Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 3 December—Second Reading of the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 4 December—Proceedings on a business motion relating to section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 followed by debate on section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (day 1).
Wednesday 5 December—Continuation of debate on section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (day 2).
Thursday 6 December—Continuation of debate on section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (day 3).
Friday 7 December—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
Monday 10 December—Continuation of debate on section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (day 4).
Tuesday 11 December—Conclusion of debate on section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (day 5).
Wednesday 12 December—Consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 13 December—General debate on public health model to reduce youth violence.
Friday 14 December—The House will not be sitting.
Colleagues will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Easter recess at the close of business on Thursday 4 April 2019 and return on Tuesday 23 April 2019.
Small Business Saturday reaches millions of customers and businesses every year. I encourage everyone out and about doing their Christmas shopping this weekend to support their local high streets, which do so much to keep our communities thriving. Also, Saturday is World AIDS Day. Over 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK alone, and globally there are nearly 37 million people who have the virus. This is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV. Finally, may I wish everyone, in particular all our colleagues north of the border, a very happy St Andrew’s day for tomorrow?
May I thank the Leader of the House and say “Hallelujah”? We are rising on my niece Anjali’s birthday, so I will not forget that.
The Leader of the House has helpfully set out the timetable for the debate in the coming weeks—it is the first time that we have had two weeks for some time—but what chaos in the run-up to the debate. Let us start with the debate. After struggling to clarify what will happen on the business motion, could the Leader of the House finally agree that the Government have now conceded the recommendation in the Procedure Committee’s report that the Government take the amendments first before the Government’s main motion? We have now heard from the Solicitor General, who is very excellent in his role, about the legal advice, but why does it take an urgent question to fulfil the will of Parliament? This is not about the legal advice on an everyday matter; it is of major constitutional significance to our future. The House has asked for the legal advice that was given to the Government. The Government have taken the legal advice and now they are saying that they will formulate that, along with every other advice, and give us the Government’s legal position. That is not what was asked for.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) mentioned the motion and I will read it out again:
“that the following papers be laid before Parliament: any legal advice in full, including that provided by the Attorney General, on the proposed withdrawal agreement”.
That is very narrow. It is not about everything that the Government need to do. So in my view, the Government are not interpreting the Humble Address as passed by the House. A position statement can exclude that part of the advice that states that the Government may or may not be acting appropriately, or the consequences of the way in which the Government act. We need clarity and transparency. This is in the national interest. We govern in the people’s name, not in our own name.
And there is no economic analysis on what we are going to vote for. There seems to be an economic analysis on every other model, except the ones on the deal. If the Government are prepared to do that, which shows that we will be in a worse position unless we stay in the EU, the Government should publish the legal advice in full. Could the Leader of the House go back to the Cabinet and confirm today that, as a member of the Privy Council, she will follow the directions of Her Majesty and provide the legal advice, as requested? Otherwise the Government, like Zuckerberg, will just be treating Parliament with contempt. That is what is going to happen.
I turn the Leader of the House’s attention to the statutory instruments. According to the Government’s own deadline, as set out in the 25 October letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris)—I do not think he is in the Chamber—they have until tomorrow to lay almost 50% of the Brexit SIs that they said they would lay in November. The Government have so far laid only 73 Brexit SIs in November, which is well below the 150 to 200 they said they would lay this month. We have had 55% of the time and only 22% of the SIs have been laid. Can the Leader of the House please say whether the Government will be on track to meet their own target?
In her statement on Monday, the Prime Minister said of her deal:
“It takes back control of our borders, and ends the free movement of people”.—[Official Report, 26 November 2018; Vol. 650, c. 23.]
She said that right at the start, as one of the most important parts of the deal, yet can the Leader of the House say when the immigration White Paper will be published? The Prime Minister was asked and she could not respond. All we have had so far is the Migration Advisory Committee’s report.
The Prime Minister also said that she has a shopping list that is longer than the Opposition’s six tests, but she failed to say that a growing number of British citizens are taking their shopping list to food banks. The Opposition have a shopping list of our own for how we want to transform society when we are in government, and ending child poverty is at the top. I hope that the Leader of the House will remind the Prime Minister that the Leader of the Opposition has written to her about the report of the United Nations representative, Professor Alston, on his visit to the UK. I know the Leader of the House will be interested, because Professor Alston mentioned Northamptonshire in his report. He described the Government’s approach to social security as “punitive” and “mean-spirited” and he highlighted the hardships facing disabled people. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) wanted to remind us that yesterday was the United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons.
Welfare has been cut since 2010 and £28 billion has been cut from social security for disabled people. Disabled student’s allowance has helped many students find their talent—rather than restricting it as the Government have done. The Government are asking students to stump up £200 before they even get DSA. When will the Government publish the evaluation of the impact of recent changes to DSA? It was due to report in late summer. The Leader of the House is a fan of “Game of Thrones.” Now that winter is coming, can we have that evaluation report?
Last week I mentioned Harry Leslie Smith, who was not well. He has since died, and so has Baroness Trumpington. They were the world’s oldest rebels. Let us hear what Harry Leslie Smith said:
“We have become enamoured by the escapism populist politics provides, where we can fit the blame of our woes on migrants or big institutions”.
He also said:
“We have resisted the darkness that comes to societies that are decayed by their contempt of democracy”,
whether outside or in this House. I want to mention those who have shone a light into the darkness, following Harry Leslie Smith, particularly those who won at the Political Studies Association awards on Tuesday: Amelia Gentleman, who shone the light in her work on Windrush; Carole Cadwalladr, who has shone the light into the darkness of our democracy; my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who was politician of the year; and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who was parliamentarian of the year. This House applauds and salutes them.
I am glad the hon. Lady is pleased that she gets to spend her niece’s birthday with her when the House rises for Easter—that is excellent news. I am also delighted to join her in congratulating all those who won awards for their contribution to making our society a better place and in commemorating Harry Leslie Smith and Baroness Trumpington, both of whom made such a big impact in their contributions to society.
The hon. Lady asked about the recommendations of the Procedure Committee and whether the proposed business motion on the meaningful vote addresses them. I can say that, yes, that is the case, in so far as time constraints and practicalities allow in both Houses. The Procedure Committee recommended that amendments should be taken before the main motion is considered and that there should be a minimum of five full days for debate, both of which are happening. The House should be pleased about that.
On the Humble Address, I want to reiterate that we absolutely recognise that there is a legitimate desire in Parliament, from Members in all parts, to understand the legal implications of the deal once it is finalised. The Government will make information available to all Members of the House; there will be a full reasoned position statement laying out the Government’s legal position on the withdrawal agreement. Equally, the hon. Lady will know, as a lawyer herself, that it is a fundamental and long-standing principle of our system of government that Law Officers’ advice is not published without their consent.
The hon. Lady asked about economic analysis on the deal. I am not entirely sure, but she seems to be suggesting that the economic analysis includes everything other than the deal that is on the table. That is not the case; the withdrawal agreement and political declaration economic analysis is, in fact, included in the analysis that has been put out by the Treasury. She asked about statutory instruments. She is right to say that as of 27 November, 185 Brexit SIs have been laid so far, with 79 so far in November. We expect a total of 120 to 130 by the end of this month. She is right to point out that that is a bit below the 150 to 200 figure outlined by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) in his letter to the sifting Committee. However, as I have tried to make clear at all times, we are getting a firm grip on secondary legislation, and I remain confident that we will get all of the secondary legislation that we need to do through in time for departure date. The number of SIs is below what we originally thought; we now think the total number could be up to 700, but I am confident we will remain in a good place to get all of that passed in time.
The hon. Lady made mention of the Prime Minister’s shopping list. No doubt the Prime Minister is very busy at the moment and is paring her grocery shopping back to the bare limit, but the hon. Lady makes an important point about food banks. Everyone in this House pays tribute to those who contribute to the efforts of civic society to contribute to the food poor. People use food banks for many and varied reasons, and the Government are constantly reviewing research carried out by organisations, including great organisations such as the Trussell Trust, to add to our understanding of food bank use. However, I must point out to her that, in terms of where our society is, since 2010 there are 1 million fewer people in absolute poverty—it is at a record low; there are 300,000 fewer children in absolutely poverty, which is another record low; and there are 500,000 fewer working-age adults in absolute poverty, which is a record low. Those are things we can be proud of. This is in addition to the amazing performance of our economy, with more than 3 million more jobs since 2010. That means more people with the security of a pay packet able to support their own family and an improving standard of living.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on relations between the Maldives and the United Kingdom? Following the defeat of President Gayoom in 2008, there have been endless arguments about the legitimacy of succeeding Presidents. Now that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has been elected emphatically, I hope that the Maldives will rejoin the Commonwealth and that we can restore full diplomatic relations with the country.
My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. We were very pleased that our non-resident ambassador to the Maldives represented the UK at the presidential oath-of-office ceremony in Malé on 17 November. We certainly welcomed President Solih’s announcement that his Government would commence steps to rejoin the Commonwealth. We also welcome his Government’s announcement on the freeing of political prisoners and launching of investigations into corruption, fraud and money laundering. Under previous regimes, democratic freedoms were restricted, but we stand ready to work with the new Administration to improve on the situation.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. Given that it is St Andrew’s day tomorrow, I say to you, Mr Speaker: lang may yer lum reek.
It is coming at last, a bit like Christmas without Santa or the festivities, and with everybody just that bit poorer: yes, Brexit vote day is almost here, with a generous five days to debate the so-called meaningful vote on the Government’s Brexit deal, which has about as much chance of getting through as I have of becoming Lord Speaker or a Church of England bishop. It is already a diseased deal. Like the great Norwegian blue parrot, this is a deal that will not even be pining for the Norwegian fjords. It will not even be pining for a Norway-plus deal. This deal, like that great comic parrot of yore, has just about squawked its last and is about to go and meet its maker.
The only question is how we do all this. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for her response about how the votes are going to progress: the process will follow the Procedure Committee’s recommendation that amendments are taken first. Will she confirm that it will not be a binary choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, and that an amended motion, if that is what the House wants, will be put to the House on 11 December? We need to know exactly what is going to be in line before we start the debate next week.
It now looks likely that the European Court of Justice—an institution so beloved of many of my Brexiter friends on the Government Benches—will judge that the UK and the Government can unilaterally halt article 50. Are we now, then, beginning to get to the stage at which we can start to abandon this madness and retain the living standards that we all enjoy and the access that we have to our friends in Europe?
Lastly, the Prime Minister is trailing round the country trying to drum up support for her already doomed deal. Yesterday, she was in Scotland, drumming up opposition to her deal: opposition to it in Scotland now stands at almost 70%. Scotland has been ignored and disrespected for the two long years of this process, and the Government have not even started to address our concerns. In the next few days, we will consider this almost pointless debate about a meaningless vote for which the conclusion has already been reached. We on the Scottish National party Benches will never support any arrangement that makes our country poorer.
The hon. Gentleman alludes to that parrot, which he will remember had snuffed it. This parrot is the only one in the aviary, so it is worth serious consideration.
He says that there is no support for the deal in Scotland, so what about Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, who says:
“The declaration gives the UK the power to assert its position as an independent Coastal State with full, unfettered sovereignty over our waters and natural resources”?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not care too much about Scottish fishing.
How about the Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Karen Betts, who says:
“The provisions set out in the Withdrawal Agreement provide us with a credible foundation on which to build in the next phase of the negotiations, during which a number of critical issues remain to be resolved”?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not care about Scottish whisky.
How about Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, who says:
“After two and a half years, business communities across Scotland and the UK, will welcome the Cabinet-backed draft Withdrawal Agreement”?
Perhaps he does not care about Scottish commerce.
Finally, how about the president of the National Farmers’ Union Scotland, Andrew McCornick, who says:
“The draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, while not perfect”—
I certainly agree with that—
“will ensure that there are no hard barriers on the day we leave the European Union, and will allow trade in agricultural goods and UK food & drink to continue throughout the transition period largely as before.”
It is superb news that United Kingdom businesses and people will be well served by this deal. It is the only parrot that is available to us, and parliamentarians need to get behind it.
Diabetes is a plague across our nation. A total of 3.7 million people suffer from it—numerous in each of our constituencies—and that number has doubled in the past 20 years. Together with its consequent medical conditions, diabetes is life-limiting and, for many, life-ending. Perhaps most shockingly of all, the number of children diagnosed with diabetes has grown to record levels. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate on the subject of diabetes? It would allow us to explore how it can be prevented, diagnosed more quickly and treated more effectively. Our Prime Minister, with typical fortitude and resolve, copes with diabetes. The deputy leader of the Labour party has boldly fought it off. A debate would allow us to explore how more people can deal with it, cope with it and defeat it.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that this is a terrible condition that is affecting growing numbers of people and, as he rightly points out, growing numbers of children. My own husband suffers from diabetes, and we know the Prime Minister suffers from it. Many people live with it on a day-to-day basis and it is a very, very serious problem for them. I would certainly welcome such a debate, and he might well like to seek a Westminster Hall debate in the near future so that all colleagues can discuss the condition.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge that the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) is now not merely a man of Lincolnshire; he is a knight of Lincolnshire. Try as I do, I can scarcely keep up with his status and achievements.
The Backbench Business Committee is starting to feel like the Norwegian blue parrot. If it were not for the fact that it had been nailed to the perch, it would be pushing up daisies. To quote John Cleese, it would have “shuffled off” its mortal coil and gone to join the “choir invisible.”
We knew that we would not get Thursday 6 December, because this House will be discussing other matters that day, but the Committee was informed on Tuesday by some of its Conservative members that they had received communications from their own Chief Whip that the Committee would be allocated time on Thursday 13 December. Not being a body that is readily willing to dismiss the word of the Government Chief Whip, the Committee pre-allocated debates for that day, and we are now told, through the business statement today, that we will not get 13 December. By 13 December, it will be eight weeks since we have had Back-Bench time in this Chamber. I look forward to meeting the Leader of the House in early December to try to rectify this hiatus, but it is becoming overdue.
I am incredibly sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman. Let me make a brief comment about the report he gave about becoming aware of business from some Conservative members of the Committee. He will know that it is not unusual for Governments to make Members aware of likely business of constitutional importance or that require significant time commitments to try to be helpful to them. However, to be absolutely clear, that is always only provisional. The only time that business of this House is confirmed is on a Thursday morning at business questions in the Chamber, as it quite rightly should be. I fully understand his desire to ensure that his Committee has time to schedule its business in the Chamber. I am grateful to him for his letter and I look forward to meeting him in the near future to talk about his requirements. He will appreciate, however, that many hon. Members have been seeking a debate on the public health approach to serious violence for some time, so when it came to a choice with one day available, I had to prioritise the many competing demands and choose in favour of the significant problem of serious violence.
I understand that the police funding settlement for next year will be published next week, as will the local authority funding settlement, yet I see that there is no opportunity for a debate in the business to be transacted for the next two weeks. Clearly, the decision on leaving the European Union is vital, but will my right hon. Friend find time for us to debate these very important issues, which are fundamental to the policing and local government of this country?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. He will appreciate that there is very important and time-constrained business over the next fortnight. We do, however, have Home Office questions on Monday 3 December, and I hope that he will take the opportunity to raise his concerns then.
Order. It was a great pleasure for me to be able to present the hon. Lady her award, courtesy of the Political Studies Association, as Back Bencher of the year—a recognition of her extraordinarily diligent and effective parliamentary campaigning, specifically on the contaminated blood scandal. My sense was that that award to her was extraordinarily warmly received both at the dinner on Tuesday night and in many other quarters.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. When you presented the award to me, I thought you were trying very hard not to say, “She’s actually quite a bloody difficult woman and she’s not going to go away,” but I appreciated your remarks very much.
On Remembrance Sunday, BBC 2 broadcast the stunning Peter Jackson film, “They Shall Not Grow Old”, showing conditions on the frontline in world war one. I understand that the film was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the BBC. It is certain to become an important educational tool as we explain to the younger generations what happened in world war one. Unfortunately, it was only then on BBC iPlayer for seven days—as I understand it, because of the rights connected to the film. I wonder whether the Leader of the House might make representations to the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Education and the DCMS to see whether we can get the film back on BBC iPlayer, because it needs to be seen by as many members of the public as possible.
First, Mr Speaker, let me say that I share your delight at the hon. Lady’s award. She has certainly been a stalwart in this place, raising the issue of contaminated blood sufferers, and she has been absolutely right to do so. I totally value all the bloody difficult women in this place—and long may they continue to be so.
The hon. Lady typically raises a very important point in which all hon. Members will be interested. I would be happy to write to the DCMS on her behalf, but she will also be aware that we have DCMS questions on 13 December, and I recommend that she raise the matter then.
As the Leader of the House is aware, Somerset is a blackspot for broadband. One of the problems is that a lot of the installers are being accused and blamed. The situation actually—this is the topic on which I would like a debate—is that one land agent has been pushing farmers not to sign up until they get an awful lot of money for allowing wayleaves. The agent, Greenslade Taylor Hunt, has recently been done for price-fixing—a huge amount of money. Broadband is almost a right now. If we do not allow people to get it and we cannot use statutory powers to get it to isolated places such as Exmoor, we are failing in our duty. Can we have time to discuss this issue?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are committed to full fibre connections for the majority of homes and businesses by 2025, with a nationwide full fibre network by 2033. However, I do share his concern about some rural areas. There are many rural areas in my own constituency where the signal simply drops out. I recommend that he raise his specific points at Local Government questions on 10 December.
Following on from the point about police funding raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), we in the Humberside police area have a particular problem with the pension contributions that the force may have to make, which could result in the loss of all our police community support officers. The Home Secretary was good enough to meet Humberside MPs earlier this week, but we could do with an opportunity to discuss the issue further. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this very important issue. He will be aware that we have provided the capacity for police and crime commissioners to access an extra £460 million this financial year. He will also be aware that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is determined to review the funding formula properly this year to make sure that police officers do have the resources that they need. We have Home Office questions on 3 December, and I encourage my hon. Friend to take the matter up there.
Earlier this month, two people were stabbed to death in my constituency, including a 15-year-old child. Locally we have seen cuts to the police, child and adolescent mental health services, schools and youth services. I very much welcome the general debate on youth violence, but can the Leader of the House confirm that Ministers from across Departments will attend that debate to ensure that we have joined-up, cross-departmental approach to youth violence?
The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important issue. I think that all our hearts go out to the victims of knife crime, particularly those young people who have died in such appalling circumstances. She will be aware that getting young people out of a life of crime leading to serious violence is both a priority for the Government and a core part of our serious violence strategy. That, as she will be aware, is precisely why I am giving Government time for this debate in a couple of weeks.
May we have an urgent debate on the totally unacceptable lack of regulation of 16-plus children’s homes? This really matters for two reasons. First, many vulnerable children are in huge danger because they are not properly supervised and they run away a great many times. Secondly, there is a huge waste of police time going into finding these children, which means that our police officers are not available to other residents when they are needed.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this very serious matter. The same legislation and regulations apply to provision for those over the age of 16, and we do expect local authorities to safeguard these children in the same way they would any looked-after child. It is for Ofsted to challenge those that are not meeting their duties. I hope he will welcome the fact that we are investing part of our £200 million children’s social care innovation programme in projects in London, where demand for placements outstrips supply, to increase councils’ capacity so that fewer children are placed far away from home. He might like to seek an Adjournment debate to raise the matters specific to his constituency and to get a response directly from Ministers.
It is welcome news that male suicide is at its lowest rate since records were first collected in 1981, but while this is encouraging, we cannot overlook the fact that there were still 4,382 male suicides registered last year. One such death is one too many. May we have a debate on what steps the Government, and indeed all of us, can take to further reduce the stigma around men’s mental health and to encourage men to open up and seek help when they are struggling and when they are in despair?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising such a vital issue. She will be aware that the Government are investing significantly more—a record £12 billion—and are taking more action on mental health than any previous Government. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced that an additional £2 billion will go to funding mental health by 2023-24. For the first time, the NHS will be working towards standards for mental health that are just as ambitious as those for physical health. The hon. Lady might also be pleased to know that we have committed £1.8 million for the Samaritans helpline over the next four years, so that when people do want to talk, there is someone there to listen. It is an absolutely vital issue, and I know that all Members are committed to doing everything we can to solve the problem.
In recent weeks, unfortunately, there have been a number of serious knife crimes in Crawley, including a murder. Even though I welcome the Sussex police and crime commissioner recruiting 200 extra officers and the Third Reading of the Offensive Weapons Bill last night, can we have a statement from the Home Secretary on county lines drug running? These incidents are all related to drug gangs from outside the constituency. I endorse what the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) requested.
My hon. Friend raises the appalling problem of the spike in serious violence related to county lines and, in particular, knife crime. Tackling county lines is a huge priority for the Government. Our serious violence strategy includes a range of actions to enhance our response to the issue. For example, we have established a new national county lines co-ordination centre, to enhance the intelligence picture and support cross-border efforts to tackle county lines. There is also funding for community projects, to encourage young people out of serious violence. I am sure my hon. Friend will want to take part in the debate we will have in two weeks’ time.
Mr Speaker, I hope you will not mind if I thank the Leader of the House for securing a debate on tackling youth violence with a public health model. I have just one ask of that debate. Can we ensure that all the Ministers from all the relevant Departments are here to listen, if not respond, to the debate? That is a key point of the public health model and approach.
First, I would like to pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her superb pushing of this issue—she is absolutely right to have done that—and her excellent contribution on the radio this morning, which I know many Members heard. I take on board what she says and will try to ensure that as many Ministers as possible are here to hear at least the opening of the debate.
In less than two weeks, the UK is due to attend the intergovernmental conference in Marrakesh, to adopt the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration. Many of my constituents have emailed me to say they are concerned that signing the pact will encourage economic migration, reduce national sovereignty and weaken our border controls. With countries such as Switzerland and Italy refusing to sign until their Parliaments have debated the issue, and with allies such as the US, Israel and Australia refusing to participate, will the Government find time for a debate on that important matter before the pact is signed on our behalf?
My hon. Friend raises an important matter. He is right to have a care to issues around the protection of refugees, but also the importance of the integrity of national borders. We have Foreign Office questions on Tuesday 4 December, and I recommend that he raise the matter then.
Early-day motions are a vital component of political expression for Back-Bench Members of this House and thus for our wider democracy. In recent times, however, the EDM service has been progressively diminished, such that new motions now disappear from listing in the blue pages very quickly, and there is no consolidated list of recent EDMs printed each week. Will the Leader of the House use her good offices to press the House authorities to restore the EDM service to its former strength and ensure its long-term future?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I am not aware of it, and I am certainly happy to look into it on his behalf.
May we have a statement on the extent of the use of certificates of exemption under section 34 of the Freedom of Information Act by Officers of the House and whether such exemptions could be used to stop disclosure of important issues such as bullying in this place?
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. He will be aware that section 34 exemptions can be incredibly valuable in protecting free and open debate between advisers, Ministers and Members of Parliament. However, he is right to raise concerns about the proper use of such exemptions, and I encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that Members can share their views.
On 5 November, a 98-year-old man was seriously assaulted in his home and remains in hospital following an aggravated burglary in my constituency. Since then, there have been subsequent burglaries and serious crimes committed in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on police funding and the rise in crime nationally?
I am so sorry to hear about that. I am sure that was an appalling experience, and I am sure that all of us would want to send our best wishes to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent.
The hon. Gentleman has raised again the problem of serious knife crime, and I think the whole House shares that concern. That is why we are going to have a debate in two weeks’ time, and I do hope he will take part in it. As he will be aware, we have a serious violence taskforce. It is very clearly focused on trying to reduce the appalling incidents of knife crime, looking at prevention methods wherever possible to discourage young people from such an approach. In addition, I am sure he will welcome the fact that the Offensive Weapons Bill completed its stages in the House yesterday. We do therefore have some more measures that will prevent young people from accessing serious weapons that cause so much damage.
The Dame Laura Cox report shone a spotlight on the need for transparency, honesty and openness in this place on issues that are of concern to Members across the House and, indeed, to the country as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will know that I have some residual concerns about the robustness and efficacy of the House of Commons Commission in dealing with these matters. I have described it in previous exchanges as a cross between the Magic Circle and the College of Cardinals. Will she guarantee a debate in Government time on the rules and terms of reference of the Commission to ensure that it is fit for purpose and meets the much higher bar of expectation—both in this place and in the country as a whole—of the standards now upon us?
My hon. Friend raises an issue in which I know the House of Commons Commission itself has shown some interest. I believe it wishes to be as transparent and open as possible. Certainly, from very preliminary discussions about the Cox report, I believe that Dame Laura’s view that serious reform is necessary has fallen on fertile ground. I think that we will be able to make further progress on that in due course.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
On Monday, I attended the launch of the GMB “Work to Stop Domestic Abuse” charter, and we heard some incredibly powerful testimonies from survivors of domestic abuse. The charter is an aide-mémoire to encourage employers to take action, including by offering paid leave to survivors and victims of domestic violence, offering policies and toolkits in the workplace, and empowering staff to take action and seek help if they are suffering domestic abuse. May we have a debate on how we can encourage other employers to take up this much needed charter?
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work in this area. She is absolutely right that we need to do everything we can to protect people from domestic violence, and employers can certainly do a lot more. I too have been very interested in supporting campaigns that seek to have employers take a much stronger interest in this issue. She will be aware that the Government have carried out a consultation on a domestic violence Bill, and we will bring forward draft legislation soon. We have also committed funding of £100 million to services for preventing violence against women and girls, to support organisations that are tackling domestic violence and abuse, including £8 million to support children. We all agree that there is much more to be done, but I think we are all on the same side.
We are about to embark next week on one of the most important debates that this House has ever had to undertake. We are going to have 32 hours of debate over the five days, which allows roughly four minutes per Back Bencher if every one of them wants to speak, allowing for the payroll vote. Through the Leader of the House, may I ask the usual channels to discuss the possibility of sitting until 10 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday next week and perhaps even sitting a little bit later on Thursday, as well as the possibility of a Friday sitting and of starting earlier on the following Monday? That could add at least 15 hours to the debate and allow Back Benchers to get more than a few minutes each. I have not even taken out the time for Front-Bench contributions in those calculations. The time for Back Benchers to speak in that debate will be very tight, so please could we consider doing that?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the business of the House motion proposal has been tabled and is available in today’s remaining orders. The Government are determined to provide plenty of time for debate ahead of the meaningful vote on 11 December, and I hope colleagues will recognise that in providing five days of debate and specifying that the House should consider amendments ahead of the main question, they have sought to be helpful to the House. There will be a debate on the proceedings for the meaningful vote, during which the hon. Gentleman will be able to make his representations.
I am recruiting for a parliamentary researcher in Westminster, and I want that position to be open to applicants from all backgrounds and regions. An applicant from the greatest city in the world, Newcastle, was put off by the absence of any support for relocation to work here as a member of staff, although such support is available for Members of Parliament. Does the Leader of the House agree that this place must be open to people from all backgrounds and regions as both members of staff and Members of Parliament, and may we have a debate on how to make that a reality?
I certainly agree that we want as diverse a range of candidates as possible to come forward to work in this place. The hon. Lady will be aware that through the working group on harassment and bullying we have done a lot to ensure that when people come to this place and start working here, they get the training and support they need, and all the help that they can use to enable their job to be successful. On the hon. Lady’s specific point about help with the costs of relocating to Parliament, I am happy to discuss that with her separately if she would like to write to me.
I am sure all parliamentarians agree that one of the most important pillars of a modern democracy is freedom of the press. There seems to be an exception, however, because yesterday on her visit to Scotland the Prime Minister refused one of our biggest newspapers access to a press event. Today, The National quite rightly ran a front page with a silhouette of the Prime Minister, and it has refused to cover the story. May we have an urgent statement from the Prime Minister to explain her reason for refusing access to The National, and to explain in this House the importance of a free press?
I am not aware of the particular situation that the hon. Gentleman describes, but during the past two weeks, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spent more than nine and a half hours at the Dispatch Box, in the seat of our democracy in Parliament, taking questions from right hon. and hon. Members across the House who represent the interests of their constituents. To suggest that somehow she has not been accessible would be very, very short of the mark.
A constituent was diagnosed with a glioma brain tumour in 2013, and she was given between three and five years to live. There is no treatment, but currently she is stable. She moved house and found a smart meter in place, and she has become extremely anxious and fearful about microwave radiation from that smart meter exacerbating the brain tumour. She went to British Gas and asked for it to be removed, but it refused, so she came to me. British Gas sent the most awful reply, basically refusing to remove the meter. May we have a debate about the responsibility of utility companies to consider people with serious medical conditions who have concerns and anxieties about issues such as smart meters, and to meet their consumer protection duties?
I am so sorry to hear about the illness of the hon. Lady’s constituent, and I am glad that she turned to the hon. Lady to seek help. I am sure she will have dealt with the issue in her usual forthright way. She raises an important point, which is that private sector businesses and public sector services need to deal with the unique circumstances in which some of our constituents find themselves. I am sympathetic to her concerns, and I encourage her to seek either an Adjournment debate on that specific point, or a more general debate about consumer protection in Westminster Hall.
On 14 November the Prime Minister told me in the Chamber that she is
“sure the Post Office is making decisions that it believes are right for local communities and to ensure that services are there where they are needed.”—[Official Report, 14 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 310.]
It will come as no surprise to many that I disagree with the Prime Minister. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss Post Office decisions and their effect on our local communities?
I have to say to the hon. Lady that I am a big fan of post offices. In my constituency, their opening hours are far superior to those of banks. Where the “last bank in town” issue has been a problem in my constituency, the post office, which offers basic banking services for all the major retail banks, has stood them in good stead.
The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have invested significant sums in Crown post offices and that they are not reducing, in aggregate, the availability of post office services to the public. Whenever the provision of services changes, the Post Office must consult widely. If the hon. Lady finds that that has not been her experience I encourage her to raise that in an Adjournment debate, so that she can discuss it directly with Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministers.
The Leader of the House confirmed in her earlier remarks that the Attorney General could consent to the release of his advice to the Government on the Brexit deal if he deemed it expedient. Given the nature of the decision we are taking, is she not at all concerned that, should the full legal advice not be made available despite concerns about precedent, there is a real danger that history will look back at something that was not disclosed at the time and look very heavily at the decision taken by the Government?
As I said earlier, the Government will make available to all Members a full reasoned position statement laying out the Government’s legal position on the withdrawal agreement. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Attorney General is ready to assist further by making an oral statement on Monday. He will take questions from all Members in the normal way. I genuinely believe that will give all right hon. and hon. Members the opportunity to get the answers they are seeking.
This is the busiest time of the year for our post offices. Our postal workers’ futures in York are being determined over a six-week period, closing on 28 December. Clearly postal workers are distracted, when they have to focus on serving us. This situation needs more than an Adjournment debate. It has impacted 74 post offices across the country, so may we have a full debate on the future of our Crown post offices?
The hon. Lady has raised the issue of post offices in York previously, and I absolutely commend her for doing so. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all our hard-working postal workers, who are extremely busy at this time of year. I am sure a lot of us will be visiting them and expressing our gratitude more directly. She raises an important point, which was also raised by the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). I encourage them both to seek a Westminster Hall debate, so that hon. Members can raise this issue directly with Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministers.
As a product of the Catholic education system in Scotland, may I ask the Leader of the House to join me in celebrating the centenary of the Education Act 1918? This was the Act that saw Catholic schools transfer from diocesan control to state governance. The alumni of those schools have made an extraordinary academic, cultural, civic and social impact over the past century. I am looking forward to visiting my former school tomorrow, Turnbull High School, which, along with St Roch’s, All Saints, St Mungo’s, St Andrew’s and John Paul Academy, educates many of my young constituents. Will the Leader of the House hold a debate on the ways in which Catholic schools are good not just for Catholics but for the nation as a whole?
I think the hon. Gentleman will have heard that resounding “Hear, hear” from the Government Benches. There is obviously a lot of support for his view. I am delighted to join him in marking the centenary of the Education Act 1918 and in congratulating all those schools in Scotland, which do so much to educate the next generation.
Today marks five years since the police helicopter crashed into the Clutha bar in Glasgow, killing 10 people, and Glasgow is preparing to mark it today. I would like to remember in this House those who were killed: Gary Arthur, Samuel McGhee, Colin Gibson, Robert Jenkins, Mark O’Prey, John McGarrigle, Joe Cusker, PC Kirsty Nelis, PC Tony Collins and the pilot, David Traill. My thoughts are with their families and those who were injured in the crash. Would the Leader of the House like to pay tribute to them as well?
The hon. Lady raises the tragic helicopter crash in Glasgow. All right hon. and hon. Members would want to send their condolences to the families and friends of all those who died, and we always hope and pray that such a thing never reoccurs. On this important anniversary, we send our very best wishes.
To their credit, the Government have led on the reduction of modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the announcement by the Home Office are welcome, but the Leader of the House will know that the noble Lord McColl’s Bill, the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, is currently languishing at the bottom of the list of private Members’ Bills on Fridays. Could I encourage her, through her offices, to use whatever mechanism might be available to her to allow the Bill to progress at least to Committee? Many Members across the House would wish to support it, and I know that the Government, given their particular wording earlier in the year, would want to offer their support as well.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the importance of private Members’ Bills. The Government certainly support the need for them and are very keen to ensure that progress is made. He will be aware that I have tabled a revised motion to give the House an additional six sitting Fridays for private Members’ Bills and that the Opposition have tabled an amendment to that motion to reduce it back to five. I remain very keen for the House to have those additional days to debate private Members’ Bills, and discussions continue through the usual channels.
My constituent, James Potts, is married to a Thai national, but the immigration service has refused family visitor visas to his mother-in-law and sister-in-law. As there is no appeals process, their simply reapplying might lead to the same outcome. James has heart issues so it is difficult for him to travel to the other side of the world. With the best will in the world, if they did breach visa conditions, it would not be difficult to find them in Kilmarnock. Can we have a Government statement on why there is an automatic assumption that people will not return home and why there is no appeal process whereby MPs can assist their constituents?
I am extremely sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says. I have also had constituency cases where parents or relatives have wanted to visit but have been turned down on the ground that it is suspected that they might not go home afterwards. I recently had a success where a non-resident parent was able to come and visit, and I was sent some fabulous photos of the family reunion, so I am extremely sympathetic. I encourage him to raise this point directly at Home Office questions on 3 December.
The Leader of the House will be aware—because I ask her frequently about this—of my campaign to improve connectivity across my constituency. This time, I am specifically concerned about the roll-out of broadband. The providers say that one issue with the geography of constituencies such as mine is that the rolling and sweeping valleys make connectivity very difficult. Could we have a debate on broadband roll-out, specifically in relation to the hardest-to-reach places, not just in rural areas but across valley communities?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman does occasionally raise this matter in business questions, and is absolutely right to do so. I must reiterate that I also suffer from a lack of broadband in my constituency. All of us with hard-to-reach places would sincerely sympathise with his constituents. We have DCMS questions on Thursday 13 December, and I encourage him to raise this directly with Ministers.
A new report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom finds a deeply troubling rise in the amount of content in school textbooks in Saudi Arabia promoting hatred. These textbooks encourage violent and non-violent jihad against non-believers and espouse the death penalty for women who allegedly have an affair, as well as demonising Christians, Shi’a and Sufi Muslims, non-Muslims and critics of Islam. Such textbooks fuel hatred and violence in Saudi Arabia and abroad, as they consistently find their way into the hands of extremist groups such as Daesh. This increase in hateful content also raises serious questions about the Saudi Government’s commitment to reform. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or debate on this issue?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue not just about the discrimination and persecution of people for their faith, or indeed, for not having a faith, but the way in which some of the extremist material then gets distorted and used by those who would become terror perpetrators. He is absolutely right to raise this issue. We have Home Office questions on Monday 3 December and Foreign Office questions on Tuesday 4 December, and I encourage him to raise it there.