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Business of the House

Volume 634: debated on Thursday 18 January 2018

The business for the week commencing 22 January 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, followed by a motion relating to the appointment of a board member to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, followed by a motion relating to the appointment of an electoral commissioner.

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.

The provisional business for the week commencing 29 January 2018 will include:

Monday 29 January—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill [Lords], followed by remaining stages of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill.

Tuesday 30 January—Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill, followed by motions relating to that Bill.

Wednesday 31 January—Opposition day (unallotted half day), subject to be announced, followed by a debate on motions relating to the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster.

Thursday 1 February—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 2 February—Private Members’ Bills.

Mr Speaker, I am tempted to burst into song at this point, because a little bird has told me it is your birthday tomorrow, but I will spare the House that embarrassment and instead wish you a very happy birthday. And what better way to celebrate than by listening to the debates on tomorrow’s valuable private Members’ Bills proposed by the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston)? The first will ensure that homes are fit for human habitation and the second will give much greater protection from stalking.

This week we achieved a significant milestone by completing all stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in this place. We wish it well for its Second Reading in the other House the week after next.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the forthcoming business. I note, however, that the restoration and renewal debate will take place after an Opposition day debate, so that allows us half a day. That is quite surprising, given that the Government have tabled two motions, and it is almost like the motions were written for the previous debate. I can only think of a phrase that you, Mr Speaker, will be familiar with from tennis circles: the Government cannot be serious. It is as if the Joint Committee had never met. It took evidence and reported, but all the Government are doing through their motions is noting its report. Will they think again and retable the motions?

Last week, I asked for a list of ministerial responsibilities. I checked with the Vote Office today, and that has not been published, so will the Leader of the House please update the list?

The Prime Minister has made a speech on the environment, yet the Government vote against environmental protection and all the while trash Labour Wales. Let me put the record straight. She clearly has not read the briefing papers, because Labour Wales is either second or fourth in the world for recycling rates, depending on how they are calculated. Labour Wales introduced the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags in 2011; that happened in England in 2015.

Will the Leader of the House please explain why the Government are stifling growth in Wales? There has been no decision on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. The Government’s own independent report, written by a former Minister, backed the tidal lagoon’s “strong contribution” to the UK’s energy. One hundred businesses and Members from across the parties have called for a decision. When will the Government make a statement on their position, or are they putting politics before people?

Will the Government put people first—before politics—and support the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for a fund to help families with children’s funeral costs? Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the Prime Minister actually said that the cost of burials is for the grieving? That might be right, but if the Prime Minister would meet my hon. Friend, she could explain that the fund would only be for those who cannot afford burial costs. Will the Government follow Labour Wales and do this in Martin Harris’s memory?

Will the Government respond to yesterday’s point of order made by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and the motion passed in the Welsh Assembly yesterday about retaining Welsh law following our withdrawal from the EU?

It looks like we are back to the “casino economy”—my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) has left the Chamber, but that used to be his favourite phrase—which brings devastation to people’s lives. Short sellers made £137 million when Carillion’s share price fell by 70% over the course of three trading days following the July profit warning. Hedge funds were betting on the collapse of the shares of a company that provides vital public services. When will the Government make a statement on the urgent steps that they are taking following Carillion’s insolvency? Will they set up a taskforce to support the innocent people who were doing their job on one day, but out of that job the next through no fault of their own?

When will the Government make a statement on why Richard Howson has a pay packet of £1.51 million from December, payable until October 2018, and is employed, while apprentices and other employees are being made redundant? May we also have a statement on why the Wood Group won a lucrative contract to carry out inspections, as the sole supplier, at the Government’s new Hinkley Point nuclear power plant, with Mr Howson as a director? Could the Leader of the House say whether directors’ disqualification proceedings have started against him and the other directors of Carillion?

Banks were the beneficiaries of quantitative easing, so will the Government ask them to quantitatively ease small business suppliers and pay them within the Government’s own deadline of 30 days? Will the Government ensure that the prompt payment code is now mandatory and not voluntary? That is why we need a taskforce, with a grid and a timeframe, as well as a debate so that the Minister can update the House next week.

This week, we remembered Martin Luther King, and it is sad that the President of the United States did not follow the tradition of previous Presidents and do public service. Martin Luther King looked beyond the colour of people’s skin to the content of their character. We also remember Cyrille Regis, who died this week. He looked beyond the racist chants and provided inspiration to many.

We have been offered the Bayeux tapestry. It depicts events in 1066, but we prefer to remember another Frenchman, Jules Rimet, and the events of 1966.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I wish you a happy birthday. I do not know whether you look at the horoscopes, but they say that Capricorns have a secret desire

“to be admired by their family and friends and the world at large”—

it could not be more apt.

I am very tempted to give an opinion about that, Mr Speaker, but perhaps in private rather than in public. At our recent outing with the Youth Parliament, I certainly think that you had universal approval. Its Members were certainly delighted with your support for them, as are many people right across the country who are very grateful for your interventions to support those who do not always have their voice heard, so I would concede that your Capricornian enthusiasm is being met well.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) for her comments and questions, and specifically for her point about Martin Luther King. I pay tribute to her, because she often raises the important progress that has been made on issues of equality. I am grateful to her for that, for what she is doing on the working group on harassment, and for her continual support through it for equality. That is incredibly important.

The hon. Lady asks about the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. The reason for the motions is that we want to be very clear that this is a decision for the House. The House needs to decide whether we can afford to justify the work that undoubtedly needs to take place to restore this Palace—a UNESCO world heritage site, with over 1 million visitors a year—at a time when there are great fiscal constraints. It is a genuinely open decision that the House needs to make, and what the Government have sought to do, taking into account the broad range of views across the House on what should happen, is to put forward, first, an open discussion about whether the House is willing to bear the cost from the taxpayer’s purse. Secondly, if the House does believe that now is the time, we need to think about how can we go about doing these things to ensure the very best value for taxpayers’ money. That is incredibly important.

The hon. Lady asked me to look at the update of ministerial responsibilities. I will absolutely take that point away and do that.

The hon. Lady talks about environmental protections and the work that Labour has done on recycling in Wales. I would point out to her that this Government were a key contributor to one of the greatest and first truly global legally binding agreements to tackle climate change—the Paris agreement. We decarbonised our economy faster than any other country in the G20 during 2016. And, of course, there was the fantastic piece of news that in June 2016, for the first time, wind, nuclear and solar power generated more UK power than gas and coal combined. So the UK as a whole is doing an incredibly good job in decarbonising and tackling climate change. It is also this Government who have kept 9 billion plastic bags out of circulation through the 5p charge, which has generated £95 million to be spent on good causes. That is incredibly important.

The hon. Lady raises the issue of Swansea Bay. As she knows, that is still under review. It is an incredibly expensive project, so it is vital that we get good value for taxpayers’ money.

On the cost of burials for children, I am very sympathetic to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who has raised this with me in the Chamber a number of times. I will continue to look at whether more can be done but, as hon. Members will be aware, funeral directors and/or local councils often pick up such costs. The question is whether there should be something more centrally managed to address that, but I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for what is a very good campaign.

The shadow Leader of the House talked about Carillion, which is an incredibly important issue for the Government, as all Members will appreciate. There was a statement just this week from the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He has made it clear that the Government are working on contingency plans. This is a very troubling time for many employees of Carillion, as well as those who are contractors and those providing public services. The Government will absolutely undertake to ensure that all public services continue to be paid for, and that those employees continue to be paid for the work that they do. There are many different resources for people, including a helpline from the Insolvency Service for businesses and employees who want more information. This is a difficult time, but the Government are doing everything they can, as rapidly as they can, to try to resolve issues and to preserve as many jobs as possible.

Order. As usual, a great many hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and I am keen to accommodate the level of interest. However, it might be useful for the House to know that there is a Select Committee statement to follow, and that approximately 50 hon. Members are seeking to contribute to the two debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee later today. Therefore, if I am to accommodate the level of interest, or to get anywhere near to doing so, there is a premium on brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike.

I welcome the debate on restoration and renewal. I also welcome what the Leader of the House said about there being a genuine choice in that debate. It is important to do emergency repairs, but it is also quite right to reflect before we set up a delivery authority, because a lot of public money would be involved and we have to justify to our constituents that this is the right thing to do. May I therefore commend the Leader of the House on her approach?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution. He is right: this needs to be a decision of the House. It is vital that we take into account the value and importance of this building as a historic national icon that attracts many hundreds of thousands of tourists, schoolchildren and so on, and that is, of course, the seat of our democracy. On the other side of the equation, it is vital that we consider the costs to the taxpayer and value for taxpayers’ money.

Happy birthday for tomorrow, Mr Speaker. The card is in the post; you will receive it tomorrow morning. I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.

As the repeal Bill heads off to the House of Lords, we have failed to address the devolution-threatening clause 11, even though we were promised that these issues would be dealt with by the Secretary of State in a series of Government amendments. Apparently it is all to be dealt with in the House of Lords—somewhere with which the Scottish people have no democratic relationship whatsoever. I really hope that this will all be resolved properly. To me—[Interruption]—it looks like we are taking power back—[Interruption.] Excuse my coughing; there was a bit of Theresa May about that.

To me, it looks like we are taking power back from, in some people’s words, unelected EU Eurocrats, only to hand it over to unelected Lords, aristocrats and bishops—but I suppose they are British unelected Lords, aren’t they? Apparently, to help the Government to get their Bill through the Lords, 13 new Government peers will be ennobled. And we have the gall to lecture the developing world about patronage and the quality of its democracy! Not to be outdone, apparently we are to get three new Momentum-style Labour Lords. I suppose those Comrade Lords will be donning the ermine for the few.

I suppose we should be grateful that we are at least getting half a day for restoration and renewal, but the Leader of the House seriously needs to think again about the time being afforded. There is huge interest in the issue, and I am already sensing the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) being wound up to spring forward and table a series of amendments. I appeal to the Leader of the House to think about the time allocated and to ensure that we get sufficient time to debate these issues, in which there is great public interest.

Talking about time, we wasted two hours yesterday on the simple process of recording our votes. Throughout the passage of the EU repeal Bill, we lost some 14 hours standing in packed Lobbies doing absolutely nothing. We have to seriously review how we do our work in this place. We have to replace the antiquated relic that is the way we vote in this House with electronic voting. I do not come to this House to stand in packed Lobbies; I come here to debate and to make sure that we participate. That is what our electors expect us to do; the Leader of the House has to get that sorted.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for, as ever, expressing myriad thoughts.

As has been made very clear, amendments to clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will be tabled in the Lords, the sole reason being the fact that the constructive talks with the devolved Administrations have not reached a conclusion. Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is better to get that right than to rush it.

The hon. Gentleman gave his view of the other House, of which he is plainly not a fan. My view, and the view of many Members, is that the other place does an incredibly valuable job in revising and improving legislation. There is some real expertise there, and we count on being able to add it to the work of this elected House. I, for one, support it.

The hon. Gentleman talked about restoration and renewal, and paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) for all sorts of jumping up and down. I have not seen my hon. Friend do that, but he and I have had many discussions about R and R, and will continue to do so throughout the process.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned electronic voting. The House has considered that in the past and will keep it under review, but, as we have seen over the last couple of days, after a period when the House has not sat, meeting in the Lobbies and having an opportunity to raise issues with Ministers and other colleagues and share information is often incredibly valuable. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is shouting from a sedentary position that it is all right for us, but I sometimes meet him to discuss issues that are of common interest across the House. I personally feel that the Lobby has a valuable role to play in our democracy.

One of the roles of the House is to scrutinise the work of the Government. May I ask my right hon. Friend to help me to obtain proper answers to two written questions that I tabled to the Department for Exiting the European Union about the publication of a position paper by the Government on services, which constitute 80% of our economy, and financial services, which will employ more than 1 million people, during the Brexit negotiations? The answers that I have received so far have been sent from an account called “No reply”, and they truly live up to that title.

I am genuinely sorry to hear that, and I shall be happy to take the matter up with the Department on behalf of my right hon. Friend. I should add, however, that—as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said last night, when he paid tribute to many Members on both sides of the House—the Government have been shown to be listening very carefully to proposals for improvements to the Bill, and have adopted many of the suggestions made by members of all parties.

My constituency is plagued by dangerous drivers in high-performance cars. Loopholes in insurance rules mean that, although many are not adequately insured, they are able to abuse the system and stay under the police radar. May we have a debate about closing those loopholes to make our roads safer?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising an issue that is very important to people in her area, as she often does. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can discuss the specific examples that she has in mind.

I, too, welcome the motions relating to the repair and renewal of our historic Parliament. However, given that people and organisations throughout the country are having to make some really tough decisions, will the Leader of the House ensure that, having debated those motions, we exercise financial prudence in whatever decision we make about the future of the House?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that, whatever we do—whether we decide to look at the issue again later in the parliamentary Session, or whether we decide to take action now—at the heart of our decision must be the need to secure the best possible value for taxpayers’ money.

May I wish you a happy birthday for tomorrow, Mr Speaker? I would guess that we do not yet have to warn the London Fire Brigade about the potential for a conflagration from the cake.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for providing a debate on restoration and renewal in Government time, but on the basis of the application for a debate on the subject that the Backbench Business Committee has already received, I suspect that a half-day debate may not be sufficient to assuage Members’ thirst, and that a subsequent debate in Back-Bench time may well be necessary. An awful lot of Members are very interested in discussing the pros and cons because whichever option is taken will not be cheap, and there are significant potential costs to the public purse as a result of whichever option we go for.

There is also an important debate this afternoon about RBS Global Restructuring Group, but will the Leader of the House think about having a debate in Government time about banking practice generally in the aftermath of the international financial crisis? I am aware of significant numbers of additional cases involving Lloyds, Allied Dunbar and many other banks in the banking system that have caused grievous problems to SMEs around the country, putting people into penury.

I certainly, of course, would welcome the Backbench Business Committee deciding to have a further debate on R and R. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the demand for debate on that. If Members want to do a tour of the basement to avail themselves of some very useful information prior to the debate, the engineers stand ready to provide those at their convenience. It is very enlightening, so if you—I am sorry, if Members—I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, have already done it—wish to do that, please do.

The hon. Gentleman raises the important point about the way banks have treated SMEs. As City Minister, I had some grave concerns about that and investigated a number of cases. I am sure that he will have support from hon. Members if he wants to suggest further debates at the Backbench Business Committee.

I am grateful to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for awarding me and 19 other colleagues a debate on the restoration and renewal of Parliament on Thursday 1 February because this has now forced the issue and we are now going to have a good debate. Can the Leader of the House say more about that?

If the second motion comes up for a vote because the first motion has not been passed, will the second motion be amendable? The motion I was going to put down for the Backbench Business Committee day debate was amendable, and was on the clear premise that, while we would set up a sponsoring authority, it would be on condition that this debating Chamber should stay in the Palace for the whole time. So if the second motion is passed, it is very important that it is amendable, so that this point of view can be put to the House.

Because of the seriousness of the decision before the House, the two motions will not be amendable; it will be a case of either the first motion or, if that falls, the second motion.

Today’s Financial Times reports pandemonium at some Carillion construction sites, and at PMQs yesterday there were no answers to concerns about the future of thousands of apprentices across the country, and there is much complexity over the various pension pots. May we have a Government statement on their progress in responding to this calamity?

We are of course taking every possible action to try to resolve the inevitable uncertainty when a company of this size gets into financial difficulties. The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on the issues for apprentices. My right hon. Friends are looking very carefully at what can be done. For those seeking advice, a webpage has been set up by the Insolvency Service, and there is also a dedicated website set up by the special managers PwC to provide more information to those individuals. The Government have set up a group to discuss the issues with trade unions and industry representatives, so as to be able to ensure that we get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.

Order. At approximately 11.40 am we will need to move on to the next business, so may I very gently say to colleagues that although I understand the desire to give some context and preamble before asking a question, Members who now proceed with what is probably a scripted and rather long question will be doing so knowing that they are stopping colleagues taking part? So may I appeal to colleagues to help each other?

We need a debate on Carillion. We have had a disaster in Taunton, just outside my constituency, where the roadworks went over time and over budget. It was a shambles. It is time to have a debate now, please.

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which the Government are looking closely at. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate on any specific issues that relate to his constituency.

Is the Leader of the House aware that many people believe that the pressure on the health service is partly due to the collapse of the social network support services in our communities? May we have an early debate on what is going on in community support services?

There are many community support services that do an incredibly good job in further supporting people’s health needs, not least those involving the health implications derived from loneliness. The Prime Minister has announced that we have now appointed a new Minister to tackle that specific issue. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, however, that the NHS is now funded even more than it ever has been, with a further £6.3 billion of new funding announced in the Budget. The Government are determinedly tackling the need to recruit more doctors and nurses and to ensure that the NHS is able to meet the very particular demands that it faces this winter.

Did the Leader of the House see the opinion poll last week that showed that 84% of the people want money to be diverted from the overseas aid budget to the NHS? May we have a debate and a vote on this issue, so that we can see how out of touch this House is, once again, with public opinion at large?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made it clear that she will ensure that the generosity of the British people towards international aid is put to the best use, and that she will be ever more demanding that we focus on those areas that other Governments cannot begin to deal with themselves. It is important to focus on the UK’s generosity with regard to aid in crisis, to supporting the rights of women and girls and to dealing with some of the problems of the very poorest in the world. It is the right balance that we should give to those who are far worse off than we are, as well as increasing funding for our vital NHS, as we have done.

May I wish you a happy birthday for tomorrow, Mr Speaker? Last week, I visited the Cudworth food bank, and I want to pay tribute to its work. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on food poverty and on why, following the roll-out of universal credit, this Government think it is acceptable for my constituents to choose between heating and eating?

I echo the hon. Lady’s tribute to the work of volunteers in food banks. They do a fantastic job. With the roll-out of universal credit, the Government have listened to Members across the House and to Citizens Advice. We have raised the value of advances. We have also ensured that people can get their universal credit on day one. We have reduced the waiting time to nothing and enabled transitional funding for people who are in private housing accommodation. People are always better off in work, but these measures will ensure that, as they transition to universal credit, the transition is made easier for them.

Following the publication of the motions on restoration and renewal, may we have a statement to update the House on what lessons have been learned following the reported cost overruns on the current Elizabeth Tower project?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I was extremely concerned to hear about the cost overrun on the Elizabeth Tower. The House authorities were certainly also disappointed, and they have learned lessons. They have tried to ensure that the proposal for an Olympic-style delivery authority to oversee the restoration and renewal of the Palace will reflect the absolute need to ensure that the project, if it happens, is done with the best value for money for the taxpayer in mind and the tightest possible control on costs.

In 2017, 80 people were stabbed and murdered in London, and there were 37,000 knife-crime offences—an increase of 26%. This is an epidemic and a tragedy, and it must stop. The current approach is clearly not working, and a new approach is required. We need a cross-departmental debate in Government time on how to tackle the root causes of youth violence, so will the Leader of the House schedule time for one?

All Members are incredibly concerned about the incidence of knife crime, particularly among young people. I am sure that the hon. Lady will be aware that the Home Office is reviewing the matter and taking evidence and will be coming out with proposals for how to tackle the problem.

Jo Cox was a fantastic advocate for improving the lives of those who suffer from loneliness, and it is brilliant that that work will continue through the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness with the support of the Minister for Sport and Civil Society. May we have a debate on what more can be done to ensure that nobody, young or old, finds themselves alone and without social interaction?

My hon. Friend is right, and I am happy to pay tribute to Jo Cox’s work, which inspired the Commission on Loneliness in her name. It is shocking that more than 9 million people in the UK always or often feel lonely. The Minister for Sport and Civil Society will now take forward the important work that the Jo Cox Commission has started, and I wish her great success. For my part, tackling loneliness is one of my top priorities in my constituency of South Northamptonshire, and we have tried to establish regular coffee mornings in some of my 92 villages, which goes some way towards getting people out to meet each other.

May we have a statement from the Education Secretary about the completely inexplicable decision by the Education and Skills Funding Agency to reject Exeter College’s bid to continue to deliver apprenticeships in local small businesses, despite it having one of the best records in England? I warn the Government that there will be serious consequences for the provision of apprenticeships in my local area.

I am sorry to hear about that. I encourage the right hon. Gentleman either to seek an Adjournment debate or to raise the matter at Education questions since it is a very specific point.

At a time when Cheltenham General Hospital needs capital investment in its emergency department, will hon. Members have the full opportunity to make the point that spending wildly disproportionate sums on this place will be unacceptable to my constituents and risks damaging the very democracy that we seek to uphold?

My hon. Friend is a keen advocate for his constituency. That is precisely the reason why we need to discuss affordability and value for taxpayers’ money as we seek to restore this Palace of Westminster, which is old and in a bad state of repair.

Following the restoration and renewal debate, may we have a debate in Government time about making this place and all public buildings truly autism-friendly?

The hon. Lady raises a good point. In looking at restoration and renewal, there is no doubt that considering issues such as autism-friendliness and making facilities appropriate for other disabilities will be absolutely vital should we decide to spend the money to repair this place.

May we have an urgent statement on the sensitivities around domestic violence? My right hon. Friend will know of recent tragic fatal cases in my constituency. Sadly, a senior Labour councillor, Mike Danvers, made a joke yesterday about beating one’s wife and, incredibly, that was supported as a colloquialism by the manager of Harlow and District chamber of commerce. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should condemn that, that the councillor should resign, that the manager of the chamber of commerce should apologise, and that we should be sensitive about domestic violence?

My right hon. Friend is exactly right. There is nothing funny or at all amusing about domestic violence, and I certainly agree that people in public life need to be extremely careful about the jokes they make. I reassure my right hon. Friend that the Government are absolutely committed to stamping out domestic violence. We will be introducing a draft domestic violence and abuse Bill. Tomorrow, we will be considering the Stalking Protection Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). It is vital that we do everything we can to stamp out domestic violence.

In 2006, Algeria introduced a decree stipulating that permission must be obtained from the state before using a building for non-Muslim worship. Since then not a single permission has been given to build new church premises and many churches have been closed. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement outlining steps to encourage the Algerian Government to cease the closure of churches and to issue permits so that churches can continue?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about religious freedom, as he often does in this Chamber, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate to take it further.

May we have a debate on the importance of the marine environment? Many of my constituents have written to me on this subject. Will the Leader of the House join me in celebrating the excellent steps the Government are taking to ban microbeads?

I am delighted to share my hon. Friend’s pleasure in the Government’s work on banning microbeads used in some cosmetics and other products. She is right that protecting our marine spaces is vital, and this Government have done so much. We are creating a marine blue belt around our overseas territories, and we are determined to stamp out the problem of plastics in our oceans.

In a Public Accounts Committee hearing this week, we heard the explosive fact that learndirect did not just take Ofsted to judicial review over its damning report but took out a super-injunction that served to stop Government bodies discussing learndirect during that time. That is outrageous behaviour. May we have a debate on the conduct of companies funded by public money?

The hon. Lady has great expertise in this area, and she raises an important point. I can tell her that the chief executive of learndirect has written to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee on this issue. On learndirect’s specific legal costs, the Department for Education defines what is eligible expenditure of moneys provided for training but, as she would expect, any income over and above that can be used at the provider’s discretion.

Will my right hon. Friend provide for a debate in Government time on the progress of domestic preparations to leave the EU, both with and without a deal?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has the appetite for yet more debate, over and above the 64 hours we have just gone through. There will be many opportunities to have further debates and discussions. I absolutely assure him that the Government are determined to make sure that we leave the European Union in a way that works very well for our EU friends and neighbours and for the United Kingdom.

This week Public Health England showed that in the most deprived parts of the country that are hit hardest by austerity, such as my constituency in Hull, life expectancy has fallen since 2011, breaking a peacetime trend going back to Victorian times. Can we please have a debate in Government time on why this has happened?

I also saw that report, which is of course very concerning. As I understand it, there are complex reasons for the fall, some of which are related to lifestyles, loneliness, mental health and so on. It needs to be carefully considered. If the hon. Lady wants to discuss the issues affecting her area in particular, I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate.

A number of constituents have contacted me asking that the Government stick to their manifesto pledge to replace inclusivity rules that prevent the establishment of Roman Catholic schools. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the new Secretary of State for Education comes to the House to update us on the Government’s progress?

My right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Education has quite a lot to grapple with in his first few days, but I am sure he will be delighted to answer questions on that subject at the next Education oral questions.

I have received some wonderful and moving letters from young constituents at Garnetbank Primary School and St Mungo’s Academy regarding the unfair treatment of asylum seekers and refugees under the current family reunion rules. May we have a debate on all those issues so we can all stand up for refugee children across the world?

The issue of refugee children is a very grave one, and this country has been very generous in taking in refugee children. As the hon. Lady will know, the UK-French summit is taking place today; there will be further discussions at the summit about refugee children who are trying to cross over into the United Kingdom. We can all be proud of the fact that Eurostat figures show that in 2016 the UK resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU member state.

I remind the House that a world heritage site is one that is of great importance to current and future generations across the world. I seek an assurance that in the difficult choices we have to make on the restoration of this building, we will be considering not just our own purposes in this building, but those who visit every year.

My hon. Friend is exactly right; that is the choice facing us. This is an incredible building and it is not just of value to us. We have more than 1 million visitors here every year; many tourists come here, and hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren come here as an iconic part of their education. This is one of the most famous sites in the world, so we have a duty, not just to ourselves but to our fellow countrymen and to the next generation of schoolchildren, to ensure we make the right decision.

One of my communities, Portland Street in Hanley, is being blighted by the sale of black mamba. Drug deals are being done in a BT phone box, conveniently turned away from CCTV. I have asked BT to move it, as have the police and the council, but because of what it is being used for it is making money. May we have a debate in Government time about businesses’ responsibilities to local communities who are suffering crime?

The hon. Lady has done a good job in raising this issue in the House today, and I am hopeful that she will see some pretty rapid action as a result. I encourage her to seek a Back-Bench debate on the subject of what more businesses can do. Many of them are very diligent in supporting their communities, but she is right to say that all businesses should be doing the same.

If we want to make our economy fit for the future and ensure we have the secure, well paid jobs people in my constituency desire and deserve, improving productivity is key. May we have a debate on improving productivity, particularly given the recent Office for National Statistics figures showing the largest quarterly rise in UK productivity since 2011?

My hon. Friend is quite right; the excellent productivity news is good, but there is much more to do. Britain’s productivity has long lagged behind that of our competitors and has been weak ever since the financial crisis of 2009-10. That is why our industrial strategy is focused on improving productivity, investing in research and development, improving skills, upgrading infrastructure and promoting the best possible environment for new and growing businesses.

Leaving aside my views on the project, the Government’s approach to restoration and renewal has today moved from circus to farce. It is approaching 18 months since the Committee I served on reported, with clear recommendations. If the Leader of the House is to take this House seriously and wants a proper debate, will she allocate a full day, make sure the motions are substantial and amendable, and come back again to ensure that the issue is given a proper debate?

It is astonishing that the hon. Gentleman says the Government are not taking this seriously. This is a matter for the House; the House needs to decide whether taxpayers’ fiscal issues can be outweighed on balance by the need to restore the Palace of Westminster. It is properly a debate for the House, and Government time is being given to that. Hon. Members will recognise that the Government have moved the date to a Wednesday for the convenience of Members, who made it clear that they did not want this debate to take place on a Thursday. What the Government are doing is facilitating a discussion and a decision by Members of this House, and it is right that we should do that.

As the second most fatal cancer, bowel cancer kills 16,000 people every year. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the bowel cancer screening team at Kettering General Hospital on the 10th anniversary of their successful and life-saving work, which has detected 800 cancers and 3,000 potential cancerous growths? May we also have a statement from the Department of Health and Social Care on similar successful initiatives across the NHS?

I am very happy to pay tribute to Kettering General Hospital for those excellent results. We should all be proud of the Government’s target of better results for cancer patients overall.

I am delighted that, as the Leader of the House said, the Government will tomorrow support the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on the fitness of housing for human habitation, especially as it represents a damascene conversion from their previous stance. Will the Government also support my private Member’s Bill on the extension of the Freedom of Information Act to private sector companies that undertake public sector contracts? Such an extension might have alerted us sooner to the chaos at Carillion that both the company and the Government kept to themselves for too long.

I am certainly happy to look into what the hon. Gentleman says. He will appreciate that private Members’ Bills are exactly that and that it is for the Member to seek support from right hon. and hon. Members from all parties. I wish him luck in doing that.

As we start to debate the restoration and renewal of the House, will my right hon. Friend reassure us that as part of that debate we will consider the safety and security not only of Members and the people who work here but of the people who visit? That is so important.

Yes, my hon. Friend is right to raise the fact that when we restore the House we will address, largely, some of the issues relating to safety in this place. There are risks from problems with water, electricity, sewage and asbestos, and there are risks of fire and so on. The House is always maintained at a safe level, but there is no doubt that its restoration and renewal would solve those problems for much longer than we are able to ensure with the “patch and mend” approach that we currently have to take.

In the Welsh Assembly yesterday, Mark Isherwood, a Conservative Member, won by 31 to two a vote on a motion asking this House to re-legalise medicinal cannabis. Will the Government follow suit and give a fair wind to my private Member’s Bill, which would liberate seriously ill people from the threat of prosecution for using their medicine of choice?

The hon. Gentleman has championed this issue in the House. As he knows, the Government keep the matter under review, but it is not our policy to legalise the use of cannabis.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made on improved co-operation on intelligence, defence and security, along with the decision to allow more unaccompanied child refugees to come to this country, which will result from President Macron’s visit today?

I think we all welcome President Macron’s visit to discuss further co-operation between the British and French. We already have a very strong bilateral relationship with France, particularly, as my hon. Friend mentions, on matters such as security and the migrant situation in Calais. I am sure that updates will be provided to the House following today’s summit.

My constituent Gemma Hartnoll founded the charity Wings Cymru to tackle period poverty. Too many young people in schools, homeless people and those who need food banks cannot afford sanitary products. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can tackle this very personal and intimate crisis?

I share the hon. Lady’s concern about this issue, which can be humiliating for young people. I absolutely empathise with her point and encourage her, at least in the first instance, to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can hear from a Minister what more can be done.

Earlier this week, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee published an important report on the safety of electrical goods in the UK that highlights some serious safety concerns about 1 million Whirlpool tumble dryers and plastic-back fridge-freezers. The matter requires an urgent response from the Government, so when can we have a statement?

I encourage my hon. Friend to write to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to seek its thoughts. I would be happy to take up the matter on his behalf.

In the light of the collapse of Carillion, do the Government intend to make a statement on the decision to award the Department for Work and Pensions facilities management contract to Interserve, another company with huge debts and a large pension deficit that has issued numerous profit warnings?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has already made a statement, and I am sure that he will make further such statements. The Government are very focused on looking at this from every aspect. I have been absolutely reassured that all Government contracts are kept closely under review, as indeed the ones with Carillion were. As she will know, the decision was taken following profit warnings that Carillion contracts would be awarded as joint-venture contracts, to ensure continuity should something happen. Equally, she must understand that profit warnings in themselves do not mean that it would be legitimate then to rule out a company from being able to accept Government contracts.

Order. The pressure is growing for short single-sentence questions without preamble, to be brilliantly exemplified, I feel sure, by Mr Drew Hendry.

The Government continue to fail to act on the fact that consumers in the highlands and islands pay 2p to 6p more per unit for their electricity than those in other areas due to unfair network and distribution charges. May we have a debate in Government time on how to end the shabby treatment of people in the highlands and islands and other rural areas?

That is an issue that I was very concerned about as Energy Minister, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, to a large extent, electricity prices in the highlands and islands and the subsidies and extra support are a devolved matter. There were many debates on fuel poverty and on the support available for people through that. What the Government are doing, which is not a devolved matter, is introducing the energy price cap. The Prime Minister has made it her personal priority to bring forward proposed legislation to ensure that people are treated fairly.

Cardiff Central Labour councillor Ali Ahmed is currently in Bangladesh with representatives of the Cardiff Bangladesh association, presenting a £40,000 cheque for the Rohingya relief effort. May we have a debate in Government time on the genocide caused by the Burmese military, which has created the refugee problem in Bangladesh?

The whole House is very concerned about the humanitarian crisis that has been caused by Burma’s military. Many Rohingya have been killed and more than 650,000 have fled to Bangladesh. The hon. Lady will be aware that the UK is one of the biggest donors to the Rohingya refugee crisis, and the Department for International Development has stepped up efforts with an additional £59 million to support the latest influx of refugees. We had a debate only recently on the plight of the Rohingya people, and she may well wish to seek a further Backbench Business debate to hear more from Ministers.

Can we have a debate or a statement on the public services in relation to the retention of pay? As the Leader of the House will know, many staff are leaving their profession—teachers and public service workers—and there have been closures in Coventry. Can she do something about that?

I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about retention of public sector staff. [Interruption.] Yes. As he will be aware, in the NHS, for example, there will be 5,000 new nurse training places each year starting this September. The Government are committed to ensuring that we retain staff: for example, many more teachers are returning to teaching following a career break. What is important is not just retention, but attracting people back after a period of time and of course getting new people into public sector professions, which is something on which the Government are focused.

May we have a debate on the capacity of UK border and immigration MP hotlines? My office needs to urgently raise the case of Gospel Ocholi, a talented young footballer and refugee who wants to take part in a Partick Thistle training academy in Portugal. Can a Minister come to this House and explain how MPs are supposed to raise these cases if we cannot get through to the hotlines?

If there is a problem with hotlines, the hon. Gentleman should raise it with the Department. I am happy to do it on his behalf if he emails me, and I will take it up for him. With regard to the individual case, he could perhaps raise it at departmental questions.

This Chamber rightly sees a lot of robust partisan politics, but we should never forget the ethos of public service, which I believe motivates the vast majority of elected representatives in the UK. There was no better example of that than my friend and colleague Councillor Kieran Quinn, the leader of Tameside Council, who tragically collapsed on Christmas eve and died on Christmas day. He was just 56. I know that there are many colleagues who plan to be in Greater Manchester for the funeral on Monday. I ask the Leader of the House to join me in praising the life, work and commitment of local leaders like Kieran, who do an incredible job in difficult circumstances, often at great cost to themselves and their families.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to pay tribute to his constituent councillor, and to all those who give so much of their time, very often unpaid or by working extra time that is unpaid, in serving their community. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.

May we have a statement about the impact of the removal of employment and support allowance mortgage interest support on people such as my constituent Jonathan Parsons, registered blind, who had paid into the system all his working life?

I am sorry to hear about the case that the hon. Gentleman raises. He may want to raise that at departmental questions as a specific constituency case.

TotsBots in my constituency manufactures eco-friendly reuseable nappies, but there have been examples of companies that are falsely advertising and the nappies go to landfill sites. May we have a debate in Government time about false advertising and the damage it causes to parents?

False advertising is incredibly harmful, and if the hon. Gentleman has examples of such incidents he should certainly raise them with the Department. He may well wish to initiate an Adjournment debate on that.

Last Friday, Nottinghamians woke up to the awful news that our recently redeveloped train station was ablaze. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time to consider the terrific work done by Nottinghamshire fire and rescue and the police and council in tackling the fire and having things running again within a day?

I think we all realise what a debt of gratitude we owe to our fire officers, who do such an amazing job, so quickly and at so great a risk to themselves. I absolutely pay tribute to them, alongside the hon. Gentleman.

With my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), I would like to request an urgent debate about requiring private companies providing public services to be subject to the same standards of openness and transparency as the public sector, so that companies like Carillion can no longer hide behind commercial confidentiality.

The hon. Lady raises an important point, again in the context of what has happened with Carillion. She may rest assured that the Government will be looking carefully at whether we can improve processes as a result of this experience, but equally she must recognise that there is great value to the taxpayer in being able to use private sector companies to deliver some services that are of much better value and efficiency to the public sector than bringing them all in-house.

On 6 December 2017, the Secretary of State for Scotland gave undertakings with regard to an amendment in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. May we have a statement clarifying the record and explaining why it was not met?

I encourage the hon. Gentleman to take that matter up directly with the Secretary of State at Scotland Office questions.

Only Iran and the House of Lords, with its bishops, incorporate religious clerics into their legislatures, and next week in the House of Commons we will have Church of England questions. May we have a debate in Government time about moving away from a medieval set-up and separating the UK state from the Church?

The hon. Gentleman mentions an extremely controversial idea, which would have significant constitutional implications. As a first port of call, he may well wish to raise that at Church Commissioners questions next week.

Mr Speaker, I am grateful for being called last—it gives me an additional chance to exercise. Will the Leader of the House recognise the concerns of hard-working GPs in Plymouth that primary care is in a state of crisis, with GPs working to the point of exhaustion? May we have a debate about the state of primary care?

GPs do a fantastic job and we are all incredibly grateful to them. We know that they are under pressure. We know that there are numerically more doctors now than ever before, but equally there are greater demands on their time than ever before. That is why the Government have provided an extra £6.3 billion of funding for the NHS at the last Budget, to ensure that we can meet the demands that are being made on GPs and others.

I am very grateful to the Leader of the House and to colleagues for their succinctness in enabling us to finish on schedule.

We now come to the Select Committee statement. The Chair of the International Development Select Committee, Mr Stephen Twigg, will speak on his subject for up to 10 minutes, during which—I remind colleagues who have forgotten the procedure, or inform them if they were not aware of it—no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of his statement, I will call Members to put questions on the subject of the statement and invite the hon. Gentleman to respond to those in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. Interventions should be questions and should be brief. The Front Bench may take part in questioning. I call the Chair of the International Development Select Committee, Mr Stephen Twigg.