Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will include:
Monday 12 March—Remaining stages of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 13 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his spring statement, followed by debate on motions relating to universal credit, children and young persons and social security.
Wednesday 14 March—General debate on European affairs (day 1).
Thursday 15 March—Conclusion of general debate on European affairs (day 2).
Friday 16 March—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 19 March will include:
Monday 19 March—Second Reading of the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [Lords], followed by debate on Welsh affairs.
Today, Parliament is flying the flag for International Women’s Day. This year is particularly special, as we mark the centenary of some women getting the right to vote. We will be celebrating women’s achievements throughout the year. I hope that all Members will host an Equalitea party in their constituencies during the summer, to celebrate democratic equality and, yes, the opportunity to have cake and eat it. We have achieved much, but there is a long way to go. Today, the Home Office has launched a consultation on our proposals for a new domestic violence Bill, which will tackle the plight of the nearly 2 million people—mainly women—living with violence.
Today, as we think about opportunities for women, I feel lucky to have not one, not two, not even three but four brilliant female apprentices in my private office and parliamentary office. I know many Members are marking National Apprenticeship Week; speaking from my own experiences, I encourage any Member, and every business, to offer the valuable experience of an apprenticeship to talented young people.
Lastly, this week sees the birthday of our own resident rock star: the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I hear that he is 21 again, although I might be confusing that with his majority. [Laughter.] I am sure he is not much older than that. I hope the whole House will join me in wishing him a very happy birthday for tomorrow.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business and also for her speech—I wonder whether that will happen every time. I am pleased that, despite telling me that statements would not be announced in the House, she has actually announced the date of the spring statement. It is an important statement, and it is business of the House. Is there any reason why the Leader of the House is announcing the business just one week and a day at a time? That seems to be a change, too.
I asked last week about the legislation on restoration and renewal—when is that likely to come to the House? There was a good turnout for the debate on the issue, and every day that goes by when we do not do something, further costs are incurred. I also asked when the Trade Bill was likely to come back to the House, and she did not answer. It seems like all the important legislation is delayed. Is this Government-lite—is this basically a no-business Government?
I do thank the Leader of the House for finding time for a debate on the statutory instruments that the Opposition have prayed against. The only one that is outstanding is on early-day motion 937, which deals with the regulations on abolishing nursing bursaries for post-graduate 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.]
There has been a 33% fall in applications for nursing degrees. That helps women returners, but perhaps the Chancellor might make a concession on bursaries in the spring statement. Immediately after that, when we debate the statutory instruments, people will see that they include cuts to free school meals; an end to childcare vouchers; an end to free childcare for all two-year-olds and families on universal credit; and universal credit regulations that will affect self-employed and disabled people. Perhaps that is what we get with a woman Prime Minister!
May I ask for some other debates? The Liaison Committee has nominated for a debate the Environmental Audit Committee’s reports on plastic bottles, published on 22 December, and on disposable coffee cups, published on 5 January. Can the Leader of the House find time for that debate, and for a debate on the announcement by the President of the United States on tariffs on our steel and aluminium?
We have a sitting Friday on 16 March. I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware that, on a previous Friday, a closure motion was moved after only two hours of debate, actually stopping the Opposition spokesperson speaking. If she looks at the Official Report, she will see that she was stopped in mid-speech. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether that will be the norm, in which case we will need to warn the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), who is second on the list, that his Bill will come up much more quickly than it would have done before?
The Leader of the House promised the list of ministerial responsibilities in March. It is now 8 March, so can we have that, please?
We have two days of debate on the UK’s exit from the European Union. Will there be further allotted days, or can the Opposition dare to dream that we will have our Opposition day? We have not had one since January.
Despite the fact that the Prime Minister’s speech to the Mansion House was 6,800 words, she gave only 2,000 words to the House. I feel robbed, Mr Speaker—I do not know about you. We will need a third allotted day as we come up to the year of triggering article 50 on 29 March and the anniversary of the Good Friday agreement on 10 April. The Prime Minister said to the House on Monday that the Government are looking at customs arrangements around the world, including on the border between the United States and Canada, but the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, who has actually visited that border, said that that
“is definitely not a solution that we can possibly entertain.”
What about the former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, who has criticised the Prime Minister’s speech? He said:
“Why is it that after 18 months since the referendum we have not got any closer with these issues? The answer is simple: because no one has got any answer about how to do it.”
If the Prime Minister’s speech were a recipe for a cake, you would not be able to bake it—even if it was a cherry Genoa cake, or a double cherry Genoa cake. If it were a road map, it would be a road map to nowhere.
I join the Leader of the House in wishing everybody a happy International Women’s Day. Mr Speaker, you have been absolutely fantastic, because you have your reference group. In 2010, before I came to this House, I watched the evidence at the Speaker’s conference on parliamentary inclusion, and I think it made a huge difference. On this International Women’s Day, I must say that women consultants in the NHS have earned on average nearly £14,000 a year less than men. The House of Commons Library briefing said that women were paying a “disproportionate” price for balancing the Government’s books—86% of the burden of austerity has fallen on women. There may be a woman Prime Minister, but the Leader of the Opposition is a person of deeds. His shadow Cabinet is 50% women, whereas the Cabinet is only 26% women. The Opposition are leading the way with the representation of women; we make up 45% of the parliamentary party.
As it is International Women’s Day, may I ask the Leader of the House to make representations to the Foreign Secretary about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? If France can provide an exhibition to Iran, please will the Leader of the House urge the Foreign Secretary to make representations on the release of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as he could have done before Christmas? In addition, more schoolgirls have been kidnapped in Nigeria.
On the day on which the National Audit Office has published a report that talks about cuts of almost 50% to local government services, I want to thank all the public services for their hard work over this period of inclement weather. They have protected us and made sure that we are all safe.
I certainly join the hon. Lady in thanking all those who worked so hard during the period of really difficult and challenging weather, as well as those who had to bear the brunt of it when they were sitting on trains that could not move because of the weather. Everyone should be congratulated on their efforts and community spirit.
The hon. Lady raised a number of legislative issues. I am glad that she did so, because she often asks about policy issues, which are not technically a matter for business questions. She asked about legislation on restoration and renewal. As she knows, because she is on the House of Commons Commission, which I updated only last week, we will be introducing legislation on the establishment of a delivery authority and a sponsor body as soon as possible.
On the Trade Bill, we discussed last week the fact that several amendments have been tabled. The Government are considering them carefully, as it is right to do. As I have always said in this Chamber, we will always consider amendments that are tabled to try to improve legislation as we enter into the important decision to leave the European Union and take steps to prepare ourselves in the best possible way. I am glad that the hon. Lady is happy about the statutory instrument debates. We will be having them next week, as she requested last week.
The hon. Lady asked about nursing training places. She will be aware that there will be an increase of 25%—the biggest increase ever. She also raises the question of plastics and what we are doing about them. I hope that she has signed up, as I have done, to plastic-free Lent. That is an attempt to minimise the use of single-use plastics during the Lent period and an opportunity for us to highlight the importance of reducing our use of plastics. Of course, the Government’s record on that is very good, with the determination in our 25-year environment plan to be the first generation that leaves our environment in a better state than we found it in.
The hon. Lady asks about the talk coming out of the United States on tariffs on steel and aluminium. We are very concerned about that. As she will be aware, we in the UK have made social and economic factors part of the consideration for public sector procurement of steel. We have commissioned research to identify high-value opportunities for UK steel worth up to nearly £4 billion a year by 2030, and we have taken great steps since 2013 to support our steel sector with the costs of renewables and climate change policies. The hon. Lady is right to raise concerns about US policy in this area, and the Prime Minister spoke with President Trump recently and raised our deep concern about his forthcoming announcement on steel and aluminium tariffs. The Prime Minister has noted that multilateral action is the only way to resolve the problem of global overcapacity in all parties’ interests.
The hon. Lady asked again about ministerial responsibilities. I can tell her that the list will be forthcoming as soon as possible, once the positions have been confirmed and clarified with all Departments.
The hon. Lady asked about the debates on the European Union, and I think she is happy that we are having them. They are, of course, in response to the request from many right hon. and hon. Members to be able to talk in general terms about their ideas and proposals for how we should leave the European Union. We had a very important speech from the Prime Minister last week, and the EU Council, where we hope to secure an implementation period, is coming up soon. Now is a very good time for all hon. and right hon. Members to put forward their thoughts and views.
Finally, the hon. Lady asks for representations about Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe. She is absolutely right to raise that case, which we are very concerned about. She will know that the Foreign Secretary raised it with the Foreign Minister of Iran when he had the opportunity to do so, and the Foreign Office continues to do that at every opportunity.
I associate myself with the birthday wishes to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), whom I regard as an hon. Friend.
On 2 February this year, my private Member’s Bill, the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill, received its Second Reading thanks to support from the Government, the official Opposition and the Scottish National party, for which I am obliged. However, the Bill cannot proceed any further until a ways and means motion is tabled. Will the Leader of the House speak to our mutual friend the Patronage Secretary—the Chief Whip—and hopefully agree with him that it should be tabled sooner rather than later?
My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. The Government have expressed support for a number of private Members’ Bills so far this Session, and we continue to work with the Members in charge. That will include bringing forward money resolutions on a case-by-case basis in the usual way.
In offering my best birthday wishes to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for tomorrow, perhaps I can borrow the legendary observation to me from the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and apply it to the hon. Gentleman: fortunately he is not yet at the age at which the cost of the candles exceeds the cost of the cake.
Thank you very much for that, Mr Speaker. I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week and for her very kind birthday wishes. Birthdays nowadays are more to be noted than celebrated—as are majorities of 21.
I, too, wholeheartedly welcome International Women’s Day and pay tribute to all the incredible women throughout history who have contributed so much to progress in our communities, while acknowledging that we have still so much to do to reach the truly equal society to which we should all aspire. I am sure that the whole House, like half the world, saw the incredible speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black) yesterday on misogyny: a powerful, profound personal account of some of the misogynistic abuse that she has suffered just for being a young woman in politics. On International Women’s Day, will the Leader of the House at least consider making misogyny a hate crime and proactively legislating to ensuring that we could start to make this part of the history of the women’s movement in this country?
On Saturday, the Scottish National party is having a day of action against Royal Bank of Scotland branch closures—an issue that continues to upset and concern communities we represent. The Scottish Affairs Committee, which I chair, has finally secured RBS’s chief executive officer, Ross McEwan, to come before us to answer questions about this closure programme. However, the one group of people we have not heard from and who still refuse to speak to us are the majority shareholder—this Government. The Government are the stewards of the public interest in this. Will the Leader of the House therefore join me in insisting that Treasury Ministers agree to come before the Scottish Affairs Committee to answer questions about what they are doing to represent our interests?
We need a statement on the emerging constitutional crisis on Brexit. The Government now say that they will push ahead with amendments to clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill without any agreement from the Scottish Government, who are still progressing their continuity Bill. The BBC says that it has a letter in which the Government say that they cannot counter the “power grab” claims. Perhaps they cannot do that because a power grab is exactly what it is.
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I am very appalled, as I think all hon. Members are, to hear of the experiences of his colleague, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black). I sincerely apologise to her, on behalf of everybody here, for the appalling abuse she has received: it is utterly unacceptable. Of course, in my role as Leader of the House of Commons, if she wanted to come and talk to me I would be very happy to do so to see whether there is anything specific I can do for her.
As the hon. Gentleman knows and as you know, Mr Speaker, we have worked tirelessly, cross-party, to put in place our independent complaints procedure. I am not sure whether, if that were up and running today, it would have gone some way towards improving the hon. Lady’s situation. However, I certainly hope that our commitment across this House and in the other place to stamping out abuse and making our Parliament one of the best places to work and be employed in will stand us in good stead for the future.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, about RBS, I am very aware of the grave concerns about bank closures expressed on a number of occasions by Opposition Members. He will be aware that these are commercial decisions. There are procedures to go through before a bank decides to close, such as consultation with local communities. I point out that one of his hon. Friends has an Adjournment debate on banking in Scotland next week, on 14 March, and I am sure he will want to take part in that.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman raised the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the Scottish National party’s continuity Bill. It is the Government’s position that the EU withdrawal Bill will provide consistency across the UK to ensure that all parts of the UK are ready for our departure from the EU. We are still hopeful that we can reach agreement with the devolved Administrations on the Bill in the coming weeks.
In a recent debate in the Lords on the family test, which is perhaps better called the family impact assessment, there was good cross-party support for Lord Farmer’s private Member’s Bill promoting a more satisfactory application of the test than currently appears to be the case, from several questions I have asked of Departments recently. Will the Leader of the House facilitate the safe passage of that Bill in the other place by liaising with the Leader of the House of Lords, so that it can be brought to this House for consideration as soon as possible?
First, I would like to commend and congratulate my hon. Friend for the amazing work she does across the parties and the Houses on supporting families. I totally share her desire to see the strengthening of families of all types. In particular, I know that she shares my concern for the importance of early attachment and giving every baby the best start in life. I absolutely support her desire to see the family test carefully applied and would be delighted to meet her to discuss how I can specifically help her.
I note from the Leader of the House’s statement that the Backbench Business Committee has been given a holiday from days for Backbench Business debates. We have a number of outstanding applications waiting for time allocation, and I therefore hope that we will get some time before the Easter recess to get some of those unheard debates timetabled.
I am afraid that the chickens have come home to roost with regard to the membership of the Backbench Business Committee. Despite the fact that we had three members present on Tuesday, that is not quorate for our Committee. We require four, although we currently only have six members. We hope that the cavalry will come over the hill from the Conservative party, as there are two members missing at the moment. Will the Leader of the House look again at the quorum of the Backbench Business Committee? On a Committee of eight, a quorum of four seems excessive.
I gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that there is Government time next week for a Welsh affairs debate. As he will recall, we were all disappointed on St David’s day when, owing to the awful weather and the need for Members to get home before the train stations closed and so on, the debate was cancelled. I was at the No. 10 reception for St David’s day and we sadly missed out on the Welsh school choir, who could not get there. That was a great shame. We were delighted to offer Government time for that debate to continue to take place, notwithstanding that it is not under the hon. Gentleman’s Committee, but in Government time. I will of course ensure that I make representations where necessary for his outstanding applications.
I have discussed with colleagues what we can do to facilitate extra Conservative Members on the Backbench Business Committee and will continue to press for that. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me on the quorum, I am happy to look at that matter seriously.
You will know, Mr Speaker, that this House only works if conventions are followed. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) mentioned a private Member’s Bill. My private Member’s Bill passed its Second Reading on 1 December, and another one about constituencies passed its Second Reading on that day. Both were unopposed. Unfortunately, more than three months later, no money resolutions have been forthcoming. There can be only one private Member’s Bill in Committee at any one time. There is none in Committee because of this. This looks to be an obstruction of the private Member’s Bill system by the Government. I am sure that that is not the case—well, I am not sure that that is not the case. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement next week, so that this can be discussed?
Earlier, the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) asked a question about migratory species, and in the course of the delivery of the question from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), a number of Opposition Members noted that he has migrated from his usual seat to his new seat. I do not think any particular significance need be read into that, and I should assure the House that even if it is thought to be unusual—
I do not think it suddenly means that the hon. Gentleman is pro the European Union. If the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said that outside the Chamber, I rather imagine that the hon. Member for Wellingborough would be consulting m’learned friends. His behaviour is perfectly orderly.
I am slightly disappointed that my hon. Friend is a bit suspicious. How could he possibly think that, especially of me, since we are very much honourable Friends? I can say to him, as I did to our right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), that the Government have expressed support for a number of private Members’ Bills so far this Session—and the Government do support the Health and Social Care (National Data Guardian) Bill, which my hon. Friend is taking through as a private Member’s Bill—and we will bring forward money resolutions on a case-by-case basis in the usual way.
I really appreciate the right hon. Lady’s comments about President Trump’s announcement on steel tariffs, but I am deeply concerned and I think we need the Secretary of State for International Trade to come and make an urgent statement next week. Some 10% of UK steel is exported to the US and 15% of the output of our automotive industry goes there, so this has huge implications, particularly post Brexit, and I would really appreciate the opportunity to debate it.
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. As I mentioned to the shadow Leader of the House, the Prime Minister has spoken to President Trump and raised our grave concern about his proposals. I can also tell the hon. Lady that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is speaking with Wilbur Ross, the US Commerce Secretary, about this matter. She may be aware that there has been an overnight briefing that tariffs may not apply to allies and so on. This is a moving issue, and we will continue to take every step to protect the UK steel and aluminium sectors.
On Monday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government made a welcome statement on housing and planning in this country. Sadly, it coincided with a meeting of the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government, so those of us on both sides of the House who have a degree of expertise in this area were unable to question him about the new policies. Equally, the estimates day debate on homelessness was heavily over-subscribed, so colleagues could make only very short speeches. Will the Leader of the House find time for a general debate in Government time on housing and planning, so that Members on both sides of the House can express their views and tease out some of the policies that the Government are proposing?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Prime Minister has been very clear that sorting out our broken housing market is one of the top priorities for her premiership. She is determined that young people should be able to aspire to a home of their own, and that means building more houses and changing planning, and it also means protecting tenants and sorting out things such as leases on new homes. All those are among the new policies of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
I just want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. The Government have implemented it, and it is part of our determination to deal with the problem of homelessness and rough sleeping in this country.
Cancer Research UK says that obesity is the second most preventable cause of cancer and the Government are reviewing their childhood obesity strategy, so may we have a debate on stopping junk food adverts before the 9 o’clock watershed to help to reduce childhood obesity?
I completely share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about childhood obesity. It really appears that we have a massively growing problem in this country. He may well want to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can talk directly to a Minister about his own ideas.
As we are aware, we have just approved more housing to be built in this country, and we can all say, “Yes, that’s good.” However, I could name councils—I will not do so this time—that have used private companies and estate agents to further their aims. My council, West Somerset Council, is being dragged into such a situation. May we have a debate on making sure that there is a clear understanding between developers, estate agents, planners and companies? If we do not have such an understanding, situations are going to arise that will not help any of us in our future deliberations.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of keeping good boundaries. Ultimately, the aim is to produce more homes, so that more people can aspire to owning a home of their own. He may want to raise his specific concerns during questions to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, which will happen on Monday 12 March.
As one of my very favourite feminists, Mr Speaker, may I wish you and everybody else a happy International Women’s Day? Will the Leader of the House consider a debate or Government statement on gender pricing? We now know that consumers have to pay on average 31% more for goods that are marketed or aimed specifically at women. That is not limited to toiletries; it could be toys, stationery, clothes—a whole host of things. We need to put pressure on retailers and manufacturers to stop the pink tax.
The hon. Lady raises an issue that many of us are equally concerned about, and it is obvious with toiletries, for example, that men get their face care products much cheaper than women do—let us be honest about that. I would support the hon. Lady in seeking an Adjournment debate, so that she can raise the issue directly with Ministers.
Following the recent band of storms there has been another significant cliff fall on to a beach in Newquay, just a short distance from a site that has recently been granted planning permission for the development of houses. That is causing great concern among local residents, so will the Leader of the House arrange for a ministerial statement to make clear to local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate the position on coastal development, particularly in areas that are prone to coastal erosion?
I am sorry to hear of the incident in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and he is right to raise it as a real local champion for St Austell and Newquay. Local plans determine the allocation of land for development, and planning permission should always take account of the risk of erosion. The national planning policy framework sets the expectation that local planning authorities will establish coastal change management areas and encourage development that is suited to an area’s changing coastline. The planning rules are probably there, but my hon. Friend might wish to seek an Adjournment debate to discuss his concerns.
I heard what the Leader of the House said about facial products and differential costs and so on, but I am not experienced in such matters because I concluded long ago that I am well beyond redemption. I bear my fate with as much stoicism and fortitude as I can muster.
On International Women’s Day, may I remind the Leader of the House that worldwide there will be about 1.5 million knocks on doors, and families will be told that their mother is dead, or their daughter or their son, and the family will be totally destroyed? There is a Commonwealth parliamentary meeting in the next few days in London, but may we have a debate in the Chamber to focus on this scourge? It is the greatest epidemic of our time, and there is not enough concentration on how to reduce these avoidable deaths.
I think the hon. Gentleman is speaking about violent deaths—
Deaths on the road.
Deaths on the road—I beg his pardon but I did not hear that. He raises an incredibly important point, and across the world every day there are tragic and avoidable deaths. In the United Kingdom, our track record is good and improving, and numbers of road deaths are reducing. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to seek a Backbench Business debate to talk about road safety, or an Adjournment debate to raise that specific issue.
My right hon. Friend knows well the serious concerns of the people of Redditch regarding the centralisation of paediatric emergency services from Alexandra Hospital to Worcestershire, because I have raised the issue so many times in the House. Will she join me in calling on the clinical commissioning group and the trust to speed up their plans to bring forward the GP-led urgent care centre? May we have a debate about the future of health services in Worcestershire?
My hon. Friend is a strong voice for her constituency, and I commend her for raising this matter in the Chamber. Local commissioners are currently reviewing the national guidance issued on urgent care centres, prior to commissioning a revised model for the Alexandra Hospital. I understand that they expect to implement the new service in the next 12 months as planned, and she might like to seek an opportunity to raise the matter directly with Health Ministers.
The “beast from the east” brought red danger weather warnings to life for the first time last week. I welcome the fact that organisations such as Renfrewshire Council, the local McDonald’s franchisee Peter O’Keefe, and, as of one hour ago, Swissport at Glasgow airport are paying their employees who were unable to travel to work. May we have a debate on employers’ responsibilities for the safety of their staff and in ensuring that no worker is left out of pocket during severe weather warnings?
I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating all those who put in extra effort to keep people safe and transport open. All key transport operators, including airports, local authorities, train operating companies, Highways England and Network Rail, have winter contingency plans, as I am sure do their equivalents in Scotland. We pay tribute to all those who put in extra work. It is for their employers to ensure that they take the right decisions in securing the right balance between keeping services open and protecting their employees at all times.
I still hear way too many stories from constituents who are in battle with landlords or house builders about the condition of their homes. May we have a debate on the review of the housing complaints system?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for an excellent question. It is vital that consumers have swift, effective routes through which to complain when things go wrong. People need to know where to go and to be clear about what they can expect. He is right that existing routes can be confusing, so I am sure that he is pleased, as I am, that on 18 February we published a consultation on strengthening consumer redress in the housing market. We are looking at options about how to ensure that people, whether tenants or owners, can have access to quick, easy and effective redress, including at whether a single housing ombudsman could simplify that access.
I would like to raise the issue of volunteer drivers who receive reimbursement for patient transport. The present UK taxation rules hit those with high mileage very hard indeed. In my constituency, people have to travel huge distances—well over 200 miles—to get a patient to hospital and back again. Does the Leader of the House agree it would be helpful to have a debate on this issue in this Chamber?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very particular issue, which I can well understand is a real concern to his constituents and others where there are long distances to travel. I suggest that he raises the subject in an Adjournment debate so that he can hear directly from a Minister what they can do for those who have to travel particularly long distances.
Very good idea.
May we have a debate on local businesses that are also global brands? That would allow me to highlight the fantastic Walkers Shortbread company, which has been subjected to unacceptable and despicable abuse this week from nationalists in Scotland because just one of its many products features a Union Jack. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should condemn those attacks and instead celebrate the success of Walkers Shortbread, which has been established in Moray for 120 years, employs hundreds of local people and is a great credit to our area?
As ever, my hon. Friend raises a very significant issue for his constituency. He is a great champion for Moray. I absolutely agree that Walkers Shortbread is delicious. It is a vital UK brand and a fabulous Scottish brand. Many of its tins are marked with “I love Scotland”, while others, very often for export, are marked with the Union Jack. It is a fabulous export and a delicious snack. It should be eaten in moderation—we do not want to encourage the overeating of shortbread or any other sugary product—but nevertheless we love Walkers. It is a great UK and Scottish product.
The Leader of the House was quite right to say, in her answers to my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) and the shadow Leader of the House, that the threat by the US Administration to put huge tariffs on steel is a moving issue, but the very fact that it is a moving issue underlines the need for a statement in this House on what the Government are doing. When will we have a statement on that, and when will the official Opposition be again granted an Opposition day debate?
I think that I have said as much as I can about the Prime Minister’s determination to protect UK interests. She has made her views very clear to President Trump. As I have already mentioned, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade has raised the matter with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and overnight, the White House has indicated that there may be exemptions from tariffs for allies of the United States. It is very important that we continue to work to look after global trade. As we leave the EU, the United Kingdom wishes to be a world leader in promoting free trade around the globe, so that is what we will be doing. In terms of Opposition days, as I mentioned to the shadow Leader of the House, they will be brought forward in the usual way.
European Union structural and social funds have benefited local authorities across the United Kingdom. May I request from the Leader of the House some parliamentary time to debate what will replace those funds post Brexit?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this matter. He will be pleased that we have committed to replacing European structural funds with the UK shared prosperity fund after we leave the European Union. The new fund will be designed to raise productivity and reduce inequalities between communities across all four nations of the Union. We will consult on that later in the year.
Every year, 20,000 elephants are slaughtered simply for their ivory. When can we have a debate about the results of the consultation that finished a couple of months ago on the Government’s plans to ban the sale of ivory as soon as possible?
I am so glad that the hon. Gentleman raises this issue because it is absolutely vital that the UK continues to be at the forefront of clamping down on the illegal wildlife trade and, in particular, the poaching of ivory. When I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I was very proud to be progressing that consultation, which is now completed, as he points out. It received more than 70,000 consultation responses—one of the largest numbers in the Department’s history—and it is quite clear that an overwhelming majority support a ban. We will have a conference on the illegal wildlife trade later this year, and I absolutely assure him that we will do everything that we can to bring forward legislation as soon as possible.
Yesterday, Babcock announced that 500 defence jobs would be lost at Devonport dockyard. With the uncertainty about the possible cuts to our amphibious warships and the Royal Marines, and the sale of HMS Ocean to Brazil, may we have a statement from Ministers about what support the Government can offer to the dedicated Babcock workers who are losing their jobs in Plymouth?
I am sorry to hear about the prospective job losses. As the hon. Gentleman points out, Babcock International has announced 500 job losses. As he will no doubt be aware, 100 of those posts are unfilled, making the reduction in actual headcount potentially 400. Although the restructuring is a commercial matter for that company, a consultation period with staff and trade unions is nevertheless under way, and is expected to conclude in mid April. In the meantime, the Government are closely monitoring the situation, and the Department for Work and Pensions is on stand-by to provide support for those affected via Jobcentre Plus’s rapid response service.
May I also wish a happy birthday to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart)? Indeed, he shares it with somebody who has every intention of continuing to be 21 again.
On Friday 2 March, several busy Southeastern trains were stranded for hours outside Lewisham station due to severe weather conditions. Many passengers self-evacuated from the trains, and we were extremely lucky that no one died. May we have a debate on updating the guidance for stranded commuter trains to keep our passengers safe?
The hon. Lady raises a really important and topical matter, as she so often does, and I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate to discuss this directly with Ministers. We are all very concerned to hear about the risks that people pose to themselves and to the train system when they decide to self-evacuate from trains, and we need to put a stop to that. She will be aware that safety plans are in place, but it is vital that people abide by them for their own safety.
I am sure that the House will join me in wishing me the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) a happy birthday tomorrow. I was her age once, but I must admit that I do not remember it—it is too long ago.
You are like fine wine, Mr Speaker.
Oh! Such kindness and generosity of spirit from the hon. Lady, who makes an analogy with a fine wine. You say all the right things.
May I pursue the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft)? Given last week’s serious travel disruption, may we please have a debate about putting passengers first? When trains are cancelled, for example, passengers should automatically be entitled to use other train services. We have experienced severe disruption in Hull, and it has come to my attention that the East Coast main line company has not been willing to automatically allow Hull Trains passengers who cannot travel all the way to London to use its service.
As the hon. Lady will know, train operating companies are beginning to give automatic reimbursements to people who have experienced train delays and so on, but she is right to raise the issue of whether they automatically allow passengers to use other transport. We are all aware that although there tends to be an announcement at some point, it is often made when people have already turned up for a train that is not there, and they then have to move to a different station. I sympathise entirely with the hon. Lady’s point, and encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate on the subject.
I, too, wish my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) a happy birthday. I am sure that he will be celebrating with a slice of shortbread or two.
Chlorinated shortbread, from the United States.
May we have a debate on the relationship between personal independence payment reviews and the Motability scheme? I have a constituent who faces losing her car for the second time while she waits for her PIP appeal to be heard. When will a Minister come to the House and explain why the system punishes people and takes away their cars even before their appeals have been heard?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important and worrying constituency issue. As I always say, if he wants to raise it with me in writing, I can take it up with the Department on his behalf. In the more general context of policy, however, I can tell him that we spend more than £50 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions. We are trying to enable more disabled people to work, and we are seeing a significant increase in the number of people who are able to get away from their disabilities and into work, which is a great way into a more productive and enjoyable life. That is the policy that the Government are trying to pursue, but if the hon. Gentleman has particular concerns, I shall be happy to take them up on his behalf.