The business for the week commencing 8 October will include:
Monday 8 October—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 9 October—General debate on baby loss awareness week, followed by a general debate on children’s social care in England. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 10 October—Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill.
Thursday 11 October—General debate on the victims strategy.
Friday 12 October—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 15 October will include:
Monday 15 October—Remaining stages of the Offensive Weapons Bill.
All Members should welcome the introduction of the Agriculture Bill yesterday on what was Back British Farming Day. After 50 years of this country being subject to the common agricultural policy, the Bill will return control to the United Kingdom, enabling us all to deliver not just a boost to food production but a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on his Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on his Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018, both of which received Royal Assent today. Finally, I wish everyone a productive conference season and look forward to welcoming all Members back to the House in October, when we will be looking forward to UK Parliament Week.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business, although we seem to be back to announcing just business for a week and a day. If not today, perhaps at the next business statement, could she give the House the recess dates for February and Easter? People want to plan. She has not made any statement about sitting Fridays either, which both I and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) have raised. I say that partly because there are only six months to go until we leave the EU, and it seems that the EU is signalling that there will be a deal in November. There is a lot of legislation to be scheduled and effectively only January, February and March in which to debate it.
I assume that the Trade Bill and the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill will be returning from the Lords. When will we get to debate them? The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), just told us that the fisheries Bill would be published this Session. Could the Leader of the House be more specific? And when will the immigration Bill be published? There are also more than 800 statutory instruments to be scrutinised. It would be helpful if the Government could make a statement setting out the timetable for all this legislation.
I agree with the Leader of the House about Back British Farming Day yesterday—everyone was wearing their sheaves of wheat. She will know of the importance to farmers, their workers and the wider rural economy of agricultural wages and the compensation scheme for bovine TB cases. These public policy issues are of great importance to hon. Members on both sides of the House, so I hope she noticed yesterday that a prayer and a revocation motion were tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I am talking about early-day motions 1627 and 1628.
[That the Environment and Rural Affairs (Miscellaneous Revocations) Order 2018 (S.I., 2018, No. 739), dated 19 June 2018, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20 June, be revoked.]
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Cattle Compensation (England) (Amendment) Order 2018 (S.I., 2018, No. 754), dated 21 June 2018, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25 June, be annulled.]
Will the Leader of the House ensure that those two orders are debated in Committee as soon as possible?
The Leader of the House was right: on 10 September the Boundary Commission laid its report. It is astonishing that the Government want to go ahead with these boundary changes; it is a blatant power grab. There are no plans to reduce the number of Ministers; we have an overpowering Executive in the House with a weakened Parliament in which the voice of Back Benchers will have less weight in the House proportionally. The Electoral Reform Society says that if the number of Ministers remain unchanged, 23% of all MPs and 45% of Conservative MPs will be obliged to vote with the Government, which is an historical high.
The Government should support the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan)—it is much better; it is an up-to-date Bill with up-to-date figures, but he is still waiting up in Committee Room every Wednesday for his money resolution—unless, of course, the reduction of 50 MPs will be those 50 from the European Research Group. I say that only because the Prime Minister’s plans are being torn apart from within her own party. The Prime Minister appears to be up for mandatory reselection—sorry, mandatory deselection by a party within a party. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) has warned of a “catastrophic split” in the Conservative party if the Prime Minister attempts to force the Chequers plan through Parliament.
Last week at Prime Minister’s questions, the Leader of the Opposition raised comments by the National Farmers Union that a no deal Brexit would be an “Armageddon scenario”, and we should add the following to that: Panasonic is to move its European headquarters from London to Amsterdam in October; Unilever said on 11 September that it was going to end its dual Anglo-Dutch structure and make Rotterdam its main headquarters; and Jaguar Land Rover has written to the Prime Minister to say that no deal would put “tens of thousands” of jobs at risk. On science and research, the Government’s own technical notes state that UK institutions would no longer be eligible for three Horizon 2020 funding lines and no deal will cost the UK research £520 million a year and lack of collaboration with our scientists and friends across the globe.
No deal would also have an impact on our security. The National Police Coordination Centre warns that the
“necessity to call on military assistance is a real possibility”
after we leave the EU with no deal. New impact papers published today say driving licences, passports and phone bills will all be affected with a no deal, and the technical paper on aviation has not been published—I presume not to alarm the country that planes will have difficulty landing. Can the Leader of the House say when that will be published, and will she schedule a debate on the impact on our country of a no deal when all the technical papers are published?
The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and his family have faced a difficult time; I want to say that it is not in our name. I hope the Leader of the House will condemn the wall of sound that came from her side when the Leader of the Opposition raised the plight of the vulnerable at Prime Minister’s Question Time.
I want to thank all who were involved in the fire and safety work on the estate over the recess; they have done a fantastic job.
Last week I mentioned the application to remove Emmeline Pankhurst from Victoria Tower Gardens; Emmeline will not be moved. We celebrate two birthdays: Lord Ganesh, who apparently is the god of wisdom and prosperity. There is an event in the Jubilee Room which I encourage all Members to attend. Today was Annie Kenney’s birthday, too. There is a record of Annie Kenney and Emmeline Pankhurst signing the visitor’s book in St Davids cathedral in St Davids, our smallest city. They travelled far and wide to make the case for women’s suffrage. Finally, I remind Members that the fantastic “Voice and Vote” exhibition closes on 6 October, and I encourage everyone to attend it—and wish everyone a happy conference recess.
I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for the amazing work of the suffrage movement, and once the “Voice and Vote” exhibition ends, her party colleague the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) has the fantastic international women’s conference planned. The House has agreed that women from around the world will be able to sit in this Chamber and talk about some of the amazing achievements of women. We all look forward to that, and there is plenty more this year to celebrate around the Vote 100 events, which I am sure we will make the most of.
The hon. Lady asked for the dates of recesses and sitting Fridays; they will be available in due course. She asked about legislation, and I can tell her that the customs Bill has finished its passage through both Houses and awaits Royal Assent and that the Trade Bill is still in the Lords. In terms of Brexit legislation, we have introduced seven Brexit Bills this Session, including the Agriculture Bill, which was introduced yesterday. Four Brexit Bills have had Royal Assent already—the withdrawal Bill, the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, the sanctions Bill and the haulage Bill—and we will bring forward the remaining Brexit Bills, as the hon. Lady mentions, on immigration, fisheries and the withdrawal agreement. We hope to do so later this year when the House returns and that final deal is negotiated.
The hon. Lady asked about statutory instruments that have been prayed against. As she will know, it is a matter of parliamentary convention that, when a reasonable request for a debate has been made, time should be allowed for it. We have demonstrated in this Session that the Government are willing to provide time in line with the convention and to accede to reasonable requests made by the Opposition.
The hon. Lady asked about boundaries. The Boundary Commission reports were laid before both Houses on Monday, and Members will want to consider the recommendations carefully. In accordance with the existing legal requirements under the provisions of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, the adoption of the Boundary Commission’s recommendations will require an Order in Council that must be approved by both Houses. It will take time to prepare what is an enormous SI, so it will be some time before that can be brought forward for approval.
On the hon. Lady’s comments about the private Member’s Bill of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), as she knows I have answered urgent questions, an emergency debate, an Opposition debate and many other questions on this issue in recent weeks. She knows, too, that Parliament itself agreed through primary legislation the process for reviewing boundaries only a few years ago. Millions of pounds have been spent on this review, and it would not be right to undertake another costly review at the expense of tax- payers until we have made further progress with this one.
The hon. Lady mentioned mandatory reselection, and I was very concerned that she might have been about to air the Labour party’s problems in public. The catastrophic splits we are seeing in the Labour party are of great concern to all of us on this side of the House for what was once a fantastic party of opposition that supported and stood up for labour—the clue is in the title—but which now seems determined to fight on appalling issues in-house such as deselecting their own colleagues, many of whom have been long-standing Members of this place, and accusing one another of anti-Semitism. Those are shameful issues that are of grave concern to all of us who care about our democracy.
The hon. Lady asks about no deal preparations. I am glad to tell the House that I have just come from the Cabinet meeting looking at those preparations and they are far advanced. As all Members would expect, the Government are preparing for all eventualities, but it remains our expectation and intention to get a good deal with the European Union that works for the United Kingdom and our friends and neighbours in the EU. May I just say that planes flew before we joined the EU? It is slightly extraordinary that people really think that planes would be grounded; that is just not the case.
Finally, the hon. Lady asks for a debate on Brexit. On Monday we had a whole day’s debate on Brexit, and there was the sum total of three Labour contributions. I therefore think that we have provided the time and the Labour party has shown its complete lack of interest.
In our time, too much of politics is dull and apologetic and too much of life mechanistic and techno- cratic, and none more so than what we build; from the brutal behemoths of supermarkets that destroyed our high streets to bland housing estates that are no different from Cumbria to Cornwall and from London to Lincolnshire. So will the Leader of the House arrange for Ministers to make an urgent statement, or perhaps grant a debate, on beauty and the built environment? Policies should be brought forward that will counter what the Prince of Wales has called the “dreariness and heartlessness” of urban planning so that what we leave to those born later can be as lovely as the best we inherited from our ancestors.
I think that all hon. and right hon. Members will share my right hon. Friend’s desire to see beauty in the built environment, and I encourage him to continue with his campaign to ensure that the planning system properly allows for the kind of beautiful architecture that we all want to see.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for when we come back from our conference recess. As we know, she has just hot-footed it back from Cabinet, where I hope she played a productive role in arranging the state of emergency arrangements for the looming no deal Brexit. It is almost unbelievable to most of us that we have got to this point, not by design but almost by typical Tory cluelessness. Would it not be in the Government’s interest for the Prime Minister simply to make a statement to the House and concede that her Chequers plans are now dead? The Mogg-ites now control large swaths of the Conservative party, and the daily militia of the party conference will almost certainly put paid to those plans. Would it not be good to get this out of the way, because there is no way that they are going to get the plans through this House?
Last week I raised the issue of the abuse of ministerial access for Scottish Conservative MPs, but all I got was a silly flippant response from the Leader of the House. This is serious stuff. Ministerial appointments are now being arranged for party political advantage. I have been watching carefully, and I have seen the meetings promoted by Scottish Conservative MPs. I have now asked for the self-same meetings, but does the Leader of the House know what has happened? Most Ministers have not even given me the courtesy of a response, and those who have done so have refused to see me. One even suggested that I should take up the matter with her in the Tea Room. The right hon. Lady is the Leader of the House, and she must have something meaningful to say about this abuse of ministerial access.
Lastly, Mr Speaker, may I wish you a good conference recess? I do not know what Speakers do during the conference recess. Perhaps there is a conference of Speakers from around the world. The House will now break so that the political hordes can head to Brighton for the Liberal Democrat conference. It is almost incredible that we stop our crucial and critical work to accommodate what are in effect annual general meetings of voluntary associations. The public are mystified by this, because we are the only Parliament in the world that breaks so that politicians can go to meetings of their parties. Will the Leader of the House get together with the shadow Leader of the House and me to design a proper recess that takes into account all parts of the United Kingdom rather than the requirements of the political parties?
I am deeply disappointed that the hon. Gentleman seems to be in such a bad mood today. That is most unusual. He is talking down the country and talking down the Chequers plan; I am sure that the European Commission will be listening with interest to his negative approach. I am told that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has not been asked to meet the hon. Gentleman for two years, and I am not surprised, frankly. He is not very cheery. He needs to learn that cup half full is always the better approach. I have made it clear that I am always happy to meet him; I even offered to have my photograph taken with him. If he wants to meet me to discuss a serious issue, I am very happy to do that, but in the event that all he wants to do is to run down the United Kingdom, then it is just the same old Scottish nationalists.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate in Government time to discuss Crossrail and the failings of the Mayor of London and Transport for London, and to highlight the need for a Crossrail extension from Abbey Wood to Ebbsfleet?
My right hon. Friend raises an important issue. There are great hopes for the new Crossrail project. He will be aware that we will have Transport questions in the first week that we are back, and I think it would be appropriate for him to challenge Ministers on exactly what the plans are, to ensure that this fantastic new project opens as soon as possible.
I thank the Leader of the House for her really active and committed support for the conference of women MPs from all around the world, which will take place in this House on 8 November this year. I should also like to return to a matter that was raised with her by the shadow Leader of the House—namely, what happened to the children of the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) yesterday, which we saw videoed and broadcast on the internet. Every Member across the House that I have spoken to has, without exception, been dismayed and appalled by what happened. Targeting a Member through their children is not about free speech or the right to protest; it is intimidation and harassment, and it is undermining our democracy. None of us wants to be featherbedded or protected from the public, but we are elected to come here to do our job and we must be allowed to do that without let or hindrance.
I ask the Leader of the House to consider—if it is acceptable to the Speaker and to the shadow Leader of the House—taking an approach on a cross-party basis with widespread deliberation and having a Speaker’s conference on this issue. In this age of social media, we have to know what we and our families should be expected to put up with in the name of democracy and what crosses the line. We all saw this incident, but we know that it is not the only one that has happened. Also, these incidents involve not only children but frail, elderly parents. We are very good at championing the protection of the emergency services and the police, as we have seen in the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), because they are important for this country, but our democracy is also important for this country, so may we ask the Speaker to have a conference so that the line can properly be drawn?
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for raising this issue. A number of Members on both sides of the House have also raised it with me. It is utterly appalling that someone can attack a serving Member of Parliament through their children or their parents, or even through their partner or their best friend. It is absolutely unacceptable, and we have to join together in condemning it wherever it happens. I am certainly very sympathetic to her suggestion, and I am sure that you will be too, Mr Speaker.
I can tell the right hon. and learned Lady that the Government launched a consultation on 29 July on a new electoral offence which aims to crack down on threats and abuse towards those standing for election. We need to change the way in which the public perceive those who stand for public office, not least because we want to encourage more good—and, particularly, young—people from all walks of life who want to take part in our public life. How can they possibly be attracted to it when this kind of appalling behaviour goes unchecked?
Thank you. It is of course for the House to decide how to proceed, but in response to what the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and the Leader of the House have said, let me also underline that as far as I am concerned, that behaviour was despicable and intolerable. If the people who perpetrated it do not know that, I am afraid that tells us all we need to know about them. This simply cannot persist.
May we have an urgent debate on the gig economy, so that we can ensure that those in long-term casual work have a route into permanent employment? During that debate, could we also recognise that that very same economy creates hundreds of thousands of job opportunities each year for students and young people, allowing them to earn money and wrap work around their studies and holidays, and providing them with the experience that carries them into permanent work? That experience is far from evil.
My hon. Friend has set out the fundamental dilemma clearly. The gig economy provides enormous opportunities and advances for those looking to get into work and who want flexible work. It has in part helped the extraordinary employment numbers, which show that there are over 3 million more people in work since 2010 than there were previously. On the other hand, it has great shortcomings, with insecurity and so on. The Matthew Taylor review highlighted some of those problems, and the Government will be responding and taking action to improve the rights of those in the gig economy. I encourage my hon. Friend to take this matter up in Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions on Tuesday 16 October.
I know how much the Leader of the House cares about the early years of a child’s life, and I understand that she is chairing a cross-Government working party on that subject. Would she be open to a Government debate on the important role of maintained nursery schools, which play a really important part in some of our most disadvantaged areas in reaching out to families and helping children who are perhaps not doing as well as they could? I am concerned that the funding for those schools is secure only until 2020, so may we have a debate to ensure that the Government are committed to the future of those nursery schools beyond 2020?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the important matter of early years and the cross-Government group that I chair. I encourage her to write to me, and I will see whether I can use some of her evidence in that group. At the same time, I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate to raise the matter directly with Ministers.
About four months ago, this House passed the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, part of which—the so-called Magnitsky provisions—require this House to undertake a review process to hold this and future Governments to account on the sanctioning of people in this country. Will the Leader of the House inform us of the progress being made in setting up the kind of body that will do that work for the House and hold the Government to account?
Since 2015, there have been several water-related deaths in my constituency, and I highlighted this worrying issue during Prime Minister’s questions. Tragically, it is also an important matter for others such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) and my hon. Friends the Members for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), whose constituencies have also suffered water-related deaths recently. Will the Leader of the House consider timetabling a debate on water safety education for children and young people so that we can explore the best ways of stopping such devastating incidents occurring again?
Teaching young children to swim and to be water aware is important, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek a Backbench Business debate since it sounds as though several right hon. and hon. Members are concerned about the issue. He did not mention whether those deaths were as a result of accidents or drowning due to someone being unable to swim, but there is a need to teach children about the dangers of quarries, rivers and so on.
Mr Speaker, you will be aware that I have managed to secure Adjournment debates on the lack of accountability within the NHS following local consultations, so I ask the Leader of the House for a debate in Government time to alleviate the anger and concern in my constituency when consultations take place about the future of our hospital provision, or the lack of it, and are then completely ignored by the local health authorities
The accountability of local healthcare to the local population is an important issue that is often mentioned at business questions, and I am concerned that my right hon. Friend feels that the views of local residents have been ignored. I think he has already had an Adjournment debate, but he may like to take the matter up directly with Ministers who can answer his questions.
I regularly hear stories, both in my constituency and elsewhere, about the consequences of the shortage of midwives. It is a national issue, but north-east London has a rapidly rising birth rate, so may we have a debate, or at least a statement when we return, on the national shortage of midwives, but with a particular focus on London?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The availability of midwives and maternity units is absolutely key. The number of people graduating as midwives has risen 51% since 2010-11, and a recent report from the Royal College of Midwives shows that the proportion of younger midwives—those in their 20s and 30s—has jumped from 34% to 45%, so there are now around 3,500 extra midwives aged under 40. There is a lot more to be done, however, so I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment debate about the situation in his constituency.
In recent years, I have taken a delegation to see three successive Transport Ministers in connection with support for the bioethanol industry and the introduction of E10, but a number of my constituents who work at Vivergo Fuels just outside Hull are to be made redundant owing to the lack of a decision from Government. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to come to the House to make a statement? It is too late for those who are losing their jobs, but we could at least get an explanation of why it has taken years for the Government to come to no decision.
First, I understand that it is my hon. Friend’s birthday today, so I wish him a very happy birthday. For once, I have beaten you to it, Mr Speaker. He is, as ever, a strong voice for his constituency, and he is quite right to raise this matter—[Interruption.] I do not know how old he is. I understand that the Department for Transport has written to Vivergo to seek a meeting to discuss the suspension of production at its plant outside Hull, and it is of course regrettable if people have lost jobs. The Department is consulting on whether and how best to introduce E10, and the consultation closes on 16 September.
I made a suggestion earlier this week that we use the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to the American colonies as a way of celebrating the contribution of migrants who bring their skills, talents and genius to different places all over the world. Does the Leader of the House agree that it would be useful for every Member to have their DNA tested, as I have done, so that we can see that we are all from interesting and different places?
Well, I am from Northamptonshire, which is a very interesting and different place. The hon. Gentleman makes a fantastic suggestion, and if he wants to write to me, I can see whether I can progress it. I am sure that colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport would also be interested to hear his suggestion. Of course, we all celebrate the enormous contribution made by migrants from right across the world, and it is right that we continue to do so.
I join the shadow Leader of the House in wishing everyone everywhere a very happy Ganesh Chaturthi. Tomorrow marks the 29th anniversary of the attack that is marked by Kashmir Pandits Martyrs Day, about which I have tabled early-day motion 1568.
[That this House commemorates with deep sadness the 29th anniversary of the attack on senior Kashmiri Hindu leader Tikalal Taploo marked as Kashmiri Hindu Martyrs Day; notes the mass exodus in January 1990 by cross-border Islamic militants on the population of Jammu and Kashmir; expresses its condolences to the families and friends of all those who were killed, raped and injured in this massacre and also condemns the desecration of the holiest sites in Jammu and Kashmir; further expresses its concern that the Kashmiris who fled to save life and limb have still not secured justice for the atrocities committed against them; deplores those sponsoring such cross-border terrorist attacks and demands they cease immediately; further notes that the international principle of the responsibility to protect obliges individual states and the international community to take effective measures to prevent the commission of genocide and crimes against humanity as seen against the Kashmiri Hindu community; and urges the Government of India to take measures to recognise exodus of Kashmiri Hindus as Genocide and to ensure justice is delivered to Kashmiri Hindus by punishing the perpetrators of the forced exodus and excesses on the minority Hindus in the Kashmir valley.]
I invite the Leader of the House to schedule a debate in Government time on this terrible ethnic cleansing of the Kashmir valley that saw Hindus forced out of their ancestral homes at gunpoint and women raped and mutilated.
My hon. Friend always stands up for the communities in his constituency whose relatives and ancestors have suffered terribly, and he is absolutely right to do that. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate to raise that specific issue and commemorate the event in the appropriate way.
May we have an early debate or a statement from Transport Ministers about the management of the volunteers who give their services to our coastguard rescue service? I fear that we are heading to a crisis in Orkney and Shetland that will see substantial or possibly even mass resignations by local volunteers. There seems to be a lack of respect from many in coastguard headquarters in Southampton for the work of volunteers in our coastal communities. Whatever the reason, it is surely unacceptable that coastal and island communities should be left exposed, so if the agency cannot fix the problem, we should hear from Ministers.
The Government can be proud of the requirement for robust age verification checks in part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. It was hoped that the system would be implemented by April this year, but it is still not in place because it requires the laying of the draft Online Pornography (Commercial Basis) Regulations. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that will happen swiftly?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this incredibly important point. DCMS and the Department of Health and Social Care are looking at options to minimise the harmful effects of social media on children’s and young people’s mental health as part of the forthcoming online strategy White Paper. The Government remain committed to ensuring that pornography is not accessible to children online, as is already the case offline. I can confirm that we are working hard to table the secondary legislation, and we intend to conclude the parliamentary proceedings as soon as possible.
I second the call for a debate on the gig economy. Of course it is welcome that this sector of the economy employs thousands of people across the UK, but what the archbishop was referring to, apart from the fact that these companies are not paying enough tax, is the poor working conditions in these companies.
The GMB trade union made a freedom of information request of Amazon, which showed that 600 ambulances were called to Amazon warehouses across the UK over a three-year period. Workers complain that they are being penalised for taking toilet breaks and that pregnant women are forced to stand for 10 hours during their shifts. Surely companies like Amazon can afford to treat their workers correctly and to treat them like humans, not robots.
I agree with the hon. Lady. It is vital that businesses treat their workers with decency and respect. She will be aware of the Matthew Taylor review, and the Government are looking at part-legislation and part-changing the rules on how workers are treated.
The hon. Lady raises an important point. I recently met young women from the Young Women’s Trust who told me their stories about how zero-hours contracts can be abused and how working conditions can be completely unacceptable. I encourage her, with the support of Members on both sides of the House, to seek a Backbench Business Committee debate so that Ministers can be made aware of some of the further stories we will want to address.
Last week my constituents were hugely disappointed to learn of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s announcement on closing branches in Hazel Grove, Marple and Romiley. The bank closure protocol is not working, especially when banks close branches that they previously said would remain open to mitigate the loss of others. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss this important issue and so that Ministers can bring forward practical measures to keep branches open?
My hon. Friend raises a matter that is often raised in this place, the concern about bank branch closures. He will be aware that, since May 2018, all banks have to comply with the access to banking standard, which commits banks to giving customers a minimum of 12 weeks’ notice if they decide to close a branch—that is, of course, a commercial matter for the banks.
Some years ago, as City Minister, I was very pleased that we agreed with the Post Office for it to provide banking services for all major high street banks. Post offices often have longer opening hours and are more conveniently located for customers, so I encourage my hon. Friend to urge constituents who have raised this matter with him to look to their local post office, which often can replace the banking services they are missing.
My constituents, US citizen Carlos Consuelo and his wife Jayne of Aberdyfi, have put their lives and their businesses on hold to conform with every family settlement visa application requirement. Can we have a debate in Government time on chronic problems of unexplained delays and failures of communication facing non-contentious immigration applicants and how these cause utterly unnecessary emotional, social and financial hardship for families?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this constituency issue, and I am happy to take it up with Ministers if she wants to write to me afterwards. On the Home Office generally, she will be aware that there is a hotline for Members of Parliament, and I am sure she has already attempted that route. She may well wish to raise the issue directly with Ministers as to what more can be done to get the efficiency in turnarounds up to a better level.
With petrol prices rising to a four-year high, the Leader of the House will have heard the anguish of motorists and of motorist groups like FairFuelUK. Can we have an urgent statement on what the Government are doing to keep down the price of fuel for motorists? Can she use her good offices to urge the Chancellor not to raise fuel duty at the Budget, as that would be a kamikaze attack on hard-working families?
My right hon. Friend is a great champion for motorists, on which I congratulate him. He will be aware that the previous Labour Government’s fuel duty escalator would have cost motorists an extra £46 billion in taxes. This Government have done everything we possibly can to protect motorists from price rises but, nevertheless, I have heard his lobbying and I will pass it on to the Chancellor.
Last Friday my constituent, Sarah Oakwell, spoke to me very movingly about the debilitating effect that ME has on her everyday life. Can we have a debate on the level of awareness, and on raising awareness, of ME right across our society?
I am sure many hon. Members will have constituents with this awful condition, which really is debilitating and very life limiting for those who suffer from it. The hon. Gentleman is right to think that this House should debate it, and I encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that all hon. Members can share their views with Ministers.
I add my support to the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). Attacks against politicians and their families have no place and, in particular, dissuade people, especially women, from standing for election. Many women Members of this House have told me how inspiring they find the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need more women parliamentarians and more statues of great women leaders?
The Home Secretary recently responded to the Shaw report on immigration detention by commissioning a number of reviews. However, in his statement he failed to mention Stephen Shaw’s recommendation that the practice of detaining pregnant women should end. It has been revealed that more than 100 pregnant women were detained last year, yet only 20 of them were deported. There is simply no justification for this policy. Can we have a debate in Government time on ending the practice of detaining pregnant women?
I agree entirely with the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) about what happened to an hon. Member’s family yesterday. Most Members of this House will have had death threats. I have certainly had death threats, I have been attacked and our home has been attacked, but when it is the family—there have been threats against my former wife and our children.
The thing I am now prepared to say that I was not prepared to say a few years ago is that, when my son was about 12, the police rang me one day and said, “Where is your son?” I answered, “Well, I think he is at school,” and they said, “Can you check?” There was a social media post claiming to be the execution of my son, which obviously we did not bring to people’s attention at the time. Things have got worse and worse, and I doubt there is a single Member of this House who has not had something like that.
Can we have a statement, a genuine statement, when we get back about what we are going to do about this?
That is a truly horrible story, and I am sure all hon. Members will be completely disgusted by that account. I am also not surprised that my hon. Friend did not raise it at the time because, of course, it would simply have encouraged further such behaviour. No doubt he will find that that is the case today. The level of abuse that Members of Parliament and others in public life receive is extraordinary, and he is right that this is incredibly serious. I have a meeting with the Chairman of Ways and Means and the director of security when we return to look at what more can be done, but I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend’s suggestion of a statement.
My 18-year-old constituent, Ben Glean, sadly passed away last year. Ben was a fantastic campaigner for equality and had a particular interest in homelessness. His family, in memory of Ben, have started a fantastic campaign to knit and crochet hats for homeless people, premature babies and the local women’s refuge. About 200 individual items have been donated to their cause. Does the Leader of the House agree that World Homelessness Day on 10 October would be a really good opportunity for Members to be able to talk about similar local campaigns and to take the opportunity to review the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and its implementation?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s constituent, who obviously has a fantastic legacy. So many people volunteer to help with homelessness in so many ways and we should pay tribute to them all. She asked about what we could do on 10 October to celebrate people’s efforts to help with homelessness; if she wants, she can write to me, or perhaps we can meet to discuss the matter further.
This week, students returned to the University of Stirling, and a whole new generation of students are becoming used to their new life there and enjoying freshers’ week. However, Scottish students have been disadvantaged by the Scottish Government’s cap on funding, and some were not able to get on to the course or into the institution of their choice. Will my right hon. Friend set aside some time for a debate on how we can ensure that all students, right across the United Kingdom, can take advantage of the opportunity that should be theirs to go to an institution as world renowned as the University of Stirling?
I wish all my hon. Friend’s constituents who are starting their new career and new courses at the University of Stirling and enjoying freshers’ week the best of times and every success in their studies. I totally understand the frustration of those who cannot get on to the courses of their choice. My hon. Friend will appreciate that education is a devolved matter. It is disappointing to hear that because of the cap, Scottish students may not have got the places of their choice; in England, we have seen increasing numbers of students coming into our universities, and in particular the numbers of disadvantaged students coming into higher education have been increasing, which is great news for social mobility. I encourage my hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate to discuss further with Education Ministers the differentiation between Scottish and English students.
Can the Leader of the House imagine how she would feel if she got a letter from her bank saying that her bank accounts were to be closed down, with no explanation whatsoever? Any of us would find that very difficult, but that is what happened recently to two of my constituents, Mr Mike Jones and his wife, as well as to another constituent of mine. May we have a debate about the fact that people are not even entitled to an explanation when banks decide to close their bank accounts? There may be good reason to close them, but people should at least be entitled to an explanation, given how important bank accounts are to people’s lives.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I encourage him to write on his constituents’ behalf to the Financial Conduct Authority, which I am sure would be concerned to hear about the case he raises. If he wants to take up the matter with Treasury Ministers—I think they might encourage him along a similar vein—he could of course seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise his constituents’ case directly.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in supporting the vital work that many local charities do throughout the country? In particular, will she join me in congratulating the completely volunteer-led charity Future Choices in my constituency, Aberdeen South, on its 10th anniversary? The Future Choices centre provides recreational activities for the disabled, who are often socially isolated in our community. May we have a debate on the importance of charities in the prevention of social isolation and loneliness?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the work that charities do to tackle loneliness is vital. I have some great charities in my own constituency and am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Future Choices on its 10th anniversary. The Government recently published a civil society strategy that sets out how Government can work with charities and others to support a thriving civil society. The Prime Minister specifically recognised loneliness as an important issue when she welcomed the report of the Jo Cox commission on loneliness in January this year. The first Government strategy on tackling loneliness in England will be published later this year.
At the UN General Assembly later this month, the global compact on refugees will hopefully be agreed. I know that the Government wish to promote themselves as friends to refugees—I have heard that answer before—but may we have a debate in Government time, after the House returns from conference recess, on how we will implement the global compact on refugees?
The cost of railway infrastructure works have ballooned massively since privatisation and are now completely out of control. May we have a debate in Government time so that the causes of this crisis can be vigorously examined and addressed?
The hon. Gentleman has taken a big interest in rail matters over many years, and I have had the pleasure of working with him on some of them. He will be aware that the Government are making the biggest investment in the modernisation and maintenance of the railways since the Victorian days, with a £48 billion plan to deliver better journeys and fewer disruptions. Nevertheless, the recent problems with delays, cancellations and so on have been completely unacceptable. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek a Backbench Business debate so that Members can share their concerns.
This weekend sees the conclusion of the Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight. On Tuesday, I had the great privilege of hosting a “Taste of East Lothian” event, which was enjoyed by Members from all parties and, indeed, people throughout the parliamentary estate. May we have a debate in Government time on the importance of the Scottish food and drink industry, particularly for small producers and manufacturers?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the “Taste of East Lothian” event, which I was very sorry not to get to because Scottish food and drink is excellent and it would have been a great pleasure to attend. The hon. Gentleman is exactly right that Scottish food and drink is an important sector within the UK’s overall food and drink sector. Scottish products include smoked salmon, whisky, chocolate and shortbread—there are so many fabulous things that come out of Scotland that we all enjoy so much. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment debate at the very least so that we can all share in a celebration of all things Scottish.
During the summer recess, I had the pleasure of visiting the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland. They are based in my constituency and have had a very busy year with deployments in Iraq, South Sudan and Cyprus. This month, they will parade through Penicuik and celebrate their achievements with the community—they are very well valued in the community. There is, though, a risk that we will lose the battalion because of the planned closure of Glencorse barracks. Will the Leader of the House consider scheduling a debate on bases in Scotland, and perhaps throughout the UK, as I know that many Members will share my concerns?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the excellent work of the regiment in her constituency. We would all like to take the opportunity to thank all our armed forces for all the excellent work that they do. The hon. Lady might like to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise her particular concern about that proposed closure.
May we have a debate on the incompetence of the Home Office? I wrote to the Home Secretary on 6 June about five specific constituents who are suffering under the paragraph 322(5) immigration rules, which are affecting highly skilled migrants, including a mother with three children who is being threatened with eviction and can see no end to the process. We were promised on 21 June that there would be a review in the next few weeks, but no such review has emerged. Too many highly skilled migrants are waiting for the Government to make a decision while living in poverty and racking up huge debts. When will we have a decision so that people can get on with their lives?
Every single day, another voice is added to those of the many thousands of organisations, businesses and people in this country who are criticising the Government for taking the economy off a cliff with a possible no-deal Brexit. May we have a statement from the appropriate Minister on how many critical voices are required before the Government change their policy?
I think that the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that there was a democratic vote to leave the European Union, and I think he might also like to celebrate the fact that the economy is now 17% bigger than it was eight years ago, when this Government came in. The deficit has been cut by three quarters, income tax has been cut for 31 million people, and debt will fall as a percentage of GDP next year, which means that we can spend on public services rather than on debt repayments. This Government are getting our economy back on track at the same time as fulfilling the democratic will of the people. It is absolutely our intention to depart from the EU in a way that works for the United Kingdom and for our EU friends and neighbours.
Ministers claim that the “hostile environment”; is being dismantled, but the Home Office is still charging British children of migrant parents £1,000 to prove their nationality, even though the admin fee is only £300. The Home Office also charges councils such Southwark, my own, hundreds of thousands of pounds, and it uses a premium rate helpline for councils seeking information that they are legally required to have before they are allowed under Home Office rules to provide services to destitute families. When will the Government provide time to debate how they continue to profiteer from the “hostile environment”?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that fees for visas and immigration-related matters are there to fund the service—the administration. He is not right to suggest that that is profiteering. The fee is there to fund a public service. If he wants to raise his specific concerns around particular constituency issues, he might either like to seek an Adjournment debate or, if he wants to write to me, I can take it up with Home Office Ministers for him.
My constituent, Drew Clark, while still grieving the loss of his wife, received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions demanding that, following her death, he repay some personal independence payment money. As Members can imagine, he was so disgusted that he ripped up the letter. My office tried to get a copy of that letter from the DWP, but was advised that, due to the automated process that sends the letter out, copies are not available. Surely we can program a system that records correspondence and, more importantly, have a system that includes compassion and common sense once a death is notified and that moves away from saying:
“We have a duty to collect overpaid public funds.”
At least there has now been a concession, and the DWP is no longer going to chase the paltry £142, but may we have a statement from the Leader of the House on changes that the Government plan to make to this system?
The Leader of the House may be aware that the Welsh Government have recently announced more than £2 billion of investment in the Welsh railway network, but the reality is that 11% of the track receives only 1% of its investment from the UK Government. Will she arrange for the Transport Secretary to come to the Floor of the House to explain when he will be setting out plans to invest in the Welsh railway network that are actually passenger focused, rather than as with the debacle of the electrification fiasco. In that way we can ensure that, for Welsh rail users, the network is improved with investment from the people who are responsible for it—the British Government.
The hon. Gentleman seeks a very specific answer to an issue around rail investment, but what I can say to him is that the UK Government really have focused on investing in Wales. They have abolished tolls on the River Severn; introduced city and growth deals, such as the Swansea Bay city deal; introduced fairer funding for Wales—[Interruption.] I totally understand, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are focused on improving jobs and growth right across Wales. That is our absolute focus.
With regard to the rail electrification, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear at the time that, rather than going through the enormous upheaval of rail electrification, we are investing in a new fleet of inter-city express trains that will significantly enhance the travel experience without the need for the disruption that would be caused by the electrification programme.
Can we have a debate in Government time on consumer rights? My Sandyhills constituent, John Morgan, lost his deposit on a sofa bought through House of Fraser just before it went into financial difficulties. He lost that money because it had not been passed on to the manufacturer. May we have a debate on consumer rights so that other Members can raise similar cases and we can get justice for our constituents?
I totally understand that it is incredibly frustrating for anyone when they have bought something in good faith but are then unable to get a refund because it was faulty or whatever. The hon. Gentleman might like to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise this specific issue on behalf of his constituent.
The excellent Save Our Schools East Midlands campaign has highlighted that 82 out of 84 schools in the city of Nottingham face real-terms cuts by 2020. This is an abysmal set of affairs. I know that the Leader of the House shares my enthusiasm for early intervention and investment in our children, so may we please have a debate in Government time about what a false economy these real-terms cuts are?
I absolutely share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm about the importance of a good education for every young person, so I hope that he is as delighted as I am that there are now nearly 2 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than was the case in 2010, and that now 86% of schools in England are rated as good or outstanding—up from 68% in 2010. School funding is absolutely vital, but even more important is outcomes for children, and we see those outcomes improving consistently.
This week I met representatives from Christian Solidarity Worldwide and some people from India, and I was made aware of the persecution of people of a Christian faith and of a Muslim faith in India. Since 2014, there has been significant increase in mob violence committed by Hindu nationalist groups against religious minorities in India. Communal violence has risen by a third between 2014 and 2017, resulting in 111 people being killed and 2,384 being wounded in 2017 alone. Moreover, the growth of Hindu nationalism in that country has led to the introduction of anti-conversion laws in eight Indian states, which is very worrying. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or a debate on these very worrying and extreme circumstances?
The hon. Gentleman often raises such important matters of freedom of religion or belief—he is absolutely right to do so. We are very concerned about the severity and scale of violations of freedom of religion or belief in many parts of the world. It is because this is a priority area that, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which included Prime Minister Modi, our Prime Minister re-emphasised our commitment to protecting and promoting democratic principles and human rights for everybody.
It seems that not a day goes by without another tale of woe on the high street, particularly in the retail sector. In Ellesmere Port, we face the loss of our Mecca Bingo, which is a disaster not only for the 20 or so people who work there and the wider high street economy, but for the many older people who use it as a social hub for their daily activities. We really do need some urgent action from the Government to halt this decline, so can we have a ministerial statement on what will be done to save our high streets?
I absolutely love bingo. I am very tempted to say something awful about it being unlucky for some, but that is very, very cheesy, so I will not do so.
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right to raise the issue of the high streets. There is a lot of pressure on our high streets at the moment, which is in great part due to the way in which people increasingly shop much more online. The way in which we choose to buy goods and entertain ourselves is different from that of the past. There has been a huge number of debates about our high streets, and the Government have done a lot to try to improve the business rates situation of small businesses and to allow local councils to do much more to promote their high streets, but I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek a Back-Bench debate so that all hon. Members can share their views on not only the challenges on their high streets, but some of the possible solutions.
This time last year saw a pensions transfer frenzy. Nearly 8,000 British Steel pensioners gave up their secure retirement benefits. May we have a statement and a review of the work of the Financial Conduct Authority? We need to stamp out the bad behaviour of pensions sharks such as Active Wealth.
I am certainly aware of the problem of cold callers and fraud in the pensions sector, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise it. It is certainly something that he might want to take up through an Adjournment debate so that he can talk directly with Treasury Ministers, who have done a lot in government to try to clamp down on fake sales, cold calling and so on, which often affects elderly and vulnerable pensioners.