I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering our best wishes to His Royal Highness Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for their wedding this Saturday, and in wishing the very best for their future lives together. It is also Mental Health Awareness Week, and it is fitting that we mark Prince Harry’s tireless work to raise awareness of the ongoing challenges faced by service personnel making the transition to civilian life, including of support for their mental health.
Mr Speaker, may I say how appropriate it is for the House to recognise the bravery and hard work of PC Jonathan Wright and PC Craig Nicholls in apprehending the killer of Jo Cox? When Jo Cox was killed, this House lost one of its best.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
My hon. Friend raises an important point—he is absolutely right to do so. As we leave the European Union, as he will know, we will have the opportunity to deliver a farming policy that works for the whole industry. That is why we are asking for the views of everyone involved or with an interest about the development of a policy that reflects the reality of life for food producers and farmers, the opportunity to improve our farmed environment and the issues that my hon. Friend raises. Our food has a great reputation—a very high reputation—for quality that is built on high animal welfare standards, strong environmental protections, and the dedication of farmers and growers right across this country.
Thank you for welcoming PC Wright and PC Nicholls to the Chamber today, Mr Speaker. They did great work, as indeed do police officers all over the country. It was right that you should recognise them on behalf of all of us.
It is Mental Health Awareness Week. I join the Prime Minister in wishing Harry and Meghan all the best, and I thank Harry for his work to highlight the need to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health, and the ability for us all to talk about mental health to ensure that people do not suffer in silence on their own—particularly young people, who are often so grievously affected by this.
When the Prime Minister wrote at the weekend that she wanted
“as little friction as possible”,
was she talking about EU trade or the next Cabinet meeting? [Laughter.]
I think the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that this Government have a policy of leaving the customs union and of ensuring that, as we do so, we have as frictionless trade as possible with the EU, we have a solution that ensures we have no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and we have an independent trade policy. But if he is talking about friction, perhaps he could reflect on the fact that this month, the shadow Health Minister in the Lords voted for a second referendum; that at the weekend, the shadow Brexit Secretary refused to rule out a second referendum; and that on Monday, the shadow International Development Minister tweeted in favour of a second referendum. Perhaps when he stands up he could put the minds of the British people and this House at rest and rule out a second referendum.
The divisions in the Cabinet mean that there has been no progress in negotiations for five months. The reality is that members of the Cabinet are more interested in negotiating with each other than with the European Union. The Prime Minister’s promise of
“as little friction as possible”
is in stark contrast with the earlier commitment that this would be “friction-free”, so will she explain how much friction she is willing to accept? Businesses and workers in those companies need to know.
We want to ensure that we can continue to trade in as frictionless a way as possible. The suggestion that trade is entirely frictionless at the moment is not actually correct. We have set three very simple objectives for a future customs union. I will say to the House that achieving those objectives, which I have just set out, will not be easy—it will be difficult. Some will say, “Forget about an independent trade policy”—that is not the position of this Government. Some might say, “Don’t worry about the Northern Irish border”—that is not the position of this Government. It is absolutely right that we aim to achieve those three objectives. The right hon. Gentleman talks about progress. We will be publishing a White Paper in a few weeks showing how much progress we are making.
Ministers are no nearer to agreeing a White Paper than they are a strategy for going forward. I remind the Prime Minister that UK has the slowest economic growth of all major economies, and its growth overall is slower than that of the eurozone. The Government’s uncertainty and recklessness are putting jobs and investment at risk. Last week, Airbus confirmed that its space contract would move abroad post Brexit and that it was considering its overall position in the UK because of the Government’s complete lack of clarity. How many other businesses have warned her that they too are considering their future in this country?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about preparations for the negotiations and the White Paper. Let us remember what his position was—[Interruption.] His position was that we should have triggered article 50 immediately after the referendum, with no work having been done in preparation for the negotiations. He would not even have had a white page, let alone a White Paper, to base his negotiations on. What would that have led to? It would have led to what Labour does every time it is in government—it would have sold Britain out.
The problem is that the Prime Minister’s own position is not even supported by her Cabinet. Rolls-Royce has said:
“We’re worried about border checks…we need to be thoughtful and careful about”
future investments. Ford has said:
“any sort of border restrictions or customs friction is going to be an inhibitor to us continuing”.
“We cannot invest in a world of uncertainty”.
Businesses are understandably frustrated by the Government. This week, the Environment Secretary gave his view on the Prime Minister’s preferred customs partnership model. He said that
“there have to be significant question marks over the deliverability of it on time”
as it “has flaws”. Well, at least he didn’t call it “crazy”, as the Foreign Secretary did. If the Prime Minister cannot convince even her own Cabinet of her strategy, what chance does she have with 27 other European countries?
The right hon. Gentleman has taken this view of our position in the negotiations before. Before December, he said we would not get a joint report, and we did. Before March, he said we would not get an implementation period, and we did, and we continue to negotiate. He asks what British businesses are doing. I will tell him what they are doing. They are creating more jobs in this country, meaning that we now have record levels of employment. What did we see under Labour? Half a million more people unemployed—because Labour Governments always leave office with more people out of work than when they went in.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on record numbers of zero-hours contracts, record numbers of people in in-work poverty, and a record of wages lower today than 10 years ago? May I also congratulate her on formally dividing her Cabinet into rival camps—as if it needed doing—to consider two different models? As a process of parliamentary scrutiny, I hope that both Sub-Committees will report directly to the House so that we can all make up our minds on the rival factions in her Cabinet.
While the Prime Minister’s Government dither, the Dutch Government have now begun training the first batch of extra customs officials to deal with the reintroduction of customs checks for British goods at Dutch borders. In October, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said, “HMRC”—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman will complete his question more quickly if Members do not shout—[Interruption.] Order. Mr Colin Clark, I do not require your assistance. You are an amiable enough fellow, but no assistance for the Chair from you is required.
I want to accommodate Back Benchers, and I will do so today, as I always do. I am concerned about people who want to ask questions. If people do not want to ask questions, they must shush and listen, and if they do want to ask questions, they had certainly better keep schtum.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are indeed making preparations for all contingencies, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced money which has been allocated to Departments to make those necessary preparations.
May I correct what the right hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his question? He referred to zero-hours contracts. In fact, if we look at the figures, we see that almost two thirds of the increase in employment in the past year has been in full-time work, more than three quarters of the growth in employment since 2010 has been in full-time work, and about 70% of the rise in employment since 2010 has been in highly skilled work. Perhaps, when he stands up, the right hon. Gentleman will welcome the jobs that have been created under this Government.
The question that I asked the Prime Minister was, “How many more HMRC officials have been recruited?” She has not answered it. Let me help her, and say that if more are being recruited, as is being claimed, they will not even make up for the cuts made in the last eight years. It seems that the Dutch Government are more prepared for dealing with Brexit than the British Government.
We have had 23 months since the referendum. We have just 10 months in which to complete negotiations, and the Government are in complete disarray. On both sides of the negotiations, the reality is dawning that deadlines are at risk of not being met. More and more jobs are at risk as more and more businesses openly consider the options for relocating their jobs. The Government are so busy negotiating with themselves that they cannot negotiate with anyone else. If the Prime Minister cannot negotiate a good deal for Britain, why does she not step aside and let Labour negotiate a comprehensive new customs union and living standards backed by trade unions and business in this country? Step aside, and make way for those who will negotiate it.
What we have seen under this Government are more jobs being created, and more high-paid jobs being created. We have delivered on our December joint report on Brexit, and in March on the implementation period. Let us look at what we would see from the Labour party. With Labour Members, you simply cannot trust a word that they say. They said that they would strike new trade deals, but what do they want? They want to be in a customs union that would ensure that they could not strike new trade deals. Promise broken. They said that they would scrap student debt, but after the election they went back on that. Promise broken. They said that they would tackle anti-Semitism. Promise broken. Only the Conservative party can be trusted by the British people to deliver a Brexit that is in the interests of British people, and to deliver opportunity for all in a Britain that is fit for the future.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the good economic news, not just that more people are in employment but that real wages are up. I note that when I challenged him to do so, the Leader of the Opposition was unwilling to welcome the number of jobs that have been created in this country that mean there are more people with a regular income to look after their families. And as my hon. Friend says, the news that real wages are up means more money in people’s pockets under the Conservatives.
I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in wishing Ramadan Mubarak to all Muslims preparing to start the month of Ramadan today.
Last night the Scottish Parliament voted by 93 votes to 30 to refuse consent to the withdrawal Bill. The Scottish National party, the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens all voted to refuse consent. The Conservatives are isolated and out of touch with the people of Scotland. Will the Prime Minister respect the will of the Scottish Parliament and work with the Scottish Government to amend the withdrawal Bill?
We have been working with the Scottish Government for some time now, as we have been working with the Welsh Government, on this issue. First, decisions that the devolved Administrations are able to make before exit will continue to be able to be made by them after exit. What the Bill does is set out a mechanism that respects devolution and lets us maintain the integrity of our own common market as we work out the long-term solutions. That is a reasonable and sensible way forward. The Welsh Government and now the Welsh Assembly, including Labour and Liberal Democrat Members of the Welsh Assembly, agree with that. I think it is right that we go ahead with measures that not only respect devolution, but ensure we maintain the integrity of our common market.
If the Prime Minister wishes to respect the Scottish Parliament, she should respect last night’s vote. It is very simple: the Tories are seeking to veto the democratic wishes of the Scottish Parliament. This is absolutely unprecedented. If this Government force through the legislation without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, the Prime Minister will be doing so in the full knowledge that they are breaking the 20-year-old devolution settlement. Will the Prime Minister reassure the House that the withdrawal Bill will not go through without the consent of the Scottish Parliament?
Of course we are disappointed that the Scottish Parliament has not granted its consent; we have been working hard in recent months to find a way through on this issue and clause, and the effort put into this has been shown by the fact that the Welsh Government and Assembly have given their consent to this Bill. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we want to ensure the integrity of the United Kingdom’s common market, and when he talks about the democratic will he might wish to recall the fact that it was the democratic will of the Scottish people to remain in the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to be raising this issue on behalf of her constituents in the way that she is. I understand this issue is currently being considered by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, which will then advise my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary. I am sure my hon. Friend will recognise that, as the issue is under an independent review at present, I will not go into further detail on the specifics, but on the general point I wholeheartedly agree with her that community hospitals are a vital part of the range of services we want to see in our NHS.
The hon. Lady will know that we have been doing much to improve the facilities of treatment for those people with mental health problems. We are putting record levels of money into mental health. We are also making a number of changes—for example, increasing the training of teachers and other members of staff in schools better to identify mental health problems among young people and to ensure that they can be properly dealt with. Is there more for us to do? Yes there is, because for too many years in this country, Government after Government did not treat mental health problems in the way that they should have done. We have recognised the need to raise awareness of mental health issues earlier, and this Government are putting more money and facilities in to ensure that those with mental health problems are properly treated and given the treatment they deserve.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. As she will know, we have protected police funding since 2015. For 2018-19, including council tax, there will be an additional £460 million investment available to policing, and we have been able to do that because of the balanced approach that we have taken to our economy. As she points out, however, it is police and crime commissioners who are locally accountable for the decisions that they make, and she is absolutely right to raise this issue and the decisions made by her local police and crime commissioner on behalf of her constituents.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at what we have seen in the past few months, he will see company after company announcing investment in this country, which is leading to more jobs here. Yes, as we look ahead to leaving the European Union, we need to ensure that our customs arrangements will meet the three tests that I set out earlier: an independent trade policy enabling us to do trade deals around the world; as frictionless as possible a border with the EU; and ensuring that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That is exactly what the Government are working to produce.
As we approach the anniversary of the appalling tragedy that was the Grenfell Tower fire, our thoughts are with the victims and survivors and all those affected by that tragedy. My hon. Friend refers to rehousing. There are 210 households in total that are in need of a new home, and I understand that 201 households have accepted an offer of either temporary or permanent accommodation.
On the issue of the safety of buildings, the fire and rescue services have visited more than 1,250 high-rise buildings, and immediate action has been taken to ensure the safety of every resident. Councils and housing associations must remove dangerous cladding quickly, but paying for these works must not undermine their ability to do important maintenance and repair work. I have worked closely with my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Housing Secretary, and I can today confirm that the Government will fully fund the removal and replacement of dangerous cladding by councils and housing associations, estimated at £400 million. The Housing Secretary will set out further details later this week.
We all recognise the significant contribution that the late Baroness Jowell made in the various roles that she undertook in government and to the various issues that she championed. Sure Start centres remain a key part of delivering the best start in life for every child, but we have built on that legacy by introducing 15 hours of free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds and 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds. Just as importantly, we are focusing on quality, with 94% of early years providers now rated good or outstanding, the result of which is a record number of children ready for school. We will continue to work to ensure that every child gets the best start in life.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to register my heartfelt thanks to all the staff at the Midland Centre for Spinal Injuries at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in my constituency. Without their extraordinary skill, professionalism and simple human kindness, I would not be here today.
The House of Commons Library confirms that an estimated 63% of Members of this House represent constituencies that voted leave. Does the Prime Minister agree that should those Members not support her by voting for her programme of taking back control by leaving the single market, the customs union—any customs union—and the remit of the European Court of Justice, they will be denying the democratic vote of their constituents and doing lasting damage to our democracy?
I am happy to join my right hon. Friend in commending the work of all at the Midland Centre for Spinal Injuries, and we are pleased to see him back in his place in the Chamber.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that this Government are delivering on the vote of the British people, which was to leave the European Union. As we do that, we will ensure that we get the best Brexit deal for the United Kingdom. I consider it to be a matter of politicians’ integrity that having given the choice to the British people we should then deliver for them on that choice.
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. Cystic fibrosis is obviously a terrible, life-limiting condition, and it is right that patients should have access to cost-effective, innovative medicines and technologies. The issue has been taken up by Members from across the House and, as the hon. Lady mentioned, there is an ongoing dialogue between NHS England and Vertex, but I am keen to see a speedy resolution to the negotiations. I understand that several Members have asked to see me about the issue, and I am happy for that to happen.
The freedom of the press was upheld in a series of votes in this place last week. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is still important to hold newspapers’ feet to the fire on standards? Will she join me in encouraging further progress in this area?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This House has voted to uphold the freedom of the press, which is an important underpinning of our democracy. Of course we expect high standards from our press and, as he will know, arrangements have been put in place to ensure there is that opportunity, through various bodies, to deal with the issue. It is important that everybody in this House is ready to accept—although we do not always agree with what the press say, and sometimes what they say is uncomfortable—that the freedom of the press is an important part of our democracy.
It remains true that, to uphold its principles, we are putting more money into the national health service. In November 2017 my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that a further £10 billion is going into the national health service. I have said that we will have a review for a long-term plan for the national health service, which will include multi-year funding. The hon. Lady refers to the numbers of doctors and nurses, and we have more nurses and more doctors in our national health service today than we did when we came into government.
A growing number of university students are struggling with their mental health and, tragically, suicide has risen among students. My right hon. Friend has shown her commitment to mental health among young people with the plans for mental healthcare in schools. Will she make the mental health of university students her next priority?
My hon. Friend of course raises an important point. As she says, we have put a focus on the mental health of children in schools because we know that a significant proportion of mental health problems start before a child reaches the age of 14. She makes an important point about university students, and that is certainly something I will look into.
We have not forgotten about Erasmus, or indeed a number of other programmes that give opportunities for universities and students here in the United Kingdom. We have said there are certain programmes that we wish to remain part of when we leave the European Union, and Erasmus is one of those we have cited that we may wish to remain part of, but of course we are in a negotiation with the European Union and we will be dealing with these matters in that negotiation.
Mr Speaker, you are looking resplendent in your Arsenal tie.
I was fortunate enough to go to Djibouti, an African country with great challenges, with UNICEF. I am sure everybody in this House will want to see the UK do more with trade in Africa. Given that 485 of us voted to allow the Prime Minister to trigger article 50, does she agree that we should support her leadership and support the UK in getting the best deal so that we can trade with Africans and help lift them out of poverty?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. When we leave the European Union we will be able to negotiate those trade deals in our interest, and not rely on Brussels negotiating trade deals for us. We will have that independent trade policy, and certainly we will be looking to do trade deals with a number of countries in Africa. I took the opportunity at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to speak to a number of leaders from Africa about just this issue.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that, obviously, we were all appalled at the revelations of what had happened in terms of CSE in Rotherham and, sadly, in other parts of the country. I will ask the Home Secretary to look at the issue. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, certainly as regards police funding, there are arrangements whereby bids can be put in to the Home Office. Those are properly considered and discussed with the police force in question, with decisions taken on that basis.
My constituent Sharon Hollman went through the devastating loss of her teenage son, who committed suicide. She is seeking a serious case review by Kent County Council about multi-agency failings that meant he did not get appropriate mental health support. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. What reassurance can the Prime Minister give to my constituent and others about the need to ensure that we have appropriate mental health support for children and that lessons are learned from this tragic loss?
I am sure the sympathies of the whole House will be with Sharon, because no parent should have to endure the agony of burying their child. May I reassure my hon. Friend that we are absolutely committed to seeing mental health services improve on the ground? That is why we have committed to making an additional £1.4 billion available to improve children and young people’s mental health services, and we have committed to ensuring that by 2020-21, 70,000 more children and young people each year will have access to high-quality NHS mental health care. On the specific case she has raised, I know that my right hon. Friends the Education and Communities Secretaries will be happy to look into the detail of it in order to ensure that lessons are indeed learned.
I am pleased to make the House aware, once again, of the significant funding that is going into our defence forces—into our armed forces—including a significant investment in the ships of the Royal Navy. I am pleased to have been on the Queen Elizabeth, the new aircraft carrier, which is a fine representation of the commitment we put into our defence spending. As my hon. Friend will know, a modernising defence programme review is taking place, involving the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and No. 10. We will be looking, in due course, at any changes that need to be made to ensure that our defence capabilities do indeed meet the threats we face.
This House has had and will continue to have many opportunities to debate these issues in relation to the European Union and the United Kingdom’s future relationship with it. There will be not only the meaningful vote that has been promised, but the voting on the European withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill that will come before this House and on a number of other relevant Bills for our Brexit.
Thousands more homes across North Yorkshire will receive access to superfast broadband thanks to the Government’s investment in North Yorkshire County Council. Much of that will be connected with fibre direct to the premises. Does the Prime Minister agree that fibre represents gold-standard broadband and that local authorities must use all their powers to ensure that developers install fibre broadband when building new homes?
My hon. Friend makes the very important point that access to superfast broadband is important not only for individuals but for people who run businesses from home and in his community. It is important that we look ahead and that, when local authorities put these arrangements in place, they provide the best opportunity for people so that not only people’s personal interest in accessing broadband but the interests of the local economy can be met.
Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment and regret that we did not secure a legislative consent memorandum in the Scottish Parliament? Does she share my concern that Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrats have become the midwives for the Scottish National party’s crusade to tear apart the Union, leaving only the Scottish Conservatives as the party that wants to get on and make a success of Brexit?
I share my hon. Friend’s disappointment. As I said in response to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), we have worked long and hard with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government on those proposals. The Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly have accepted them; Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Assembly voted for them. It is a shame that it was not possible in the Scottish Parliament for agreement to be reached with the Scottish Government. As my hon. Friend said, we all want to deliver a Brexit that is good for the whole of the United Kingdom.
Following the completion at the end of the year of the Boundary Commission’s review, which will apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, reducing the number of constituencies and Members in this House, has the Prime Minister further considered the resulting relative increase in the size of the Executive in this place? May I urge her not to apply the policy that is currently being applied to Northern Ireland of not having any Ministers, refusing to appoint any and allowing civil servants to run the place?
Obviously we will look at the consequences of the proposals for the number of elected Members of Parliament in this House. I wish to see Ministers in Northern Ireland, able to take decisions for Northern Ireland. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that depends on our being able to get agreement among the parties for reinstating the Northern Ireland Executive and allowing the Northern Ireland Assembly to play its full part in the affairs of Northern Ireland. We will continue to work with all parties because I believe that it is in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland for that devolved Executive to be reinstated.
This year of all years, millions of people wish to remember the sacrifices of our servicemen and women in conflicts around the world, but in my constituency, Hillmorton branch of the Royal British Legion tells me that there is a danger that its annual parade will not take place because of challenges in arranging road closures. Will the Prime Minister meet me to see how that situation and perhaps others across the country might be resolved?
We absolutely agree that it is right that we commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women involved in the two world wars and later conflicts. As I understand it, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport co-ordinates the event in London, but perhaps the Secretary of State for Transport will need to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter, although I suspect that it also involves local authorities and the police in his area. I encourage those discussions. We do not want any of the commemorative events not to take place because of a lack of arrangements being put in place for them.
The Lakes line from Oxenholme to Windermere has seen 160 cancellations in the month of April and 72 cancellations in the first week of May alone, risking the potential futures of GCSE students as they try to get to school and are left stranded, people trying to get to work, and the hundreds and hundreds of people visiting what is Britain’s second biggest tourist and visitor destination. Will the Prime Minister join me in saying that that is an outrage; will she use her office to ensure that Northern has the franchise removed from it; and will she undo the damage to the Lakes line by keeping the Government’s initial promise to electrify that line?
My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I understand that the Department for Transport is working with Northern Rail to identify the nature of these issues and to see a quick resolution of them.
Despite clear evidence of potentially criminal wrongdoing, our regulators and law enforcement agencies seem unwilling or unable to take action against those at the highest level responsible for the business banking scandals at RBS, Lloyds and HBOS. Will the Prime Minister do everything that she can to make sure that those people are held to account regardless of their status, seniority or background?
This is an issue that my hon. Friend has not only raised today but been a tireless campaigner on, and he is absolutely right. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and it is vital that lessons are learned from what happened at RBS and at HBOS in Reading. As he will know, the Financial Conduct Authority has reported that there were areas of widespread inappropriate treatment of firms by RBS. That was unacceptable. He will also know that the events at HBOS in Reading constituted criminal activity for which those responsible were brought to justice. The independent FCA is currently investigating matters arising from both of those cases. I look forward to receiving its conclusions, but it is important that we do ensure that this matter is fully addressed, and addressed properly, so that it does not happen again.
If, like Jane, the Prime Minister had worked nights at Sainsbury’s for the past 30 years, how would she regard its plans to cut her pay by £2,000 as one of 13,000 people due a pay cut in 2020? Does she agree with boss Mike Coupe that those people are “in the money”, or does she see it as an insult to Jane’s hard work, her determination, and her abilities in just about managing?
We recognise the hard work that many people such as the hon. Lady’s constituent put in day in, day out to keep our economy going. I will look at the issue that she has raised, but these are commercial decisions that are taken by the employer and by Sainsbury’s.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We look to you to protect the conventions of this House. It is a long-standing convention that when the Government propose to make a statement to the House, the Opposition Front-Bench team, through the usual channels, is afforded sight of the statement an hour or so before it is due to be made. It is understood that commercially confidential matters can be redacted, but the convention has been scrupulously adhered to by previous Conservative Governments and, up until now, by the current Conservative Government and by previous Labour Governments as well. It is also a convention of this House that the Government do not bring statements on those days that are specified in our Standing Orders as being for the parliamentary Opposition to choose the topics.
Both of those conventions have been breached today. This is the third time that the Government have tabled statements on Opposition days. The reason is obvious: it is to erode the principal debates. Mr Speaker, you know today’s debates are heavily subscribed. What can you do to protect us from what I regard as a constitutional outrage?
No, no. No further point is required. I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
Let me say to the House this: I have been advised by the Secretary of State for Transport, who beetled up to the Chair to catch a word with me during Prime Minister’s questions, that the statement is commercially sensitive. I have no reason to seek to gainsay the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether it is, but no doubt it has such an element. It is regrettable if there is not very substantial notice for the Opposition. [Interruption.] Order. I am dealing with the matter. I do not need any help from the Secretary of State. I am advised that the Opposition did in the end have approximately half an hour’s notice of this statement, and I am happy to hear from the Secretary of State if he wants to respond to the point of order.
On the point about the making of Government statements on Opposition days, this is by no means unprecedented, including under previous Governments. However, if I may say so—and I will—it is highly undesirable for there to be statements on very substantial public policy matters, in which the House will doubtless be interested, on an Opposition day. One looks to people traditionally with responsibility for safeguarding the rights of the House, of whom the Chair is one, but not the only one, to take these matters very seriously. This is an undesirable state of affairs, and if it were to happen on further occasions, a great many hon. and right hon. Members, not to mention interested parties in the Opposition day debates outside the Chamber, would view it, frankly, as an abuse. I hope that that message is heard loudly and clearly on the Government Front Bench, at the highest level, by the people in particular by whom it needs to be heard. If I have to make the point again on future occasions, and to use the powers of the Chair to facilitate the rights of this House in other ways, no matter what flak emanates from the Executive, I will do so in the future, as I have always done over the past nine years, and no one and nothing will stop me doing my duty by the House of Commons.
If the Secretary of State wants to respond to the point of order, he is very welcome to do so.
It is in the statement.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Seven minutes ago, The Guardian’s “Politics live” with Andrew Sparrow said:
“East coast rail franchise to be brought back under public control.”
It appears that someone has broken an embargo, or something has gone wrong, because I guess that that is what the Secretary of State’s statement is to be about. Will you put investigations in place to find out why that statement has been made before we have had the opportunity to listen to it from the Secretary of State?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and I respect his sincerity, but it is not for me to initiate inquiries on this matter. I say two things to the hon. Gentleman whose point I otherwise take very seriously. First, let us see what is in the statement, and whether in fact there has been a leak. Secondly, were it to transpire that there had been, that would be a matter to be laid squarely at the door of the Department whose statement it is, and it would be incumbent on the Secretary of State in those circumstances to initiate any such inquiry. At this point, we should hear the statement. I thank the Secretary of State for approaching the Dispatch Box to deliver it.