Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will include:
Monday 26 February—Estimates day (1st allotted day). Debate on Ministry of Defence estimates followed by a debate on the estimates of the Department for Exiting the European Union.
Tuesday 27 February—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). Debate on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government estimates so far as they relate to homelessness, followed by a debate on the estimates of the Department for Transport.
At 7 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Wednesday 28 February—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill, followed by debate on a motion on the independent complaints and grievance policy. The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.
Thursday 1 March—Debate on a Backbench Business Committee subject to be confirmed followed by general debate on St David’s day. The subject of this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 2 March—The House will not be sitting.
The business for the week commencing 5 March will include:
Monday 5 March—Second Reading of the Data Protection Bill [Lords].
Mr Speaker, colleagues will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the summer recess at the end of business on Tuesday 24 July and return on Tuesday 4 September. For the conference recess, the House will rise at the close of business on Thursday 13 September and return on Tuesday 9 October. The House will also rise on Tuesday 6 November and return on Monday 12 November and finally, for the Christmas recess, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Thursday 20 December and return on Monday 7 January 2019.
This week, the very best of British has truly been on display. A number of Sunday’s British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards went to Brits, including the awards for best cinematographer and for rising star, and of course Gary Oldman won an award for playing none other than Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour”. We have all been glued to our televisions watching our best-ever winter Olympics performance. We won three medals in one day, with Lizzy Yarnold successfully defending her gold in the skeleton. Sports and the arts are not just of huge value to British culture; they are also of huge value to our economy, and they have been showcased superbly this week.
This has also been a week of important firsts for women. Congratulations to the first Lady Usher of the Black Rod as she takes up her role, and to Minette Batters, who has been selected as the first female president of the National Farmers Union. Finally, Her Majesty was still achieving firsts as she appeared on the front row at London fashion week and presented an inaugural award in her name.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week. However, I must echo what Marin Alsop said: it is the 21st century, yet we are still celebrating firsts for women. That must change.
It is helpful to have next week’s business, and I am sure that Members and staff of the House will be pleased to have the recess dates. I note that the business stops on 5 March. Can the right hon. Lady tell us what is going to happen after that, or will the Government continue to announce just one week plus a Monday in advance? If they are looking for something to fill the time, perhaps the Leader of the House could provide us with another Opposition day. I think the last one that was allocated was on 24 January.
Obviously there is time available as the Government do not have any business, so could we consider two statutory instruments that have been prayed against by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner)? The first relates to early-day motion 936, on changing the eligibility of free school meals for those on universal credit.
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Free School Lunches and Milk, and School and Early Years Finance (Amendments Relating to Universal Credit) (England) Regulations 2018 (S.I., 2018, No. 148), dated 6 February 2018, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7 February, be annulled.]
The second relates to early-day motion 937, which deals with regulations abolishing nursing bursaries for postgraduate nursing students.
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (S.I., 2018, No. 136), dated 5 February 2018, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6 February, be annulled.]
Could the Leader of the House honour the convention and allow time to debate those matters on the Floor of the House, so that we can have a vote on them before the 40-day period expires?
Will the Leader of the House tell us what news she has of the Trade Bill and the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill? I am sure that the Government will want to scotch rumours that they are being pushed away.
I thank the Leader of the House for her letter—which I received at eight minutes past 8 yesterday—responding to some of the queries that I had raised. It was a bit like the Morecambe and Wise joke in which Eric tells André Previn that he is playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. In her letter, she answered questions, but they were not necessarily the ones that I asked. On the east coast railway line, for example, I did not ask her to tell me how wonderful Virgin was. I asked her a question about the Secretary of State taking back the contract. I asked her to write to me to tell me what costs were associated with the privatisation in the first place, and with taking the contract back. I also asked whether the Secretary of State had made the decision to privatise a commercially viable service against the advice that had been given to him.
The Leader of the House also did not answer my question about the inspector looking into Northamptonshire County Council. I asked her let me know how long the inspection would take and what the terms of reference were. We also know that Buckinghamshire might be setting an illegal budget—this will be of interest to you, Mr Speaker—and I think that that might be happening today. Over the past five years, its Government support has been reduced from £61 million to £8 million. The Leader of the House needs to respond to that. I ask her this as a matter of courtesy: I know that she has a very able civil service staff, because I meet them on occasions, and I wonder whether she could sign her letters off slightly earlier—perhaps on a Tuesday?
We know from the book by Tim Shipman how the Government used to make their policy, with the two advisers walking in St James’s Park batting policy ideas back and forth. Now that they have lost their jobs, however, it seems that the Government are raiding the Labour manifesto. They are now having a review of tuition fees. It is irrelevant that more young people are going to university—they have been told that if they go to university and get a degree, they will get a better job, but students do not want to start off in life with a debt of £56,000. However, they receive invoices yearly telling them that they have to pay back that amount.
The matter of high pay rises for vice-chancellors was raised during the Education Committee hearing on value for money in higher education, and MPs told a panel of vice-chancellors that the high rate of pay enjoyed by some university leaders is immoral given taxpayer subsidies and rising levels of debt. Will the Government therefore consider that issue in their review of post-18 education? If they will not—we do not know the full terms of reference—may we have a debate on the possibility of further regulation of vice-chancellors’ pay, or will that be parked for another year?
It is almost a year since article 50 was triggered, and at the end of the weekend we may know exactly what the Government’s position will be. I do not know whether you received a copy of the letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Speaker, but although it is marked private and confidential it seems that everyone has seen it. If you have not received it, I am quite happy to give it you. It is actually disrespectful to the Prime Minister. It begins, “Dear Prime Minister,” but it was sent to her at the House of Commons, not Downing Street—her place of work. I am not even going to go into the grammar or anything else, but I want to highlight one thing. It states that leaving the customs union and single market
“isn’t a question of ideology, but practicality”.
There is absolutely no mention of what is in the best interests of the citizens of this country or the interests of Northern Ireland. The right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) was right to say that it reads like a ransom note. It might as well have had a bullet point at the end saying, “Don’t forget to do this,” or, “Do this, or else.” It was signed by 63 Members—well over that magic number of 40.
It is World Thinking Day, which is a day of international friendship. We want to stand by our international friends and with the young people in Florida who decided to remember the 17 people who were murdered last week by walking out of school and into their state capitol to demand change.
The Leader of the House and I could not be at the Brit awards yesterday—I was reading my letter from her at 8.08 pm—but I am sure that she will echo the Leader of the Opposition’s words about a young man who has changed the music industry. He encouraged everyone to vote, pray and speak out about mental health issues, and he won best album and best male artist. Stormzy, congratulations.
I start by sharing in the hon. Lady’s tribute to those who were tragically murdered before even reaching their prime in the appalling killings in Florida. We were all beyond shocked, and we are all slightly in despair that such things happen time and again. We desperately hope that action will now be taken to fulfil the wishes of those young people, who should be able to grow up in peace and security.
I am always happy to pay tribute to people who speak out about the importance of resolving the nation’s mental health issues. On Tuesday evening, I had the great pleasure of speaking at an event run by MQ, a charity that looks at research into mental health. I met some fantastic people who are doing everything they can to promote good mental health, and I am proud of the Government’s achievements in that area.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady is grumpy about my letter to her. I do my absolute best to be nothing but courteous to the hon. Lady, whom I respect enormously and for whom I have the greatest regard. I share her tribute to my civil service team, but she will recognise that there are only a handful of them, and the questions that she asks sometimes require answers from Departments. With specific regard to her detailed questions on Department for Transport matters, she will know that Transport Question Time happens often in this Chamber, and she is also at liberty to ask detailed questions of the Secretary of State for Transport, instead of being slightly churlish towards my team, who are doing their best on her behalf. I thank my tiny Department for its excellent turnaround rate on letters.
The hon. Lady talked about some things that I did not include in my response, such as the inspection at Northamptonshire County Council. The inspector’s report is due by 16 March, and I am sorry if that was omitted from my letter. The hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), who is sitting next to the shadow Leader of the House, has gone on Twitter criticising things that I failed to say in my very courteous and timely response to her. Mr Speaker, perhaps you might like to give your thoughts on how appropriate it is, when one tries to be courteous to colleagues, that they simply go on Twitter accusing me of not saying things that they would have liked me to have said. It is a little discourteous.
The shadow Leader of the House talks about tuition fees and says that the Government are taking a leaf out of Labour’s manifesto. I do not think we ever said that we would scrap tuition fees and deal with all the outstanding debt, which even the Opposition agree would have an appalling impact on our economy. We are seeking to look very seriously at what is the best combination for delivering excellence in post-18 education at an affordable price.
Finally, the shadow Leader of the House raises the issue of a letter from a number of Conservative MPs, and all I can say, as the Prime Minister’s spokesman made very clear, is that all contributions from Members on both sides of the House to our position on Brexit are very welcome, and all are taken into account.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on support for women with endometriosis? An inspirational constituent, Ms Carla Cressy, suffers from this crippling condition, and she is leading a local and national campaign to raise awareness, which I hope the House will support.
My hon. Friend raises a serious matter, and I certainly congratulate his constituent on her campaign. Statistics suggest that endometriosis is the second most common gynaecological condition in the United Kingdom, affecting one in 10 women. I encourage him to apply for an Adjournment debate to raise awareness of this condition further.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I am not sure whether she is going to the Brexit bonding/war session later this afternoon, but can we have a debate on what other dystopian nightmares Brexit will not be quite like? Maybe “Apocalypse Now”— apocalypse in a couple of years?—or “Children of Men”. My favourite would have to be “The Matrix”, as we have a bunch of clueless fantasists living in an alternative world and believing that they can impose their version of reality on everyone else—it could not be more apt than that.
On alternative realities, we had English votes for English laws in all its absurd glory yesterday. Bells go on, bells go off; Mace comes down, Mace goes up. Nothing ever happens. There is no debate and no consideration of all these weighty English-only issues; nothing goes on at all. It is now becoming profoundly embarrassing for this House. EVEL now seems to be designed only to get in the way of the workings and procedures of this House, and it is a psychological barrier to the unity of the membership of this House based on nationality and geography. For goodness’ sake, Leader of the House, get shot of this absurd system.
Lastly, I had the good fortune of being at the Brits last night to see the cream of British musical talent on show. Before you ask, Mr Speaker, MP4 were once again shamefully passed over for the parliamentary rock band of the year. It has taken our musicians to remind this Government to do the right thing, and the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) is right to mention Stormzy and his tour-de-force performance last night in which he asked, “Where’s the money for Grenfell? You thought we were all going to forget about Grenfell? Well, we are not.” It is great that our actors, our young people and our musicians are reminding this Government to do the right thing.
On Grenfell, the hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members on both sides of the House will know that resolving the appalling tragedy to enable people to carry on with their lives and to turn around the appalling physical and mental scars from that awful, awful night is an absolute priority for the Government, and it will remain so.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman was able to enjoy the Brits—the best of British, which is important for someone such as himself—and I am sure MP4 will have their day.
The hon. Gentleman talks about EVEL. He will appreciate that under the devolution settlement it is important that those directly affected should be able to hold the majority on votes affecting only English or English and Welsh situations. Finally, he talks about our life outside the EU, which in my opinion is much less “Mad Max” and far more “Love Actually”.
I am not even going to try to follow that one, Mr Speaker.
I have just received a report from Data Diligence, which my right hon. Friend will know about, because it pointed out the wrongdoings of Northamptonshire County Council. It has just sent me a report to prove that Taunton Deane Borough Council has been hiding money for years, in financial misprudence. May we please have a debate on this matter? It is important, as it shows that local government is sometimes not worthy of the trust we put in it.
The hon. Gentleman has referred on this occasion to the council. May I just ask him whether he has notified the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) of his intention to raise this matter today?
I wrote to my hon. Friend, in line with your guidance in your letter. I thank you very much for your guidance, which I followed to the letter.
This is becoming rather tiresome. I did try gently to exhort the hon. Gentleman to pursue other lines of inquiry. I have permitted this today, but my patience is not unlimited.
My hon. Friend will be aware that business questions are about business of this House, and he would be advised to speak to the Department for Communities and Local Government directly about his concerns.
Let me help the Leader of the House by saying that it has just been determined this morning that the other item of business on Thursday 1 March will be a debate on a motion on seasonal migrant workers. That has been settled this morning.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is backing the great exhibition of the north, which is being hosted in Gateshead and Newcastle from 22 June until 9 September. May we have a debate in Government time to promote the great exhibition of the north? I know that the Leader of the House would normally exhort a Member making such a request to go to the Backbench Business Committee, but that would hardly seem appropriate in my circumstances.
The hon. Gentleman could always go and chat to himself in the mirror, but that might appear a little odd to anyone watching. I pay tribute to that great exhibition of the north, which I hope will be a huge success. I am sure he will find, as he just has, great ways to promote it.
May I tell the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee that there is a famous scene in “Iolanthe” where the Lord Chancellor persuades himself of the merits of his own cause?
May we have a debate on the working practices and procedures of the Education and Skills Funding Agency? There is a particular issue in my constituency with Bullers Wood school for boys. The Secretary of State for Education is very much on the case, but there is an underlying picture of an organisation whose procurement processes are top-heavy, slow, hierarchical and very process-driven. This body is sometimes resistant to advice from external partners, who can often bring greater local knowledge to bear on its procurement processes.
Order. I must just say to the hon. Gentleman that I gather that he was spotted in a prominent place at the first night of the said performance. We hope he richly enjoyed himself.
My hon. Friend is a big champion for his constituency and for education, and I encourage him to take this up directly with Ministers or through an Adjournment debate.
TransPennine Express has recently downgraded the vital rail link from Hull to Leeds and Manchester to a stopping service, which means that trains now stop at an additional six places along the way. Although it is important to have a stopping service to link together smaller towns, it is really important to have an express service, too. Please may we therefore have a debate in Government time on rail connectivity for northern cities?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. She will be aware that there will be Transport questions on Thursday 1 March, when she might well like to raise that issue directly with Ministers.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the retail giant Tesco hungrily taking over the wholesaler Booker. She will also be aware of the concerns about that on the part of farmers, growers and food producers: it would create an extraordinary distortion of the food chain at the expense of all those important people. Will she encourage those in the Government responsible for agriculture and business to let this House know what their feelings are about such market distortion?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are clear processes for looking at significant takeovers and at mergers and whether they are in the public interest, but he may well wish to raise that directly with Ministers or to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can talk about the particular interests of his constituency, which has a heavy reliance on the agricultural sector.
My constituents in Bridge of Weir have told me that universal credit claimants there are instructed to attend initial appointments in Greenock—nearly 12 miles away—despite the jobcentre in Johnstone being only 3 miles away. I have heard of claimants walking to and from Greenock, as the return bus fare of nearly £8 represents up to 14% of their benefit payment. Can we have a debate on how claimants from rural and semi-rural areas are affected by universal credit roll-out?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. He will be aware that the Government are fully committed to the roll-out of universal credit as a good way to help more people back into work and have the security of a job and a pay packet. With regard to the specific points he raises about access to jobcentres to sign up for universal credit, if he wants to write to me, I can take them up directly with the Department on his behalf.
Please may we have a debate on the communication strategy and responsibilities of Highways England? Two weeks ago Highways England announced the total closure of a key part of the A1 through my constituency for three weeks in March, but it entirely failed to consult, or indeed communicate at all, with vital local businesses such as Purdy Lodge services and with local residents who will be heavily affected by this necessary work. The confusion and the lack of communication have been a real crisis for the area.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that. I think a number of hon. Members have had problems with lack of communication about significant road closures, so I am glad she has raised the issue in the Chamber. She may well want to take it up at Transport questions next Thursday, 1 March.
When can we have an urgent debate in Government time to discuss the state of our roads and particularly the number of potholes not just on our local roads but on motorways? Anyone who drives on the motorways will see many potholes, which are very dangerous.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of potholes. It is a big frustration for all of us as individuals and in our constituency surgeries—there are lots of complaints about potholes. The Government have invested significant sums in dealing with potholes. There have been improvements in recent years, but the hon. Gentleman might like to talk to the Backbench Business Committee so that Members can share their particular frustrations.
My question follows that from my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) about the work of Highways England. The A180 into Grimsby and Cleethorpes is our major route, and it is vital to the local economy. It is undergoing unexpected roadworks at the moment, and there was very little consultation. I acknowledge that I could raise this at Transport questions, but in view of the concern among other Members, perhaps we could find time for a Government debate on the issue.
I am glad that my hon. Friend is speaking up for his constituency, as always. Again, at least in the first instance, he might want to raise the issue at Transport questions next week.
May I mention the sad death yesterday of the great American evangelist Billy Graham? He was a great influence on many of us in this House. He was very saddened by the killing of children in schools in America, but he would also have been appalled by the daily death toll of children in Syria caused by this ghastly Syrian Government, backed by the Russians, day after day. Can we have an early statement to the House next week on any progress towards a halt in that awful, awful tragedy?
I certainly share the hon. Gentleman’s tribute to Billy Graham who really was quite a life-changing character for many people during his long life. I also share the hon. Gentleman’s grave concern about what is happening in Syria. The Government have condemned the appalling loss of life, and we will do everything that we can to ensure that there is a ceasefire and that we make progress in finding a resolution in Syria.
Last week, in partnership with Disability Action Yorkshire, we brought together leaders from across my constituency —business leaders, service providers and transport providers—to discuss how to make Harrogate and Knaresborough even more friendly for disabled people. It was a very good session, with practical ideas put forward and helpful connections made. Can we have a debate, to build on the debate later today, to look at how we can make the UK more disability friendly?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his huge efforts in this area and commend him for the meeting that he called. He might be aware of the Backbench Business debate that takes place later today on the role of disabled people in economic growth. The Government spend more than £50 billion a year on benefits that support disabled people and people with health conditions. That is more than ever before—in fact, it is up £7 billion since 2010—with the result that there are now 3.5 million disabled people in work, which is an increase of nearly 600,000 in the past four years. He is right that there is still a lot more to do, and a lot more that can be done, but we are making some good progress.
Last year, a 13-year-old boy with a dairy allergy died after allegedly having cheese forced on him at school. Next month, children at the cinema will watch the much-loved character Peter Rabbit forcing a child to undergo an anaphylactic reaction, which can be fatal. Sony has apologised but has refused to cut the scene, and the film certificate classifies the film as having mild threat and comic violence. Food allergy is no laughing matter; it can be life or death. Can we have a debate on the bullying of children with allergies, which is clearly not taken seriously enough?
The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important point, and she is absolutely right to highlight the seriousness of food allergies. We should do everything that we can to raise the importance and the awareness of the potential life-threatening impact of food allergies. She may well want to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can talk to Ministers directly on that point.
With the lambing season now upon us and domestic dog attacks on livestock at an all-time high, can we have a debate on what more the Government can do to limit the devastating effect that irresponsible dog owners have on both our rural communities and our rural economy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that matter. We have all seen photographs of the appalling effect of a dog attack on a field of sheep. It is hugely distressing for the animals, obviously, as well as for the farmers who look after them, and it has serious financial implications. It is already a criminal offence for a dog to worry livestock; dog owners can be fined up to £1,000. Farmers are being encouraged to report any incidents so that action can be taken. Furthermore, the dog welfare code highlights for owners the importance of keeping their dogs on leads when they are near livestock.
University lecturers and staff are currently involved in a strike—the largest ever in higher education—owing to changes in their terms and conditions, particularly in their pensions. Can we have a statement, or an urgent debate, in this House about how we can resolve this impasse so that the terms and conditions of our lecturers can be protected?
I must declare an interest, as my eldest son is about to study for his finals and now has no lecturers. At a very personal level, I cannot say that I support innocent students, who have paid their fees and worked very hard, being punished for the resolution of this challenge. Talks are ongoing, and the Universities Minister is engaging with Universities UK and the University and College Union to make it clear to all parties that there is a need to find a solution that avoids disruption to students.
Under this Government, the UK is leading international efforts to tackle tax avoidance. Can we have a debate on the impact that tax avoidance has on our vital public services and on what more can be done to make sure that everybody pays their fair share?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. He will be pleased, as I am, that the Government have a strong record on tackling tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance. Since 2010, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has secured and protected over £175 billion in additional tax revenues through its compliance activities—more than the entire annual budget of the NHS. The UK’s tax gap is now down to 6%—its lowest level ever, and one of the lowest in the world.
We still await the Government’s response to the independent review of S4C that was launched last year. In recent years, the channel’s budget has suffered successive real-terms cuts. What is more, the Wales-specific content broadcast in the English language on other channels has also decreased. May we have an urgent debate on the perilous position of broadcasting in Wales and the merits of devolving responsibility for it to the National Assembly for Wales?
I certainly share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm and support for the Welsh broadcasting service. He may well wish to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can take up his specific concerns directly with Ministers.
May we have a debate on local news sites? Next Wednesday, Stuart Crowther, the editor of InsideMoray, will be publishing his final stories before taking a well-earned retirement. Since that site started in June 2013, it has been a valuable resource for local people and those further afield, and it complements our local print media. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Stuart on his efforts over the years and share my hope that someone will take over this successful site to ensure that it can continue in future?
My hon. Friend is a real champion for all things in Moray. I can assure him that the Government are committed to supporting an independent, vibrant and plural press industry. In particular, the local press is vital to this country’s democracy. I know that InsideMoray has published thousands of stories since 2013. I am happy to join him in congratulating Stuart on his amazing efforts and wishing him a very happy retirement.
Year 6 pupils Ella and George from Thornhill Junior and Infant School in my constituency wrote to me regarding their concerns about our dependence on fossil fuels and the harm caused by litter and plastics to our environment. Will the Leader of the House consider, further to today’s urgent question, giving more time for a debate about building a green economy based on clean, renewable energy?
I congratulate the hon. Lady’s constituents on the really worthwhile campaign that they have started to run. I am sure that she will be delighted to hear of the number of MPs who have taken up the “give up plastic for Lent” challenge. I am not sure whether she has done so herself, but it is surprisingly difficult to stop using plastic. The Government are taking great steps forward through the 5p charge for plastic bags. We are reducing the number of plastic bags in circulation by about 9 billion, or some extraordinary number. There is a huge amount more to do to reduce our use of fossil fuels. We have announced the intention to get coal off the system by 2025. There is a lot more to be done, and so the efforts of her constituents are greatly appreciated.
In the past two months alone, 25 civilians and at least seven service personnel have been murdered by terrorists in Jammu, Kashmir. In Kashmir, illegally occupied by Pakistan, 162 terrorist training bases have been identified. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on what we can do in this country to help and support our great ally, India, in combating this terrorism?
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly serious point. He will be aware that we work very closely with all our allies to try to stamp out terrorism and all terror attacks. He will, I am sure, want to raise this directly with Foreign Office Ministers, or perhaps through an Adjournment debate, so that he can get specific detail on what we are doing to address his point.
One of my constituents, Ian Ackley, was the initial whistleblower on, and a victim of, the prolific serial child sex abuser and paedophile Barry Bennell. There has been no Government statement or debate about this historical child sexual abuse and what is being done to make sure that it never happens again. Will the Leader of the House make time available for this important issue to be debated?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very harrowing issue. I think that everyone in this House would want to send their deepest condolences and thoughts to the many victims of that paedophile. Some of the things that have happened to them are appalling. The hon. Gentleman may want to take it up, in the first instance, at Home Office questions next Monday.
According to Persecution Relief, an ecumenical focus group, attacks on Christians in India have doubled in the past year to 736. Worryingly, it has also recorded a growing trend of attackers filing police complaints that accuse Christians of crimes such as sedition or even inviting attacks by offending local people and their religious sentiments. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on that matter?
The hon. Gentleman raises, as he often does, the issue of religious freedom. He will be pleased to know that there is a Backbench debate on 1 March on freedom of religion or belief, so he will have the opportunity—
It’s my debate!
Okay. I am delighted on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf, and I am sure it will be a great success.
It is very heartening to know that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the fact that the debate is taking place and that it is his. That is a good start.
I and a number of other Members have been raising with the Government the 1984 Cammell Laird strike. That campaign is currently undertaken by the GMB trade union. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a GMB member and sponsored MP. We have been raising that for a year, including in the House at Justice questions last April and October. We have been waiting for meetings that have now been withdrawn. How on earth can we hold the Government to account when they refuse to answer questions in this place, offer meetings and then withdraw them and have us going round the houses for nearly a year?
I am sorry that I am unaware of the problem that the hon. Gentleman is raising with the Justice Department, but if he emails me, I can certainly look into that on his behalf.
Can we have an urgent debate on the future of the children’s centre network? That was one of the last Labour Government’s proudest achievements, but it has been cut back drastically on the basis that there would be streamlining of the service. In Gloucestershire, we are now facing the potential closure of the few remaining children’s centres. It is vital for the future of our children that we know what provision will be available.
I am an enormous fan of children’s centres. They were a fantastic initiative and have certainly provided a huge amount of support for children. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be aware that this Government have invested enormously in nurseries and childcare, enabling many more parents to benefit from up to £5,000 a year of tax-free childcare. More nursery care and qualified childcare is enabling more families to go back to work with the reassurance of knowing that their children are well cared for.
The Leader of the House will be well aware of legislation passed last year to prevent the mass farming of tickets by ticket touts, but when we read that tickets for “Hamilton”, for example, are now being retailed at £6,000, which is absolutely outrageous and ridiculous, is it not time that we had more comprehensive legislation dealing with ticket touting? Can we have an early statement from the relevant Department on that?
Having tried to get “Hamilton” tickets recently, I know that they are at a premium; I completely agree. The hon. Gentleman seems to offer me some tickets from his inside pocket. He is right that ticket touting is an enormous problem, and I certainly encourage him in the first instance to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can raise his concerns.
My constituent has faced 10 years of harassment and antisocial behaviour due to their neighbours using CCTV to track their movements in and out of their home. The constituent has raised with the police concerns about the surveillance camera code of practice. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary or a Home Office Minister to make a statement on the code and its success rate five years after it was published by the Government?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very concerning issue. It must be horrible for his constituent to have to be harassed in that way. He will be aware that there are Home Office questions on Monday, and I encourage him to raise that directly with Ministers.
NatWest bank is 73% publicly owned, and in my constituency, as in other communities across this country, it is closing many of its high street banking facilities. What responsibility do the Government accept for the damage caused to these local communities, and will they hold a debate on that issue and the justification for it?
I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that access to banking is absolutely vital. She will be aware that banks’ decisions on whether to close are commercial decisions made by them. There is an agreement with the banking sector that they will consult widely and ensure that closures take place only where volumes and footfall justify such a closure. She will also be aware that the Government have invested heavily in the post office network, and that post offices now provide basic banking services for about 98% of all personal and business customers. Those customers can carry out basic banking transactions within the post office network.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that employment tribunal fees were unlawful and that all claimants should receive back their fees as a refund. The latest figures show that only about 6% of people have actually received such refunds, and I am at a loss to understand why that figure is so low, given that the tribunals service has the details of every single person who has made a claim. May we have a statement from the relevant Minister on what the Government will do to make sure that people get back the money to which they are legally entitled?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which is clearly one for the Ministry of Justice. If he writes to me, I will take it up with the Department, but I encourage him to raise it directly with Ministers at the next Justice oral questions.
May we have a statement on the role and responsibilities of the UK Government in supporting families of UK citizens missing abroad? Liam Colgan from Inverness went missing in Hamburg on 10 February. His family are worried that he is injured or suffering from memory loss, and they are very concerned about the level of help they are getting. They are desperate to find him, and they want to bring him home.
I am really sorry to hear about that. It must be an incredibly worrying time for Liam Colgan’s family, and I am quite sure that they are desperate to hear news of him. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to contact Ministers directly so that he can seek their support.
Helen & Douglas House hospice in Oxford is having to close one of its two centres due to lack of funding, which means that it cannot now provide end-of-life care for 18 to 35-year-olds. Just under 47,000 people have signed a petition asking the Government to intervene on the closure. May we have a debate on hospice funding so that colleagues can debate this and other hospices?
I share the hon. Lady’s gratitude to Helen & Douglas House, which delivers amazing end-of-life care not just to her constituents, but to some of mine, and I am a huge enthusiast for the hospice movement. The hon. Lady will be aware that local NHS commissioners determine the number of NHS funded hospices in their area, but I would like to reassure her that NHS England awarded £11 million for children’s hospices through the children’s hospice grant in 2017-18. She is right to raise this case, and she may well want to seek an Adjournment debate to discuss with a Minister what more can be done.
Why are the Government dodging the timetabling of Opposition day debates?
I just do not accept that the Government are dodging anything. Ever since I became Leader of the House of Commons following the general election, we have been absolutely clear that we are providing exactly the right and appropriate number of Opposition days, in accordance with the Standing Orders. We are continuing to do that, and we will continue to abide by the conventions and the Standing Orders of this House.
Many Members will have noted the recent case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, who was struck off after being convicted of gross negligence and manslaughter, despite its being an evident case of the institutional failure in the NHS that could have an impact on any junior doctor. This has led to an unprecedented loss of confidence in the General Medical Council among the medical profession. Will the Leader of the House call a debate on improving the governance of the GMC so that we can restore confidence in it?
We were all very concerned to hear about that case. There is obviously a balance between transparency and enabling lessons to be learned from awful outcomes and situations. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the case, and I encourage him to take it up directly with Ministers at the next Health and Social Care questions.