The business for the week commencing Monday 7 January 2019 will be as follows:
Monday 7 January—The draft Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018, followed by a debate on the fifth report from the Committee on Standards, “Implications of the Dame Laura Cox report for the House’s standards system: Initial proposals”, followed by a general debate on children’s social care in England. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 8 January—Remaining stages of the Finance (No.3) Bill.
Wednesday 9 January—Proceedings on a business motion relating to section 13(1)(B) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, followed by a debate on section 13(1)(B) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Thursday 10 January—Continuation of debate on section 13(1)(B) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Friday 11 January—Subject to the proceedings on the business motion, the House may meet to continue the debate on section 13(1)(B) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
On the 36th and final business question of the year, I would like to pay particular tribute to Brendon Mulvihill, Les Stockwell and Noel Kirby, who all retire from the Commons this Christmas with a combined 120 years of service between them. It is that kind of knowledge and dedication that makes Parliament such a wonderful place for the rest of us to work, and their service is very much appreciated by all of us.
The online publication of “Erskine May” was such a popular early Christmas present last week that I am pleased to be able to come to the House with one last pre-recess Christmas offering: anyone looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for their colleagues will now find that the “MPs’ Guide to Procedure” has been published, and I recommend every colleague might like to pick up a copy, and we are grateful for the hard work of the House staff in producing this.
On the final business questions of 2018, I would like to pay tribute to, and wish a very merry Christmas to, all the staff of Parliament: from the doorkeepers and caterers to the cleaners and the clerks, you all deserve a very well-earned rest.
It has been a busy year in Parliament and I know there are challenging days and big decisions ahead of us—there is no denying that. I would like to say at such an important time for Parliament that I know that, despite our differences, every Member comes to this place to do right by their constituents and their country. We should always remember that what brings us together is stronger than what divides us, and I pay tribute to all colleagues across this House for their commitment. With that in mind, I wish all Members a very happy and restful Christmas and the very best for 2019.
I thank the Leader of the House for her business statement. It is a very interesting business statement, but before turning to it may I ask this question of the Leader of the House? She confirmed in replying to me on the draft Markets in Financial Instruments (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 that if a “reasonable request” was made for a debate, she would allow it. I thought I had made a reasonable request last week, but it appears to have been pushed through without a debate in a deferred Division. I also ask her to look at the question of statutory instruments. This issue was raised by the shadow Chancellor, who says that sometimes statutory instruments do not seem to have a named Minister. I am not sure that that is the correct way to proceed as there are wide-ranging powers. Will the Leader of the House look at the statutory instruments, so that we do not have a “To whom it may concern” on them?
I also asked about the draft Universal Credit (Managed Migration) Regulations 2018. Given that the new Secretary of State said yesterday when speaking to the Select Committee on Work and Pensions that she was not going to follow the prescribed time limit, may I ask that the Government withdraw this now, pending the results of the pilot scheme, to stop the full transition?
And where is the NHS 10-year plan? The Prime Minister did not answer that question yesterday in response to the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston).
Turning to the business, we have a debate on Wednesday, on Thursday and possibly on Friday. It cannot have been difficult to give us the following week’s business, too. I can do it: Monday 14 January, continuation of the debate on the European Union withdrawal Act; Tuesday 15 January, debate on the European withdrawal Act, and the meaningful vote. The Prime Minister said in her statement this week:
“I can confirm today that we intend to return to the meaningful vote debate in the week commencing 7 January and hold the vote the following week.”—[Official Report, 17 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 528.]
I hope she is true to her word and we do not have to rely on lip-readers. I ask the Leader of the House if this will be a new motion on a new deal or the old deal with an explanatory note. Do those hon. and right hon. Members who have already spoken get to speak again, and do those who did not speak before get to speak first now?
The Prime Minister pulled the meaningful vote, saying she had heard from hon. Members, but she had not because there were still two days of debate left—and former Ministers were among those waiting to speak—so let’s slay that unicorn. She had not heard from the House in a vote: it was just what the Government thought the House was going to do. I had not realised that the Government had additional powers of telepathy; I wonder if that is in “Erskine May”. I know the Prime Minister wants the Opposition to help her with her deal, so let’s slay that unicorn. The Prime Minister went to the EU with her red lines and her negotiating position. She cannot expect hon. Members now to come to her aid when she did not even consult us on her red lines in the first place. We in the Opposition were gagged.
What do businesses say? A Bristol-based online retailer said that, unless there is a Christmas Brexit miracle, he will move part of his business to Germany in January because of impending tariffs. The Institute of Directors said that business leaders were “tearing their hair out” at the current state of negotiations, and that
“the last thing businesses needed today was more uncertainty”.
The British Chambers of Commerce called on politicians to “redouble efforts” to stop a no-deal Brexit. The Cabinet is split on a managed no-deal and, it seems, on a second referendum.
I have a Christmas quiz, so fingers on buzzers. Who said this:
“The Conservative Party is suffering something like a nervous breakdown. To watch the Tories in the Commons is to watch a group that has lost much of its self discipline. Members openly insult each other, the leader has only just survived a vote of confidence, and the pro-Brexit European Research Group of backbenchers appears to have its own whipping system and policy platform”?
No, it was not the Leader of the Opposition, but Lord Finkelstein, writing yesterday in The Times.
Yesterday the Prime Minister was like a pantomime dame. The Government are like “Whacky Races”, or perhaps the spin-off, “The Perils of Penelope Pitstop”, with the Prime Minister as Penelope Pitstop, stopping off at EU capitals and being pursued by the Ant Hill Mob—the no-dealers, chasing unicorns. The Prime Minister has phoned all her friends and taken away all the answers, right and wrong, by pulling the vote, and she has failed to ask the audience. Can the Leader of the House guarantee that there will be a vote in the week commencing 14 January, just as the Prime Minister has stated in Parliament?
I too welcome the new procedure guide—many Members will have been accosted by the Chairman of Ways and Means as he handed them out in Portcullis House. I want to mention the colleagues who worked so hard on it, particularly Joanna Dodd. Thank you to Joanna and all her colleagues.
I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, and everyone who works in your office for all their support—they are the epitome of grace under pressure. I also thank the Deputy Speakers and all the House staff. Let us remember that it is the Clerk’s last Christmas in post. I thank the Serjeant at Arms; Phil and his team of doorkeepers; the House of Commons Library; the official reporters; the catering and cleaning staff; the postal workers; the police officers who provide additional security and back-up for the doorkeepers; and all the security officers on the estate.
We too sadly say goodbye and good luck to our three extremely experienced House staff who are leaving in January. Brendon Mulvihill has been with the House Service for 36 years, as head office keeper and head of service delivery. Les Stockwell is a service delivery manager with 42 years of experience. Noel Kirby has 41 years as a service delivery manger. Together, they have supported the House through 10 general elections. Les, you have been very helpful to me personally. I hope that they will all come back and see the House that they built, passing on their advice and support of this unique place, helping us to do our work for our constituents, understanding that this is a workplace, not just a visitor attraction.
I also want to mention MP4 and their latest release, which is quite significant because all the money raised goes to the charity Crisis. I also thank the Opposition Chief Whip and his office, and of course my staff. I wish all right hon. and hon. Members a peaceful Christmas and all good wishes for 2019.
I thank the hon. Lady for her many different points, and for her good wishes to the House. She raised a number of points on statutory instruments, and I have heard her request clearly. She will know that the Government have a good record in responding to reasonable requests from the Opposition for time for debates on the Floor of the House. We will continue to discuss such requests through the usual channels.
The hon. Lady made a point about designated Ministers with responsibility for statutory instruments, but I am not entirely sure that I caught it, so I will have to look it up in Hansard and write to her. To update the House, though, more than 290 Brexit statutory instruments have now been laid for Parliament to scrutinise, and very good progress is being made. We continue to provide as smooth a flow as possible for the sifting Committees in this House and the other place. We are quite clear that we have enough time to get all those urgent Brexit statutory instruments through. I hope that that reassures the House. The hon. Lady asked specifically about the universal credit statutory instrument; I shall take that away and take it up with the Secretary of State on her behalf.
The hon. Lady asked where the NHS 10-year plan is. She will be aware that our long-term plan for the NHS will see funding grow by £394 million more a week in real terms by 2023-24. That is the biggest investment in our NHS ever committed by a Government, and it is great news for the NHS. The NHS itself is writing its long-term plan for how it will use that money to provide a better service for patients, and we look forward to seeing that as soon as it is available.
The hon. Lady asked about the second week back after the Christmas recess. The business of the House will of course be subject to the motion, which will be put to the House on 9 January. There will then be the opportunity for the House to agree the business. She asked whether there will be a new motion; that will of course be subject to what the Prime Minister comes back with. As she has made clear, she is seeking legal reassurances on the issues around the backstop. Whether MPs will speak twice in the debate is a matter for you, Mr Speaker. It is matter for the Chair as to who speaks in debates.
Let me be clear: the hon. Lady suggested that the Prime Minister has not spoken to the Opposition, but she very much has. Throughout this Parliament the Government have been seeking to speak to Opposition Members closely and collaboratively about their concerns about the Brexit preparations. There were more than 280 hours of debate in the Chambers on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, and it took more than 11 months for that Bill to go through Parliament. The hon. Lady will appreciate that there is a huge amount of consultation, and the Prime Minister is seeking to provide reassurance. If the hon. Lady wants uncertainty to be gone, she and her right hon. and hon. colleagues must take seriously the proposal that the Prime Minister will put before the House and seriously consider voting for it. That is the way to get rid of uncertainty for the country.
Finally, I should point out to the hon. Lady that Penelope Pitstop always wins through in the end. All the rotters and cads around her get defeated and she always wins.
My right hon. Friend should recall that Penelope Pitstop was opposed by a man called Dick Dastardly, who was completely incompetent and lost out every time.
May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to an issue of significant importance? I am a sponsor of Lord McColl’s Bill on improvements to modern-day slavery legislation. I recognise that it will never see the light of day in this Chamber, but will my right hon. Friend use her good offices to speak to her right hon. Friends in the Home Office and recognise that this great thing that the Conservative party introduced—this was the first Parliament in the world to introduce a modern slavery Bill, and we did that to help to release those people suffering—now needs serious adjustments to ensure that those who suffer persecution can be protected by being allowed longer stays in this country? I urge her to use her good offices to persuade the Home Office to extend that time, or to schedule a debate in the House on a possible extension to the time for which victims of modern slavery may stay in the UK. Otherwise, they risk being retrafficked, and we would never forgive ourselves if that happened.
My right hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. All of us in this House are proud of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which the Prime Minister passed when she was Home Secretary. It is vital that we keep ahead of problems. It is extraordinary and utterly unacceptable that slavery still exists to this day. The Government have done a lot to protect against violence against women and girls. Through the 2015 Act, we will continue to review any steps that need to be taken to improve on the work that has already gone ahead.
May I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next year? As we remember particular issues, it is worth while noting that tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie tragedy, the biggest single act of terrorism perpetrated on British soil.
Well, there does not seem to be much sign of Christmas cheer in this place, does there? Yesterday, the House practically descended into a grotesque pantomime of, “He says, she says”. The sight of the party of Government reduced to nothing other than a furious mob was as bizarre as it was unedifying. The scenes from yesterday were simply appalling, and constituents have got in touch to say just how embarrassed they felt about how this place conducted itself. As Rome was burning, we were deciphering what the Leader of the Opposition muttered under his breath with speech analysts. For the Leader of the House to raise the temperature in the way she did yesterday was simply irresponsible. She is the Leader of the House and she should be lowering the temperature, not lighting the touch paper. In this place, our favourite Christmas film is not “It’s a Wonderful Life”—it is “Hate Actually”.
As we leave today, we leave this country on the very brink. Not only have we arrived at the cliff edge, but the front wheels are starting to topple over. And from us it is nothing other than a cursory, “Merry Christmas, British people, see you in 17 days”, as they look on with bemused Brexmas horror. But what happens when we get back? The Leader of the House has to make this clear today: do we have a resumption or a new debate when we come back to the meaningful vote? Will all the previous amendments, particularly the one tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), still stand? I know that she now personally favours the chaos of a no deal, but the rest of the country do not and she will not get that past this House. When I asked her the last time, a few weeks ago—she will remember her response to me—whether the meaningful vote definitely, without condition, would go ahead, she said it most definitely would. So I ask her today, once again: will this meaningful vote definitely happen at the time specified by the Prime Minister, yes or no? We will not accept any other attempts to remove this.
Lastly, Mr Speaker, may I wish you all the very best for this Christmas? I hope you have time to get yourself a peaceful Christmas. Of course, I want to extend that to the staff in this House, who I believe will be glad to be shot of the lot of us for a couple of weeks. I am sure they are going to enjoy being clear of Members of Parliament bothering them. Mr Speaker, 2018 was Brexit crisis year, and it is almost unbelievable to think that 2019 could be so much worse. So to everybody across this House, let me say: enjoy your Christmas and, more importantly, enjoy it while you still can.
I would not dream of calling the hon. Gentleman a bit of a Grinch, because that might be unparliamentary language, Mr Speaker. First, I wish to join him in paying tribute, in memoriam, to those who suffered from that appalling, horrific incident in Lockerbie 30 years ago. Many will never get over it and our hearts go out to them at this time.
The hon. Gentleman and I worked very hard on the complaints procedure and on the culture change in this place, seeking to treat everybody who works here and comes here with dignity and respect. So I simply do not accept his accusation that what happened yesterday was trivial. It is very important that we in this Chamber do act as if we know how to behave. We need to be a role model if we are to succeed in changing the culture of this place.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the meaningful vote debate. As he knows, it will be coming back on the first week back. There will be a business of the House motion on 9 January, so the House will decide exactly the terms on which and for how long that motion is debated. He asks specifically about the amendment in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. In simple terms the answer to that is, yes, paragraph 11 of the order of 4 December remains an order of this House. That has not changed. And merry Christmas to the hon. Gentleman.
I, too, want to wish the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and everybody else a happy Christmas. It has been a busy year and I am looking forward to 2019 optimistically nevertheless. The Leader of the House set out the dates for the start of the debate. When is the end of the debate, when we will have the meaningful vote?
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the business statement. I understand that, because of the nature of the business, the Backbench Business Committee will not get any time in the first week back after the Christmas and new year recess, but I hope that we will get some time early in the new year. Yesterday’s almost unprecedented events meant that one of our debates had to be postponed. It was an important debate on mental health first aid in the workplace. As a result of the two Government statements and the almost unprecedented number of points of order, the debate had to be—[Hon. Members: “And an emergency debate.”] I am sorry. I try to resist heckling because of my position, Madam Deputy Speaker, but don’t worry; I will roll with the punches.
That said, I am glad to see that this afternoon we have a healthy amount of time for the important debate on the Rohingya refugee crisis, and of course we must not forget that our pre-Adjournment debate on matters to be raised before the Adjournment will take place in Westminster Hall at 1.30 pm. Members not taking part in the Rohingya debate will be very welcome to come along.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, Mr Speaker and the Leader of the House a happy, peaceful and restful Christmas. I also wish all our constituents a happy, peaceful and restful, but also warm and comfortable, Christmas. They deserve it.
First, may I say it is such a pleasure to work with the hon. Gentleman? He sets a fine example of how to chair a Committee in this House. It is always a great pleasure. I would point out to him that on Monday 7 January there will in fact be a Backbench Business Committee debate on children’s social care in England—that is in the first week back—but I appreciate he has a long list of requests from Back Benchers, and I always seek to accommodate them.
This winter, notwithstanding extra investment, health services will struggle with extra patients and crowded schools with extra pupils, and our roads are more and more congested. At the heart of this is the level of population growth. The population is growing faster than at any time for almost a century, at a rate of 400,000 a year. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate on that subject? Much of the growth is due to immigration—not all, but much—which of course is at record levels. Such a debate would allow us to explore what Chesterton said:
“The way to love anything is to realise that it might be lost”.
With our green and pleasant land concreted over, our public services buckling under the pressure and civil society under strain, all that we cherish might be lost unless we act now.
I thought for one awful moment my right hon. Friend was going to say that I personally needed to do something about the population explosion, and I was scrabbling around to think what I could do. He is absolutely right to point out the need to keep the balance between building enough houses, which is a top priority for all right hon. and hon. Members—we all want to see people suitably housed—and preserving this green and pleasant land we live in. I completely understand where he is coming from. Under the Immigration Bill, which is shortly to be debated, and of course the meaningful vote debate, there will be plenty of opportunities to discuss the specific issue of how the growing population can best be served.
Moving away from the Brexit issue, can we have an early debate on the situation in Syria and the fight against Daesh, given the statement by the US President, the fact that the US is going to withdraw its forces from the region and hand over to the Russians, the Iranians and Turkey, and that the French Government have made it clear they will remain engaged in Syria? Can we have an early debate or statement explaining what our Government’s position on the situation is?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this very concerning issue. We do remain committed to securing peace in Syria and fully support the UN-led Geneva process. Securing the lasting defeat of Daesh is a top priority for the Government. The Foreign Secretary made a written statement yesterday explaining that Daesh is being defeated militarily. It is estimated by the global coalition that Daesh has lost over 99% of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.
At the same time, it is vital that the UK remains at the forefront of the international humanitarian response. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the UK has committed over £2.7 billion to Syria since the start of the conflict, which is our biggest ever response to a humanitarian crisis. He will be aware that we have Defence questions on 14 January and he may want to raise this issue then.
I join with others in thanking Les, Noel and Brendon for their years of service to this House.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the criteria for awarding city status? Recently, the area that I represent was voted the happiest place in the country, and possibly in the world, so I think it would be excellent if happiness could be added to the criteria.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish everyone a happy Christmas.
My hon. Friend seems to make his constituency gaining city status a feature of his pre-recess bids. Having visited it recently with him, I have to say that it is a very happy place, but perhaps that is because he represents it so well. He will be aware that the criteria used to judge applications are determined once a city status competition has been called. The Government do not, I am afraid, have plans at present for a city status competition. However, I urge him to make representations to the Cabinet Office for the next time.
May I extend my Christmas and happy new year wishes to the whole House?
On a very serious matter, the Leader of the House will be aware that yesterday there was a report in The Times about a leaked document from the Department for Work and Pensions that outlines different planning for Brexit scenarios. In particular, on a no-deal Brexit, the document warns of increased poverty, increased homelessness and a potential £12 billion cost to our country in increased unemployment costs. I note that we have seen online that the Government overnight—in the past 24 hours—have quietly edited every no-deal technical notice to take out the word “unlikely” from the sentence,
“in the unlikely event of no deal”.
This is a very serious situation. In her opening remarks, the Leader of the House talked about the need for reducing uncertainty and for us all therefore to vote in support of the withdrawal agreement. We are not going to get the chance to do that at the very least—if it goes ahead—for 24 days. Why is she not bringing the House back at the very least on 2 January, when most of the country goes back to work, to contend with the uncertainty that is causing a crisis in the country?
The hon. Lady raised the issue of a leaked document and she will be aware that we do not comment on leaked documents. At the same time, she will also be aware that any competent Government must always plan for all eventualities. That is not to predict that those are going to happen, but to ensure that we are never caught out by circumstances beyond our control. The Government will prepare for all eventualities and it is right that we do so.
The hon. Lady asked about bringing back the meaningful vote. As has been explained by the Prime Minister in the many statements she has made to this House, she has listened very carefully to the beginning of the debate on the meaningful vote and to the representations made right across the House about the grave concerns, particularly in regard to the backstop. The Prime Minister is determined to get the legal reassurances that hon. and right hon. Members want to see, and we will return with that vote once we are more confident that the House will support it. That is what will deliver the country from the uncertainty and that is what the Prime Minister is committed to achieving.
We cannot fail to notice that the high street has been on its knees. Indeed, many shops and pubs have been closing. I know there was a business rate relief of £51,000 in the Chancellor’s Budget. However, in a high house and property value area such as mine, £51,000 really is not helping at all. May we have an urgent debate on what more we can do to recognise that there is a cliff edge for very many businesses in prosperous areas and they get no relief whatsoever from the Chancellor’s business rate relief? Please may we debate as a matter of urgency why we should have not a cliff edge, but an escalator to encourage businesses to survive?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We know that the high street is changing and that more people are using online shopping routes. On the other hand, we also know that Britain’s retailers support over 3 million jobs and contribute over £90 billion to our economy, so it is absolutely right that we do everything we can to support them. She observed that we are cutting business rates, but pointed out that that has not helped in her own constituency. I would say to her that the Government and retailers come together through our Retail Sector Council. I encourage her to raise this in the Finance Bill debate on the second day back from recess, when she can discuss directly with Treasury Ministers what more can be done.
Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate in which I am sure she, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and, indeed, the Prime Minister would like to take part in order to set out their different or respective views on where next for Brexit? Such a debate would highlight the rather clueless, rudderless, fractured nature of our Government’s position on Brexit, thereby, I am absolutely certain, causing the Leader of the Opposition with immediate effect to sign the cross-party motion tabled by the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Green party and the Liberal Democrats—early-day motion 1943, the motion of no confidence in the Government—which I am sure the Leader of the House would want to make time available for us to debate.
I am not quite sure what the question was, but let me just say that the Government’s policy is absolutely clear: we will be leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019. The Prime Minister is working very hard on getting the changes that can secure the confidence of the House in her proposal, which will give certainty to businesses, travellers and people right across the United Kingdom about our future as we leave the European Union.
Last weekend, students from North London Collegiate School raised a whacking £50,000 towards the National Brain Appeal’s immunotherapy fund to combat brain cancer. Very sadly, the former headteacher of the school, who was the headteacher for 20 years, was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, but that treatment is not available on the national health service. When we come back, may we have a debate in Government time on what measures can be taken to ensure that the national health service funds this all-important treatment for the people who are suffering?
My hon. Friend raises a very serious and important issue. I am sure that brings back to all of us the memory of our friend Baroness Jowell, who tragically died as the result of brain cancer. It is a very serious issue, and I am sure some of the measures on particular treatments will be brought forward in the NHS 10-year plan. However, I encourage my hon. Friend to raise it directly with Ministers at the next Health and Social Care questions.
I am still not quite clear from what the Leader of the House has said why we cannot have a date for a final vote on the EU issue. She has announced Friday 11 January, but not the following day of the debate. That aside, may we have a debate urgently on the question of retail crime? Many shop workers face an increasing number of attacks over the Christmas period, and we need to put some protections in place. We have seen an increase in retail crime, with the cost of shoplifting offences rising to £700 million. It is an important issue, so may we have an urgent debate on that as well as an answer on the European question?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement on Monday, her sixth in 19 sitting days, in which she confirmed that we intend to return to the meaningful vote debate in the week commencing on 7 January and to hold the vote the following week, which is the week commencing on 14 January. Further details will be set out in the business of the House motion, which, as I have confirmed in today’s business statement, will be considered on Wednesday 9 January, before we continue the debate on the deal that day and for the remainder of that week.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s other point, I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), has offered to meet him to discuss his particular concerns. If he has any problem with that meeting and he would like me to take the issue up directly with her, I would be delighted to do so.
May we have time for a debate on compelling heavy goods vehicles to use commercial sat-navs to stop them using rural roads as cut-throughs, which is affecting the villages of Alfriston, Ditchling and Newick in my constituency? Commercial sat-navs would enable enforcement action to be taken against those who flout the height and weight restrictions, and it would make our rural roads safer for all road users.
I think my hon. Friend will find a lot of support for that from around the Chamber. In my constituency we have enormous problems with HGVs getting stuck together when they are trying to pass on a narrow country road. She will be aware that we have Transport questions in our first week back, on 10 January, and I encourage her to raise the issue directly with Ministers then.
In July last year, I held a Westminster Hall debate on drones and aviation. In his excellent reply, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) promised certain measures, which came into effect in July this year. Certain others will come into effect next year. The crisis at Gatwick airport at the moment shows just how important those measures are, and how they have to be enforced and, I believe, taken further. May we have another debate on drones and aviation safety, to ensure that the public are not put at risk and that passengers are not deprived of their holidays, their honeymoons and their visits to loved ones by the entirely irresponsible, and indeed criminal, actions of these perpetrators?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings for the action they oversaw to ensure that the Government brought forward legislation to make it a criminal offence carrying a sentence of up to five years and unlimited fines to interfere with an aeroplane using a drone. That was absolutely essential. Our hearts go out to all those who are desperately trying to go on holiday or arrive in the United Kingdom via Gatwick at the moment. What is happening is absolutely unacceptable. I know that the police are doing everything they can to catch the operators of those drones. My hon. Friend has made an extremely good point, and I encourage him to raise it at Transport questions on Thursday 10 January.
May we have a statement on Government procurement? The Health Secretary says that he is the world’s biggest buyer of fridges, which he is buying for medicines in preparation for a no-deal Brexit. Can the Leader of the House tell us exactly how many fridges the Government are going to be purchasing?
It might surprise the hon. Gentleman to learn that I cannot tell him exactly how many fridges—or indeed any other specific items he might like to raise—are involved. Had he given me prior notice of his question, I might have had a stab at it. The Government are ensuring that we are prepared for all eventualities, as any competent Government should do.
Merry Christmas, Madam Deputy Speaker. Emergency debates, extended exchanges on points of order and overrunning Question Times have contributed to the public’s perception that we are all overly fixated on Brexit. The Leader of the House will be aware of Standing Order No. 21, which requires that questions are not taken any later than one hour after the beginning of the House’s proceedings. Will she arrange for a statement, and perhaps even a debate, on the importance of that Standing Order being enforced, so that we can maximise the time available for other business, rather than being fixed by questions on Brexit?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have had quite a number of challenges to business as a result of emergency debates being brought forward. This is certainly something that I always keep a close eye on, but I would encourage him to raise this matter in the first place with the Chair of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), to see whether it is something that his Committee would like to consider further.
May we have a debate on the privatisation of the Forensic Science Service, following the scandal of 10,500 criminal cases that could have been affected by result-tampering at the private firm Randox Testing Services, based in Manchester, which the police have described as the worst evidence breach in living memory?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. It was quite a shock to see that report, and I think that all hon. Members will have been concerned about it. She is absolutely right to raise the matter, and she might like to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can get an answer directly from Ministers.
I welcome the Leader of the House’s announcement that we will have a chance to debate the conclusions of Dame Laura Cox’s review on the first day back after the recess. Given what we have seen this week, could she arrange through the usual channels for one of the Deputy Speakers—either you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or the right hon. Member for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing)—to be in the Chair for that debate, to show exactly how culture change will be driven in this House?
I wish you and everyone else a very merry Christmas, Madam Deputy Speaker.
On a more sombre note, my constituent Cole Thomson, aged six, has repeated paralysing epileptic seizures, and his mother Lisa has been battling for access to medicinal cannabis to try to save his life. She states:
“A few weeks ago, Cole was running around kicking a ball. Now he can barely lift his foot. I still can’t believe how quickly he has deteriorated. This is a horrible nightmare I can’t wake up from every night and morning, watching my poor boy suffer.”
I have already written to the Home Secretary and to Scotland’s chief medical officer for guidance on the new regulations, but I have had no response yet. Will the Leader of the House ask her colleague to give me an urgent response or to provide an early statement on how we can do everything possible to access medicinal cannabis for Cole in order to save his life?
I am so sorry to hear about Cole’s problems, and I wish him and his family well, particularly at this time of year. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise his case in the Chamber, and if she would like to email me, I can take it up on her behalf and seek the answer that she is looking for.
Please may we have a statement on whether the House of Commons rules of behaviour have been highlighted not only to new colleagues but to all colleagues? I personally have found them very helpful, although I do not always get everything right, as you have highlighted a few times, Madam Deputy Speaker. Yesterday’s shenanigans in the Chamber highlighted the fact that some of our longer-standing colleagues also need to be reminded of the etiquette of this place. May we go into the new year with a whole new tone in this place so that we can conduct ourselves with the dignity expected of us, particularly as we bring forward the very difficult Brexit procedures?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. As she knows, many hon. and right hon. Members across the Chamber have worked very hard on culture change, on bringing forward a complaints procedure and on setting out a behaviour code for how people should treat each other, wherever they work in the Palace of Westminster or in our constituency offices. I hope that we will start to see the fruits of all that effort during 2019.
We will need some more time in the new year to debate Yemen. We had the statement yesterday, in which the Foreign Secretary helpfully responded to my question about my constituent Jackie Saleh Morgan, whose daughter Safia was kidnapped from Cardiff in the 1980s. He said that
“we will do everything we can to support his constituent and their family in the way that he wants.”—[Official Report, 19 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 840.]
The way I want them to be supported is, when she and her family get out of the country, through getting personal British consular support in Cairo to get their British passports and to get back home to their family in Cardiff. Will the Leader of the House pass that message on to the Foreign Secretary before Christmas, and tell Ministers and officials that that is what we want?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his commitment to looking after the interests of his constituent. He will appreciate that we are now hopeful that, for the first time since the start of the conflict, there might be a window in which both sides can be encouraged to stop the killing and start negotiating, which is absolutely vital. He will also appreciate that the Foreign Secretary has shown a huge amount of personal commitment to this issue. If he wants to write to me following business questions, I will be happy to pass his message on.
Happy Christmas to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
May we have a debate on the timeliness of business in this House? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey) has already raised the issue of the proliferation of SO24 debates and urgent questions, but there is a big problem about question times not starting and ending when they are supposed to. Questions to the Prime Minister now lasts between 45 minutes and an hour. As a new Member of this House, I find it very strange that the timetabling in this House is so very, very fluid, that meetings are disrupted and that constituents are put out by the fact that things do not happen when they should. May we have a debate on putting down clear times for things to start and stop?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. It is something that has been raised with me a number of times by various Members across the Chamber. Keeping to times is important. There is flexibility with some questions sessions and so on. They tend to be a matter for the Chair in each session, but if my hon. Friend wants to raise this issue again with the Chair of the Procedure Committee, it might be appropriate that the Committee looks at it further to see whether there is anything more that we need to do.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the whole House a very merry Christmas.
The Government have taken more than £4 billion out of the mineworkers’ pension scheme over the past two decades, yet they have not paid in a single penny. May we have an urgent debate in Government time to discuss this unfair surplus sharing arrangement and how we can get a better deal for miners and their families?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. As I recall from my time as an Energy Minister, there was a clearly agreed sharing arrangement whereby the Government undertook to underwrite certain returns for mineworkers in return for which, should there be surpluses, some of that would go back to the taxpayer. I believe that that is the point to which she alludes, but we do have Work and Pensions questions on the first day back, 7 January, and I encourage her to raise it directly with Ministers there.
Further to the questions raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Wells (James Heappey) and for Harborough (Neil O'Brien), I wonder whether my right hon. Friend agrees that we lost a very important debate on mental health first aid last night because of an SO24 debate, which was apparently very popular, but which then in fact ran short because there were not that many people who wanted to speak in it. Does she agree that the Procedure Committee should specifically look at whether the SO24 procedure is functioning as it was intended and indeed in the interests of our constituents?
I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concern. I encourage all those who have questions about how some of the procedures in this place work to raise them with members of the Procedure Committee, who may be willing to take them up further and look into them.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all the staff of the House a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.
This question has been raised already, but I would like some clarity from the Leader of the House. Many of my constituents are currently stuck at Gatwick because of the flying of illegal drones in the airspace. Can we have an urgent debate or statement from the Government on the regulation of drones, particularly around airspace, and the criminal sanctions that go along with illegally flying drones, which could endanger many hundreds of lives? I say that particularly as this is the anniversary of the disaster at Lockerbie 30 years ago. Will she join me in congratulating London North Eastern Railway, a train company in public ownership, which is offering my constituents free travel back to Edinburgh today if they are caught up at Gatwick?
I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s local train company is offering a solution. It is awful for passengers who are stuck, or trying to get on or off a plane or to land at Gatwick. It is absolutely unacceptable. The Government passed legislation very swiftly to introduce a criminal sanction for those who seek to interfere with a plane using a drone. There are now sentences of up to five years and unlimited fines for such activities. He is absolutely right to point out that we need to do more. A consultation is under way, and the Government are committed to making sure that, although drones present fabulous opportunities for things such as delivering medicines or aid and all sorts of commercial uses, regulation keeps up.
The Leader of the House will have heard my point of order in relation to the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ report on the costings of HS2. Can she arrange for me to have an early Christmas present and ensure that the promises made to me in answer to a written parliamentary question 188155 are honoured?
Following the launch of its alcohol charter, the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party parliamentary group, which I co-chair, wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), seeking a meeting with her—[Interruption.] The Minister has just taken her place in the Chamber. It has been several months. Can the Leader of the House have a kindly word with her, reminding her of the group’s request?
Being elected to this place was one of the proudest moments of my life, but I was embarrassed to be a Member of this place yesterday with the antics that went on in the Chamber. Of course we must treat each other with respect, but I wish that Members had shown a similar sense of outrage and urgency when the Cox report was published as they did yesterday. I am very pleased that we will have a debate on the first day back in the new year, but will there be a votable motion as a result of that debate so that we can actually implement the procedures necessary to investigate and deal with these historical allegations?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. Specifically, the Standards Committee has brought forward its own review of what steps can be urgently taken to provide more lay member input on things such as voting and assessing any findings against Members of this place. Those are its initial suggestions of steps that we can urgently take. There will be a motion—I am just reviewing it now. Specifically, I am keen to make sure that the complainants’ confidentiality, which was such a core point of all the work that we did in the original setting up of the complaints procedure, is upheld. There will be a votable motion. It will change the Standing Orders of this House in certain small ways, but the Standards Committee is clear that there is more work to do. There will also be the six-month review of the complaints procedure itself, which will begin in late January. I will be talking to the House more about that in due course.
In the early hours of Sunday 9 December, just two weeks ago, Chinese authorities launched a large-scale crackdown on a church in Sichuan province, arresting some 100 members as they worshipped their God. Twelve members of that church are still in detention, including the pastor, Wang Yi, and his wife. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement, or a debate, on this very pressing issue?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very serious issue about the rights of everyone to be able to freely practise their religion. He often raises such issues and he is absolutely right to do so. This whole House deplores any type of discrimination against anyone for their religious views. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise the matter directly with Ministers.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you and all the staff a happy Christmas.
I have tabled a written question about the Civil Nuclear Constabulary’s pension predicament. It has been awaiting an equality impact assessment that was undertaken by the Treasury and then passed to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. In its answer, BEIS tells me that it cannot release it yet until all policy discussions on this matter are complete. May we have a statement on why we are awaiting policy decisions when the request was for the publication of the impact assessment?
There are many people in the House, across the parties, and outside who have real concerns around some elements of policing across the United Kingdom, which has seen crime going up, including burglary, knife crime and much more. I have tabled early-day motion 1656, signed by 47 cross-party Members, demanding that the Government implement a police royal commission, the first one for 50 years, so that the whole issue of policing and resourcing for the 21st century can be done independently, robustly and properly. Will the Leader of the House advise me of the best way to persuade the Government to implement that police royal commission?
[That this House celebrates the hard work and determination of police officers across the country to serve their community against the backdrop of financial cuts preventing their ability to do so as effectively as they could; notes that it has become difficult to establish precisely what resources the police need long term to act effectively; further notes a Royal Commission has not been carried out for almost 60 years; calls for a new Royal Commission on policing to establish precisely what is required by UK police forces to ensure they continue to deliver a service to the public that is fit for purpose for the next decade; and in the short term backs an immediate boost to police budgets in England and Wales of at least £300 million.]
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue, which gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to all the amazing work of our police forces right across the United Kingdom, particularly at Christmas, when they often do not get to eat their Christmas lunch while the rest of us do. The hon. Gentleman asked about a royal commission. He will be aware that we have just had the police funding review statement in this place, and that we have set out our serious violence strategy as well as the Offensive Weapons Bill. The Government are taking every possible step to try to address the challenge of changing criminal behaviour, including the rise in county lines, knife crime, moped crime and so on. We are dealing with those issues, so it is not considered necessary to have a royal commission.
Although we are all preparing for Christmas and looking forward to the period so that we can get a bit of respite, we have to remember that for many people this time of year is a time of isolation, increased mental health problems and, indeed, suicide. Would the Leader of the House considering calling a debate in Government time on suicide prevention? Will she also pay tribute to the Think Again campaign in Glasgow, which is calling for permanently staffed, emergency lifeline telephones to be installed along the River Clyde; and to the Spiers family in my constituency who suffered the tragic loss of their son Christopher in the River Clyde two years ago, and are fighting to ensure better life-saving measures on its banks?
Awareness of mental health issues is improving, but that does not reduce the need for practical measures to reach out to people with suicidal thoughts at their most dire moment of need. The hard work of bereaved families who have built up the Think Again campaign with the help of Glasgow community activist Stef Shaw over several years, and the efforts to raise awareness of the issue by Duncan and Margaret Spiers, have turned their own unimaginable losses into hope. The ambition of the Think Again campaign is such that, when these measures are introduced in Glasgow, they plan to expand the campaign to include other cities across the UK. This work represents Glasgow at its best. I hope that the Leader of the House and Glasgow City Council can mark their wonderful efforts in that regard.
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to that superb work; it really does sound like a magnificent contribution to trying to alleviate the problem of poor mental health and suicide and so on. Such work is vital, right across the United Kingdom. He will be aware that the Government are putting much more money into solving mental health problems and taking strong action. For example, we have committed nearly £2 million for the Samaritans helpline over the next few years, and the NHS is working towards standards for mental health that are just as ambitious as those for physical health. There is still a long way to go, but I think all Members across the House are united in their determination to see more people supported with their mental health needs.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you and all hon. and right hon. Members a merry Christmas. There are only 103 days until 29 March, and the Government have only just published the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill. In the event of our leaving the EU without a deal, we will have no method of protecting our environment—investigating and prosecuting environmental crimes—without this Bill going through Parliament, so when are we to expect its First Reading? How will sufficient time be made available to ensure this Bill is passed before 29 March?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that all of the acquis communautaire was brought into UK law in the EU withdrawal Bill, in order to ensure that all the existing measures—provisions on the bathing quality of our waters, and measures to keep rivers clean, protect our environment and air quality, and so on—are brought into UK law. It is therefore not right to say that there will be no means at all to protect our environment. Very importantly, the UK has brought in new measures through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We have a 25-year environment plan for England that demonstrates our ambition to be the first generation to leave our environment in a better place than we found it. As the hon. Gentleman points out, the draft Bill is coming forward, and we will be introducing that Bill. It is our intention that the UK will have the highest environmental standards—among the best in the world—and we will continue to take steps to ensure that that becomes the case.
Just last week, Councillor David Balfour in Grangemouth passed me one of the most harrowing universal credit cases that I have seen so far. The case involved a couple with disabilities who had worked on zero-hours contracts for a period of only five weeks together, and then had their contract terminated, following which they had eight weeks without any income whatever; the husband attempted suicide during that period. This case is genuinely harrowing. I would like to see an urgent statement from Ministers as to how we can rectify intergovernmental Department communications. Despite the best efforts of the Department for Work and Pensions, the problem is that it cannot communicate directly with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and that has prolonged the agony and misery that was almost tragic in this situation.
The hon. Gentleman is raising a very serious constituency case and he is right to do so in the Chamber. He will be aware that the Government have listened very carefully to views raised across the House and have changed the roll-out of universal credit so that anybody is able to get 100% of their first full month’s payment upfront on the day they apply for it, if they need to. We have a new contract with Citizens Advice so that it can help people to sign up for universal credit. There are new measures to scrap the seven-day waiting period and to increase the amount that someone can earn before their universal credit begins to be withdrawn. It is a good measure that is designed to help people into work, which is the best way of supporting people to have the security of an income for themselves and their families. With regards to the specific point the hon. Gentleman raises, we do have DWP questions on 7 January—the first day back—and I encourage him to raise the matter directly with Ministers.
Like the last Quality Street in the tin or the leftover Turkey or nut roast, there is always a leftover; and I am afraid it is me today.
I have been contacted by a number of people in Plymouth who have dialled 999 to request an ambulance and have had to wait hours and hours for one to come. That is not because our paramedics and NHS staff are not working hard enough; it is simply because there are too few of them and too much demand. Could we have a debate in Government time in the new year on the resources we need to keep our emergency services operating at peak efficiency, ensuring that no other people around the country have to wait as long as my constituents have had to in order to get a life-saving ambulance?
The hon. Gentleman is obviously a coffee cream; I think that has got to be the last one in the Quality Street box.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we would all like to pay tribute to the amazing work done by emergency staff, particularly ambulance staff, at this time of year. We have seen emergency admissions via A&E rise by over 6% compared with the same time last year, which means there is a great challenge for all emergency workers. During the build-up to this winter, the Government have provided enough money for ambulance trusts to buy just over 250 state-of-the-art ambulances. We have also provided investment in the 111 service, so that it can move from being a service that can assess and refer to being a service that can consult and complete, in order to try to help people who do not necessarily need to use the ambulance service. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this matter, but the Government remain fully committed to ensuring that we keep pace with the rising demand from our population.