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Business of the House

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 22 November 2018

The business for next week will be:

Monday 26 November—A general debate on the 100-year anniversary of the Royal Air Force.

Tuesday 27 November—Second Reading of the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 28 November—Remaining stages of the Offensive Weapons Bill.

Thursday 29 November—A general debate on improving education standards.

Friday 30 November—The House will not be sitting.

This week marks the centenary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which first allowed women in the UK to become MPs. Since then, 489 women have been elected to Parliament, compared with more than 4,500 men. Clearly, we have a way to go to achieve a 50:50 Parliament, but I was encouraged to see so many enthusiastic women come to Westminster yesterday, including some of my constituents, as part of the Ask Her to Stand campaign.

This week is also Road Safety Week, an initiative to inspire thousands of schools, organisations and communities to take action on road safety and promote life-saving messages. I was pleased to provide time for debate on this vital issue earlier this month.

I thank the Leader of the House for the short business statement. Again, the date for the Easter recess has not been fixed. I remind the Leader of the House that Easter is on 21 April, so it cannot be beyond the Government’s capability to work out the recess dates around that. Will she also say what the position is on the sitting days for consideration of private Members’ Bills?

There is nothing but a general debate on two of the days next week. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will make a statement following the special summit of the EU on 25 November, whether it has been postponed or not, as I understand that the Prime Minister is also meeting Jean-Claude Juncker?

I want to correct the record. Last week’s Official Report makes ghastly reading. The Leader of the House said that she wanted to see some evidence, but obviously she was not in the Chamber—she was discussing the deal at No. 10—when a number of points of order were raised about when Parliament would be told about the deal. There was genuine disbelief from hon. Members of all parties that there was a suggestion of a press conference at 9 pm. When I raised that in a point of order, a journalist emailed saying, “We need to have our dinner—why are you saying 9? We have been told that the deal will be announced at 7.” That is one piece of evidence. The second is that the Government ended the business early so that there was no opportunity for the Prime Minister to come to the House and make a statement that day. There were no discussions through the usual channels about the Prime Minister making a statement to the House first. I read the ministerial code into the record last week and it clearly says that important statements must be made in the House first. We are not a vassal Parliament with an overbearing, non-accountable Executive.

Last week, I also asked the Leader of the House about the provision of the legal advice on the proposed withdrawal agreement. That does not have a 12-week deadline. In her evidence to the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs on Monday, she said that the Government will seek to do that whenever possible while not undermining either the law or long-standing constitutional conventions. We are not asking for legal advice every day. We are just asking for the legal advice on this most important issue that confronts our country—these are extraordinary circumstances. The House has resolved on a Humble Address calling for the advice to be published. We do not want a position statement; we want the advice to be published.

Curiously, the Leader of the House seems to want to abide by some conventions but not others. Will she abide by the convention of collective Cabinet responsibility? The Cabinet agreed the deal last Wednesday, but by the weekend the Leader of the House and the gang of five were meeting to say that they were going to make amendments to the agreement. May I ask how that is going? Will the Leader of the House be abiding by the convention of Cabinet responsibility, or will the gang of five be tabling lashings of amendments?

I ask that because the Procedure Committee’s eighth report of Session 2017-19, “Motions under section 13(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”, calls for a bespoke business of the House order and amendments to the motion to be decided on first. Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the Government have responded to the Procedure Committee’s report, and if not, when they will respond? On that note, will she say when the meaningful vote on the deal will take place, and whether we are going to have a debate before the vote?

On the home front, the Government conceded on our amendments to the Finance Bill. The Opposition made a powerful case, which was clearly so compelling that the Government accepted our amendments. Given that those proposals were in our manifesto, there is a serious point to be raised: are the Opposition in a confidence and supply agreement with the Government? Should the Government not step aside and either let the Opposition govern or have a general election?

The Leader of the House mentioned two general debates. Could we have a debate on the visit to the United Kingdom by Philip Alston, the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights? His report is very succinct. If we have a debate, we can hear what the Government have to say about it, and other parties can also put their views.

The London Eye was finally lit up in suffragette colours yesterday. Hon. Members—men and women from across the House—went to the Terrace as we celebrated the centenary of some women getting the vote. Let us remember that on the Opposition side, our parliamentary party is made up of 45% women. That is more than all the other parties put together. [Interruption.] Our positive action—[Interruption.] Let me just finish. So our positive action—[Interruption.] Ooh, very sensitive! Our positive action is like a pyramid; we have a solid base. We, too, had two female leaders, and I can say to the House that they were not acting—they were doing it for real. However, it is good to celebrate a House that represents the full diversity of our country.

Finally, I want to send Harry Leslie Smith our good wishes for a speedy recovery. Harry is a political commentator and outspoken campaigner against austerity and the privatisation of the NHS. He is a former RAF pilot and a veteran of the second world war. He is in hospital, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for going through a smörgåsbord of different subjects, as she always does.

On Easter recesses, we have talked about this a great deal. I have gently pointed out to the hon. Lady, on every occasion, that her party’s Government, when in office, were extremely tardy in announcing Easter recess dates. I, on the other hand, have been pleased to announce Christmas recess dates and February recess dates, and I will announce Easter recess dates in due course. She will appreciate that there is some quite serious business to be got through in this place before we recess for Easter.

The hon. Lady asks about private Members’ Bills. She will be aware, no doubt, that I have tabled a motion to provide the House with an additional three sitting Fridays, and that this motion has been objected to. I am keen for the House to have more days to debate private Members’ Bills, and I will bring another motion back very soon.

On the PM’s statement, as always, the Prime Minister makes a statement to the House as soon as she is able to, particularly after EU Council matters, and particularly at the present time when she fully respects that this House needs to know exactly what is going on with regard to the UK leaving the European Union. Frankly, I am sorry, but I just did not understand what the hon. Lady was suggesting needed correcting in the record. The Prime Minister came to the House last week as soon as she was able to. There was no sense in which the Government finished the business early. The House finished the business early—it was nothing to do with the Government.

The hon. Lady asks about legal advice with reference to the Humble Address that her party put forward. As I have said, there is a legitimate desire in Parliament from Members of all parties to understand the legal implications of the deal once it is finalised. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has agreed that the Government will make available to all Members of the House a full, reasoned position statement laying out the Government’s legal position on the withdrawal agreement, and that the Attorney General will assist further by making an oral statement and taking questions in the normal way. We have always said that Parliament will have the appropriate information ahead of the vote on the final deal.

The hon. Lady asks about the gang of five. There is no gang of five, and there never was. She might think that everything she reads in the papers is true, but on the Government side of the House nobody is that naive, including when it comes to Cabinet leaks and journalists’ suppositions. She asks about the Procedure Committee report. As she knows, I take all Select Committee reports very seriously. I have seen the Procedure Committee’s report—it makes some interesting suggestions and fully acknowledges the need for a clear answer to be given to the Government on whether the House agrees to the Government proceeding with the withdrawal agreement as it stands—and we will respond in good time.

The hon. Lady asks about the meaningful vote. Again, the meaningful vote will be approved through the responsibility of the House of Commons alone. She will appreciate that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 confirmed that Parliament would have the ultimate role in delivering the will of the people. Once the deal is agreed, it will be put to Parliament, and MPs will have the decision on whether to back it or reject it, but people should not be under any illusion that the EU would be prepared to start all over again and negotiate a different deal. It is very important, therefore, that we end up with a straightforward approval of the deal.

The hon. Lady talks about the Finance Bill. As the Minister made clear, it was agreed that the Opposition amendments were seeking clarification on Government manifesto commitments, and it was considered entirely reasonable to seek further information.

Finally, the hon. Lady talks about the achievement of the Labour party in having more women MPs. I should point out that the Conservative party is extremely proud to have had two female Prime Ministers who have presided over this country at times of great stress and have shown their determination and commitment. All women and men across the House should be proud of the achievements of women.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on changing practices in how we buy and sell goods? There is little doubt that the impact of online shopping has produced a disconnect between shops and customers, so I think we need a strategy and taskforce—but not one led by some dodgy entrepreneur.

As ever, my hon. Friend raises an important point. In March, we established the industry-led Retail Sector Council to bring Government and industry together and boost the sector’s productivity. The council last met on 12 November and has agreed its priority work for the next two years. In addition, we announced measures in the Budget as part of an action plan to support the sustainable transformation of our high streets, including a £675 million future high streets fund.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the rather paltry business for next week. I know we say this every week, but what a week! Norman Lamont famously said of the equally disastrous and chaotic Major Government that

“they give the impression of being in office but not in power”.

This Government do not even give the impression of being in office, far less of being in power. First, they refuse to vote on Opposition day motions; now they just refuse to vote.

With the DUP plug well and truly pulled, they have started to realise the reality of minority government and that they can no longer be assured of getting anything through the House. The only thing likely to save them is Labour’s indiscipline and failure to get its vote out. It is the only party that can look a gift horse in the rear end. We managed to get two amendments to the Finance Bill through on Tuesday, which is more than we achieved in the preceding 20 years, so three cheers for zombie government! Can we have a debate on parliamentary democracy so that we can learn the Government’s position on the basic concept of voting?

We have had a welcome dose of reality from the new Work and Pensions Secretary, who revealed that this binary choice of a bad deal or no deal would not happen when she said that the House of Commons would not accept no deal. Then there is the Chief Secretary to the Treasury saying there might be no Brexit. Then there is the calzone collective’s own options for Brexit. Everybody knows that the Prime Minister’s deal will not get through the House, and everybody and their auntie knows that the House will never accept a no deal Brexit, so will the Leader of the House finally confirm that this “devil or the deep blue sea” option is over and that the House will choose the option it wants?

Lastly, I very much welcome the Tay cities deal, which was signed off in my constituency this morning, bringing in £150 million of UK Government spending and £200 million of Scottish Government spending. It will be transformative for Tayside, with investment going into a number of fantastic projects right across the region. I am sure the Leader of the House will want to welcome that great example of cross-Parliament co-operation and working together.

May I first announce to the House that the Prime Minister will be making a statement to the House later today?

I would like to answer the hon. Gentleman’s fine set of questions. I am delighted to hear him admit that the only achievement of the Scottish nationalists in all the time that they have been sitting in this House is two amendments to the Finance Bill, seeking some further information. I am not sure that the people of Scotland will feel that they are worth the effort. My Conservative colleagues who represent seats in Scotland are doing rather better; perhaps we could hear more about that as business questions progresses.

The hon. Gentleman asked what my view is of us leaving the European Union. I can tell him that I agreed with the Prime Minister when she said yesterday that we will be leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019. I sit on the committee that is looking at day-one readiness in all eventualities. Preparations are far advanced for no deal. We absolutely intend to get a deal that Parliament can support, but we will definitely be leaving the European Union in March 2019.

Finally, I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is delighted about the Tay cities deal, which brings investment from the UK Government, the Scottish Government and business and is welcome right around the United Kingdom.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee is currently doing an inquiry into leasehold properties. What emerged from our sitting on Monday was the scandal of certain housing developers selling their properties’ freehold to finance companies without even offering the freehold to the leaseholder. Of course, they all say that it is within the law. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on what action he will take to close this disgraceful loophole that prevents leaseholders from being enabled to purchase their freehold?

Many Members will have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend talks about. We need to do more to protect the rights of people who own their own homes and find that the freehold is sold from underneath them. The Secretary of State is looking carefully at that, and I encourage my hon. Friend to ask a written question, to get a direct answer.

I note that the Government have tabled general debates on Monday and Thursday next week, as well as a general debate on the armed forces covenant this afternoon. It is now five weeks since the Backbench Business Committee had any time in this Chamber, and we are not likely to get any more for at least another fortnight. If the Government’s intention at the start of this two-year Session was to have the 27 days of Backbench time in the first year and none in the second, it is a great shame that the Committee was not informed of that intention at the outset.

It seems as though the Committee and Back Benchers are not being allocated a fair amount of time to air their concerns. Many hundreds—and I mean hundreds—of Back Benchers have signed up to debates we have on a list that are as yet unheard. Back Benchers are being served badly by the timetabling of business by this Government. While general debates on Government matters are very important, the Backbench Business Committee was established to meet a problem that was recognised by the House, and it is not now being facilitated by time from the Government to do so.

I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s desire to ensure that his Committee has time in the Chamber in which to schedule its business. Last week—unfortunately, he was not here—I offered to meet him to discuss the specifics of what he is keen to see tabled. I am glad he recognises that a significant number of Back-Bench days have been provided so far in this Session. I am extremely sympathetic, and I am happy to meet him directly.

My post office is proposing to relocate the counters from its main branch to a WH Smith shop in a covered mall where there is no free, accessible disabled parking. Royal Mail owns the site where its counters currently are, but it says it is not planning to close its sorting office or its operation there. May we have a debate on the validity of, and allegations of falseness about, the post office consultation, as many people believe that its move is already a done deal?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which has been raised in the Chamber during business questions before. I can say to him that combining a post office with a successful retailer is a proven model. Over 97% of the network already operates in this way. The Government have invested nearly £2 billion in the Post Office for the period 2010 to 2018 to maintain and modernise the branch network, which is good news for post office users. He may be aware that the public consultation on the proposals for Crawley post office runs until 12 December. The post office is welcoming customer views on areas such as accessibility, as well as wider community issues, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be providing evidence to it.

On the evening before bonfire night, I spent an eight-hour shift with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. Acting firefighter Sherriff was very impressed with its professionalism, but was also struck by the severe impacts that the cuts have had on its service. May we have a debate on the funding awarded to our wonderful fire and rescue services?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on spending time with firefighters. I have also done that, and it is a real opportunity to see their priorities at first hand. I want to congratulate them all on their commitment to keeping people safe. She will be aware that we have questions to Home Office Ministers on 3 December, and she may want to raise the issue of cuts directly with them.

Scotland is already the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom, but unless the SNP Scottish Government follow the lead of the Chancellor and bring more middle income earners out of the 40p tax rate, this gap is going to grow even wider. I am already hearing from employers on the Scottish borders that this issue is making the recruitment and retention of staff all the more difficult. May we have a debate on the implications of the higher taxation in Scotland on recruitment, employment and business opportunity?

I am glad my hon. Friend acknowledges that the Budget was very good news for middle income earners, with the Chancellor announcing both a rise in the tax-free personal allowance and a higher-rate threshold increase. This puts money back in the pockets of hard-working individuals and families, and supports our strong economy. My hon. Friend raises a very serious point about border businesses and those subject to Scotland’s higher taxes. Although this is a devolved matter for the Scottish Government, I hope that SNP Members are listening very carefully, because they do not want to see Scotland’s economy less competitive than that on the other side of the border.

Yesterday, I met members of the Youth Parliament to discuss their campaign on knife crime and how we can work together to ensure that tackling knife crime with a public health approach is debated in this House. Over 1 million young people voted in the Youth Parliament’s recent ballot, so I am pretty sure that they would not struggle to get the signatures to secure a debate here. However, it is important that this is debated in Government time, and I am sure the Leader of the House absolutely agrees with me. Just for the eighth time, I am asking: when will this be debated here?

I commend the hon. Lady for her commitment to this issue. She will be aware that those 1 million young people could, and I thoroughly recommend that they do, raise a petition to give their particular views to Parliament. As she will know, the Government have set up a serious violence taskforce, which is seeking to invest in measures to prevent young people getting into a life of crime, violence and gang membership. The Government are doing a huge amount. I am sympathetic to the hon. Lady’s desire for a debate on this subject, and I am looking into that, as well as writing to the Home Office on her behalf.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the people of Crickhowell on winning the title of “UK’s best high street” in last week’s Great British High Street awards? Will she accept an invitation to visit Brecon and Radnorshire to see that excellence for herself, and will she allow time for a debate on how we can revitalise our high streets in the UK and follow Crickhowell’s example?

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Crickhowell on its excellent award. I was there in January this year with my family—we stayed at the fantastic Bear Hotel—and I agree that it is a superb high street. These awards shine a light on the good work being done in high street communities across the UK, and I congratulate all the other winning high streets that were recognised by those awards.

May we have an early debate on atrial fibrillation, which means an irregular pulse? If someone has an irregular pulse—as many Members of the House will have—they have a much higher likelihood of having a stroke. Up and down the country, GPs are failing to diagnose, failing to test, and even when they recognise the condition, they are prescribing aspirins that, if they do anything, do harm. Four new wonderful anticoagulant drugs can relieve people’s stress and this condition, and they could be a real life changer. May we have an early debate on the significant failure of UK GPs to prescribe the right drugs?

As he often does, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point that affects people lives. I have a family member who suffers from this condition, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it. Health questions is on Tuesday, and I encourage him to ask Ministers directly what more can be done.

About an hour ago, partners from different levels of Government signed the Tay cities deal, which means £150 million of UK Government money coming to the region, over £65 million of which will go to the county of Perth and Kinross, which I share with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). That is fantastic news, but the city deal process involves many different partners and layers of Government. May we have a debate to discuss how we can improve the process for the future, so that all levels of Government in all parts of the UK benefit?

People across the UK are delighted at the investment going into the Tay cities deal, which will provide a real boost for people and businesses in that area. I am always delighted to hear from colleagues across the House about ways to improve negotiations on city deals, and I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, or encourage him to seek a meeting directly with a Treasury Minister to discuss the process.

Popular counterfeit products can contain less than half the internal components required to run safely, leaving people at risk of serious injury or property damage. With that in mind, and with Christmas fast approaching, may we have a debate on the steps that the Government are taking to disrupt counterfeiters, dismantle their infrastructure, and protect UK businesses and citizens from fake goods?

The hon. Lady raises a good point—as she says, particularly in the run-up to Christmas it is important to protect consumers from buying counterfeit goods. I encourage her to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that hon. Members can share their constituents’ experiences and ideas about how we can do better.

I recently met the family of Asia Bibi, who has been persecuted for her faith and whose life is in grave danger. One hundred and twenty five parliamentarians from across the House, including Lords Spiritual, have written to the Prime Minister asking the Government to do the right thing morally in granting asylum to that persecuted family. May we have an urgent statement and/or debate in Government time on religious freedom, and on the Government living up to their British values of standing up for the rule of law, justice, and helping those who are persecuted?

My hon. Friend raises a vital issue about avoiding the persecution of people for their religious faith. He is absolutely right to do that and I know all hon. Members are concerned about the fate of Asia Bibi in particular. I can tell him that we have Church Commissioners questions next Thursday, and Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions the following week. He might want to raise the matter directly with Ministers then.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the report published today on managed migration to universal credit by the Work and Pensions Committee, which shows that the vast majority of people will move on to universal credit not within the managed migration system, as was promised to this House when the cuts were put in place, but without any transitional protection whatever? They are set to lose thousands of pounds immediately. Will she ask the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to look at this seriously and make an urgent statement to the House?

What I can say to the hon. Lady is that there are lots of rumours about universal credit. The Government have listened very carefully to concerns and have continuously improved universal credit. The Government have increased advances to 100% of a full monthly payment so that those who need it can get access to that money on day one, scrapped the seven days’ waiting and introduced a two-week overlap of housing benefit payments—all of which Labour voted against. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced that we will increase the amount that someone can earn before their universal credit is reduced and we have given all self-employed people 12 months to get their business off the ground. So I do think that the Government have listened very carefully. Universal credit is significantly better than the legacy benefits it replaces. It makes it easier and better for people to get into work, which is better for them, for their families and for our economy.

Paragraph 56 of the Procedure Committee’s recent report recommends that a Business of the House motion is published five sitting days in advance of the debate on the meaningful vote, that a full day’s debate be allowed for that, and that that should take place no fewer than two days in advance of the meaningful vote. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on her response to that, given that if the debate on the meaningful vote is to start on 3 December, the Business of the House motion should have been published yesterday?

My hon. Friend raises a matter that is of great significance at the present time to the House. What I can say to him is that the Government’s goal is to secure certainty and clarity for the public after two years of negotiations. I have seen the Procedure Committee report and the Government are considering its recommendations carefully, although it will be for Parliament to debate and determine the procedure that will apply for the vote.

That is absolutely true. It is also true, of course, that the Government have made clear their commitment to an amendable motion. The Leader of the House has said that a number of times in the Chamber and the point has been made by the Prime Minister as well. I know there has been no movement from that position at all. An amendable motion will be put to the House. I think it is important to be clear about that.

May we have a debate on the importance of British food and drink? Instead of Peroni and pizza, would it not be better if the infamous five group had something like Somerset cider, cheddar cheese and Jacob’s crackers?

I sincerely hope the hon. Gentleman is not alluding to the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) when he makes his comment about Jacob’s. I absolutely share his enthusiasm for the UK food and drink sector. Right across the UK, we have superb brands and superb food producers. I think we would all share in the desire to do more to promote UK goods overseas.

Mr Speaker, as you are well aware, repetition is not a novelty in this place. I, too, would like to welcome the Tay cities deal, which was announced this morning, with £150 million for the Tayside region. The UK Government have invested an extra £1.1 billion in Scottish city deals. Will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate on how important it is for the UK Government and the Scottish Government to work together for the betterment of areas such as my constituency of Angus?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is vital for the Scottish Government and UK Government to work together closely for the success of the entire United Kingdom. We on the Government Benches always seek to consult widely and collaborate with the Scottish Government in our desire to see the strengthening of the United Kingdom. I am very pleased and proud that we have such a good group of Scottish Conservatives who are always willing to put the interests of the United Kingdom and Scotland together.

In the Leader of the House’s opening remarks, she mentioned the #AskHerToStand events yesterday, and she may be aware that I raised a point of order with Mr Speaker in relation to a report from three years ago that asked that the Standing Orders of the House either be gender-neutral or do not use the male pronoun. The report is some three years old. I know that you are supportive of the change, Mr Speaker. I accept that the Leader of the House was not in her position when that came forward, but she is a champion of equality and women’s rights in this Chamber, so will she either adopt that report from three years ago or, if there is a new report from the Procedure Committee—which I will be pushing for next week—calling for new Standing Orders to be published, agree to those in full so that we genuinely have a House that allows women to take seats in it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising his point of order the other day. I heard part of it, but I will now go away and look carefully at what he said, and give consideration to his suggestion.

There are some fantastic opportunities for smaller businesses to export right around the world when we leave the EU, so will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time on the export opportunities for the many smaller manufacturers in areas such as Stoke-on-Trent from the new trade deals that we hope to pursue?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency, and I absolutely agree with him that there will be great opportunities for all businesses in the United Kingdom as we leave the European Union and are able to seek free trade deals across the world. I encourage him perhaps to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss, particularly with Ministers in the Department for International Trade, precisely what the impact could be for Stoke-on-Trent and his constituency.

As well as the centenary of women’s suffrage, this week is also the centenary of the Education (Scotland) Act 1918, which is celebrated in early-day motion 735.

[That this House recognises that 2018 marks the centenary of the 1918 Education (Scotland) Act, which established in law the principle of state funding for Catholic schools in Scotland; notes the range of celebrations planned by the Scottish Catholic education community to mark the ongoing collaboration between Church and State; believes that the arrangements put in place by the Act represent a unique and successful partnership, that continues to serve the people of Scotland well; further believes that the anniversary year will provide an opportunity to rejoice in the academic, cultural, civic and social achievements of pupils who have attended Catholic schools in the last one hundred years, and is a chance to mark publicly the ways in which Catholic schools are not just good for Catholics, but good for Scotland; believes that the positive contribution of Catholic schools to Scottish society is well documented; notes the continuing support of government and all of the main political parties is encouraging for the future of denominational schools; further notes that during 2018 schools, families, parishes and local communities across Scotland will reflect on the past, the present and the future of Catholic Schools, using the theme, Catholic Schools: Good For Scotland as a way to highlight the contribution Catholic schools make to wider society; and notes that by working with elected members from local authorities, and the UK and Scottish Parliaments, the Catholic Education Community aims to show that this distinctive collaboration for the governance of schools continues to reflect the diverse, inclusive and progressive nature of Scotland.]

We were joined yesterday by the Archbishops of Glasgow and of St Andrews and Edinburgh here in Parliament. Can we have a debate or a statement on Catholic education in Scotland, and does the Leader of the House agree that Catholic schools are good for Scotland?

I congratulate all Scottish MPs on the anniversary that they are celebrating. There is a debate on education next Thursday, and the hon. Gentleman might well like to raise this issue there.

The Leader of the House has been phenomenal in her work to try to tackle bullying and harassment in this place, and I am sure that she was more appalled than anyone by the recent decision in the other place. What more can my right hon. Friend do to give people confidence to come forward with their issues and that they will not see them blocked by the use of petty parliamentary procedure?

I am glad that my hon. Friend raised this issue. I want to make it clear that I am personally disgusted by what took place in the other place. It is not right that this matter should be allowed to rest, and I know that colleagues in the other place are taking it very seriously. I and the members of the former steering group on the complaints procedure strongly agree with Lord McFall of Alcluith when he said that he was “deeply disappointed” with the decision of the House of Lords to send the report into the conduct of Lord Lester back to the Privileges and Conduct Committee. In particular, the former steering group sympathises with the complainant at what must be a very difficult time for her. This is, however, a matter for the House of Lords, and I note that Lord McFall has made it clear that the Committee will consider the decision of the House and will look to present a further report to the House that will fully explain the Committee’s position.

Next year, I hope that Ministers will agree to extend the M11 through Lincolnshire to the Humber Bridge during the 2020s, funded from the £28 billion for the national roads fund, which was announced in the Budget. With the success of halving the Humber Bridge tolls and with the Severn Bridge tolls being abolished on 17 December this year, can we have a debate on whether extending the M11 to the Humber Bridge will be the right time to scrap the Humber Bridge tolls once and for all?

The hon. Lady is assiduous in raising important constituency matters and she is absolutely right to do so. I hope that she took advantage of Department for Transport questions just now to raise that issue directly with Ministers. The Chamber has heard her request and she will have further opportunities to raise it with Ministers in the coming weeks.

I recently met a delegation of constituents from the Horn Park estate to lobby the Greenwich clinical commissioning group about the closure of a nurse-led drop-in centre on the estate, and to ask the CCG to reopen it. The closure has left my constituents with three-week waits for GP appointments and long journey times to alternative services. May we have a debate about GP waiting times, and also about public consultation by clinical commissioning groups? The situation in that part of my constituency is simply unacceptable.

I am genuinely sorry to hear of the hon. Gentleman’s concern about his constituency. We shall have health questions next week, and I encourage him to raise it directly with Ministers then.

Although my constituent Jean Allardyce of Bridgend Garage in Auchinleck always pays her PAYE and national insurance contributions on time, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs often sends her debt-chasing letters, the most recent of which was dated more than a week after she had made the payments. This causes her stress. She has to take valuable business time out to make checks, and HMRC then has to make further checks. May we have a Government statement about simple reforms that HMRC can make in order to tackle the real culprits?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point about wasted administrative processes. I encourage him to raise it in a written parliamentary question to Ministers so that they can consider his suggestion.

On 9 May, 12 July and 6 September, I asked the Leader of the House about the whereabouts of the immigration Bill. I think that there is still no answer, but let me give her a break and ask her about a different Bill. Would not 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, be a terribly good day on which to lay the domestic abuse Bill before Parliament?

The hon. Lady will know that the Government have published a draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill. It is intended to be groundbreaking, and will be extremely comprehensive. We want to be sure before we introduce it that we have taken into account all considerations in our efforts to put an end to the appalling problem of domestic violence once and for all.[Official Report, 3 December 2018, Vol. 650, c. 8MC.]

I am sure the hon. Lady will be aware of the recent decision by Talgo, the Spanish train manufacturer, to site its new manufacturing plant in Kincardine in my constituency, thus creating more than 1,000 new jobs. It is a huge investment, and it constitutes a vote of confidence not only in my constituency but in Scottish Engineering and “Team Scotland”, which worked hard to put the deal together. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time on the importance of inward investment in post-Brexit Britain?

Absolutely. I am delighted for the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and I am also delighted at the endorsement of the engineering strengths in Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole—and, of course, the confidence that that shows in the UK once we have left the European Union. According to one of the latest figures, the UK is one of the biggest beneficiaries of foreign direct investment other than China, which is a great endorsement of the strengths of the UK economy.

Since 2001, the St Paul’s youth forum project Bolt FM in my constituency has empowered young people in the north-east of Glasgow to run a community-led radio station. They branched out in July, when five of them went to Zambia on an international exchange programme, where they helped with four projects. On returning to Glasgow, the young people took the initiative, and began planning a fundraising ball to raise money for those projects. With little experience of organising such events, they still managed to raise more than £1,000, which was a great achievement. The ball was held on 6 October. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating those young people, and will she consider allowing a debate in Government time on the contribution that young people make to international development?

I think the whole House will want to congratulate that group of young people on an amazing achievement. It is superb to see what communities and volunteers can do when they really set their minds to it. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek a Westminster Hall debate, so that Members can share the experiences of their young people and how they have really made a difference around the world.

So far the Leader of the House has been somewhat vague and opaque in her remarks about the Procedure Committee report. The key recommendation was that the amendments should be debated and voted on before the main motion. Can she assure the House now that she and the new Brexit Secretary will table a business motion setting out a process enabling amendments to be debated and voted on first?

As I have said in response to a number of questions on the Procedure Committee’s report, I have seen it and I have looked at it very carefully. The Government are considering its recommendations. It will be for Parliament to decide—to debate and determine the procedure that will apply to the vote, including the number of amendments that can be voted on. But as the Procedure Committee report sets out, amendments threaten an orderly ratification, and that risks creating huge uncertainty for business, consumers and citizens.

The Government have already promised an amendable motion and the Leader of the House has herself done so on the Floor of the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) is at least reassured by that. There will be further discussion of these important matters, as the Leader of the House has said, but I hope the hon. Lady is reassured by that fact, of which there is evidence in the Official Report.

It was a great pleasure yesterday to welcome Judith Dunn, my constituent, to ask her to stand. She had an entertaining, educational and inspiring day in Parliament, and I thank all those who organised that. Also on Tuesday I was able to welcome the Teapot Trust, who invited people to do a doodle. I was grateful to various Health Ministers and shadow Health Ministers who attended. May we have a Government debate on the importance of art and culture for the mental health wellbeing not just of children, whom the Teapot Trust works with, but all of us across the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman’s remarks are obviously welcomed by the House. He is right to point out the contribution of the arts and all creative subjects in the health and wellbeing of the nation, and I am sure there would be great support for a Westminster Hall debate so that all hon. Members can share their constituents’ experiences.

I am hopeful that the Leader of the House can help me with a problem that the Home Office seems to be having in answering my named day written questions. For example, I tabled one on settled status on 9 October and it took until 12 November and a chaser question to get an answer, and I am currently waiting for an answer to one that was tabled on 31 October as a named day question regarding settled status payments. May we have a statement on what has gone wrong and how this can be improved?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is waiting for some replies. We do have Home Office questions on Monday 3 December, but if he wants to write to me, I can chase those matters up on his behalf.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You said in business questions on two occasions that the Government will table an amendable motion, which is also the understanding of the whole House. However, the Government have also said that, regardless of what happens to that amendable motion, they will only put the option of the Government’s take-it-or-leave-it deal. Do you know anything more about this process? Will this amendable motion be taken to the House with a range of options, or is it your understanding that all that will be put to the House is the Government’s deal on a take-it-or-leave-it basis?

I think that this is an issue still in progress. [Interruption.] The Procedure Committee has produced a report in which it has helpfully set out, if memory serves me correctly—[Interruption.] Perhaps if the House is interested in listening to what I have to say in response to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart)—[Interruption.] When Ministers have finished their private conversation, perhaps I can respond to the point of order from the hon. Gentleman. I will start again. The matter is still in progress. The Procedure Committee has helpfully produced a report on this matter in which—[Interruption.] Perhaps I can start again. [Interruption.] Perhaps I can start again when the Leader of the House has finished her conversation with her hon. Friend on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker). I would be extremely grateful for that courtesy. [Interruption.] I can happily wait. I think it would be a courtesy if Members would listen as I respond to a point that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire has legitimately raised. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. [Interruption.] May I just ask the Leader of the House if she will do me the courtesy of listening while I respond to the point of order from the hon. Gentleman, as I did her the courtesy of listening to her responses to the business question?

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire has raised an important issue, on which the right hon. Lady had some remarks to make a few moments ago. I was simply saying to him that the matter is still in progress. The Procedure Committee has produced a report in which it sets out—

Well, I can live with that. The Procedure Committee has produced a report in which it sets out three options for the handling of this matter. If memory serves me correctly, the Committee has indicated its view that the motion should be amendable and that amendments, in accordance with the normal procedure, shall be voted upon first. The Government will have an opportunity, if they wish, to respond to that report, and a business of the House motion from the Government is to be expected. I rather imagine that will happen before the debate, and certainly before the meaningful vote. But that there is to be an amendable motion is not something coming from me; it is a commitment that has already been made both by the Prime Minister and by the Leader of the House on the Floor of this House. That much is simple and incontrovertible. I hope that is helpful to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. I am sure he will keep an eye on the matter.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it not only disrespectful to yourself but, quite frankly, disrespectful to the House that, during a point of order relating to procedure, for which the Leader of the House is responsible not just for the Government but to the whole House, she should indulge consistently in a conversation? [Interruption.] She has now scuttled out. She indulged consistently in a conversation while you were giving a judgment on important issues relating to an enormously important matter of procedure.

My shoulders are broad and I am happy to work on that basis, but there is an issue of courtesy to the House. I do not think any deliberate discourtesy was intended but, whatever people’s intentions, the facts of the matter are on the record. The fact is that there is a commitment to an amendable motion. The House may have an opportunity to consider the Procedure Committee’s report, or if it does not, the Government will in any case have to table some sort of motion for the consideration of these matters. This issue will not go away, and I feel sure that the strength of feeling across the House one way or the other will be heard. The Chair is attuned to the strength of feeling, and the Chair is certainly very respectful of the position taken by the Procedure Committee, which has long been regarded as a very important voice—even authority—on these matters.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. We do not mention or identify officials in this place, and rightly so, but may I ask if it is not also utterly unacceptable that officials standing and leaving the official Box just now were smirking and shaking their heads at my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) as he was making his point of order? They have gone now, but is it not unacceptable for officials who are here to do a job to make comments in such a visual fashion against a senior Member of this House?

I do not have eyes in the back of my head, I did not note any disorderly behaviour and certainly I allege no disorderly behaviour on the part of anyone in the Box. Suffice it to say that, very briefly, I sat in that Box as a special adviser 23 years ago, and I remember being told very clearly that officials are there to sit and provide papers or advice if required, and discreetly and respectfully to observe proceedings. The right hon. Member for Warley is a very senior and respected Member of this House. What anyone outside this House or performing an ancillary function thinks about what he is saying is of no interest to me, of no interest to the right hon. Gentleman, and, I rather imagine, of no interest to the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been in this House a very long time—people usually say too long—but in all my time here I have never seen a Leader of the House act with such disrespect and then flounce out of the Chamber, with her officials following out in the same way and showing their dislike of something a right hon. Member has just said. That is far more serious than the bit of fun with a football the other night; it is a serious affront to this House, not to you, Mr Speaker.

I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman has felt it necessary, on the basis of what he has witnessed, to make that point. My desire would be to lower the temperature and to give opportunities for colleagues to reflect. I am very sorry that, in his long experience, he has not witnessed anything of the kind he has just seen.

My concern is that a proper procedure should be followed in respect of the upcoming matter, perhaps the most serious matter to be brought to this House in half a century. This matter must be dealt with in a manner that suits the House, rather than one particular opinion represented in the House. In my time in the Chair, for all the mistakes that I have made and the inadequacies that I have demonstrated—[Hon. Members: “No!”] Oh yes, because to err is human. I have always stood up for the rights of Back-Bench Members and the rights of Parliament, and the rights of Parliament can sometimes be different from those of a particular Executive at a given time. The Speaker has to be on the side of Parliament, and I always am and always will be.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You have rightly set out that there is a normal procedure that has to be followed in this House. Can you advise us on what might be open to Members of Parliament should the Government decide not to follow that normal procedure? For instance, are there precedents, in circumstances similar to these, for Members of Parliament perhaps to occupy Parliament?

I would not recommend any such thing. What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, consistent with what I have just said about the importance of lowering the temperature and taking time to reflect, is this. I understand and respect the seriousness and sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman, who has himself served with distinction as a Deputy Leader of the House. My point would be to let us wait to see what happens. In the words of the late Lord Whitelaw, “It is, on the whole, better to cross bridges only when you come to them.” I am sensitive, however, to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I think some of these concerns may play out in discussions to follow in the coming days. I hope that is fair and reasonable to people of all views.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you confirm that, when the Government bring forward a business motion, it is open to any Member of the House to table amendments to that business motion, on which the House will be able to take a view?