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Business of the House

Volume 651: debated on Thursday 13 December 2018

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 17 December—My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement, followed by a motion to approve the draft Online Pornography (Commercial Basis) Regulations 2018, followed by a motion to approve the draft guidance on age-verification arrangements 2018, followed by a motion to approve the draft guidance on ancillary service providers 2018.

Tuesday 18 December—Second Reading of the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 19 December—Debate on a motion on disability benefit, followed by debate on a motion on mental health first aid. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Thursday 20 December—Debate on a motion on Rohingya. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 21 December—The House will not be sitting.

I am sure the House will not be sitting. The House decided.

The whole House will want to join me in thanking the police for their swift action following the incident in New Palace Yard earlier this week. We are enormously grateful for the work our police and security officers do to keep us all safe.

I am pleased to be able to spread some festive cheer to the House this morning, as the new edition of “Erskine May”, which is due to be published in 2019, will be publicly available on Parliament’s website, as well as on Parliament’s intranet and in hard copy, as normal. The first edition was published in the mid-19th century and new editions are published approximately every six or seven years, but this will be the first one publicly available online.

Finally, I encourage all hon. Members to visit the 209 Women exhibition on the first floor of Portcullis House, which begins tomorrow and will run until 14 February. It is being unveiled in time for the centenary of some women voting for the first time. I will be heading to the launch later to see the 209 photographs of female MPs, photographed by female photographers and curated by women. It is a fantastic way to round off the Vote 100 year.

It is very useful to have the fact of the prospective publication on the Parliament website of “Erskine May” advertised more widely, but there is nothing by way of news about it; I agreed to it, in consultation with Clerks, several months ago. It is very good that it is happening but there is absolutely nothing new about the fact of it.

I agree with you about “Erskine May”, Mr Speaker; the public will now be able to see what the Government are up to, so that is good. May I also acknowledge that the House has a female photographer, Jessica Taylor, who is absolutely marvellous? She does us all proud, because we all look better in her photographs, for some reason.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week. I do not know whether I heard her properly, but has she given us all the business for next week? I did not hear when the debate on the meaningful vote will resume. Obviously, it is not listed for next week, so when will it come back? Each week we stand here and we trust what the Leader of the House says and we trust the agreements we make. How can we continue to trust this Government? Their mantra is, “Nothing is agreed until it is agreed”, but it should now be, “Nothing is agreed ever.” Even now, the Prime Minister, having made an agreement with the EU, is saying that she will go back and find another way. The Government spent money, and Ministers spread out around the country, but the people they had to convince were here in Parliament. What did the Government do? They did not listen to Parliament—in fact, they told Parliament to shut up. The Leader of the House said this was “Parliamentary pantomime”, but it is not. The Opposition have used settled rules of Parliament to hold the Government to account. At each stage of this process, we have had to drag Ministers back to the Dispatch Box to give us financial information and other impact information on what is happening.

The Government have ridden roughshod over the democratic rights of Members. Mr Speaker, you sat through all the contributions and on one of the days we were here until 1.30 am. Hon. Members were here until then. Time limits were applied, showing that hon. Members had to be curtailed in their speeches. One hundred and sixty-four hon. Members were heard, and almost the same amount of other hon. Members had written their speeches and their contributions were stymied. The Leader of the House must say when they will be given the chance to make their case. Will the debate be resuming or will we have a debate on a new deal—which is it? The Prime Minister cannot amend the agreement, so it is, in effect, just an explanatory note, is it not? Can the Leader of the House clarify whether it will be an addendum or an explanatory note?

The Leader of the House said on Monday, and other Ministers have said this, that we will have our meaningful vote “soon”, “shortly” and “before 21 January”. She said five times on Monday that she is Parliament’s voice in government. Parliament spoke with the vote on the emergency debate on the cancellation of the vote—the vote was won by 299 to zero, which is more resounding than 200 to 117. So on Monday will she make a business statement to say when the meaningful vote will come back before Parliament?

We have had a number of statutory instruments given in the business for next week. I note that the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has said that she will look at the draft Universal Credit (Managed Migration) Regulations 2018. Can the Leader of the House confirm that those regulations have now been withdrawn? We will also have the Draft Markets in Financial Instruments (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 to consider. That statutory instrument is one of a large volume of items of secondary legislation. It sets up a functioning regulatory framework if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal. The size and scope of that SI are completely different. Because of the volume of potential legislative changes, the Treasury has set out a Keeling schedule, and it spent time and money setting out that schedule. As the Government are going to all that effort, will the Leader of the House please confirm that we will debate those regulations on the Floor of the House?

I note that a written statement on immigration is to be published today. So far, it has been impossible to access it; is it the immigration White Paper?

While the Government have been distracted in Committee Room 14, local councils have been waiting to set their budgets. I know that you get upset by points of order, Mr Speaker—or perhaps you do not; perhaps you like them—but my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) made one yesterday on the local government settlement, so I am pleased that there will be a statement on it later. I am also pleased that there will be a statement on the police settlement. I, too, offer my thanks to the police officers who contained the incident on Tuesday, and who keep us safe every day.

Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Prime Minister said that the Government are establishing a 10-year plan for the sustainability of the NHS. Where is it? The plan was promised in September, then in autumn, and then in early December, but still there is nothing. Will the Leader of the House say when it will be published?

The Government are running away from their responsibilities and leaving the country in a mess—so much so that the Prime Minister has said that she will not be around at the next election to be held accountable for her policies so far. There is something to celebrate, though: the tax on visiting Wales has ended, because the Severn bridge toll will end on Monday.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) for all her charitable work on the carol service—it all seemed to get lost on Tuesday. She has raised an enormous amount of money already, but is encouraging us to organise carol concerts so that we can all contribute and add to her charitable work. We have to hurry, though, because we have only 12 days till Christmas.

I am certainly grateful to the hon. Lady for mentioning the lovely concert that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) arranged in St Margaret’s church. It was really wonderful, and we were treated to the rather amazing singing voice of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince)—who knew? It was a very enjoyable experience and was for a fantastic cause. We heard some extraordinary and heart-wrenching stories about the current plight of Syrians, so it was incredibly important.

The hon. Lady asked when the meaningful vote will come back to the House. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said on Tuesday, the Government will bring the debate and vote back to the House by 21 January at the latest.

The hon. Lady asked about the Prime Minister. She will understand that the Prime Minister came to the House to make a statement to say precisely that it is because she is listening to the debate in this House that she is going back to the EU, because she recognises that hon. Members require not only reassurances but legally binding reassurance that we cannot be trapped in a backstop permanently. That is what the Prime Minister is seeking. Hon. Members should rest assured that the Prime Minister is very much seeking to address the concerns expressed by the House.

The hon. Lady asked about statutory instruments. She will be aware that it is a matter of parliamentary convention that, if a reasonable request for a debate has been made, time is allowed for that debate. We have demonstrated during this Session that the Government have been willing to provide time, in line with the convention to accede with reasonable Opposition requests. I know that the Opposition would like to debate a number of statutory instruments on the Floor of the House, and we are looking at them carefully.

The hon. Lady asked about the immigration White Paper. I assure her that it will be published next week, before Christmas, shortly followed by the immigration Bill itself.

The hon. Lady asked where the NHS 10-year plan is. It is being drawn up by the NHS itself. The Government have provided the biggest ever investment in our NHS, and we are very proud to be doing that. It will transform services for all patients right across the country.

Will the Leader of the House please arrange for a Minister to make a statement next week on the preparations for leaving the EU without a deal, on World Trade Organisation terms? Perhaps she will arrange for such a statement to be made every week until we leave. No-deal preparedness is vital for the UK. So far, the Government have been shy in setting out what they have been doing.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend as someone who has worked very hard in Cabinet to make sure that we are doing absolutely everything we need to do to plan for every outcome. I sit on the sub-committee that is looking at day one readiness in all circumstances, and I can assure her that the Government’s preparations for no deal are well advanced, and that the Government will come forward with further information as soon as it is necessary to do so. However, to be very clear, the Government do not intend to have no deal with the European Union. We intend to have a withdrawal agreement that this House can support.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.

Well, it is the morning after the night before, and, as the hangovers start to kick in, they will all be asking themselves, “What on earth did we get up to last night?”. As they survey the wreckage of the night of mayhem, we now find that we have a Prime Minister who has the confidence of only 200 Members of this House. She is a lame duck Prime Minister who would give waterfowl with walking sticks a bad name. A third of her party do not want her to lead them. Her credibility is in shatters and her ability to lead gone forever.

The main item of business next week should be a motion of no confidence in this rotten, divided Government. They are there for the taking, divided, wounded and unable to govern, and I have no idea what the Labour party is waiting for. We could be shot of them pretty soon, so if Labour is not going to put in a motion of no confidence in this Government, it will be left to the other opposition parties of this House to do so.

History will judge the decision to cancel Tuesday’s meaningful vote as probably the single biggest act of political cowardice this House has ever witnessed, particularly when the Leader of the House said to me definitively last week that under no conditions would the vote be withdrawn. If we look at the diary, we can see that there are only two weeks left to have that meaningful vote when we return in the new year, if it is not the Government’s intention to bring it forward next week. It cannot be the last week—the week leading up to the 21st—so that leaves the week that we return. I want the Leader of the House to come to that Dispatch Box and say that we will have this vote in that week.

Finally, we need an urgent statement about the decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the Scottish Government’s view that the continuity Bill is indeed within devolved powers. This Government are now developing a habit of losing constitutional cases to Scottish interests. Hopefully, this will now mean the end of the power grab and the attacks on the democratic institutions of our democracy in Scotland, but looking at Members on the Government Benches, I very much doubt that.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for setting out the fact that those of us on the Government Benches do have confidence in the Prime Minister. Perhaps I can just set the scene for him: the Prime Minister won 63% of the vote, against 37% who did not support her, which means that she won that vote by a significant majority. In June 2016, this House decided to ask the people whether we should leave the EU or remain within it. A total of 52% said that we should leave, and 48% said that we should remain. That means that leave won, which is why we are leaving the EU—just for his information. He will recall that, in Scotland, there was a vote on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, and 55% voted to stay in, 45% voted to leave. That means that a majority voted to stay in the United Kingdom. I hope that that explains to him what a democratic vote is all about. [Interruption.] I say to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), who is shouting from a sedentary position, that he will recall that his no confidence vote in his leader was 81% for no confidence, but the Leader of the Opposition is still there, so the Opposition party also does not understand what democracy is all about; at least we on this side of the House do. I say to all hon. Members, once again, that the Prime Minister did not call the vote on the meaningful vote because she had listened to the very clear concerns of hon. and right hon. Members, and has gone back to the European Union to seek to address those concerns.

The hon. Gentleman asks about a no confidence motion. This House has confidence in the Government. If the official Opposition dispute that the Government have the confidence of the House, it is for them to test it via a motion under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the stress and anxiety caused by scam telephone calls and emails? Wicked individuals try to extort money from the most vulnerable people in society—the elderly, the frail and the simply too trusting. Surely this House could do something to prevent that from continuing to happen.

My hon. Friend raises an important matter about which all Members are very concerned. The Government fully understand that nuisance calls are quite stressful, particularly for vulnerable people, and we have been clear that there is no place for nuisance calls or texts in our society. In March 2017, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport provided a £500,000 grant to the National Trading Standards scams team to run a project that would provide telephone call blocking technology, particularly to vulnerable people. We continue to work closely with industry regulators and consumer groups to try to find effective solutions to this concerning problem.

I thank the Leader of the House for telling us the forthcoming business, and for the cordial meeting and welcome mug of tea yesterday afternoon.

After the famine comes the feast. We are blessed with two days of Backbench Business debates next week. I would like to put the mind of the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) at ease; before we knew that we had been awarded time in the Chamber on Thursday, we had already determined that we would hold the three-hour pre-recess debate in Westminster Hall, so that debate will still go ahead in Westminster Hall.

The Backbench Business Committee had been starting to feel a bit surplus to requirements, and I was reluctantly considering making an application to an employment tribunal for constructive dismissal, but I am glad to say that that is no longer required.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having a cup of tea with me yesterday, and for clearly setting out the needs and desires of many Back-Bench Members for particular debates. I am delighted that we have been able to accommodate some of them.

Funeral poverty blights our nation. That some of the poorest Britons cannot afford to give those they have cherished, and now for whom they grieve, a decent final farewell pains them and shames us. The bereavement fund was frozen a long time ago by a previous Government and is no longer fit for purpose, so will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to come here and give details as to how that fund can once again be made effective? Perhaps that Minister might also provide a reply to the letter written by me, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and others, requesting details of when the children’s funeral fund that was announced by the Prime Minister will actually begin to have effect. Each day’s delay adds fear to the heartbreak already felt by those who have loved and lost.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue in the Chamber. If he would like to send me the details of his inquiry, I would be happy to take the matter up on his behalf.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

“She’s so cute. So sweet. I can’t wait to beat her.”

“Can she take a beating?”

Those are not my words, but the words of the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) while barraging two of his female constituents with thousands of sexual text messages. Last night, the Leader of the House’s party gave him and the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) the Whip back without any due process. What message does this send about how any process in this place can ever be trusted? I ask the Leader of the House to answer that question and also to tell me what matters more—political power or tackling victims of sexual harassment and abuse?

Order. Before I ask the Leader of the House to answer that question, which is an entirely proper question, can I just say to the hon. Lady that I trust that she notified the two Members concerned?

The hon. Lady will know that I am absolutely committed to changing the culture of this place and to seeing that everybody here is treated with dignity and respect. There has been a process that has been undertaken. It has been a decision by the Chief Whip. It is not something I have been privy to. But I absolutely assure all hon. and right hon. Members that the independent complaints procedure, which is not involved with any party political processes whatever, was established and designed to enable everybody who works in or visits this place to take any complaints that they have to an independent place for proper investigation and proper sanction to be applied.

On 15 March a private Member’s Bill in my name is scheduled; it would create a commission for a general election leaders’ debate. I know that on the first day back a Westminster Hall debate on this will take place because more than 100,000 signatures were provided to the Sky News petition. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government intend to support my private Member’s Bill on 15 March—and, by the way, could we make it a sitting Friday?

I am always delighted to take up the requests of my hon. Friend and neighbour in Northamptonshire. He will be aware that I have tabled a motion to provide the House with an additional six sitting days—something that he was keen to see and that the Opposition sought to reduce to five. I do intend and wish to bring that back as soon as I possibly can. As to his request on whether the Government will support his private Member’s Bill, I actually do not know the answer to that yet, but I am very happy to meet him and discuss it.

Not all heroes wear capes—indeed, some of them wear aprons. I want to tell the House about David Jones, who has a butcher’s shop in Earlsheaton in my constituency, and has offered to provide any families who are struggling at Christmas because of universal credit with some food in order to see them through. He says that what he has seen is cruel and barbaric, because, despite Government assurances, people are going into his shop who have nothing—they have no money and they are forced to rely on food banks. Could we have an urgent debate on this?

Can I also repeat my plea of last year for all Members and staff of this House to include in their “out of office” messages for constituents the numbers for the Samaritans and other helpful organisations? This can be a very, very difficult time of year for many people, who sometimes turn to their MP as a last resort, so can we at least signpost them towards help while we are away.

The hon. Lady makes a really good point. I am sure that most hon. Members have helpful numbers for constituents to call—I certainly do, and also an emergency number to get hold of me as their local MP. I absolutely pay tribute to her for raising that. It is a very good idea.

I would also like to thank David Jones for his efforts, and all those who give so generously to contribute to, or indeed run, food banks. It is a fantastic contribution by our communities to those who are vulnerable. The hon. Lady will appreciate that we are seeking to ensure that nobody has to wait to receive money under universal credit. There is now a new contract with Citizens Advice to deliver universal support to make sure that everybody who is applying for universal credit can do so easily. As the Government have said, we continue to look at this roll-out, which is why we are doing it very slowly, but nevertheless I think we are making progress. It will be a very significant improvement on the legacy benefits system.

At the last Transport questions, I raised the vexed issue of Crossrail funding and did not get a very satisfactory answer. We have now heard that the Department for Transport is loaning the Mayor of London £1.3 billion, which has to be repaid, in addition to the £300 million provided in the summer. Worse still, this vital infrastructure project for London and the south-east has no opening date. Could we have a statement from the Secretary of State next week on what is happening and what controls will be imposed, so that the Mayor of London gets on and delivers this vital project?

I agree with my hon. Friend; that is a vital project. We have Transport questions on 10 January, and it would be appropriate to raise that then.

The Leader of the House will be aware that managed migration to universal credit is due to start in July 2019. The proposed regulations state that if claimants fail to make their claim by the deadline plus an extra month’s grace period, they will lose entitlement to transitional protections, which will put vulnerable people at huge risk. May we have an urgent debate, so that we can further review that aspect of managed migration and ensure that the least well-off and the most vulnerable in society are protected from these changes?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the application process for universal credit is much simpler and it is designed to help people get into work and then keep more of their benefits as they increase their hours. Having listened carefully to views expressed in the House, we have increased advances to up to 100% of the first full monthly payment, scrapped the seven days’ waiting, so that everybody can get their money on the same day, should that be necessary, and introduced a two-week overlap with housing benefit payments. Unfortunately, his party voted against those changes.

In the most recent Budget, we increased the amount that someone can earn before their universal credit is reduced, introduced a two-week overlap with various legacy benefits for a smoother transition and gave all self-employed people 12 months to get their business off the ground. That demonstrates a Government who are listening but, at the same time, are committed to rolling out a much better benefit than the ones it replaces.

The Leader of the House knows that I voted against the Prime Minister last night, but I accept the result of the vote. The Prime Minister won fair and square, and she is therefore entitled to have my support to continue as leader. She will get my support to continue as leader, as I hope she will from all my right hon. and hon. Friends.

The Prime Minister has said that she is going to the EU to secure significant and supposedly game-changing amendments to the withdrawal agreement. Will the Leader of the House assure us that we will get a full debate when that agreement comes back and will not just continue with the debate as we left it? Given how over-subscribed that debate was, can she assure us that the debate will last longer than five days?

I thank my hon. Friend; his approach is exactly right. Even if he did not support the Prime Minister, she won by a clear majority, and it is right that he now supports her.

My hon. Friend asks what the guaranteed lengh of time for debate will be. He will appreciate that that decision depends on what the Prime Minister comes back with. She is seeking significant reassurances, so that she can bring back a withdrawal agreement that the House will support. It is not possible to set out the exact terms of resumption of the debate or, indeed, the terms of an entirely new debate until we see what the Prime Minister is able to bring back. We are certain that the debate and the vote will come back to the House by 21 January, and that time will be given for all Members to make a contribution to it.

My constituents and the country are crying out for certainty. Will the Leader of the House commit to amend our recess time and have the House sit before Christmas and/or from 2 January, if necessary, so that we can rule out a reckless no-deal Brexit? We urgently need to stop the contingency plans for our NHS, other public services and businesses right across the country being triggered, because it will cost our country millions of pounds.

I fully understand the hon. Lady’s concerns. She will understand that the legal position at present is that, in the event that there was no agreement on our withdrawal and potentially the political declaration between now and the end of March 2019, the UK would leave the EU without a deal. It is right—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady is shouting back at me, but I hope she will hear me out. It is vital that any Government make preparations for all outcomes. That is the right thing to do, in the country’s interests. It would be wrong of us to assume that a deal will be forthcoming and therefore to put down our preparations. We will continue to prepare for all outcomes, including no deal.

MidKent College in my constituency has recently had a good Ofsted report. It has played its part—it is at the heart of the local community—in creating over 20,000 apprenticeships since 2010. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the college? May we have a debate on further education colleges and apprenticeships?

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating his further education college. It is absolutely vital that more young people are able to develop the skills they need to get the well-paid jobs of the future. We are transforming technical education through T-levels, and we will be investing an extra £500 million a year once they are up and running. That will build on our apprenticeship programme, which is creating 3 million quality apprenticeships that will change the lives of young people, giving them the skills they need for the future.

A constituent of mine was convinced to invest her life savings of £150,000—all of it has gone. When she threatened action against the PlusOption Trading company, it simply offered her a bonus payment to invest even more. It has ignored three letters from me. Further to the Leader of the House’s answer to the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), may we have a Government statement on, and an investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority into, disgraceful companies such as that?

The hon. Lady raises what sounds like a very concerning case. I encourage her to write on behalf of her constituent directly to the FCA, which, as she will know, is independent of Government.

A constituent has pointed out to me that the local government ombudsman will look only at cases that have a direct impact on a particular individual rather than taxpayers in general. He raised an issue about Staffordshire County Council, which I believe is very well run, but we need to have confidence in the decisions made in investigations by councils into their own activities. May we have a debate on setting up an independent arbiter or body that can look at the decisions made by county councils or other councils that are not subject to the local government ombudsman in order to give credibility to the decisions of local government?

My hon. Friend raises an issue that I am sure many hon. Members will have found concerning broader criticisms of the way in which councils go about their business. I am very sympathetic to him, and he may well want to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss with a Minister the specifics of Staffordshire’s councils.

This morning, I received a letter from the Minister for Immigration, thanking me for my email correspondence of 5 February about a previous letter of 22 December 2017. May we have a debate about incompetence in the Home Office? I was raising a very serious matter about the delay in granting indefinite leave to remain to Sri Lankans who have sought political asylum and the impact on their ability to contribute to the UK. It is absolutely and woefully inadequate that I have had to wait almost a year to get any kind of response from the Minister of State. Actually, the Minister of State has changed in that time, and the response is still inadequate.

I am genuinely sorry to hear of the hon. Lady’s experience. She will recognise that correspondence units in each Department have turnaround times. That sounds like a very bad experience, so if she would like to send me the details, I will take it up with the Department on her behalf.

I am sure the Leader of the House will be as pleased as I am that Rugby is delivering new homes at three times the national rate—it currently has 17 sites for homebuyers to choose from—yet the Heart of England Co-op has chosen to push ahead with an application to develop a well-established recreation area at Oakfield, in a part of the town with limited facilities, against the wishes of the local community. May we therefore have a debate about the value of retaining open spaces so that young people can enjoy the great outdoors?

I am sympathetic to my hon. Friend; as constituency MPs we all have to find a balance between meeting housing needs and protecting the green and outdoor spaces around us. The national planning policy framework was updated in July, and it safeguards existing recreation areas unless there is clear evidence that the loss can be justified. As my hon. Friend knows, the planning system is locally led, so I hope that his planning authority has taken into consideration strongly held views about the recreation area in Oakfield.

The Government have faced repeated calls from Labour Members to bring privatised probation services back under public control. Following the shocking news that the largest private provider of probation services, Interserve, needs a bail-out, it continues to be awarded Government contracts, so may we please have an urgent debate about the future of privatised probation services?

The hon. Lady takes a significant interest in this issue, so she will know that Justice questions are next Tuesday, at which she might want to raise the matter. It is vital that offenders are properly supervised, and our reforms mean that up to 40,000 more offenders are being monitored than was previously the case. She raises an important issue, and I encourage her to take it up with Ministers.

Two days ago at the TechFest STEM in the Pipeline schools BP challenge in Aberdeen, students from schools across north-east Scotland battled it out to develop an ideal oilfield development plan for a fictional North sea oilfield. I am delighted to report, to what I am sure is an eager House, that a team from Westhill Academy in my constituency won the Maximising Economic Recovery accolade. Will my right hon. Friend join me not only in congratulating the staff and pupils involved, but in considering what more the Government can do to encourage more young people to get involved in STEM subjects in an engaging and exciting way?

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating students at Westhill Academy. As energy Minister I had the chance to take part in a survival challenge in Scotland, before going out to an offshore oil rig; perhaps my hon. Friend could think about offering such a prize to some of those students. They would get in a pretend helicopter and be dropped from the roof upside down into a swimming pool —it is definitely exciting. He is right to point out the Government’s commitment to improving STEM subjects. The Government fund a number of programmes that aim to inspire more young people to study science subjects, such as the STEM Ambassadors programme and the CREST Awards, which encourage students to do STEM-related projects. I congratulate them all on their prizes.

Yesterday, the Conservative party lost any ounce of credibility in leading investigations into sexual harassment and bullying in this place when it restored the Whip to the hon. Members for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and for Burton (Andrew Griffiths). I am afraid it is thoroughly implausible that those investigations just so happened to conclude yesterday. How can we be assured that party politics are taken out of investigations into such allegations, and out of crucial appointments to committees that govern standards and privileges in this House?

The hon. Lady will be aware that parties across the House combined to develop the independent complaints procedure. It was right that we did that, and one key reason for doing so was to ensure that any future complaints would not have to go down party political routes. That was at the heart of the process, as was confidentiality for the complainant, and the complaints procedure has now been up and running for more than four months. A steady stream of complaints are being brought forward to it, and there are a small number of ongoing investigations. That is the right way for complaints to be brought forward in this House, to give people the assurance that party politics will not get in the way.

My constituent, Marion Finch of Muirkirk, had a lifetime disability living allowance higher rate award, yet when she was reassessed for the personal independence payment she was given only the standard mobility rate. While fighting the system her health deteriorated and, tragically, she died. Her husband is convinced that stress was a contributor to that, and on a point of principle he appealed the decision, which was then overturned. Will the Leader of the House, on behalf of the Government, offer an apology to Mr Finch, and speak to her Cabinet colleagues about the real effects of the Government’s welfare policy?

May I say how sorry we all are to hear of the loss of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent? It is always incredibly tragic for somebody whose health is deteriorating to then pass on. Our sympathies go to her widower. The Government seek at all times to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Since 2010, more money has been going into supporting those with disabilities to get into work and improve their lives than ever before. It is vital that we continue to do everything we can to improve people’s lives.

The Leader of the House has robbed me of the seventh chance to ask her where the immigration Bill is. I thank her for that. Instead, I would like to know when, oh when, are we going to get our meaningful vote?

I am so sorry to steal the hon. Lady’s thunder. I thought she might be pleased with that news, but she has another challenge for me. As I have said, and as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), said: at the very latest by 21 January.

May we have a debate on Government Department response times? The Child Maintenance Service has been making me wait for an inordinate length of time in relation to the case of my Carmyle constituent, Jamie Cameron. The CMS overestimated his salary by £100,000 and I cannot deal with his case until it responds. When can we have a statement from the Government about the woeful state of the CMS?

I am obviously not familiar with the specifics of the case the hon. Gentleman mentions. I suggest he seeks an Adjournment debate or asks a parliamentary question of Ministers to try to get information on his particular case.

As the Leader of the House knows, the Committee on Standards published a report this week recommending some quick wins that we could implement on the way to full implementation of the Laura Cox report recommendations, without prejudice to longer-term improvements. Will the Leader make time for a debate on that report and its recommendations, and a vote on the recommendations that we make and that the House will need to endorse?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for the speed with which she and her Committee have come forward with some quick recommendations on how to ensure more independence in the parliamentary scrutiny process. I pay tribute to her Committee for that. I have already seen the report and I will certainly look at finding time for a debate.

A century ago, Springburn in my constituency was a world centre for locomotive manufacturing. Last night, the heartbreaking news broke that the last locomotive works in Springburn, the St Rollox Locomotive Works which dates from 1856, is to close with the loss of 180 jobs. I am very confident that this could be avoided with a proper effort from Government at all levels. Will the Leader of the House seek to engage with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, so that we can have a statement or correspondence on what we can do to safeguard this crucial highly sophisticated and highly skilled centre for locomotive repair and overhaul in Scotland?

I am genuinely sorry to hear about the threatened closure of that plant. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an urgent Adjournment debate, so that he can raise the issue directly with Ministers.

A UN report and space satellite images show that 1 million Uighur Muslims are in a mass internment camp where they are forced to undergo psychological indoctrination programmes. More recent reports show the widespread use of torture for those who resist. May I ask the Leader of the House to ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on what action our Government are taking with regard to this matter, or is it going to be business as usual where we do not want to upset powerful countries?

I share the hon. Lady’s enormous concern for the plight of the Rohingya people. It is absolutely appalling what is—[Interruption.]

I am sorry. I apologise to the hon. Lady. I heard Rohingya. I do apologise. Mr Speaker, may I ask the hon. Lady to repeat her question?

A UN report and space satellite images show that 1 million Uighur Muslims are in a mass internment camp where they are forced to undergo psychological indoctrination programmes. More recent reports show that those who resist are subjected to widespread torture. Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to come to this House to make a statement on what action our Government are taking in relation to this situation, or is it going to be business as usual where we never want to criticise a powerful country?

My sincere apologies to the hon. Lady for mishearing her the first time round. She is raising an incredibly important point. We have all been horrified to hear the stories of what is going on. We have International Development questions on Wednesday 9 January—[Interruption.] I certainly absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that it is vital that we do all we can in this country, and if she would like to email me, I can take this up directly with the Foreign Office.

Scotland’s parliamentarians and Scotland’s Government are on a bit of a roll at the moment, with legal victories in Supreme Courts across Europe against the British Government in the midst of the Brexit chaos. This morning, the United Kingdom Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish Parliament had the competence to pass its Brexit continuity Bill at the time that it did, and that Scotland’s chief Law Officer, the Lord Advocate, gave the correct advice and that the Presiding Officer of the Holyrood Parliament was wrong in this respect. However, what has happened is that retrospectively, through House of Lords amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 here, the will of the Scottish Parliament has been thwarted. Can we have a debate about how it is ridiculous to say that Scotland has the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world and about how the only way to protect people in Scotland and the Scottish legal system from the folly of this Tory Government is independence?

I think the hon. and learned Lady may have just asked that question of the Attorney General, which would have been the more appropriate place—[Interruption.] Okay, well, perhaps she should have asked the Attorney General if she wanted the Law Officers’ advice on that. The answer that I would give is simply to remind her that Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom. It voted very recently to remain a part of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom entered the European Community together and we will be leaving the European Union together.

The Leader of the House obviously does not expect the Prime Minister to get a meaningful concession in Brussels, because otherwise we would have a meaningful vote next week. While the chaos has been happening on the Government’s side of the House, will she join me in paying tribute to the outgoing First Minister in Wales, Carwyn Jones, and the new Welsh Labour First Minister, Mark Drakeford? Does she perhaps concede that we need to take some lessons in strong and stable Government from the Welsh Labour Government, who have delivered real changes for my constituents, including new schools, new hospitals, new further education colleges and real differences in public services? That is what happens when we have a Government focused on what matters to people, rather than one who are focused on the chaos on the other side.

I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in thanking the outgoing First Minister for his service to the people of Wales and congratulate and wish all the best to Mark Drakeford, who is taking over. As to the other points that he raises, I am a huge, huge fan of Wales and all the amazing achievements of Welsh food producers, Welsh creators and Welsh farming communities, as well as the amazing culture and the wonderful walks, but less so of the Welsh Government—he will forgive me for making that point.

Yesterday, I learned that another brilliant live music venue, Gwdihŵ, in my constituency and other long-standing local businesses are being forced to close to make way for unnecessary commercial development. Can we have a debate on what additional measures are needed across the UK to protect cultural assets against the threat of greedy developers?

I hope that the hon. Lady took the opportunity to raise that at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions, which we just had. She will be aware that the Government do everything that we can to support thriving arts and culture right across the UK and that many of our towns are undergoing quite some change, because of the reduced footprint and the way that people are shopping differently, online and so on. The Government are doing what we can by reducing business rates and by encouraging thriving arts and culture. With regards to the specific issue that she raises, she might want to seek an Adjournment debate.

Cuba is undergoing a process to adopt a new constitution in February 2019. Unfortunately, freedom of religion and belief protections in the draft constitution have been deliberately weakened, and according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, some church leaders who have been standing up for stronger freedom of religious belief provisions have been threatened by the Cuban Government. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this very pressing issue?

The hon. Gentleman often raises the suppression of religious freedom and is absolutely right to do so. He will be aware that the Government entirely support the rights of all individuals to express their religious preferences. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise the matter with Ministers.

I am absolutely delighted about “Erskine May” being online, not least because when I called for that on 2 November 2017, both you, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the House were ever so slightly sniffy about the very idea. I am absolutely delighted that we are united in wanting it online.

It is preposterous for us to delay endlessly the vote on Brexit. If we bump up against 21 January, businesses in this country will be wasting time, energy and money worrying about whether there will be a no-deal situation. We need to get on with it. I say this to the Leader of the House: please ditch all next week’s business. Let us get on with the debate and get on with making a decision. That is what Parliament is for—decisions.

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is delighted. I do not think Mr Speaker or I were sniffy.

On the hon. Gentleman’s main point on the meaningful vote, when hon. Members look at themselves in the mirror, they know full well that the country needs a decision to support a withdrawal agreement. We were looking at a decision not to support a meaningful vote. That is precisely why the Prime Minister decided that we would not go ahead with the vote—she was concerned that hon. Members would not support the withdrawal agreement. If the hon. Gentleman wants to come forward with a worked-out and negotiable alternative, that would be great, but the reality is that the Opposition have no alternatives to suggest. All they want to do is have a vote so that they can vote no. The Prime Minister, in the interests of the country, is trying to find a withdrawal agreement that the House will support.

Naturally I reject the accusation that there was any sniffiness in my attitude. The Leader of the House can answer for herself and has already done so. My recollection is that the House was advised that “Erskine May” was already available to Members online. In so far as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), leading the charge for progressive change, was making the argument that it should be more widely available online, I am happy to accept that. If that burnishes the hon. Gentleman’s credentials as a champion of progressive change and brings some happiness into his heart, that is a double benefit.

In my meeting with the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, she stated that Department for Work and Pensions auditors of health assessment reports offer recommendations only, but the independent assessment service told me that the auditor has the authority to overrule report justifications. In my constituent’s case, the auditors instructed that changes be made. May we have a debate in Government time to enable Ministers to explain these differences to the House?

The hon. Lady will be aware that we have DWP questions on the first day back on 7 January, when I am sure Ministers will be able to explain that to her.

As one of the 164 MPs who were called last week—I was called a little after midnight last Tuesday—I am very concerned by the suspension of the vote, not least because the Brexit Secretary might change again by the time we get to it. I tell the Leader of the House that kicking the can down the road is not a strategy for government, and that waiting for the sword of Damocles to fall on people’s homes, businesses and livelihoods, and our NHS, is completely unacceptable. She is deliberately pursuing a policy of running down the clock and spending taxpayers’ money in order to blackmail Parliament into supporting her deal. I tell her now that it will not work.

Yes, nothing disorderly has occurred because, if there were a suspicion of disorderly behaviour, I feel sure that I would have been advised thus. I think that the essential point was of a political character. I do not think anybody is making any allegation that would, if you like, detract from the right hon. Lady’s honour or be an imputation of dishonesty, because I feel sure that senior Clerks would have advised me. I think the essential charge was a political one, to which I am sure the Leader of the House is capable of responding.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

The hon. Lady will realise that—as I have just said to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—had we gone ahead with the vote, the House would have been very unlikely to support the withdrawal agreement as it stood. She says that in not holding the vote we are running down the clock. The point is that the Prime Minister listened to the views of the House, and has now gone away urgently to seek changes which will mean that the House can support the agreement—in other words, so that she can put to the House something that it will support in the interests of the country. It is not in the interests of the United Kingdom for the House to have a vote on something that the House does not accept. That is what would create the uncertainty about which the hon. Lady is concerned.

Order. It is an important point, colleagues, that was raised by the Leader of the House quizzically with me, and I have been confirmed in my sense that it was a metaphorical use of the term, and when I say I have been confirmed in that sense, I mean that I have been confirmed in that sense by professional advice of the highest order. So no impropriety has occurred. I have no objection to being asked whether there was an impropriety, but there was no impropriety at all.

Following the news this week about Interserve, the previous collapse of Carillion and the repeated failures of Capita, will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister from the Cabinet Office to come and make a statement about the functions of the Crown Representative system, which is meant to be the link between Government and strategic suppliers? When we see these large companies failing to fulfil their contracts, something is clearly not working in the scrutiny process.

The hon. Gentleman has raised a really important point. After the collapse of Carillion, it was clear that the Government wanted to carry out further reviews to ensure that public service provision and taxpayers’ money were protected at all times, and they have taken a number of steps to achieve that. As the hon. Gentleman will know, Cabinet Office questions will take place next Wednesday, and I encourage him to raise the matter with Ministers then.

It is welcome that the immigration Bill is finally to be published, but when will we have a chance to debate it? My constituent Robert Makutsa is stuck in interminable legal processes as the Government try to deport him through their hostile environment policy, although his wife is a UK citizen and he makes a valuable contribution to music and sound engineering in Glasgow. Will the Leader of the House ask the Immigration Minister to grant him leave, and when exactly will the Bill be debated so that we can seek to amend and reform this hostile immigration policy?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important constituency issue to which I am extremely sympathetic, and I applaud him for doing so, but I do not accept that the Home Office is employing a hostile environment policy. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is trying hard to change any sense that there is an unwelcoming approach to new migrants or, indeed, to existing migrants who are seeking the right to remain here. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise the specific point with me in an email, I can take it up with the Home Office on his behalf.

We are in an absurd position. The Leader of the House is berating Members for not supporting her Bill, but how can we engage with the Bill in any way, shape or form unless she brings it to the House? The Prime Minister has travelled around Europe this week, she has spoken to numerous leaders of countries, and she is going to the European Council at the weekend. There is nothing that she will know after Christmas that she will not know this weekend. She should bring back the Bill next week. Will the Leader of the House press her to do so? If not, she is the Leader of the House: just bring it back.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for attributing such magical powers to me, but, as he will appreciate, I am not able to do such a thing on my own. He talked about a Bill; he means, of course, the withdrawal agreement, and the meaningful vote.

I am not berating Members in any way. Having listened to the views of the House at great length over many weeks, I fully understand and, indeed, share the House’s concerns about, in particular, the prospect of the UK’s being stuck permanently in a backstop that we cannot get out of. However, I think that the House should give the Prime Minister an opportunity to seek amendments so that it can then support the agreement.

The North East England chamber of commerce is telling me that the uncertainty built into the future partnership framework will cost investment and jobs in the north-east of England, and it has asked me to achieve an outcome that leaves the UK in the single market and customs union, so when will I have a chance to end this business uncertainty by voting against the Prime Minister’s deal and for a public vote that includes an option to stay in the EU?

It is not Government policy to allow us to do anything other than leave the EU on 29 March 2019, and it is the Government’s policy to do so with a good deal that works for the UK and the EU.

The images of Christmas that are portrayed in advertising and on television are of families coming together, but the reality for many people is that this is a time of great loneliness. Although I appreciate that there is not time for a statement or a debate on the issue of loneliness, may I invite the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, and all hon. Members to join me at the Samaritans reception on Monday at 4 o’clock in the Thames pavilion where we will be launching a report on loneliness, particularly among young people? Last year 1,660 young people took their own lives, and it is time that we recognised the epidemic that is loneliness in this country.

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. She is right to raise this issue. Loneliness is an appalling scourge; whether for a young person at home with a new baby or somebody older who has perhaps been bereaved, it is absolutely appalling. We now have the first ever Minister for loneliness, as she will appreciate, and the Government are committed to a proper strategy for tackling this problem. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the Samaritans reception next week.

Following on from questions from my hon. Friends, the Prime Minister has been touring Europe this week and will be at the European Council this weekend. The Leader of the House has already announced the business for next week, including that the Prime Minister will make her usual statement after the European Council meeting. So why oh why can we not bring the meaningful vote back next week, since we know that the Prime Minister cannot open up the legal agreement and is merely seeking assurances? Is this not just a scorched earth policy from the Government to bribe Members of this Parliament to vote for a deal that we all know is flawed?

The hon. Gentleman rightly says that the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House on Monday after the EU Council. He asserts that she will not succeed in her negotiations. The Opposition have asserted all the way through that the Government’s negotiations will not succeed, but an agreement has been negotiated and the Prime Minister is seeking to further improve on it to address the concerns expressed by right hon. and hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister how that has gone on Monday.

Will the Leader of the House organise a debate in Government time on the planning system? My district council of Stroud has a proud record of delivering the numbers required and has met its five-year plan supply, but under the Government’s new formula there is a massive hike in the number of houses it is expected to provide. Much as we need houses, there must be some fairness in how that system operates, so will the Leader of the House organise a debate?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, we do need many more houses. We have a very good track record: we have delivered over 217,000 new homes in the latest year, which is the highest level in all but one of the last 30 years. That is good news, but there is more to do, and he is right that there needs to be a balance between the needs of those who already live in a community and the needs of those who want a home. He will be aware that local planning is a matter for local authorities, but I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise his local concerns directly with Ministers.

So in other news this week, the media have been reporting that Crossrail is about to get a £2 billion bail-out to add to what it has already received—a total of, I think, £17 billion —and that is before we even start with Crossrail 2, which has an earmarked price tag of about £30 billion. The north, meanwhile, is getting nothing like those figures, so may we have a statement from the Transport Secretary on what is going on with the mismanagement and overspending of the Crossrail budget?

I sympathise with the hon. Lady. She will be aware that we have Transport questions in our first week back, on 10 January, and I encourage her to raise that matter directly with the Secretary of State then.

As we approach the holiday season, I should like to take this opportunity to wish teachers, staff and pupils a peaceful Christmas. I should also like to give credit to people who will not be with their families over the holiday period because they are helping to keep us safe and secure. May we have a debate in Government time on the role of those volunteers and professionals—people who are just doing their jobs and giving up time for their communities?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this. There are so many people working as volunteers, or doing their duty as police officers, local council workers and so on, who will enable the rest of us to have a lovely relaxing Christmas, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. He will be aware that there is a pre-recess Adjournment debate next Thursday, and he might well want to raise the matter again then.

About a month ago, Royal Mail contacted me to inform me that the Hope Farm Road post office in my constituency would be closing on a temporary basis. It explained the reasons for that and the interim arrangements that would be put in place. Unfortunately, no interim arrangements have materialised and the Post Office appears to have no plan to get it reopened. It is not even replying to my emails now. May we please have a debate on how we can hold this shambolic organisation to account?

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman has had such a bad experience with the Post Office, and he is right to raise the matter here. I think he will probably now get an answer to his question in very short order.

Last week I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on child poverty in the UK. She dismissed my request and said that I was making assertions. She stated:

“Just because the hon. Lady makes those assertions, it does not make them true.”—[Official Report, 6 December 2018; Vol. 650, c. 1069.]

I am going to try again. May we have a debate on child poverty in the UK? If any MP has any evidence that refutes the evidence given by the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Child Poverty Action Group and the United Nations rapporteur, let them bring that evidence to the debate. Let us have a proper debate on this, and let us find out the truth about child poverty in the UK on her Government’s watch.

I never dismiss the requests of right hon. and hon. Members. The hon. Lady did indeed ask for a debate on child poverty, and I merely sought to put right some of her assertions. I would say to her that we now have more children growing up in a home where they see their parents going to work and providing for their family, with 630,000 fewer children living in workless households. The numbers of people and children in absolute poverty are at record lows, with 1 million fewer people and 300,000 fewer children in absolute poverty. Income inequality is also down—it is lower than in any year under the last Labour Government—as the Conservatives have built a fairer and more equal society.

Regarding Europe, is it not now time for those on the two Front Benches to get together, perhaps even with you, Mr Speaker, to offer the House a timetable for the votes that we must have—namely, on the Prime Minister’s deal and, if that falls, on a further referendum, on no deal or on a Norway-style option—so that we can see how the land lies while we still have time to do something about it?

As I have said to a number of right hon. and hon. Members, the meaningful vote will be brought back by 21 January at the latest. Members will know that the Government are under a statutory obligation under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to have the deal approved by a motion in the House, and we will do so just as soon as possible.

A large number of Scottish sports governing bodies have brought to my attention their growing concern regarding sports governance arrangements across the UK. Scottish sports and athletics are being undermined by the decisions and actions of UK bodies—the recent autocratic actions of UK Athletics are a case in point. The all-party parliamentary group on Scottish sport will be having a look at this soon. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House to enable Ministers to hear what Members have to say on this?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman took advantage of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions earlier today. I know that sports governing bodies are a matter of huge interest right across this House, and he might well want to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that all hon. Members can take part.