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Business of the House

Volume 634: debated on Thursday 11 January 2018

As eagle-eyed Members will have noticed, I am not the Leader of the House. My right hon. Friend is attending Sandringham for a meeting of the Privy Council. She sends her apologies, and I am standing in for her. I will do my best to aspire to meet her high standards.

The business for the week commencing 15 January 2018 will include:

Monday 15 January—Second Reading of the Space Industry Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 16 January—Remaining stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 1).

Wednesday 17 January—Conclusion of remaining stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

Thursday 18 January—Debate on a motion on treatment of SMEs by RBS Global Restructuring Group, followed by a general debate on Holocaust Memorial Day 2018. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 19 January—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 22 January 2018 will include:

Monday 22 January—Second Reading of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 23 January—Remaining stages of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill.

Wednesday 24 January—Opposition day (8th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 25 January—Debate on a motion on joint enterprise followed by a general debate on the proscription of Hezbollah. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 26 January—The House will not be sitting.

On behalf of the Leader of House I am sure I join all hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) on his promotion from Deputy Leader of the House to his new role at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I am sure that his urbane approach will be well received and suit him well. I also welcome all Members back from what I hope was a restful and peaceful Christmas and new year break. I hope that they appreciated the efforts of the Leader of the House in restarting the bells of Big Ben for new year, which I am sure added to our collective enjoyment of that important feast. I hope that we all have an interesting and exciting 2018—but not too exciting, because we do not like too much excitement in politics, do we?

I am excited already, Mr Speaker.

I thank the Minister for turning up and taking Business questions, and for setting out Government business. I know that the Leader of the House has an important engagement. As the Minister said, the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) has done an admirable job. He has now been promoted—perhaps he is irreplaceable—and we thank him for all his work. Will the Minister please confirm whether there will be a new Deputy Leader of the House? Following your suggestion to those on the Treasury Bench yesterday, Mr Speaker, will the Minister ensure that the list of those with ministerial responsibilities is updated as soon as possible?

I am not sure whether Bananarama was on the Prime Minister’s playlist, but I wonder whether Members recall the song that goes:

“It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it,

and that’s what gets results.”

The reshuffle was the same old, same old people—new titles, but all the responsibilities were already in their departmental portfolios. Will the Minister ensure that the change of titles does not lead to any further cost to the public purse? It seems that men can say no, and the PM goes, “all right then”, but when a woman says no, she is sacked. To paraphrase the Prime Minister, there really are boys’ jobs and girls’ jobs, and we wait to see what the fall out will be.

It seems that the Government are following what the Opposition are doing. The Opposition already have a Minister responsible for housing and a Minister responsible for social care at shadow Cabinet level, and that is now policy. The Government have announced no vote on fox hunting, and measures on wild animal in circuses. The Wild Animals in Circuses Bill was introduced by former DEFRA Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). He put that through in September 2014 and the Government have done nothing. The Government now say they will introduce legislation, so could the Minister please confirm that it will not be another four years before we get legislation to ban wild animals in circuses? It seems that the Government have really gone from hunting animals to hugging animals.

The Secretary of State for Transport is missing—missing on the day that the rail fares were increased by 3.4%, the highest increase in five years, and missing the opportunity to explain to the House why, when the Passenger Focus survey found that 91% of people are satisfied with the east coast main line that returned £l billion to the Treasury, the Government sell it off, with no explanation of why the franchise is terminated and the taxpayer has to bail out the companies. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport—he was present for our Opposition day yesterday—not only on the projected profits if the service had remained in public hands, but on the full costs of the bailout? Yet again, the Government did not vote in favour of our Opposition day motion, or oppose it or even amend it.

There seems to be a fatal flaw in the Government’s arguments. They say they planned for the winter, so my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Health was right when he said that the crisis was preventable and predictable. The evidence in the NHS is clear: cancelled operations and people waiting on trolleys. My friend and constituent Tassidiq Khan was discharged from New Cross Hospital on 15 December and I spoke to him. By 2 January, he had had a huge heart attack and was dead. The Secretary of State has to take responsibility and be accountable. If there are no concerns on behalf of the Government, why has the Care Quality Commission decided to suspend routine inspections because, it says, of winter pressures? Did the Government plan for that? Could we have a statement on today’s announcement by NHS providers that they cannot deliver, as set out under the NHS constitution, safe, decent standards of patient care?

This is about accountability and responsibility. My hon. Friend the shadow deputy Leader of the House—as we have a deputy shadow Leader of the House—has written an excellent article in the Health Service Journal about accountability. Mr Speaker, you will recall that Nye Bevan said that if a bedpan dropped in Tredegar, it would be heard in Whitehall. We say it is the other way round: what happens in Whitehall should be heard at a local level. It is accountability that is the most important, yet it seems that if companies do not get contracts, they sue and are paid out of public money; and if they cannot fulfil the contracts, they are bailed out by public money. Either way, the public are paying.

Could the Minister please tell the House the Government’s position on the inquiry announced today by the Commissioner for Public Appointments into the Government’s failure to follow due diligence in appointments to the Office for Students? Why had the Minister concerned not done the appropriate checks?

Finally, as we celebrate 100 years of women being able to vote, I hope we can also celebrate that, wherever people work, they are paid equally, whether called Carrie or John. Like the Minister, I welcome everyone back to the House and wish them a very happy new year.

I hope that the hon. Lady retains her sense of excitement throughout the forthcoming exchanges. I am disappointed, though, that she wanted me to be replaced so quickly in the new role that I am required to perform today. None the less, I will do my best in the short time that I have available.

The hon. Lady rightly raises the importance of winter planning in the NHS, and I am sure she will have carefully read yesterday’s debate and listened carefully to the words of the Prime Minister, who has made it clear that she has apologised to all those whose operations have been cancelled. We spent £437 million on winter planning for A&E this year, and NHS providers have been clear that the NHS has never been better prepared for winter. Part of appropriate planning for winter is making sure that patients do not find out on the day that their operation has been cancelled.

I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments on many of the environmental policies that the Government are adopting. It is welcome and right that we are soon to have a 25-year plan for the environment, and many Members across the House will be interested to see what that will involve. I hope she will welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today of the extension that we shall be making to the plastic bag charge. The charge has contributed some £95 million to good causes across the country so far. It is right that we now extend that to smaller enterprises, because I am sure they too have been very keen to participate.

The hon. Lady referred to one of my previous areas of expertise: rail fares. I am surprised that she wants a statement so soon, given that we had a lengthy Opposition day debate on rail franchising only yesterday, during which many of these issues were discussed. The challenge for the Opposition is clear. As they will be aware, the Secretary of State for Transport has made it clear that he aspires to move to the consumer prices index, but one of the biggest obstacles to that comes from the hon. Lady’s own side. I would love to be a fly on the wall when the Labour party tries to persuade the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers to drop its excessive retail prices index wage demands.

As a child of the ’80s, I have fond memories of Bananarama. They had many hits, but perhaps the hon. Lady will recall their Comic Relief guise of La-na-nee-nee-noo-noo, which I think was much more the tone of her comments on the reshuffle. I find it bizarre that anyone on the Opposition Benches has the temerity to criticise a Government reshuffle. I remember when, in the not-so-distant past, Opposition reshuffles came along as often as London buses. It was almost like a random number generator; the composition of the Opposition Front-Bench team was as random and unpredictable as the balls on the national lottery—she might regard herself as the bonus ball in any reshuffle. What we see today on the Government Front Bench, with a range of new Ministers—at least five when I stood up at the Dispatch Box—shows how our Government increasingly resemble the nation we seek to serve. We are seeing a range of new talent coming through. When we have a reshuffle, we have a positive sense of progress. I thank the hon. Lady for her comments today.

Order. I exhort Members to ask brief questions about the business of the House for next week and provisionally for the week after, and I know that the hon. Gentleman on the Government Front Bench will respond in similar vein.

Will my hon. Friend find time for a debate on the enforcement of legislation concerning employment agencies and temporary workers? I worked in recruitment for many years before becoming an MP, and I am horrified by the way the law is being flouted, with adverse consequences for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and for the workers themselves.

I know that I cannot go far without my hon. Friend pursuing me to the Dispatch Box. He is obviously a doughty defender of the people of Southend, and his expertise on this issue is noted across the House. As he will know, we have commissioned Matthew Taylor to review employment practices across the country. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is currently reviewing the responses to the consultation, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in looking forward to hearing the views at the end of the process.

Mr Speaker, I wish you and all the staff of the House a happy new year.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for announcing the business for next week. Dazzled as I was by the overwhelming success of the Cabinet reshuffle, I thought that I had missed the announcement on the deputy Leader of the House, but one had not been made. We are all grateful to the hon. Gentleman for filling in. Who knows, he might just dazzle us enough today to be given the job permanently—and who would not jump at the chance to respond to the pre-recess Adjournment debates? I am relieved to hear that the Leader of the House is still firmly in her place. It has not been a “Cruel Summer”, in the words of Bananarama, but a cruel winter, given some of these reshuffles. The reshuffle was supposed to restore the Government’s diminished authority, but it has left them between a Hunt and a hard place. Never before has a Cabinet reshuffle actually diminished the authority of a Prime Minister in quite such a way. It is an outstanding feat, even for this chaotic Government.

The repeal Bill returns next week, and there is profound disappointment in Scotland that no amendments have been made, as promised, for the devolution-threatening clause 11. It was the Secretary of State for Scotland who set himself this timetable, and the failure to deliver has even disappointed and frustrated his own Scottish Conservative colleagues. What will be totally and utterly unacceptable is for these issues to be considered in the unelected House of Lords. The nation’s aristocrats, Church of England bishops and party donors and cronies will now have more say on these critical issues than directly elected Members of Parliament from Scotland. In what sort of tin-pot democracy could that possibly be acceptable? It is a big test for my friends in the Scottish Conservative party, because they cannot possibly vote for this, knowing the flaws, in the hope that the be-ermined ones might fix it for them. [Interruption.] Is all this blind loyalty really worth it? For all their commitment to the Lobby-fodder cause, not one of them was thought to be of sufficiently quality to be promoted—[Interruption.]

Order. We are immensely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I know has completed his contribution. We are deeply obliged to him.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s ingenious word play, and I sometimes think I should play a game of bingo with his appearances in the Chamber, because I measure the success of my colleagues from Scotland not just by what they do, but by how often the hon. Gentleman refers to them, as I know that the more he refers to them, the better the job they are doing.

The hon. Gentleman expresses concern over the EU Bill. He will have heard from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster just yesterday that negotiations are intensifying over getting the clause in question right, and when they have agreed, it will appear on the Order Paper. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can use his immense influence in Edinburgh to help ensure those negotiations go as speedily as possible. We are keen to get that amendment on the Order Paper; I hope he is just as keen. Let us help him to help us.

As we know, the best way to get a good deal out of the EU is to make it clear to the EU that we are prepared for no deal, so when we debate the withdrawal Bill next week, will we have the Minister for hard Brexit in the Chamber, as we were promised before the reshuffle, so we can question him or her—and if not, why not?

I am sure we will have a range of dedicated Ministers across a number of Departments focused on making a success of our leaving the EU. I am sure it will be a lively debate next week, and I look forward to all Members making a full contribution to it.

I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all members of staff and all Members around the House a very happy and healthy 2018—happy new year to everyone.

The Backbench Business Committee has received a very heavily subscribed application for a debate about the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. Do the Government have any plans to hold such a debate in Government time in the near future, as we had thought they would? That would be preferable to using Backbench Business Committee time which is already under heavy pressure.

Now that the festivities are over, you might remember, Mr Speaker, that just before Christmas I invited you and the Leader of the House to visit Gateshead and Newcastle for the great exhibition of the north, beginning in June this year and running through to September, culminating in the great north run in September. May I renew that invitation? Please do come and visit us for the great exhibition of the north; it will be the north at its best.

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, and this is my first chance to thank him for all the work he does; the Committee is an important part of the House’s business.

The hon. Gentleman mentions the R and R debate. He is right that the Government are keen to ensure that we hear the views of those on all sides on this issue. We are working hard to secure the right date in the parliamentary calendar to make sure as many hon. Members as possible can take part. I know there is a Backbench Business Committee debate, but that should not obviate the need to have a wider debate, and I hope we will secure a date for it as soon as possible.

I hear the hon. Gentleman’s kind invitation. I spent many days in Durham between Christmas and new year, and I enjoyed my tour of Gateshead. I went to see the angel of the north, for example. So I have already been to see it and was much impressed.

Can a debate on rural bus transport be organised? The residents of the village of Tiverton have a once-a-week bus service and it has been cancelled, meaning they cannot access the pharmacy or collect their pensions from the local village, and my constituents also have problems with increasing journey times from Winsford to Chester.

As a native son of the fine county of Cheshire, I well know what a beautiful range of villages my hon. Friend represents. It is vital that they have good bus connections, and I urge her to make use of the opportunity afforded by Transport questions on Thursday to put those questions to the new ministerial team.

Yesterday, Rose Gentle, the mother of Gordon Gentle, one of the first soldiers to die in the Iraq war, expressed her regret at the Government statement that seems to absolve Parliament from the conclusions of the Chilcot report. We need, as she called for, an act of apology from this House and this Parliament. It was not one man; it was the Opposition and three Select Committees, who were cheerleaders for that worst mistake we have made this century. Would not a suitable act of apology be followed by the reading of the names of the 179 soldiers whom we sent to their deaths?

The hon. Gentleman has been a consistent campaigner on this issue over many years and has earned the House’s respect for his consistency. I will ensure that I pass his comments on to the Leader of the House, who I am sure will do her best to get him a suitable response to his point.

Could we please have a debate in Government time on the failure of consultation on major infrastructure projects? Junction 25 on the M5 is an arterial route, and the Government have quite rightly pulled in certain proposals because of the behaviour of certain estate agents, councillors and, unfortunately, businessmen. They cannot hold these things up, but the Government have to check the priorities in local government. Could we please have a debate on that?

I recognise the fact that my hon. Friend has a long-running concern over these issues, and I urge him to apply for either an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate so that he can give them a proper airing and get the ministerial response to which I believe he is genuinely entitled.

The NatWest bank is 73% publicly owned, yet it is closing its branch in Porthcawl where millions roll in from the businesses across the town and the large number of retirees who live there. Is it not time for the largely publicly owned banks that were bailed out by the public to sign a social responsibility clause before being allowed to continue, so that they cannot close without the permission of the community they serve?

I recognise the fact that the hon. Lady’s concerns over banking in the community are widely shared on both sides of the House. At a time when banking practices, and the ways in which consumers engage with their banks, are changing, this remains a concern. She will know that she will have a chance to take part in a debate on the role of banking in the community at 3 pm today in Westminster Hall, and I am sure that she will make her voice heard there.

My hon. Friend was an excellent rail Minister before taking up his new role earlier this week. I do not know whether he is in the habit of buying The Daily Mail when he travels on Virgin Trains, but he will know that the company has in effect taken action to ban its customers from buying that newspaper. May we have a debate on this rather unacceptable act by Virgin?

My hon. Friend is certainly more than welcome to apply for an Adjournment debate on such an issue. I would merely observe that that might be a matter for the particular company. As a commuter on that line, I hope that as a Government Minister I would not be seen to be in contravention of its corporate values and no longer be allowed to travel, because getting home might become quite difficult as a consequence.

The UK Government have finally got round to launching their 25-year plan on the plastic bag levy, thereby, just six years later, catching up with the Welsh Labour Government. However, the plan lacks substance. It is full of missed opportunities and weak proposals, and it contains no laws. It is neither innovative nor radical; it is a cheap attempt by the Prime Minister to rebrand the Tories with greenwash. Will the Government commit to making a statement on the plan in the House, to allow for proper scrutiny?

I am disappointed that the hon. Lady seems a little churlish about what we are seeking to do. I hope that there are some issues on which we can unite across the House to do what is right for future generations. I caution her to wait and to get more information about what is being decided. I am sure this matter will be discussed at length across the House in the forthcoming business. She will learn more today and, I hope, more in the future.

Earlier this week, a cable theft brought rail services at my local station, Bristol Parkway, to a complete halt, causing major disruption for commuter services across the south-west. May we have a debate on the effects of crime on rail services and on the contingency planning for the disruption that it causes?

My hon. Friend is tempting me back to my former pastures, but I must assiduously try to avoid returning to them whenever possible. I would simply urge him to apply for an Adjournment debate on that subject. Getting the balance right when rail services break down at short notice is always a difficult thing to perfect, but as he will know, the Office of Rail and Road has specific consumer powers relating to disruption, and I am sure he could take that matter up with the ORR to see what redress could be achieved.

Many of the NHS trusts in Yorkshire are currently considering proposals to transfer NHS staff over to wholly owned companies, amounting to a race to the bottom in employment practices. May we please have a debate on that in Government time?

I recognise that many hon. Members are interested in the move towards accountable care organisations, but I urge people to keep sight of the fact that we are seeking to bring care providers together in local areas to make things more effective. We want to ensure better continuity of provision, so that fewer people need to attend hospital, ensuring that all our NHS resources are best deployed in the interests of our local communities.

Back to railways, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend knows that the Secretary of State for Transport is keen to open some of the closed railway lines around the country, as my hon. Friend was when he was a Transport Minister. Will it be possible to get an early statement on what those lines may be? Many people in the Ribble Valley are keen to have the Clitheroe to Hellifield line reopened, which would allow them to visit places such as Skipton, Leeds, Bradford and other great places. The people of Yorkshire may also be able to come and visit the people of Lancashire to see what great hospitality we have in store for them.

Lancashire is blessed with a range of potential lines to reopen, but it is important to stress to all hon. Members that the best vehicle to seek to promote a line reopening is through their local enterprise partnership or local council. The Government will look favourably on schemes where there are opportunities for economic growth and housing. More information will be released in due course on the best methods for going about promoting such opportunities.

A number of my constituents have contacted me over the leasehold scandal, whereby people have found that their leasehold has been sold on to unscrupulous financiers. The Government have said that they are going to do something about it, but what about the people already caught in the trap? May we have a debate in Government time to hear what the Government intend to do about the people who have already been affected?

I recognise that those concerns are shared across the House, and we have already committed to making progress on the matter. The hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Prime Minister had to say about addressing the concerns, and I am sure that he will have the opportunity to secure an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate to raise this important issue.

May we have a statement on the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, because that would seem to be the only way of showing that no changes have been made to chemotherapy treatment at that hospital?

There has certainly been a degree of confusion over what is happening at the Churchill Hospital. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) was clear in the Chamber yesterday, and no one currently undergoing cancer treatment at the Churchill Hospital should in any way doubt that their treatment will continue. I would welcome any opportunity to make the situation at the Churchill Hospital clear.

May we have a statement on the records that the Government hold of former Ministry of Defence civil servants who served overseas, particularly on how such individuals should proceed if they want to access their service records? A constituent of mine served in the former British forces education service and taught in British military schools in Germany, but following a subject access request to the MOD he was told that no record of his service exists. When I wrote to the MOD on his behalf, I was advised that he should submit yet another subject access request, even though he has already done so twice. My constituent requires proof of service so that his grandchildren may claim their British passports, so a written statement with some clear guidance is urgently needed.

That is clearly an important matter for the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. The Leader of the House is always assiduous in following up on issues raised in the Chamber during business questions, and I am sure that she will pick this one up and deal with it through the MOD to seek further clarification.

May we have an urgent statement on the fact that, despite Government guidelines, hospital car parking charges for most people have increased by 47% and that 50% of hospitals charge disabled people to park? I do not know whether my hon. Friend saw the Daily Mirror campaign over Christmas that showed how patients and visitors are suffering due to high hospital car parking charges, but will he write to the Health Secretary to secure an urgent statement?

My right hon. Friend has been a doughty and long-term campaigner on the issue of hospital car parking, and I pay tribute to him. He raises an important matter that I am sure will be discussed in more detail at the next Health questions, but he is of course always welcome to seek a Westminster Hall debate to raise what is an important issue for many Members on both sides of the Chamber.

While conducting a survey on bus services in my constituency of Barnsley East, I heard time and again that the needs of residents are being ignored by bus companies that prioritise profit over passengers. Can we have a debate in Government time on allowing local authorities to operate bus companies to ensure they are run in the interests of local people so that bus services remain just that—a service?

The hon. Lady will be aware that we recently passed the Bus Services Act 2017, which gives much greater opportunities to local councils to choose how best to deploy their bus services. She will also know that next Thursday’s Transport questions is a perfect opportunity for her to raise that question in the Chamber with a Minister who knows a better answer than I do.

Can we have a debate on how this Government are supporting growth deals? Moray has some very ambitious plans, but it needs both our Governments to work together to deliver the best possible results. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish National party’s comments this week that it might go it alone on some growth deals, such as for Moray, would be counterproductive and deliver far less for our area than a joint growth deal involving both the UK Government and the Scottish Government? [Interruption.]

That is further proof, should I need it, that the more noise I hear from Opposition Members, the more I know my hon. Friend is doing the right thing. He is right to raise this issue, and we heard about Stirling at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday. It is important that, as a Westminster Government, we do all we can to support local growth in areas of Scotland.

Will the Minister make sure that the Foreign Secretary comes to the House to explain his policy on Bermuda? Bermuda was required to introduce same-sex marriage last summer, which it has now done. But six months later, the Bermudan Parliament is begging the Foreign Secretary to allow it to cancel same-sex marriage, which is an entirely retrograde step. Six couples have already been married, and they are to be unmarried, which surely even this Government must think is wrong. Will the Minister make sure that the Government tell the Bermudan Parliament very firmly, “No way, we are sticking with same-sex marriage”?

I start by wishing the hon. Gentleman many happy returns. When I saw his age, I could put it down only to the clean air of Rhondda that he looks so youthful. I have long waited to face him from the Dispatch Box. Maybe he could sign my Hansard at the end, as that would be a fitting souvenir.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I will make sure the Leader of the House communicates it to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to try to get him the answer he seeks.

In his previous role, my hon. Friend conducted a detailed consultation on disabled access at stations, and many of my constituents took the opportunity to ask for lifts to be installed at Stanmore and Canons Park stations. Will he therefore arrange for his successor to come to the House to make a statement on what is going to happen now on providing proper disabled access to our stations across the country?

My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of improving disabled access to all our stations. He will be more than aware that we have an ongoing accessibility consultation, and I spent a very happy Christmas reading all the replies. I am more than aware of the interest. Access for All is an important programme, and the Government are carefully considering how best to target it. I am sure we will hear an announcement in due course on the response to the consultation.

Not everybody had a good new year. Another four young men were stabbed and killed on new year’s eve in London. Clearly our thoughts go out to the family and friends who are dealing with such tragic grief and loss. We need to know when the Government’s serious violence strategy will be published, and I urge them to look at the root causes of youth violence as part of that strategy.

I am sure we all share the hon. Lady’s shock at what occurred on new year’s eve and in the early hours of new year’s morning. I was certainly horrified when I saw the news the next day. She will be aware that a lot of work is being done by the Mayor of London, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Home Office to make sure we look carefully at how we best use stop and search powers. The hon. Lady makes an important and powerful point, and I will make sure we seek to get a suitable answer on the date of publication as soon as we can.

The Leader of the House is attending to Privy Council business in Sandringham, but the residents of Sandringham Place in Wordsley have had to put up with derelict shops falling into rack and ruin over many years. Can we have a debate in Government time on the power of local authorities to deal with derelict buildings and to bring them back into use, whether as shops, commercial or housing?

I can only applaud my hon. Friend’s dexterity in making his point. I know from experience that it often takes a long time for local councils to get details of the ownership of vacant houses, so he is right to raise the issue. I urge him to apply for a Westminster Hall debate to fully air the issue with Ministers.

Has the temporary Deputy Leader of the House seen early-day motion 775?

[This House notes with concern that airlines are increasingly requiring musicians to purchase a seat for guitars, and other musical instruments of similar size, or requiring that they be placed in the aircraft hold where temperatures are very low and damage may occur during transit; further notes the campaign led by the Musicians Union to show more consideration to musicians travelling with their instruments; and calls on the airline industry to adopt a code of practice to give musicians travelling with their instruments greater consideration, fair and consistent treatment, and peace of mind.]

I declare my interest as a member of the Musicians Union. Airlines are increasingly making life difficult for musicians who have guitar-sized and smaller musical instruments. Is it not time for the Government to have a debate about this, or at least to call in the airlines to talk to them about setting up some kind of code of conduct to ensure that our very talented musicians are not impaired in this way?

I know the hon. Gentleman has raised this issue before on a number of occasions. I have not yet got to the stage of taking my EDM book home with me for bedtime reading, but perhaps I should go down that path. As he knows, we have Transport questions on Thursday, which is a perfect opportunity to speak to the new aviation Minister to see what they have to say about this important issue. I recognise that this can be a real challenge, particularly for those with larger instruments.

I know the importance my hon. Friend places on apprenticeships. May we have a debate on the importance of further education colleges, such as Stafford College and Newcastle-under-Lyme College in Staffordshire, in providing those high-quality apprenticeships locally?

My hon. Friend is right to make sure that we have parity of esteem between all possible educational avenues at the post-18 point. Further education is really important. I have a superb provider in my constituency and I know he does, too. Perhaps he would like to apply to the Backbench Business Committee to make sure that we can all have a say in that important matter.

Tea in the Pot, a women’s support service in my constituency, is recognised in early-day motion 731.

[That this House congratulates the Tea in the Pot Drop-in and support service based in Govan for its ongoing work to support women to become actively engaged in the community and to enable women to identify and value their skills, experiences and talents, and to feel empowered and confident to share these with others; notes this work despite their lack of core funding and supports their ongoing campaign for resources; further notes the service provides a safe and relaxing atmosphere where women can meet up with old friends and make new friends and assists women who may be coping with difficulties, or who feel under stress, have health issues of simply feel isolated; and applauds the work of the support service in supporting and empowering the WASPI women in the community which is valuable and necessary and continues to support their work in defeating isolation.]

May we have a debate or statement on funding for volunteer women’s support services, to ensure that they have the resources to empower women and defeat isolation?

I know that the Leader of the House attaches great importance to this issue, as does the Home Secretary. I am sure they would join me in praising the work of the local organisation to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I urge him to keep pressing for suitable debate opportunities in the House to draw attention to this important issue for all hon. Members.

With the threat of a national supermarket chain looking to take over a highly influential high-street location, the people of Crickhowell in my constituency came together to buy the building known as the “corn exchange”. Some 220 people invested in the project, which completed at Christmas time and now offers three outstanding shops and flats for rent. This is a prime example of an ambitious community-led project, so may we have a debate on what more the Government can do to encourage such outstanding community projects?

I praise the corn exchange project for what it has achieved in Crickhowell, and I direct all hon. Members to look more closely at the community ownership schemes, the community asset schemes, the bright ideas fund and the community shares programmes, because this is such a fertile ground for all community projects and there is plenty of opportunity out there to make sure that we do all we can in our local towns.

For some years, I have been in correspondence with the chief executive of Persimmon about houses that were built in my constituency whose gardens are slipping into the drain. I got no response until I threatened to raise this issue in Parliament. However, when I heard that that same chief executive, Jeff Fairburn, was to receive £110 million as a bonus, on the back of the Government’s policy of Help to Buy, which equates to about £3,100 per house built, I wondered whether the Government thought it was now time to have a debate in this House about corporate greed and corporate responsibility?

The hon. Lady has raised an important issue in her constituency already in this Chamber, but I urge her to go further and secure an Adjournment debate to raise it more fully, because it sounds as though it deserves it.

Given the challenges NHS services regularly face during the winter, and the excellent cost-effective contribution that local GP surgeries can make in easing pressure at accident and emergency departments in particular, may we have an urgent debate on the support the Government can give to ensure that GPs surgeries are fully equipped to give the required primary care?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about how we need to ensure that we manage rising demand, with 2.9 million more attendances at A&E since 2010. Clearly, we have a dynamically changing healthcare demand pattern, so it is important that we do all we can in our local communities to manage that demand better. GPs have a key role to play in that, and he makes an important point that I hope can be added to further in this Chamber.

Maryhill jobcentre in my constituency will close tomorrow, in the face of massive public opposition. When will the new Minister for Employment, the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), come to the House and reassure us that no further jobcentres in Glasgow are under threat?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say and understand his concern. We are increasing the number of Jobcentre Plus staff in Scotland and throughout the country to provide more support to those who need it most. We are merging a number of smaller offices into bigger sites as leases come to an end. We have consulted the public in areas where people will have to travel more than 3 miles or for more than 20 minutes. If the hon. Gentleman still has concerns about his example in Glasgow, I urge him to secure an Adjournment debate so that he can hear more detailed answers as to the circumstances in Maryhill.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the past seven years have seen excessive increases in air and marine pollution, and in the pollution of the countryside? Is it not about time that we had a debate so that we can really scrutinise the Government’s record on environmental protection?

It is a pleasure to encounter the hon. Gentleman again; I can only assume from how often I see him in the Chamber that he is doughty attendee at all Question Times, and he raises some important issues. He will be aware that our 25-year environment plan is forthcoming, and that is the obvious vehicle by which to ensure that we address many of the concerns he rightly raises.

Tonight, Clydebank Asbestos Group is celebrating the opening of its new headquarters in West Dunbartonshire, where it will continue its work of 25 years to offer support to those suffering from and seeking compensation for asbestos-related conditions such as pleural plaques. Does the hon. Gentleman not only join me in congratulating the group, but agree that it is time the Government made time to debate whether those living with pleural plaques in England and Wales receive the same compensation as that given by the Holyrood Parliament in Scotland to those suffering from pleural plaques more than 10 years ago?

I very much support what the hon. Gentleman has to say and congratulate the local organisation that provides that support in his part of Scotland. I hear his case for a debate and urge him to consider an Adjournment debate on the issue to allow the Minister responsible to explain what we are doing here in England.

The most recent figures show that a staggering 69% of new houses built in the north-west are unnecessarily sold as leaseholds, leaving homeowners at the mercy of cowboy financiers who block-buy their freeholds in job lots in order to exploit them financially. The hon. Gentleman gave a poor answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) when he asked about this earlier. May we have an urgent debate in Government time about what the Government are going to do now to help the thousands of people, including many of my constituents, who are subjected to this appalling financial exploitation?

I am always disappointed if Opposition Members are disappointed by my replies. I am keen to make sure that we address the concerns the hon. Lady has expressed. The Prime Minister was clear yesterday that we are bringing forward changes to legislation. I suggest that the hon. Lady urges a degree of patience while we make sure that we get it right. We can then discuss our proposals.

May I press the Minister to tell us when exactly there is going to be a Government statement on today’s public relations launch by the Prime Minister of the 25-year plan for the environment? When are we going to see it?

If the hon. Lady would give me a chance to get my mouth in gear to actually say something, she might hear what I have to say. Unfortunately, my voice box does not operate at the same speed as everybody else’s, so please be patient.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) will agree that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be keen to make sure that the House is fully aware of all that we seek to do with our environmental plans. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not have to wait long to hear in this place what we are seeking to do. The Prime Minister is today making several important announcements, and I am sure we will have further opportunities to discuss them in the days and weeks to come.

The Government’s welcome review of fixed-odds betting terminals will enable them to change the stakes and many other aspects of FOBT policy without the need for primary legislation. That is welcome, as we do not want the changes to be delayed any further, but it will leave a democratic deficit. Will the Government allow a debate in Government time on the issues relating to FOBTs so that we can ensure that this crucial issue is properly debated?

We have already had several debates in the House on FOBTs, which I know from my casework are an important issue in my constituency. I urge the hon. Gentleman to apply for all sorts of debates so that we can keep exploring the issue further. An announcement is coming in due course; perhaps his work will hasten its arrival.

In the past few years, my constituents have seen a rise in moped-related crime and knife crime. The police do their best to investigate these problems, but prosecution rates have flatlined. Will the Government provide time to debate this inability to deliver justice to victims and their families, and when will they improve their shabby track record?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the volume of work that is going on right now between all those involved—the Mayor of London, the Metropolitan police and the Home Office—to try to understand the underlying causes that have led to the increases that we have seen and the changes in modus operandi at the moment. He is quite right to keep pressing the Government, and I urge him to do so through the usual channels and by calling for debates.

This week, the Cabinet Office confirmed to me that the target turnaround time for a response to letters from hon. Members is 20 days, yet in response to letters that I have sent, it took two months to get a letter from the Chancellor. I am now approaching 100 days and counting for a response from the Environment Secretary and two months and counting for a response from the Energy Minister. Can the Minister make a statement, outlining what is going to be done to hold this new dynamic Cabinet to account when it comes to responding to hon. Members?

I know that the Leader of the House takes this matter immensely seriously, and I certainly did when I was a responding Minister. We have strict guidelines to which we expect Departments to adhere, and they are monitored carefully. I urge the hon. Gentleman to ensure that he chases up the replies that he has not received. We will make sure—as I am sure that the Leader of the House will do—that we always strive for continuous improvement.

Can the Minister make time to debate the planned closure of the Unilever and Britvic plants in Norwich South? Local people want the Government and Ministers to take action. So far, we have a Business Secretary refusing to come to the city to meet the workers, a trade Minister who says that he does not want to be involved and another business Minister who says that he actively wants to see the plant close. Will the Government please pull their finger out?

I certainly heard the hon. Member’s point of order yesterday and I share and understand the concern that many Unilever employees feel about the current and growing uncertainty. The Government are certainly disappointed that Unilever has decided to close the Norwich plant. We welcome its commitment to maintaining most of the mint production in Norwich, and stand by ready to help the workforce wherever we can. This is a worrying time, and we need to work with Unilever to get further clarity over what is intended.

The automotive sector in this country is facing challenging times, and no more so than the Vauxhall car plant in my constituency where another 250 redundancies were announced this week on top of 400 last October. May we have a debate please, as a matter of urgency, about what practical steps the Government can take to protect manufacturing jobs in this country and secure the future of the car plant?

As I said earlier, the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that, as someone from Cheshire, I understand the importance of Vauxhall Motors to the Ellesmere Port community. I was as disappointed as I am sure he was to hear about the further job losses. The rapid response service of Jobcentre Plus has already been put into action, and the Government are trying to engage with Vauxhall further throughout the process to do all we can both to protect UK jobs and to help those who are affected. There will be much more help available to those who are affected, but I recognise his concerns and will make sure that the Leader of the House passes them on to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

You may be aware, Mr Speaker, of the concern that many parents have about skin gambling and loot boxes and worries in the video gaming sector about unauthorised third party website selling those items from those loot boxes, thus potentially turning young people into gamblers. There have been reports of young people losing a great deal of money very quickly. May we have a debate in Government time on how best to protect our young people and also safeguard our very successful and vibrant video game industry?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important example of how internet development and technologies can change rapidly and create new threats and dangers for which we need to ensure that we are fully prepared. He raises an important point. It sounds like a perfect vehicle for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate, which will then make sure that the Minister’s attention is drawn to the matter more fully.

The Minister has already commented on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, clause 11, and the debates and discussions that are taking place elsewhere in regard to it. However, may we have an urgent statement rectifying the record where assurances were made to Members across this House that the amendments would be tabled next week?

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s many assiduous points of order that have been made hitherto. Clearly, he has been following this closely and will have heard my earlier reply that the Government are committed to ensuring that the amendment is tabled, but they can do so only when those negotiations are successfully concluded. We are intensifying our efforts, and hope that that will be as soon as possible.

Despite not one single Minister setting foot in any of the jobcentres that the Government will close in Glasgow starting from tomorrow, they plan to go ahead anyway. Can we have a statement, because this news comes in the same week that privately-owned First Bus UK is increasing fares by up to 40% for some travellers in the city? When this programme of closures finishes, there will be nine centres; there are currently 16. We need an urgent debate. Will the Minister facilitate that?

I know that this matter has been discussed on a number occasions in many venues in the House. I ask the hon. Gentleman to focus not just on the input—the number of jobcentres—but the output. There will be more work coaches available across Glasgow, which will lead to better outcomes for his constituents who need support from the jobcentre.

I have been working with two teenage constituents whose mother sadly passed away after a terminal illness. Due to not having a witnessed will, the daughters will not inherit any of the pension, which will go to the mother’s estranged second husband. Can we please have a statement from the Treasury about the issue of wrongful inheritance?

The hon. Gentleman raises a point that is important to his constituents, although it is, of course, not one to which I can give him an answer today. He may wish to pursue a written question, which results in a statement of fact from the relevant Department that will help him to progress that particular piece of casework.

Has the Minister seen the BBC reports this week on the results of a survey about bullying in this place—results that will come as no surprise to members of the Unite parliamentary staff branch? In view of this survey, will he tell the House whether there has been any progress on the publication of the report into bullying and sexual harassment?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Leader of the House is taking this issue extremely seriously. She has played a key role, working with the shadow Leader of the House on the working group that is trying to come up with a cross-party consensus on the steps that should be taken. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that any workplace bullying—whatever the venue—is wrong, more so than ever in this place. We all rely on the people who work so hard in our private offices to manage both the constituency end of the business and what we do here in Westminster, and they deserve to be treated with respect at all times.

Let me first say that I am grateful to the Prime Minister for lengthily raising the importance of the freedom of religion or belief in her Christmas message. In December last year, I mentioned the alarming scale of deaths caused by persistent violence between the Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers in Nigeria’s middle belt. The new year parade saw several attacks on Christians in five communities in Benue State, where more than 50 people were killed. Will the Minister request a statement to review the training that the UK provides to the Nigerian armed forces to ensure that Nigeria’s citizens are protected?

The hon. Gentleman is, quite rightly, an assiduous campaigner on this issue, and there are numerous debates on it. I am struck by how many of my constituents also contact me with these concerns. I congratulate him on his persistence and urge him to continue with those debates on this very important issue.

The Minister will have been made aware today of the impending closure of the jobcentre in Maryhill and Possilpark that serves half of my constituency, but he may not be aware of a freedom of information request that was made for an impact assessment of that closure. That has determined that the nearest jobcentre will be three miles aware in Springburn, and that there will be a disproportionate impact on women, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities and caring responsibilities. Will the Minister insist that the new Minister for Employment attends this House and makes a statement on the impact that this closure will have, and on how he will mitigate it?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this matter. He will have heard me say earlier that where longer journeys times were involved, we had a full public consultation on the decision. I ask him to bear in mind what I also said to the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), which is that I would like him to focus as much as possible on the outputs of the process, which will lead to more work coaches assisting his constituents.

The Scottish Government have now twice written to the outgoing Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, asking her to intervene in order to save jobs in the culture and sports sectors following the severe decline in lottery revenues seeing huge cuts to the money going to devolved sports and culture bodies. May we have a debate on the importance of sport and culture, and on how we plug the huge gap in resources causing these sectors to suffer?

I will certainly mention that point to the Leader of the House, who will want to ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets the response he expects. At the same time, I urge him to consider the various avenues for debates in this place to find an appropriate forum to air his concerns.

I am most grateful to the Government Whip on duty, and thank him for his sterling service. He has had to respond to a vast litany of different inquiries and, if I may say so, has performed with great dexterity.