Many of our constituents have been led to believe that when we leave the European Union, standards of animal welfare will decline. As an animal lover myself, I want our high standards not only to be maintained, but to improve still further.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. We have already set out our proposals to introduce mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses; to increase to five years sentences for animal cruelty; to ban microbeads, which cause so much harm to our marine life; and to ban the ivory trade, to bring an end to elephant poaching. Those were all measures that I was proud to support when I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We also recognise and respect the fact that animals are sentient beings and should be treated accordingly. We will do everything to ensure that our animal welfare standards remain as high as they are now, or higher, as we leave the European Union.

Yesterday, another £3 billion was tossed into the endless black hole of Brexit, with just £2.8 billion extra going to NHS England and a scarce amount for Wales to use. I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but I do not remember seeing a big red bus driving around the country bearing the slogan: “Vote leave for less NHS spending, because we will have to blow it all on Brexit.” Perhaps the campaigners could not find a bus that was big enough. Will the Leader of the House commit the Government to making a statement on that?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government will invest a third of a trillion pounds in the NHS during this Parliament. Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an extra £6.3 billion of additional funding to meet the pressures that the NHS is under. The Government will invest £3.5 billion in capital by 2022, and there is an additional £2.8 billion of resource funding to improve NHS performance and ensure that more patients receive the care they need more quickly. Conservative Members are fully committed to an NHS that works for all the people in our country, and she should bear it in mind that the NHS has been independently voted the best health system in the world.

I apologise for being late, Mr Speaker, but may I remind you that the labourer who turns up late at the vineyard is entitled to equal wages?

May I ask my right hon. Friend about the debate on restoration and renewal that will take place in the first week back after the Christmas recess? I urge her to lay her motion early, perhaps before the recess, because I will certainly table an amendment and I will need time to have it on the Order Paper for people to sign it, if you are kind enough to select it, Mr Speaker. Of course we accept that there should be the delivery authority and the sponsor board that the Leader of the House has spoken about, but some of us are worried that unless there is clear instruction to these boards of experts now, there will inevitably be pressure to build a replica Chamber and kick us out of the old Palace for many years. We want an amendment to test the will of the House on that matter.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest and engagement with the whole R&R project. He will be aware that the Joint Committee report set out:

“It is not possible to set a precise budget for the Programme at this stage. As part of further feasibility work it will be imperative, therefore, that a thorough business case should be prepared, balancing costs against value in order to assess and validate the preferred options in more detail.”

Work on the motion to establish a sponsor board and a delivery authority will be essential if we are to provide a proper evaluation of the options, but we will bring it forward as soon as we can.

May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate about the work of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman? A constituent of mine made a complaint in November 2016 and was told that they would receive a response by March 2017, but did not get a response until the end of October. My office sent eight emails and three letters and made numerous phone calls to get a response. I do not think it is acceptable for a constituent to have to wait a year for a response to their complaint, so will she find time for such a debate?

If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me about that case, I will certainly take it up on his behalf.

I am sure you will want to wish Motherwell all the best in the league cup final this coming Sunday, Mr Speaker, as you wished other teams well earlier.

On a more serious matter, may we have a debate on the impact of medical assessments by Department for Work and Pensions agencies and contractors? A constituent of mine, who is 60, has had cerebral palsy from birth and has arthritis and fibromyalgia, so she cannot work and needs her family to help with her daily living. Despite this, she was assessed as having zero points, and she received a letter that caused her to try to commit suicide. May we have a debate on this because vulnerable people are being put at risk?

The hon. Lady raises a very concerning issue. As I have said a number of times in this place, it is good that all colleagues take up specific constituency cases. The DWP has committed many billions of pounds—£50 billion—to support for people with disabilities, and the personal independence payment assessments are designed to give people more control over their lives and their care. Inevitably, however, we all find specific cases where the work has not been done properly, and I encourage her to contact Work and Pensions Ministers about her specific case.

The whole of the northern powerhouse section in the Budget Red Book has 376 words, but there are 453 words just on the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford growth corridor. May we have a debate about what exactly the Government have got against funding and fair investment for the north?

I am surprised by the hon. Lady’s question. The northern powerhouse has been at the heart of everything this Government have sought to do since 2010. Under the previous Chancellor and the current Chancellor, we have shown enormous commitment to the northern powerhouse. There has been huge employment growth and investment in transport and rail infrastructure, which is spread right across the United Kingdom. If the hon. Lady wants to take up the specifics, I suggest that she raises this matter during the Budget debate that is about to happen, or during debates on the Finance Bill.

The Foreign Secretary is yet to make a statement to the House on the Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar. On Monday I returned from Bangladesh, where I gathered evidence and treated victims of the unfolding genocide in Myanmar against the Rohingya people. Each day that our Government fail to act is another day wasted with innocent lives lost. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on that topic, so that we can discuss the numerous reports that suggest that we are bystanders to a genocide?

Members across the House are incredibly concerned about the plight of the Rohingya people. There are now more than 610,000 refugees in Bangladesh. It is a major humanitarian crisis, and I commend the hon. Lady for taking steps to see it for herself, as have hon. Members from across the House. The UK has delivered a clear message that the Burmese authorities must act urgently to protect civilians and allow full humanitarian access, and to allow refugees to return. The UK Government have given £47 million to an aid effort, including £5 million to match the generous donations from the British public to the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee.

Thanks to your gracious hospitality yesterday, Mr Speaker, Women’s Aid was able to hold a reception in your apartment. We heard the most incredibly moving testimony from my constituent Claire Throssell about how her children were murdered by their father when he barricaded them in an attic and set fire to the family home. The Leader of the House has already acknowledged the importance of the issue of domestic violence, so I ask once again for the Prisons and Courts Bill, and the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, to be brought forward not within this Parliament, but within this Session of Parliament.

I was privileged to be there yesterday with the hon. Lady and many others, and I will say in this Chamber what I said to Claire: her speech was the bravest and most remarkable speech that I have ever heard in Speaker’s House in nearly eight and a half years as Speaker. I salute her extraordinary courage and determination, as I think everybody present did. It was a privilege to hear her.

That sounds incredibly harrowing, and my heart goes out to Claire. It must have been the most horrendous experience. Over many years, the Prime Minister has personally shown her commitment to eradicating the appalling and frequent incidence of domestic violence. We have committed to bringing forward the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, and that will be done as soon as possible. I encourage the hon. Lady—as I know she will—to continue to speak with Home Office Ministers about the experiences of her constituents, and about her thoughts on the shape that the Bill should take.

Since 2001, mass violence between Muslim Fulani herders and Christian farmers in Nigeria’s middle belt has killed up to 60,000 people, with villages, churches, mosques, livestock and businesses destroyed. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on that issue, so that the UK Government can outline steps to stop or mitigate the violence?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He often raises different aspects of the religious and ethnic battles that are going on across the world. He is right to do that, and I encourage him to continue to highlight such cases. Should he feel the need to hold an Adjournment debate to highlight a particular issue, I encourage him to do so.

May we have an urgent debate on the future of local authorities? There is not a word in the Budget about local authorities or social care, yet millions of our citizens depend on them. Gedling Borough Council has lost 62% of its grant, and Nottinghamshire County Council has lost £212 million. Those are not efficiencies; they are cuts to the services on which our constituents depend.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware, as we all are, of the pressures our economy is under as we seek to get the deficit that we inherited in 2010 under control to avoid leaving that burden of debt for the next generation. At the same time, the Chancellor made it clear yesterday that he is taking steps to ensure a balanced approach that enables us to support the most needy while protecting our public finances.

One of the most vulnerable communities is those who are bereaved by suicide. Dr Sharon McDonnell, director of Suicide Bereavement UK at the University of Manchester, and Support after Suicide Partnership are carrying out research into the services available for those bereaved by suicide to prevent future deaths. I am sending out details of a survey to hon. Members, but could we have a debate on suicide bereavement and its impact on families and friends, and will the Leader of the House support me in encouraging Members to circulate the survey to their constituents?

I am always delighted to help in any way I can to promote something as important as the impact on those bereaved by suicide. I encourage the hon. Lady to seek a Westminster Hall debate or an Adjournment debate on this specific subject, so that other Members can bring forward examples from their own constituencies.

May we have a debate in Government time on the process and implementation of school exclusions? In the last year alone, nearly 900 pupils across north-east Lincolnshire have lost 3,489 days of their education. It is critical for schools to have the support they need to provide education. Making sure that those children get the education they deserve is really important.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the importance of every child getting a good education. She may be aware that Education questions are on 11 December, and I am sure Ministers will be pleased to answer her questions. I would like to point out that we now have a commitment to spend £4,800 for every secondary school child and £3,500 for every primary school child, with increases in specific funds to deal with special needs issues that may lead to exclusion or other challenges faced in school life. It is right that we focus our education spend on those who need it the most.

I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are members of the HSBC Midland bank occupational pension scheme. The scheme operates a clawback provision, which appears to disproportionately impact those who have been the longest serving and lowest paid in the scheme. It has an impact on their access to the state pension, too. May we have a debate on that very important subject, which is affecting thousands of people up and down the country?

The issue of fairness in pensions, whether private sector or public sector, is always important for those who are affected. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that he can take that matter up with the Financial Conduct Authority, which can look into specific concerns pensioners have about a particular scheme. Equally, he may wish to raise the issue in the Budget debate next week.

A constituent of mine has a serious debilitating spinal condition and it is absolutely crystal clear to everybody that she is unfit for work. However, she has been declared fit for work, with an appeal date set for after Christmas, which she does not think she will be able to celebrate as her benefits have been stopped. Each of these cases is a stain on the right hon. Lady’s Government and on society. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on her Government’s continuing vilification of the vulnerable and disabled in our society?

I have to say that I reject what the hon. Lady is saying about the Government’s approach. We have done an enormous amount to improve the ability of those with disabilities to be in control of the spend on their care and welfare, and to make it much fairer so that those with greater need receive greater support from the Government. If the hon. Lady wants to raise her particular case, I encourage her to do so either during the statement that follows or at Work and Pensions questions.

Christmas is coming, but my constituents are being made unhappy by unfair and excessive delivery charges, which are an escalating blight in highlands and other rural constituencies. I have raised the issue many times—for instance, in a ten-minute rule Bill. May we have a debate in Government time on the need to finally deal with this sharp practice?

The same point has been raised by one of my hon. Friends. I completely agree that it is not right for delivery charges to be artificially hiked in particular areas. I urge the hon. Gentleman to take the matter up with Ministers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy during the next session of BEIS questions, and see what can be done about it.

Last weekend I attended a “Girls to the Front” conference at Deptford Green school, along with more than 200 young women and girls. We discussed, among other matters, feminism and sex and relationship education in schools. May we have a debate on that important issue?

I commend the hon. Lady for taking part in the conference, and for encouraging young women to talk about issues such as feminism, the rights of young women and their success in the workplace. It is vital for us in the House to act as role models as much as we possibly can to encourage young women to aspire to fulfil their dreams. I urge the hon. Lady to seek an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate, so that we can further share our experiences in that regard.

This week the Competition and Markets Authority said that Concordia had overcharged the NHS by £100 million when it raised the price of Liothyronine tablets from £4 to £258. Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is time for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement in the House—or is that talking down greedy corporate bosses at Concordia?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about that information. If it is true, I am sure that Ministers will want to look into it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Health questions will take place on 19 December, and if he cannot obtain an answer earlier, I encourage him to raise the matter then.

It is two years since the announcement of the flagship Glasgow city deal, which includes a major redevelopment of the Sighthill district in my constituency. However, 10% of the constituency still consists of vacant and derelict land, and I was very disappointed that yesterday’s Budget statement did not contain more proposals to deal with what is a fundamental issue in urban areas. Will the Leader of the House consider calling a debate so that we can discuss how national policy could be better honed to promote the regeneration of urban areas that have suffered as a result of deindustrialisation and dereliction?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an incredibly important point. Throughout the United Kingdom there are pockets of land that require regeneration. Following the Chancellor’s announcement of more money for infrastructure and developing areas to make a Britain that is fit for the future, we will definitely want to look into specific cases such as the one the hon. Gentleman has mentioned to see what more could be done to regenerate such areas.