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Business of the House

Volume 637: debated on Thursday 15 March 2018

The business for the week commencing 19 March will be:

Monday 19 March—Second Reading of the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [Lords] followed by general debate on Welsh affairs.

Tuesday 20 March—Consideration of a business of the House motion followed by proceedings on the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill.

Wednesday 21 March—Consideration of a business of the House motion followed by proceedings on the Northern Ireland (Assembly Members, Regional Rates and Energy) Bill.

Thursday 22 March—A general debate on the economy.

Friday 23 March—The House will not be sitting.

The business for the week commencing 26 March will include:

Monday 26 March—Second Reading of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords].

As part of this year’s celebration of the centenary of women’s suffrage, on Wednesday the Cabinet Office will be launching a campaign pack for parliamentarians to use as we visit schools in our constituencies to talk about the amazing achievements in the fight for equality.

This week is Shakespeare Week, and he has a solemn message for us in this House as we seek to stamp out bullying and harassment:

“Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak

When power to flattery bows?”

Let us hope that all’s well that ends well.

You might be aware, Mr Speaker, that I am a huge fan of England rugby, and we face a great challenge against Ireland on St Patrick’s Day this Saturday. I am proud of our strong United Kingdom. I would like to wish both teams a superb match, and also to wish everyone a very happy St Patrick’s Day.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us next week’s business. It is an interesting programme.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will know that the Bill to be debated next Monday consists of only one clause—actually, two clauses: the long title and the main clause. May we have the list of ministerial responsibilities, which has not yet been published? When will the debate on restoration and renewal finally be scheduled, as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is still in the other place and is not due to come back until, possibly, May?

The shadow Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), raised a point of order after the debate on Tuesday about the Government not pressing ahead with plans to phase out childcare vouchers for the next six months. I know that the Leader of the House has said that we have to wait 12 weeks before a Minister responds. However, we now have two time limits— 12 weeks and six months. Could we have a bit of clarity on this for our constituents?

Given that there is nothing scheduled after 26 March, could the Leader of the House please schedule an Opposition-day debate? Or perhaps we could have a debate on early-day motion 937, which deals with the statutory instrument 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.]

I have asked for this before. We thought that the Chancellor would make an announcement in the spring statement, but obviously as it was a spring statement he could not do that.

The Chancellor now describes himself as “Tiggerish”. If he has read the tweets of some of his Back Benchers, he will know that they are asking him to bounce out of the Cabinet. He may be Tiggerish about the growth forecast, but the OECD says that the UK’s economy is the slowest growing of all the G20 countries, so when he goes to Buenos Aires he will be last in the queue—and this is even before we leave the EU.

I want to share this really interesting point that the Prime Minister of Luxembourg made on the EU:

“We had a special relationship with the UK, before they were in with a lot of opt-outs and now they are out, they want a lot of opt-ins.”

I think that kind of sums up exactly where we are. I did not quite glean from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union whether he has actually visited Brussels. Will the Leader of the House place in the Library information on whether he has, or on when he last visited? He did not say that he had visited the Northern Ireland border within this millennium. Will the Leader of the House urge him to do so? Has the Prime Minister visited the Northern Ireland border?

In yesterday’s statement on the Green Paper on the integration strategy, Walsall was mentioned. I was a bit upset that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government did not alert me to the fact that he was going to mention Walsall as one of the key areas. People in my constituency have already contacted me about this because they resent the fact that Walsall is seen as a place that is not integrated. I heard at 10 o’clock this morning that the Secretary of State was visiting my constituency. It would have been helpful if he had spoken to me and I could have shown him some decent areas.

In July 2015, I raised at business questions, from the Back Benches, the ESOL—English for speakers of other languages—mandation funding from Walsall adult community college. We had to fight to get it back. My constituent, Ray Simmonds, is now offering training courses to women in childcare and in levels 1, 2 and 3 numeracy and literacy. He struggled to get a place to hold those training courses. He tried to get Pleck library, but that has been closed, as have over 500 other libraries, 300 children’s centres, and 500 playgrounds. My Sure Start Palfrey children’s centre, which was twice rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, has been outsourced to a private company. These are the places for social cohesion.

May we have a debate on the National Audit Office report which found that councils are spending less on services and more on social care, and that Government funding has fallen by 49.1% in real terms? The report also suggests that about 15 councils will be at risk of following Northamptonshire County Council in imposing emergency controls. It is the funding of the infrastructure of local government that helps with social cohesion. It is austerity that fuels division as people think there are not enough resources to go round and blame other people who seem to be taking them. May we, then, have a debate on the National Union of Teachers and Runnymede Trust report on visible and invisible barriers to black, Asian and minority ethnic teachers, or an urgent statement on the young black boy who was tied to a tree in Bath and hit by white boys as he was called names? There is no Government strategy to tackle that.

Finally, I do not want to end on a sad note, but I am afraid I have to, in acknowledging the passing of some very eminent people who have made a major contribution to our country. Brenda Dean, from the other place, was the first female general secretary of a British trade union, having joined a trade union as a teenager. Professor Stephen Hawking was 52 years a fellow of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. I have read “A Brief History of Time”—I will have to read it again—and I have visited the large hadron collider at CERN and seen how scientists from all the different countries collaborate. He was also part of the litigation to stop the accountable care organisations, which recently won a cost-capping case on judicial review. In his memory, we must ensure that the UK continues the fantastic collaboration in science with the rest of Europe. He said that a publicly provided NHS was the most efficient system, and so those who say we cannot afford the NHS are wrong; we cannot afford not to have an NHS. Finally, Sir Ken Dodd. I actually saw him at the Palladium when I was younger—a long, long time ago. We hope to see his like again. We will miss not only his jokes and songs, but the image of a man wielding a feather duster.

I join the hon. Lady in her tributes to Brenda Dean, Professor Stephen Hawking and, of course, Sir Ken Dodd—what a fantastic and humorous man he was. I also join her in paying tribute to Stephen Hawking’s commitment to an NHS free at the point of delivery. That is vital. There is consensus right across the House that the NHS should be free at the point of delivery, and that will always be the case under this Government.

The hon. Lady and I have had this discussion about ministerial responsibilities a number of times. I have chased the matter, and I am told that the list will be published with the next quarterly transparency round, next Friday—so let’s hope, hey? I am on her side on this. I shall also be updating the House Commission on Monday on when we will bring forward the restoration and renewal debate, and I have been speaking with parliamentary counsel about the drafting of the Bill. We need to get it ready and bring it forward as soon as possible. Again, she and I agree on that.

On Opposition-day debates, I hope that the hon. Lady will be pleased, as I was, that we had the day’s debate on some of the statutory instruments that the Opposition had prayed against. I was delighted, as no doubt she was not, that the Government managed to win, with decent majorities, each of the votes on the statutory instruments, one of which is very important for young people in expanding the number of young people receiving free school lunches by more than 50,000 by the time universal credit is rolled out. We had an Opposition day last week, for Plaid and the Democratic Unionist party, and others will be brought forward through the usual channels.

The hon. Lady talks about our new Tiggerish Chancellor. I was delighted to see this new Disney reference, and long may it last. She says that it is misplaced, but manufacturing output has now grown for nine consecutive months for the first time since records began in 1968; we have had the best two quarters of productivity growth since the financial crisis; we have the lowest year to date net borrowing since 2008; the number of first-time buyers is at an 11-year high; and employment is at a near record high. These are reasons to be optimistic and to believe in our fantastic economy.

I am delighted that the hon. Lady has such faith in my ability to determine where the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Prime Minister should go. It is very flattering of her to suggest that I can determine their travel arrangements, but I am not sure I can quite do that. She mentions the excellent work on the racial disparity audit and this Government’s determination to ensure that where there is inequality, we take strong measures to try to remove any barriers to the success of people of all races, all ethnic backgrounds and all religions in this country, so that they can progress. She mentions that her own area, Walsall, will be part of the initial pilot scheme. I welcome that, and I hope she does.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the horrifying story of a young black boy being tied to a tree. I think we all feel disgust and horror at that inappropriate and utterly awful experience, and I hope that we in this House are at all times united in stamping out any behaviour of that sort wherever we see it.

It is the 346th anniversary of the declaration of indulgence by His Majesty King Charles II, which was the first attempt at allowing freedom of religion in this country—something we should all cherish. I crave your indulgence, Mr Speaker, in reporting back from the Backbench Business Committee. The Chair of the Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), is unfortunately not able to be with us; he is detained with urgent business.

The Backbench Business Committee now has eight unallocated debates that need time in the Chamber. Now that the Government have taken today and next Thursday, we will lose the opportunity to debate autism and victims of surgical mesh, which are subjects that Members across the House are very keen to debate. Could the Leader of the House ensure that we get Backbench Business time for those debates as soon as possible?

On my behalf, may I ask for a debate on child sex abuse and grooming of young children, particularly those in care? I have sat on the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government for seven years. We went through the Rotherham case in great detail and are now hearing about cases across the country. It is time we had a debate in Government time on that very important issue, so that all Members can voice their views and we can hear what the Government are going to do about it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for standing in for the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee. I absolutely hear his request for Backbench Business days. I hope he will welcome the Government’s determination to provide Government time for a debate on International Women’s Day in such an important year, which in previous years has fallen to the Backbench Business Committee to table, and a debate on Welsh affairs, which unfortunately was a Backbench Business day that was cancelled due to the appalling weather. We also have a Government debate on the economy, which I know the Committee was keen to have. We are not ignoring the interests of Back-Bench Members in any way. Yesterday and today, we have general debates on the EU, which were strong requests from Back-Bench Members right across the House.

However, I hear my hon. Friend’s specific call for debates on autism and surgical mesh. I have constituents who have suffered profoundly from health issues relating to surgical mesh, and of course, I and all hon. Members will want to do everything we can to support people who suffer from autism. We will be bringing forward Backbench Business days as soon as business allows.

My hon. Friend also raises the issue of child sex abuse, which is beyond appalling. We heard this week about the appalling situation in Telford. I share his concern about that and will make representations on his behalf.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. Can I also pay my tributes to the three people mentioned—Brenda Dean, Professor Stephen Hawking and Ken Dodd? I think the best thing we could do in Ken Dodd’s memory would be to progress the cause of independence for Knotty Ash.

I also welcome national Shakespeare Week. We are all very much looking forward to our Shakespeare suppers. I was trying to think of the most appropriate thing for this Government—surely it can only be “A Comedy of Errors”, or “Is that a power grab I see before me?”

I am really surprised that the Leader of the House has not announced any debate on Russian relations. We have had two statements that have been heavily subscribed this week. There is a great deal of interest across the House, and this issue is only going to develop and get more critical. Before we rise for Easter, can she ensure that we have a debate on Russia?

Tomorrow will be a first, with two consecutive Scottish National party MPs’ private Members’ Bills being promoted by my hon. Friends the Members for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) and for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald). These particularly good and worthy Bills are on reuniting refugee families and on ending the practice of unpaid internships. Will the Leader of the House do all she can to ensure that there is none of the usual awful, disruptive parliamentary practices that characterise so much of private Members’ days? Our constituents absolutely loathe such stuff, and they want those Bills to progress.

Can we have a proper debate about English votes for English laws? I think that everybody in this House knows that this is an appalling, divisive measure that socially balkanises this place on the basis of nationality. However, I think there are people in this House who are still confused about how it applies to them. For example, my Scottish Conservative friends, determined to exercise their prime function as unquestioning Lobby fodder, rushed through the Lobby on Tuesday to vote to take free meals out of the mouths of 1 million English bairns, only to discover that the votes did not count because of the English veto in the double-majority vote. The Scottish Tory dafties turned up to have their votes discounted in person. The Scottish Tories do nothing other than ask questions of a Parliament 400 miles away that cannot answer them, which is infuriating their constituents and is primarily responsible for plummeting relations. Given the glaikit looks on their coupons the other evening, we now know why they do that.

I am struggling to find something on which to agree with the hon. Gentleman—perhaps the independence of Knotty Ash would be the safest option.

The hon. Gentleman calls for a debate on Russia. The Government were extremely grateful yesterday for the very calm and supportive response of his party leader. The Government very much appreciated that sensible and measured response. I will certainly make representations and I am sure there will be opportunities for further discussion on this very serious subject.

Private Members’ Bills are, by definition, for private Members, and the Government certainly do not seek to interfere in the passage of and debates on such Bills. The hon. Gentleman mentions two very important Bills promoted by Scottish Members, one on the reunion of refugee families and the other on banning unpaid internships. Both proposals have a good deal of merit. The Government have very strong policies in each area. There was an interesting discussion on the radio this morning about the abuse of people applying for a job versus the merits of small businesses being able to check out in practical reality the skills that individuals claim to have. That debate will be useful for tomorrow’s proceedings on the Floor of the House.

The hon. Gentleman talked about English votes for English laws. I want to put on the record that it is absolutely not the case that free school dinners are being taken away from children. I deeply regret that Opposition Members, in their misrepresentation of the policy, have deliberately sought to mislead and to make vulnerable people feel yet more vulnerable. It is clear that 50,000 more children will be eligible for free school meals by the time universal credit is rolled out. It is of great regret to the Government that anyone should seek to misrepresent that.

I very gently say, on advice, to the Leader of the House that I know that she would not accuse Members of seeking deliberately to mislead the House, because that would be an accusation that touched on somebody’s integrity. That is not orderly, so I am sure she will want to withdraw that.

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for a debate on food labelling? I have been contacted by Diabetes UK and Compassion in World Farming, which feel very strongly that food labelling should be much clearer so that when customers buy food and drink, they can understand the effects it will have on their health and how farm animals are treated.

My hon. Friend raises an issue that is very important not just, as he says, for those with health problems, but for people who care about animal welfare to be able to see precisely how the food they are eating has been treated during its lifetime and, of course, the way it has been slaughtered. When we leave the European Union, we will no longer be subject to EU food-labelling regulations and we will be able to look at the issue as an independent United Kingdom.

Last Friday, I stayed out all night—sleeping rough at Huddersfield Town football stadium to raise money for local homelessness charities. We raised over £40,000 that night. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should encourage other football clubs to raise money locally in that way—perhaps, Mr Speaker, you could influence the mighty Gunners to do the same—and may we have a statement on how the Government’s plans to eradicate homelessness are going?

I congratulate the hon. Lady: that is an amazing thing to do. In my home town of Northampton, a fantastic homelessness centre does a sleep-out every year, and I am fully determined to do that myself one year. [Interruption.] Yes, exactly: I shall wrap up warm. I congratulate her and everybody involved on that amazing fundraising effort, which is excellent news.

As the hon. Lady will know, it is an absolute priority of the Government to make sure that we tackle the huge problem of homelessness and rough sleeping. We pledged in our manifesto to eliminate it by 2027, and to halve it by 2022. These are very difficult issues, and we have committed £1 billion to tackling rough sleeping and homelessness. It is not, however, just about money. We are also changing how councils approach the issue. We are implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, a private Member’s Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) introduced. We are also working very closely with councils to look at what more can be done in targeted ways to tackle the problems that result in homelessness and rough sleeping.

I join the Leader of the House in congratulating the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), whose message to colleagues will have been heard and digested.

Will my right hon. Friend seek to install a sense of urgency into Departments, perhaps starting with the Department for Transport? Once again, following heavy rainfall, the line from London to Plymouth has been cut—I hope, temporarily—due to flooding in the Exeter region. There is a plan to fix it, but it is taking far too long, and my constituents are fed up about it—and so am I. Will she please help?

My hon. Friend is a huge champion for his constituency, and he is quite right to raise this matter. I absolutely understand his frustration and that of his constituents. If he writes to me, I will be happy to fire a very small rocket towards the Department for Transport on his behalf.

Constituents of mine bought a new biomass boiler, hoping to offset some of the cost by using the renewable heat incentive. The boiler was faultily installed, but after legal action, they got the boiler removed and their money back, and they have a new boiler installed. However, now that they have a replacement boiler, they have been told that they are no longer allowed to access the RHI, and to rub salt in the wounds, they have received a demand to pay back the £7,000 of RHI payments they had already received. May we have a debate on the RHI rules and the fact that customers trying to do the right thing by using green energy are being penalised through no fault of their own?

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point. We want to encourage everybody to take every opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and to turn our economy green. I am delighted that the UK enjoyed the greenest year ever for electricity in 2017. I urge him to raise his very specific constituency point at Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions.

Since Tuesday’s debate on free school meals, I have received numerous emails attacking me for taking food out of the mouths of the poorest children in my constituency. I came into politics to improve the lives of my constituents, so I find this abhorrent, and having to create rebuttals is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Hon. Members will know that no child will lose free school meals as a result of these policies. May we have a debate about the way in which statements made in the Chamber can, unfortunately, when lifted out of context by the Labour party, be used on social media to manipulate public opinion, which ends up harming our most vulnerable constituents and achieving the opposite effect?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and she is right to raise that matter in the Chamber. No children will lose their free school dinners, and in fact there will be an increase of 50,000 in those who are eligible by the time universal credit is rolled out. You have said, Mr Speaker, that although the use of social media is broadly to be welcomed, Members should take care to ensure that the usage of selected clips of debates does not create a misleading impression about what has taken place. Unfortunately, however, your words were not heeded, and a misleading impression has been created. That is greatly to be regretted, and it does not help the integrity of this place when hon. Members deliberately seek to put out information that is incorrect—is that okay?

Yes, and I will not get drawn into arguments about policy. I stand by that statement in its entirety; it is entirely compatible and consistent with saying that people cannot accuse other Members of misleading the House. That first statement is absolutely correct: people should not use selective clips to give an incorrect, inaccurate, or erroneous account of proceedings.

“All’s well that ends well” might not be the case for Northern Ireland—it is more a case of “Beware the Ides of March”. Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate on the Foreign Secretary’s proposals for minimal border controls, and the impact of that on jobs and security in Northern Ireland?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that Government policy is to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and that when we leave the European Union we have a deal that works for all parts of the United Kingdom and does not seek to undermine or divide any part from any other part. When I read out next week’s business, he might have heard that there will be two days of debates pertaining to Northern Ireland, and he may wish to take the opportunity to speak in those.

May I refer back to the use of statistics? There is nothing wrong with a good, robust argument in this place, but if the Leader of the House, or any Minister, makes an assertion about facts, they can quite properly be challenged and brought back to this place, and made to account for any inaccuracy in the use of statistics as facts. That is not the same for right hon. and hon. Members, particularly on the Opposition Benches, and it does not enhance political debate for people to assert facts, week after week, almost day after day—this is a growing problem—without any accountability in the House. Is there anything that the Leader of the House can do? On Tuesday we had to rely on Channel 4’s FactCheck. The Library is an excellent source of information, but it is imperative that we all act with veracity and integrity, and are held accountable when we make assertions.

My right hon. Friend is right. You will recall, Mr Speaker, that I raised in the Chamber the issue of a private response that I gave to a Labour Member following a question that they asked me privately, but that they then tweeted, implying that I had somehow answered something else. I personally was extremely offended by that. My right hon. Friend is right: social media clips that are deliberately misleading and ignore facts to make political points undermine our Parliament and democracy, and it simply must not happen.

You might like to know, Mr Speaker, that I fully intended to spend the night with my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) at Huddersfield’s Premier League club’s stadium. However, while out walking on a cancer fundraiser the week before I got a terrible cold and had to withdraw from that wonderful night.

I have a serious request for the Leader of the House. Can a group of Members from all parties discuss ways that Members could be made more accountable and transparent? When someone stands up, on any side of the House, I have become rather tired of hearing them mumble, “I refer to my entry in the Register of Interests”. That is all they say, but if one looks at the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, some people have amazing business connections, large amounts of investment, and some own half a county and we are discussing agriculture during DEFRA questions. All we get is a little aside. I think the House is not transparent enough, and that when someone makes a speech they should fully declare their interests.

Mr Speaker, I am looking at you and wondering whether this is more a matter for the Chair than it is for the Leader of the House. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying very clearly. If he would like to write to me I would certainly be happy to take it up with the Procedure Committee to see whether this is an area we need to review.

The position is pretty clear. In a speech, a Member should declare an interest so that Members of the House are aware of it. There is no requirement to do so when asking a question. Each Member must take responsibility for his or her decision to declare. I would not want it to be thought that there is huge ambiguity about this. It may be that it takes time for some to be fully conversant with the required procedure, although that is not a problem that will afflict the hon. Gentleman as he approaches his 39th year of consecutive service in the House of Commons, but I hope people will appreciate how to go about this matter. It is certainly very important.

This evening, I have the great pleasure of attending the 90th birthday celebrations of the Coldstream branch of the Women’s Institute. I am sure my right hon. Friend would be very welcome to join me. May we have a debate to pay tribute to the great work the Women’s Institute does, not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom, to support women and local charities?

I am sure my hon. Friend will be very warmly received by the WI. He is a great champion for his constituency. I thank him for highlighting the incredible work of the WI, which has played a unique role as the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the country. In the century since its formation during the first world war, the WI has dedicated its time to a wealth of worthy causes. I hope all those celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Coldstream branch have a very enjoyable evening with him.

Antisocial behaviour is a growing concern across my constituency. People tell me that they feel intimidated and unsafe in their homes. Please may we have a debate in Government time on the need for increased funding for our police and for statutory youth provision to act as both a deterrent and a solution to the problem of antisocial behaviour?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the real problem of antisocial behaviour, which, while low level, can really wreck people’s lives, their enjoyment of their homes and so on. It is a very important subject. I am sure it would receive great support as a candidate for a Backbench Business debate in which Members from across the House could talk about their experiences.

Each and every week across England and Wales some 80 dogs are stolen from their owners, causing huge distress to both the owners and the animals. During this Pet Theft Awareness Week, may we have a debate on what is a growing and nasty problem?

My hon. Friend has done a great deal to raise awareness of dog theft. It is a terrible crime. Any theft of property can be very distressing for victims, but the suffering will be much greater when it is a family pet. I commend him for raising this issue. The Government are very clear that when such a crime happens it must be reported to the police, whenever it happens, so that it can be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. He will know that the theft of a dog is a criminal offence under section 1 of the Theft Act 1968. We are determined to see it enforced.

My constituents are frankly baffled at the way the Government keep pulling business and not replacing it with time to solve the pressing issues of the day: homelessness, lack of funding for schools and challenges in the NHS. Will the Leader of the House work with the Government to provide either Government time or further Opposition- day time for us to debate, and hopefully try to solve, some of these pressing issues?

As far as I am aware, the only business the Government have pulled was in response to a request from the Opposition on Monday evening. Due to the unprecedented number of urgent questions and very important statements, such as those on bullying and harassment, and a response to the Salisbury attack, the Opposition requested that the Government pull the business that night. That is the only business that has been pulled, so I am not entirely sure what the hon. Lady is talking about.

Last Saturday, I joined the Save Rothbury Cottage Hospital campaign group on a march to highlight the anxiety and frustration that the local community presently feels as we await the outcome of the Department of Health and Social Care independent review panel’s review. Our clinical commissioning group closed down the 12-bed ward in our community hospital 18 months ago, citing underuse. The challenge of rural funding for healthcare means that we are not investing fairly in the Coquet valley, England’s most sparsely populated community. We need to reinvest in these beds for palliative and convalescent care and to give consideration to the practical difficulties and costs of rural distance and poor transport links. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time to discuss rurality funding frameworks to enable CCGs to meet the needs of patients such as my constituents, who live in the most sparsely populated community?

Nobody can accuse the hon. Lady of excluding any consideration that might be thought relevant in any way, at any time and to any degree from her interrogation of the Leader of the House.

Mr Speaker, I think you have highlighted beautifully what a fabulous champion my hon. Friend is for her constituents. She is right to raise the challenge of sparsely populated areas and their need for healthcare to be as good as anywhere else in the country. I have some challenges with the local healthcare provision in a less populated area, and I appreciate fully what she is saying. I suggest that she might like to seek an Adjournment debate specifically to deal with the issues in Northumberland.

Last Friday, I was door-stepped by the entire primary 3 class at Hannover Street School, who wanted to tell me that Parliament’s use of plastic straws has doubled in three years. They are very concerned about that and would like to know what the Government and the Leader of the House are doing to tackle the issue.

Is it not fantastic to hear of year 3 students door-stepping the hon. Lady? I am sure she thoroughly enjoyed it. The Government are committed to tackling and reducing the use of plastics. All manner of efforts are being made, including the 5p charge for plastic bags, which has reduced the number of plastic bags in circulation by around 9 billion—an extraordinary number. There are the Government’s efforts on the blue belt around the overseas territories to try to protect those valuable marine locations from the impact of plastics. Closer to home, we know that litter very often ends up in our rivers and seas, and very much of it is plastic, so we have a new national litter strategy for England, which I was delighted to announce as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Specifically on the hon. Lady’s point about plastic straws and their use in this place, the Administration Committee has taken this up. It is committed to reducing the use of single-use plastics, which includes plastic knives and forks as well as straws, and I can tell her that a number of hon. Members across this place have committed to a plastic-free Lent. I am sure she would be very welcome to join us, should she wish to do so.

I commend my right hon. Friend for the hard work and determination she has shown to deal with bullying and harassment of all kinds in Westminster. Can we please have a statement on the bullying inquiry that she has proposed this week? Can she confirm that the inquiry will not look at individual cases but will instead look at whether the Respect policy as a whole is working for staff in this place?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and I can give him a specific reassurance: the inquiry into the bullying of House staff that I will propose to the House of Commons Commission on Monday 19 March will not be carrying out investigations into individual cases. That is exactly why I expect it to attract the Commission’s full support. There are existing avenues open to anyone wishing to raise specific grievances, and individuals coming forward will be advised to use those where they apply, but the inquiry will look at whether they are functioning properly. My ambition is to stamp out bullying and harassment of any kind in this place. That is something that I imagine every single person here will wish to support.

May we have a statement or a debate on the dispute at universities at the moment? I have two universities in my constituency. This dispute has been dragging on for weeks, particularly in relation to pay and conditions, but more importantly, to lecturers’ pensions. May we have an update on that? Before the Leader of the House gets up to answer me, I am aware that there are Education questions on Monday, but I would rather have a proper statement to show that the matter is being taken seriously by the House.

I am very personally aware of this issue. My eldest son is facing his finals and, because of the picket line, has been denied the opportunity to go to his university even to use the resources, let alone to have any of the face-to-face tuition that he was due to have and for which he has paid. I am therefore extremely cross about the way in which innocent students are being punished during this dispute. I urge all parties to get together and find a resolution, so that a generation of graduates do not have to pay the price.

Two weeks ago, I raised with my right hon. Friend the non-levy apprenticeship funding for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stafford, Shrewsbury and other colleges. The situation is becoming serious, and I believe that our young people will be let down if we do not resolve it. May I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that we have a statement or a debate as soon as possible?

I know that my hon. Friend is very supportive of apprenticeships. I can tell him that the contracts for the delivery of non-levy apprenticeship training were awarded on the basis of an assessment by the Education and Skills Funding Agency of information that had been supplied and that the tenders were measured against clearly set criteria. Ofsted’s rating of providers was not considered to be part of the process, as new entrants do not have an Ofsted rating and would therefore have been disadvantaged. The Government have awarded more than 700 providers contracts worth a total of £490 million to deliver apprenticeship training for non-levy payers. However, as my hon. Friend will know, those that were not successful in the non-levy procurement process can still supply apprenticeship training to levy payers directly.

In the past week, three constituents have contacted me to express frustration about the fact that social security payments cannot be paid into their Post Office accounts. In the light of bank closures in my constituency and others, may we have a debate in Government time about the work and functions of the Post Office, so that we can resolve the issues and those payments from the Department for Work and Pensions can be paid into my constituents’ accounts?

When I was City Minister, I was delighted to sign the arrangement that allowed post offices to supply basic banking services for all UK banks to all personal account customers. The issue raised by the hon. Gentleman is news to me personally, but if he would like to write to me about it, I will certainly take it up with the Department.

I thought yesterday that the Prime Minister spoke not only for the Government but for the country over Russia, and I thought that the Leader of the Opposition was an apologist for Russia. The duty of every Member of Parliament is to put country first and party second. I congratulate the 18 Labour Members who supported the Government by signing early-day motion 1071, which states:

[That this House unequivocally accepts the Russian states culpability for the poisoning of Yulia and Sergei Skripal in Salisbury using the illegal novichok nerve agent; fully supports the statement made by the Prime Minister on 14 March 2018 in response to Russias illegal attack on the UK; further supports the Governments sanctions against Russia resulting from this incident thus far, including the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats; supports the decision not to send Government ministers or members of the Royal family to Russia until further notice; supports the Governments call for a special meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Russias use of chemical weapons on UK soil; and resolves to consider support for further proportionate actions to deter future acts of aggression by the Russian state.]

On this occasion, would it be possible for the Leader of the House to arrange for the early-day motion to be debated next week?

I entirely associate myself with my hon. Friend’s comments, and I will certainly refer them to the Government. There cannot be a debate, because the business for next week has already been arranged, but I encourage my hon. Friend to seek other means for the matter to be debated.

The deregulation of buses has been disastrous for many of our towns and villages. It has been confirmed that services 8 and 19, operated by Mc Gill’s, will cease in 11 days’ time, and as a result there will no longer be a direct bus route to Paisley from villages such as Bridge of Weir, Houston and Brookfield. I look forward to the Scottish Government’s transport Bill, which I hope will deal with many of these issues, but may we have a debate on the impact on communities throughout the United Kingdom of the erosion of lifeline bus services since deregulation?

That is clearly an important point. Bus services are vital to many rural communities, enabling people to travel to work and to education centres, or simply to go and do the weekly shop. I am a huge fan of the bus sector, and I appreciate the importance of maintaining services. However, the hon. Gentleman has raised what I believe is an entirely devolved matter, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the specifics.

Following incidents at the Presidents Club dinner, there was significant media scrutiny and a related urgent question in the House to highlight justified concerns. Meanwhile minimal attention has been given to the events in Telford, where hundreds of children have been abused and raped. May we have a debate on the priorities and values of our broadcast media?

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have all been shocked by the horrific reports in Telford, where some of our most vulnerable citizens have been preyed upon by terrible criminals, and we should all be praising my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), who has been totally right to speak out as she has. I am very pleased that the authorities are now going to conduct an inquiry, and it is important that this work gets under way as quickly as possible, so we can get to the truth. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) raises an important point about the relative lack of reporting on this subject versus other perhaps more gossipy types of scandal, and he is right to raise the concern about even-handed reporting.

The Leader of the House might have noticed that I have asked on several occasions for debates on youth violence and its root causes, and I have noted that we have not secured Government time for them. She often gives creative suggestions about how we might go about securing debates. One way we could do that is by having an Opposition day debate, and perhaps I could lobby our Front Benchers to discuss youth violence in an Opposition day debate, so please may we have time for Opposition day debates?

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work in this area. She is supporting the Government in looking into such serious violence and will be aware that the Government’s new serious violence strategy is due to be published in the spring. It will look at ways to steer young people away from a life of crime, while putting in place measures to prevent and reduce the effect on victims of serious crime. She asked for an Opposition day and I can assure her, as I assured the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), that Opposition days will be forthcoming in the usual way and in accordance with the Standing Orders of this House.

I am sure the whole House will be delighted to hear that Wales’s first zero-waste shop, “Natural Weigh”, opened its doors at the Corn Exchange on the high street of Crickhowell in my constituency earlier this month. May we have a debate on what more the Government can do to ensure more shops follow its example, and therefore help reduce the unnecessary amount of plastic packaging that is doing so much harm to our environment?

I congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituents on this great endeavour and wish them every success with it. The passion with which hon. Members across the House put forward ideas for reducing plastic waste shows that we as consumers as well as our constituents will be very keen to support such measures by retailers. He will be aware that the small retailers associations are now committed themselves to joining in the 5p charge for plastic bags, which will help, and I encourage all hon. Members to support their retailers who are doing so much to ensure we vote with our feet on this subject.

May we have a debate in Government time about the practices of housing developers such as Persimmon? On Monday, I did a walkabout with Councillor Elaine Ballantyne on the Lowlands estate in the Baillieston area. Residents of that new-build estate have been promised a railway bridge, bus routes, play parks, a motorway spur; all these things were promised in the sales centre, but have not been delivered. May we therefore have a debate to hold these developers to account?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise those issues. We all have developments in our constituencies where there have been lots of promises, but then constituents are disappointed by the lack of action on them, and I am sure we all, as I do, write furious letters to developers asking them, “Where is this? Where is that? You promised the other.” So there is clearly an issue there. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment debate to deal with the specific issues in his constituency and commend him for raising this matter.

On Tuesday, amusement arcade operators in Cleethorpes expressed their anger at the possible withdrawal of 1p and 2p coins, and they were later joined by the local hospice, St Andrew’s, and other local charities that also expressed their concern. They are now confused about what the Government’s policy is. May we have a statement to clarify whether the consultation is ongoing, and whether or not it will indeed include the possible withdrawal of 1p and 2p coins?

The Prime Minister’s spokesman has said that there are no proposals to scrap 1p or 2p coins. The call for evidence was simply intended to help the Government better understand the role of cash and digital payments. One element of that was whether the denominational mix of coins meets the public need. From the early reaction, it looks as if it does. It is safe to say that the penny has dropped. We have considered change, but we know that we like change, so we think we will probably keep change and have no change.

Since raising the York housing crisis in the Chamber, my inbox has been flooded with horrific stories of damp and mouldy housing in York, where landlords, both council and private, have completely failed my constituents. May we have a debate about the condition of housing, with particular regard to damp and mouldy homes, so that we can stamp out damp once and for all?

The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important issue, and there is no doubt that the Government are determined to help to ensure that all homes meet the right standards and that we stamp out issues such as damp and the other problems that so many tenants have. The Government support the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), and we are committed to protecting tenants’ rights and to giving tenants more security through our tenant fees Bill, which will ban unfair letting fees and other ways in which tenants are mistreated. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) makes an important point, and I am sure that there will be many opportunities to raise it in the coming months.

When the results of the English votes for English laws Divisions were announced on Tuesday, the number of Members from English constituencies had been counted not by Tellers, but by the electronic devices in the Lobbies. Is it not time to drag this place into the late 20th century by introducing electronic voting for all Divisions?

Many of us find the Lobby a useful place to discuss matters pertaining to our constituents and to policy, and Divisions present a great opportunity to meet Ministers. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to hang around a bit to raise some of the issues that he often raises with me on a Thursday with the relevant Minister, which could not happen if he rushes through or votes electronically.

The hon. Gentleman will only be raising such matters with Ministers in the Lobby if he votes with them—[Laughter.] I cannot imagine that happening very often. Nevertheless, the Leader of the House has hope and has made her position and that of a great many Members very clear.

I am sure that I am not alone in being less than impressed with the answers given by the Foreign Secretary when he was quizzed on the “Today” programme this morning about what action the Government are taking to freeze the assets of people associated with the Putin regime as part of our response to what happened in Salisbury. I know that the Government cannot give us a running commentary on exactly what they are doing at the moment, but this House will want an account of what urgent action they took to freeze assets to prevent them from being moved. Will the Leader of the House convey that to the Government and make arrangements for such a statement in the near future?

This is a serious matter. This morning, the Foreign Secretary was making it clear that, unlike others, this country abides by the rule of law. It is not for Ministers simply to decide to freeze assets; we go by the law of the land. We are putting in place a review, within the law, of all those whom we suspect may have assets that we may wish to consider freezing, and Ministers will of course report exactly what is happening to the House as soon as they are able to do so.

As universal credit is rolled out across more of the country, will the Leader of the House ensure that we have more regular opportunities to question Ministers and to tell them what is happening on the ground? In Newport, where the roll-out started in November, we have seen a threefold increase in food parcels, mostly attributed to universal credit, and Ministers need to hear that.

I want to be clear that universal credit is designed to make work pay and to help people get into work, and there is evidence that that is working. It is encouraging more people to seek work and to get work, and the idea is to reduce the complexity of the previous benefit system. The hon. Lady speaks as though it is making people worse off, but it is not; it is making people better off. The Government have listened carefully to the many representations from right across the House and have improved the roll-out of universal credit, taking things slowly to ensure that we get it right and that universal credit continues to result in more people finding work and having the security of a pay packet.

Can we have a debate in Government time on the responsibilities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Three weeks ago today, I raised the urgent case of Liam Colgan, the Inverness man who went missing in Hamburg. I took the advice of the Leader of the House and wrote to Ministers, but three weeks later I have not had a response, despite having chased and chased, because of clearance and awaiting signature. The family is in trauma. Should Ministers not come to the House and explain this lack of urgency?

I am sorry to hear that. I recall the hon. Gentleman raising that case with me, and I am happy to chase the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on his behalf.

Two years ago, my constituent Malorie Bantala was attacked by her ex-partner and an accomplice. She was eight months pregnant, and they deliberately targeted her stomach, stamping on her until they caused the loss of the child. Malorie launched a campaign this Mothers’ Day, with the support of Women’s Aid and the Mother of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), to get the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 updated. Will the Government provide time to debate this issue, to ensure that men who commit violence that causes the loss of a child are adequately prosecuted and given more appropriate, lengthier sentences?

All hon. Members will be appalled to hear of that situation; it is just terrible, and I am very sorry to hear about it. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have produced a draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, and it would be very appropriate for him to submit this case to the consultation on the draft Bill, so that it can be considered along with all the other measures. Those measures show the Government’s determination to stamp out domestic violence, which is so often directed towards women and, I am afraid, towards pregnant women.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission yesterday released a damning report on the cumulative impact of tax and welfare reforms. The report highlighted the fact that three quarters of households with three children, and three quarters of Pakistani households, are losing out as a result of welfare reforms. That is a huge concern for my constituents in Glasgow Central. May we have a debate in Government time about the need for equality impact assessments to make sure that Government policy is not racist?

The hon. Lady should welcome the work of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the race disparity audit, which is the first attempt by any Government to try to measure whether there is disparity in the treatment of people according to their race, ethnicity or religion. That is absolutely vital. Almost 600,000 fewer children now live in workless households; there are now 200,000 fewer children in absolute poverty; and income inequality is lower than it was in any year of the last Labour Government. We are making progress, and we are committed to doing more. This Government are showing a determination to stamp out the kind of disparity that the hon. Lady talks about.

I am sure the Leader of the House will be interested to know that the Culture, Place and Policy Institute at Hull University is today releasing its preliminary evaluation of Hull city of culture, which brought to the city £300 million of tourism value and 800 new jobs. More than nine out of 10 residents engaged in at least one cultural activity, and 56,000 children and young people engaged with the arts. That is not to mention the acres of positive publicity for the city. May we have a debate in Parliament about the value of public investment in culture, the success of Hull city of culture and the lessons that Coventry can learn when it takes up the city of culture baton in 2021?

The hon. Lady is a huge champion of Hull city of culture, which is just coming to an end. The statistics that she gives us are extremely reassuring to Members across the House, because they demonstrate what a huge success the programme has been. She is exactly right about the need to debate the lessons for Coventry, so that it, too, can take advantage of an excellent experience such as she has had. May I suggest that she raise the matter at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions next Thursday?

Last Friday, we held our constituency jobs fair and I am pleased to say that 956 local people came to it. Of course, we would hope that we would not need a jobs fair at all, but the number of people there is a sign of the impact of that event, and many people will get into work and training as a result. Will the Leader of the House give me guidance on finding an opportunity during House business for me to shower praise on Nottingham City Council, on the local Department for Work and Pensions team and the Rebalancing Nottingham North foundation, which I am proud to chair, for putting on the event and on the many people who made it such a success?

I certainly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the enormous turnout he had at his local jobs fair. All hon. Members who have held jobs fairs have found that same enthusiasm, both from employers and from people looking for a job, which has been heart-warming. Of course, we have seen an extraordinary increase in employment, so that now we are near record highs for employment across the UK. We have had well over 30% increases in employment right across the UK, rising to increases of 42% in the east midlands and 38% in the west midlands, and in the south-east unemployment is down by 47%. We have some amazing jobs statistics to look at as a result of the measures we have put in place to see a thriving economy, with lower taxes for people and more people with the security of a wage packet to take home.

I am eternally grateful to you, Mr Speaker. May we have a statement from the Work and Pensions Secretary on the operation of the cold weather payments system? Constituents in most of my constituency were astonished to discover that it was not cold enough to trigger the payments during a week in which they were under 2 feet to 3 feet of snow, travel of any kind was impossible and they were subject to Scotland’s first ever red alert due to the danger from snow and ice. The problem is that the DWP does not measure the temperature in Glenrothes; it measures it 20 miles away in a coastal location almost 600 feet in altitude lower than parts of Collydean in my constituency. May we have a review, so that at least the residents of Glenrothes and Levenmouth will know that, while they have to deal with the same weather as everyone else, they will be entitled to the same financial support as everyone else?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the severe weather payments that are made available and of payments made to people who struggle to meet their own energy bills. Department for Work and Pensions questions are on Monday 26 March, a week on Monday, and his question would be an ideal one to raise then.