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Business of the House

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 14 February 2019

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 18 February—A motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Public Record, Disclosure of Information and Co-Operation (Financial Services) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Money Market Funds (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Cross-Border Mediation (EU Directive) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a general debate on serious violence.

Tuesday 19 February—A motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft European Structural and Investment Funds Common Provisions and Common Provision Rules etc. (Amendment) (EU exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a general debate on the NHS 10-year plan.

Wednesday 20 February—A motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Motor Vehicles (Compulsory Insurance) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Aquatic Animal Health and Alien Species in Aquaculture (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Fertilisers and Ammonium Nitrate Material (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a general debate on antisemitism in modern society.

Thursday 21 February—A general debate on potential future free trade agreements—Australia, New Zealand and US—and on a comprehensive and progressive agreement for a trans-Pacific partnership.

Friday 22 February—The House will not be sitting.

It has been a great week for British artistic talent, with “The Favourite” taking home seven BAFTA—British Academy of Film and Television Arts—awards, and recognition for the excellent work of the cast and crew who support our thriving British film industry. At the Grammys, Dua Lipa won best new artist and Ella Mai won best R&B song. We congratulate all the nominees and winners, and look forward to more success as awards season continues.

It is Valentine’s day, so I thought a little poem might be order:

Labour is red, the Tories are blue,

Our future is bright,

With a good deal in sight,

For the UK and our friends in the EU.

I thank the Leader of the House for next week’s business, but I am afraid that I do not find any of it very funny—this is really serious.

Last week, I asked for an Opposition day debate, and the Leader of the House did not respond. Can we have an Opposition day debate? The last one was on 13 November, which is as long ago as when we were first promised the meaningful vote.

The Leader of the House read out a list of statutory instruments for debate next week; perhaps she will consider a debate on the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018. There is a possibility that the order may be ultra vires:

“The government can call it a service charge or a graduated fee but asking those who have larger estates to pay more is in effect a tax hike through the back door.”

Those are the words of the vice-president of the Law Society, Simon Davis. [Interruption.] I will, but I am just waiting for some silence. Will the Government say whether they are inappropriately introducing a tax through a statutory instrument? It cannot be a service charge, because it is graduated, depending on the size of the estate. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has raised concerns, so can we have a debate on the Floor of the House to give the measure proper scrutiny?

The Leader of the House has allocated time for a debate on serious violence. My hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) both welcome the debate, particularly the latter. He passionately asked the Leader of the House for the debate, but unfortunately he will be away in the Falklands, so I hope he gets another opportunity to debate this important issue.

Can we have a debate on due diligence, or perhaps a written statement setting out the tests for awarding contracts? We also need a statement on the definition of taxpayers’ money. The Secretary of State for Transport said that no taxpayers’ money was used in the Seaborne Freight contract, yet the National Audit Office said it was. Can we have clarification?

Every week there is chaos, which is an appalling way to govern a country. Employment and support allowance assessors said Jeff Hayward was fit to work. He then won an appeal—seven months after he died. When that happens, something has to change. I have already raised the matter of delays to appeals. What are the Government going to do to stop these assessments that do not work?

Students are having to pay off their loans at 6.3% interest, while vice-chancellors earn up to half a million pounds. Is the Leader of the House aware of the joint letter from the House of Commons Treasury Committee and the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee calling on the UK Statistics Authority to seek consent from the Chancellor to fix the retail prices index? The lower-rate consumer prices index applies to incomes, but the higher-rate RPI applies to outgoings such as student loans and rail fares. The UK Statistics Authority says that the Treasury will say no to fixing RPI, so it has not asked; and the Treasury says that it has not even been asked. Lord Forsyth called it a “ridiculous merry-go-round.” Can we please have a statement on when this will be fixed?

This week, the Leader of the House told the media—not the House—about when we will have a meaningful vote. There would not be loose talk in a Brussels bar from any civil servant of the stature of the one reported to have made the remarks unless they wanted the information out there, so he was clearly kite-flying. It is upsetting for the House that the Leader of the House has not come here to announce the date of the meaningful vote, instead announcing it on the radio. The vote is clearly not today. We have a vote, but all we get is a meaningless motion. How can the motion be passed? It states that the House notes that the discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop are ongoing, but Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said yesterday:

“No news is not always good news. EU27 still waiting for concrete, realistic proposals from London on how to break Brexit impasse.”

More than 40 former ambassadors and high commissioners have written to the Prime Minister warning about this national crisis, so who is she actually talking to? When will the Leader of the House announce the timetable for the meaningful vote? She could do it today.

I was going to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner).

My hon. Friend is doing a lot of chuntering, but I want to wish him well. He had an important day earlier this week, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, also hits a milestone today.

We paid tribute to the Clerk of the House of Commons yesterday, but bizarrely he was not in his place. While he is sitting here, I want to say that he will be missed. I hope he read the important tributes to him.

Finally, Eve Griffith-Okai has been in the Speaker’s Office for 33 years, and we wish her a happy retirement.

I thank the shadow Leader of the House for what she has just said. Many Members from across the House will know Eve Griffith-Okai. I think I am right in saying that she has served under, with and in support of no fewer than four Speakers; she served Speaker Weatherill, Speaker Boothroyd and Speaker Martin, and she has brilliantly served me. She is much loved across the House and has an outstanding track record of public service, which I am glad to say has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated in the Chamber.

As Jane Austen said,

“Is not general incivility the very essence of love?”

I shall therefore take the slightly unhumorous remarks of the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) to be the beginning of a real friendship between us. I am grateful to her for asking some important questions. She asks about Opposition days. I hope she will accept that I have been able to find time for some of the important business that she has requested of me in recent weeks. I was pleased that, as she requested, we were able to debate the Securitisation Regulations 2018 yesterday. I hope that she will also welcome my announcement today that we will have a general debate on the NHS 10-year plan next week, which she requested on 31 January. I am seeking to deliver on requests that she is making. She asks about the probate statutory instrument, and I absolutely heard her request. I ask that she also makes it through the usual channels, as is the convention. The Government will of course respond, as we have done in the past, taking her requests very seriously and delivering on almost all of them.

The hon. Lady asks again about the awarding of contracts by the Department for Transport. She will be aware that we have just had DFT oral questions, where this issue was very much dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He also answered an urgent question earlier in the week on the same subject. Just to be clear—all hon. Members who have been involved in any kind of business procurement will understand this—a process is undertaken that seeks to assess who is suitable for a contract. That does have a cost associated with it, but as my right hon. Friend made very clear, no taxpayers’ money was actually awarded to the supplier involved, because it failed to meet the requirements of the contract.

The hon. Lady asks for a statement on a call for changes to use of the consumer prices index and the retail prices index. I will of course take that away and consider what can be done. She asks when we will bring back a meaningful vote. As the Prime Minister explained to this House just this week in a statement lasting two hours and 18 minutes, in which she answered questions from Members from right across the House, she is currently negotiating a revised deal. Members will be aware that there is a debate all day today on this topic.

The Prime Minister has explained that when we achieve the progress we need, we will bring forward another meaningful vote, but if the Government do not secure a majority in this House in favour of a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration, they will make a statement on Tuesday 26 February, and will table an amendable motion relating to the statement. A Minister will move that motion on Wednesday 27 February, thereby enabling the House to vote on it, and on any amendments to it, on that day.

Obviously, I will make a business statement in the usual way next week, setting out the details of the business for the week commencing 25 February. The hon. Member for Walsall South asks, “Where is the negotiation?”. She will appreciate that there is a negotiation; it is on the final element—resolving the issues associated with the backstop—that the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union are firmly committed to achieving in order to bring a motion to this House that it can support, thereby giving certainty to businesses, and citizens across this country and the EU.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the falling number of children being vaccinated against preventable illnesses? For whatever reason, there seems to be a loss of confidence among parents in some of these vaccinations. It is certainly a matter that needs addressing.

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, as he always does. After clean water, vaccination is the most effective public health measure, protecting children and adults against diseases that can cause serious harm. Confidence in the vaccine programme remains high, and parents routinely have their children vaccinated. However, my hon. Friend is right that there has been a small decline, and we are working to address that, as outlined in the NHS long-term plan. There is absolutely no complacency, and we will continue to work to ensure that children get the vaccinations they need.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the very curious business for next week. This is what we have cancelled the mid-term recess for: statutory instruments and general debates. Members will be missing their skiing holidays and time in their villas for that! In the past few weeks, this House has regularly been rising early because there has not been enough to do. It is not as though we do not have any big decisions to make; there are only 43 days until we are supposed to leave the EU, yet there is nothing in this business statement that indicates when we will have the meaningful vote to determine on what basis we will leave—if we leave on a basis at all.

This is getting beyond a joke, and this Government are taking us all for mugs. We know that it is their intention to run down the clock, and to present the binary choice of their appalling deal or no deal at all, and they are doing everything possible to string this House along. We must stop them. Thank goodness we have you, Mr Speaker, in the Chair to ensure that this House will have its say, as it will.

When is a neutral motion not a neutral motion? When the European Research Group tells you that it is not. All we had to do today was have a form of words on which everybody could hang their favourite amendments, and the Government could not even do that. That has infuriated ERG members, and given that they are the de facto leadership of the Tory party, you would not want to do that. Here is a question for my colleagues: at what time today do the Government cravenly cave in to the ERG and amend their motion? We should have a sweepstake. I will have first go: 2.30 pm. That is when I say that the Government will cave in.

Finally, can we have a debate on what happens in Brussels bars? The first rule of Brussels bars is that what happens in Brussels bars stays in Brussels bars—unless you are Olly Robbins. Even with all the Stella Artois, we would not need Hercule Poirot to figure out what was going on. If this House wants to find out what is going on in this chaotic, clueless Brexit, perhaps we should all up sticks and head off to the “Voulez-vous Parlez Avec Moi?” bar in Brussels.

Given that it is Valentine’s Day, I shall say:

Labour is red,

Tories are blue,

The message from Scotland is

We’re staying in the EU.

I think the hon. Gentleman means the UK, according to the people of Scotland—but that does not rhyme; I grant him that. I am grateful to him for his contribution today; there were no surprises there. I say to him, in the immortal words of Shakespeare, that

“his unkindness may defeat my life, but never taint my love.”

I remain very fond of the hon. Gentleman. I will seek to answer one very important question that I think he asked: why is the motion for today’s debate not a neutral motion? I want to be very clear that today’s motion is amendable. Members will be aware that neutral motions are not usually amendable under the rules of this House, specifically under Standing Order No. 24B. The current exception to that is neutral motions tabled under the terms of section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Such neutral motions are amendable, but under the Order of the House of 4 December. Today’s debate is not a motion under section 13, but a debate that the Government committed to outside the statutory framework of the 2018 Act, and they note that

“discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop are ongoing.”

For the motion to be amendable, it needed not to be a neutral motion. I hope that that clarifies the matter for all hon. Members, and I do hope that they will take this in the spirit in which it is intended—as an opportunity to give the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster more time to negotiate an answer on the backstop, which is what this House requested of us in the last debate.

Can we have a debate on residential properties managers? Residents in Clyde House in my constituency have had to put up with floods, heating and ventilation systems that do not work, and inaction from A2Dominion, the company that is meant to be getting the repairs done quickly. Can we have a debate so that residents know where they can get redress and, most of all, urgent action?

My right hon. Friend is right to raise an issue about which many Members are concerned—that is, the way in which some tenants and leaseholders are treated badly by housing associations and freeholders. She will be aware that we have introduced legislation to protect tenants from rip-off fees, but there is more to do to ensure the right balance between protecting the interests of those who live in houses and those who own them.

May I express some disappointment that the Leader of the House has forgone the opportunity to have a debate on the 20th anniversary of the Macpherson report next Thursday in favour of a general debate on free trade agreements? I remind her that we also have heavily subscribed applications for debates on 20 February on the topic of St David’s Day and Welsh affairs, and on 7 March to celebrate International Women’s Day, which is the following day. The deadline for estimates day debates is tomorrow. The estimates were only published earlier this week and debate applications must be with the Clerk of the Backbench Business Committee by early tomorrow afternoon; we would very much welcome that. We will try to find another slot for the 20th anniversary of the Macpherson report, when we are given time by the Government.

I did try hard to meet the hon. Gentleman’s request, but he will appreciate that there will be a very important general debate on the future trade relationships that the Government have committed to for some time. I share his enthusiasm regarding the need for a debate 20 years after the death of Stephen Lawrence, which is the subject of the Macpherson report, and I will continue to seek Government time for that debate.

May we have a debate in Government time to establish the roles and rights of Parliament versus the courts in a policy on returning foreign fighters and so-called jihadi brides, the threats that they pose to national security and the economic consequences to the British taxpayer? And while we are at it, now that 10% of the prison population in the United Kingdom is made up of foreign national offenders, will the Government keep the House updated on how the process of returning these offenders to their countries of origin is going?

My right hon. Friend raises a vital issue. I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members will have seen the news today of a jihadi fighter looking to return to the United Kingdom. It is a very serious issue indeed, and it is vital that we continue to do everything possible to keep UK citizens safe. My right hon. Friend will be aware that Home Office questions are on Monday 25 February, and I encourage him to raise the matter directly with Ministers then.

Some of us did not get the chance to say anything about the Clerk of the House yesterday. May I just say that the staff in my constituency were amazed and pleased when he took the trouble to visit my constituency and see how they worked? I thank him for that.

On a different note, I am wearing my Looney Tunes tie today because it seemed very appropriate for the Brexit debate. The whole of our debate in this country seems to be dominated by older people.

Would Hansard record that I said “Ouch”? Is not it time that we had a series of debates about young people, their opportunities, their futures, the loss of youth services and the fact that children are dying unnecessarily in our country? Let us concentrate on youth in this Parliament in the coming year.

As ever, the hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. I think he is hearing across the Chamber that there is support for his view that we need a debate on the issues for young people. He will be aware that there are very often opportunities to raise particular issues for young people. He will also be aware that I have the great privilege of chairing a cross-departmental committee on behalf of the Prime Minister looking at how we can provide more support at the very earliest start for all babies and their families. These are very important issues. I would encourage him perhaps to go to the Backbench Business Committee on this, because I am sure that he will get a lot of support from right across the House.

As we approach the agony of yet another Brexit debate with nothing new to say and nothing new to hear, can I distract the Leader of the House on to something that is really very important—

I have always thought the hon. Gentleman was a very great and observant man. That thing that is really important is private Members’ Bills continuing to bring this House into disrepute. I know that this concerns the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House, and all Members. Will the Leader of the House meet the Chairman of the Procedure Committee—namely myself—so that we can discuss how we can ensure that Fridays sell this place, not bring it down?

As Jane Austen said,

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends”,

so of course I will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. He raises a very important point. I know that all of us were incredibly disappointed and enraged by the decision of one Member to block a very important private Member’s Bill on female genital mutilation. I am delighted to tell the House that I have tabled a motion to allow the Bill to be debated in a Second Reading Committee in order that it can make progress. But of course I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend.

New Ferry in my constituency is not the only town in the country that needs regeneration, so can I implore the Leader of the House to allow a debate in Government time about town centres? New Ferry suffered the most devastating explosion and has still not recovered. We need to talk more about towns and how we rebuild them.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that our town centres are vital to the sense of community and to all the issues that we worry about, such as loneliness, isolation, keeping a thriving economy and so on. I would suggest that she might like to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can discuss the particular issues for her town. Britain’s retailers, from high street shops to independent traders, are a crucial part of our economy, supporting over 3 million jobs and contributing over £90 billion to our economy. This Government are determined to continue supporting that.

In our infancies at our mothers’ knees, we were told that little boys were made of slugs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails, but the fantasy of the nursery is a world away from the modern reality of puppy smuggling. Earlier this week, many Members met the Dogs Trust, which told us that wicked traders from foreign climes, oblivious to the cruelty that they impose on small dogs brought into this country, are facing woefully inadequate penalties for doing so. So will the Leader of the House bring a Minister here—perhaps our splendid Secretary of State for the Environment—to say what plans the Government have to increase those penalties, perhaps by some punitive fixed penalty notice? This heartless trade in tiny creatures that brings despair, disease and death must be brought to an end.

I am sure that all hon. and right hon. Members would agree with my right hon. Friend that puppy smuggling is an appalling trade. The UK is rightly proud of our high animal welfare standards. We are, in fact, among the best in the world for the treatment that we show towards animals. He will be aware that we have DEFRA oral questions on Thursday 21 February, when I encourage him to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about his plans to bring forward higher sentencing for cruelty to animals—in the environment Bill, if I recall rightly, but my right hon. Friend will be able to give him further detail on that.

Government funding for free TV licences runs out in 2020. More than 4,000 pensioners could lose out in Barnsley East. Can we have a debate in Government time about how they intend to deliver on their manifesto promise to protect free TV licences for the over-75s?

The hon. Lady is right that many over-75s rely on their free TV licence to keep in touch with what is going on in the world and to seek the comfort that good TV programmes offer. She is right to raise that issue. She will be aware that the Prime Minister has made clear her view that the BBC needs to continue to make those free TV licences available, but I urge the hon. Lady to raise that through a written parliamentary question to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

After the tragic fire in Stafford last week in which four children lost their lives, will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the fire and rescue service of Staffordshire, Staffordshire police and West Midlands ambulance service, as well as the local schools, churches and community groups that handled this situation incredibly sensitively and with great regard for the feelings of the family and the community?

All our hearts go out. My hon. Friend is right to raise the appalling harm done to the family and friends and all those who had to deal with the consequences of this awful house fire in Staffordshire in which four people died. I echo his condolences to the family and his appreciation for all the support and help given to them.

Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the first cohort of parliamentarians to begin the Prison Service parliamentary scheme, who are Lord Attlee, the hon. Members for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), and myself? A number of us visited the college at Newbold Revel last week to see prison officer entry-level training. This important scheme will be an opportunity to gain a full appreciation of life and work in the prisons of England and Wales, and we encourage other parliamentarians to take part in it.

I congratulate the hon. Lady and her colleagues who are taking part in the trial of this new scheme, which will enhance the information available to the Chamber. She will be aware that we have over 4,300 more prison officers than two years ago and are investing an extra £30 million to improve facilities in prisons with the most pressing problems. I look forward to hearing more about what she learns.

Can we have a debate on house building companies? Recently, based on inside information on a route going from Taunton down to Ilminster, Persimmon paid £16 million for a speculative development. That has been in conjunction, I suspect, with the local council and a well-known estate agent who was caught price-fixing. We need to ensure that when organisations have privileged information, it is not used for other means. The Secretary of State for Transport is being dragged into this tomorrow. It is not a happy situation. Can we have time to debate it?

I have chatted to our hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), who has been pleased to tell me about some of the excellent infrastructure projects that she has campaigned for in her wonderful constituency, including the upgrade of the Toneway at Creech Castle, the upgrade of the A358, the Staplegrove spine road and the upgrade of Taunton rail station, on which work is beginning now. Our hon. Friend is delighted with the efforts that she and others are making to improve Taunton Deane. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) has given you, Mr Speaker, and my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane prior notice of his intention to raise her constituency in this place.

Well, I am not aware that that is so today, though I speak with care. The Leader of the House is quite right to say that if a Member intends to refer to another Member’s constituency, especially if he or she intends to do so in what might be called disobliging terms, it is a courtesy so to notify. The hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) has, on a number of occasions, notified me of his intention to refer to the Taunton Deane constituency, but—I express myself with care—I am not aware that he did so on this occasion, and that should have happened. [Interruption.] He is signalling that he either has written or will write; I think it is the latter—could do better.

The Government have supported the concept of an international fund for Israel-Palestine to promote the values of co-existence, reconciliation and peace. The evidence is robust that these projects bring together people, build resilience and build constituencies for peace. May we have an early debate on how the Government can make progress on the support they have given to this idea so far?

The right hon. Lady raises the very valuable work that is being done to try to resolve some of the issues on the ground between Israel and Palestine, and it is absolutely vital that we continue to do all we in the UK can to promote peace and justice in that area. She will be aware that we have Foreign Office questions on Tuesday 26 February, when I would encourage her to discuss it with Ministers.

Given the comments of Sir Terry Morgan, the former chairman of HS2, to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee last month—he said, “Nobody knows” the number, when asked what he thought the final cost of the HS2 project would be—and reports in the media that senior Government sources have said that the

“costs are spiralling so much that we’ve been actively considering other scenarios, including scrapping the entire project”,

may we please have a debate on the value for money of HS2 and on alternative proposals that would deliver more benefits to more people at less cost?

My hon. Friend raises an issue that is of interest to a number of right hon. and hon. Members right across the country, including you, Mr Speaker, and me. Certainly, if my hon. Friend wants to seek a Backbench debate or a Westminster Hall debate, I am sure many on all sides of the argument would want to take part in it.

I cannot speak for the Backbench Business Committee, but I can assure the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) that if he wants a debate on the matter in Westminster Hall, he will get it all right.

Tomorrow, thousands of young people will show their deep concern about the growing climate crisis by taking part in a climate strike. Since, shockingly, there was only one debate on climate change in this place last year, will the Leader of the House urgently find time for us to debate this, the greatest threat we face, so that we can demonstrate to young people that we are listening and that we take their concerns very seriously?

The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important point. I think the UK can be proud of our contribution to securing the first truly global, legally binding agreement to tackle climate change, which was the Paris agreement. She will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth is fully committed to doing everything possible to tackle the threat of climate change. She may be aware that our climate change record at home speaks for itself. Between 2010 and 2017, we reduced the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 23%, and according to PwC, the UK leads the G20 for decarbonising its economy since 2000. There is a lot more to be done, but the UK Government remain committed to doing it.

A week ago today, my constituent Geoff Whaley—a very brave man—travelled to Switzerland to end his life before the ravages of motor neurone disease made his suffering, and that of his family, unbearable. He wrote to all MPs to impress on us that a change needs to be considered after his fantastically loving and loyal wife was reported to the police, in an anonymous phone call, as a person potentially assisting someone to end their life. She and Geoff had to suffer the added mental anguish of facing a criminal investigation at a time when the family, and most of all Geoff, wanted to prepare his goodbyes and fulfil his last wish in peace. May I ask the Leader of the House if we can have a debate in Government time so that we can re-examine this area of law, particularly in the light of this amazing man’s efforts to give terminally ill people a choice over the way they leave this world, and to afford protection to their loved ones?

My right hon. Friend raises a truly heartbreaking case, and I commend her for doing so. I am sure the thoughts of the whole House are with the family of Geoff Whaley at this very difficult time. I can say to her that it remains the Government’s view that any change to the law in this area is an issue of individual conscience and a matter for Parliament to decide, rather than one for Government policy. Parliament has debated this issue on several occasions, the most recent being a debate in the House of Commons on 11 September 2015, when the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill had its Second Reading. As things stand, the will of Parliament is that there should be no change to the law, but it is a thought-provoking matter, and I encourage her to raise it directly with Justice Ministers.

May we have a debate in Government time on how long is an acceptable length of time for a Department to respond to a Member’s inquiry? I wrote to the Minister for Employment 225 days ago on behalf of my constituent, Mr Scott, who received conflicting and incorrect advice from the Department for Work and Pensions. To date, he and I are still in the dark about the Department’s answer.

The hon. Lady will be aware that Departments have guidelines for the length of time they should take to respond to inquiries, and in the case she raises it sounds as if something has gone wrong or a letter has gone astray. I encourage her to write again to the Department, or if she would like to write to me I will take up the matter on her behalf.

Last Friday, four private Member’s Bills were debated and made progress, but unfortunately three of my Bills, including one that would have stopped people voting more than once in a general election, one that would have abolished car parking charges at hospitals, and another that would have placed restrictions on drones at airports and protected aircraft, were objected to by one person sitting in front of me. I think that the Leader of the House referred to that person in her previous remarks, so why are the Government not making time for my Bills, as they are doing for others?

The Government have an excellent record of supporting private Member’s Bills to get into statute, and since 2010 more than 50 have received Royal Assent. The Government maintain the view that they provide an invaluable opportunity for Members to promote legislation on the causes they support. Changes to the law are possible through private Members’ Bills, but it is an important principle that they should make progress only when Members are able to win sufficient support from across the House. The default position remains, in accordance with the rules of the House, that private Members’ Bills ought to make progress on Fridays. I am sure hon. Members will understand that the Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill is an exceptional case, and that they will welcome the Government’s decision to bring it forward.

I know we had a debate on sport fairly recently, but may we have another one very soon to allow me to pay tribute to Newport County, who for the first time in 70 years have reached the fifth round of the FA cup and will play Manchester City this weekend? That has generated huge pride in our city and proved that the magic of the FA cup is alive and well.

I am glad that the hon. Lady got the chance to mention Newport County’s achievements in the Chamber, and I commend her for doing so. She is right to say that the debate on sport was well subscribed, and I gather that the time limit on speeches went down to three minutes by the end of the debate. It was right that we had the opportunity to speak about some of the amazing sporting achievements across the United Kingdom, and I will certainly bear in mind her request for a further debate.

I, too, pay tribute to Newport County, although I note that when they travelled to Cleethorpes a few weeks ago they suffered a heavy defeat to Grimsby Town. Let us hope they are more successful in the FA cup, and I wish them well.

Like many other villages, Goxhill in my constituency has suffered the closure of its local post office. In many villages, convenience stores have taken over the role of the Post Office, which insists that they provide a full service throughout their opening hours, which can be 15 or 16 hours a day. In actual fact, just four, six or eight hours a day, five days a week, would provide for the needs of customers. May we have a debate on post offices in rural areas, and allow Ministers to explain why they insist on such arrangements?

I know just how valuable local post offices are, particularly in rural or isolated areas, so I am genuinely sorry to hear about the closure of Goxhill post office. They are a crucial part of our communities and help to improve the lives of all our residents, particularly the elderly. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have invested over £2 billion in the Post Office in recent years, which includes the continuation of subsidy payments to support community post offices. I encourage my hon. Friend to raise his particular case with Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministers and to perhaps seek an Adjournment debate so that he can do so.

I am keen to accommodate colleagues, but I want to be moving on by midday because the debate on the European Union is heavily subscribed. What is needed is brevity from all colleagues.

May I start by thanking the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, for finding time for a debate on serious violence? It proves that business questions work.

On another matter, may we have an urgent debate on provision for families with children who have disabilities? Conservative-controlled Nottinghamshire County Council has just cut £176,000 of funding that, for example, enables children with disabilities to go to nurseries. This cut will affect 46 families, who on average will each lose £4,300. That cannot be acceptable, and I do not believe it conforms to the Government’s own guidelines. We need an urgent debate to protect those children in Nottinghamshire.

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who was persistent in requesting a Government debate on serious violence. I am pleased that we have been able to provide that. He raises a very serious issue about the provision of support to families who have children with disabilities. He may be aware that spending on the most vulnerable children has increased by over £1.5 billion since 2010. In the Budget, we announced an extra £410 million for social care, including for children, alongside £84 million over the next five years to keep more children safely at home with their families. He is absolutely right, however, that the decisions taken by local councils must take into account the needs of their local communities. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise this particular point about Nottinghamshire’s children.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I, for one, am very pleased with its contents. Last year saw a record number of antisemitic allegations, which the chief executive of the Community Security Trust has blamed on antisemitic politics and the deliberate exclusion of Jews from anti-racist norms. May I therefore thank the Leader of the House for granting a debate in Government time, so that we can see what the Government are doing to address the problem of antisemitism and how we can remove this scourge from our party politics?

I am delighted to have been able to announce a debate on antisemitism for next week. It is incredibly distressing to see cases of antisemitism on the rise in this country, and it must stop. Antisemitism is despicable and it has no place in society. What I can say to my hon. Friend is that the Leader of the Opposition’s own MPs tabled and unanimously passed a motion last week calling on the party leadership to adequately tackle cases of antisemitism, as a failure to do so seriously risks antisemitism in the Labour party appearing normalised and the party seeming to be institutionally antisemitic.

This week, Bradford starts to celebrate its 10th anniversary as the world’s first UNESCO city of film. In those 10 years, numerous films and TV shows have been shot in Bradford, including: “Victoria”, “The ABC Murders”, “Peaky Blinders”, “Miss You Already”, “The Limehouse Golem” and “God’s Own Country”. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating all those involved in Bradford City of Film? May we have a debate on what the Government are doing to support the creative sector and in particular Bradford’s pioneering film industry?

That is a fantastic line-up. I certainly join the hon. Lady in congratulating Bradford on its excellent work on some very well known films and programmes. I wish it every success in the future. I know that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is always keen to consider, with Members across the House, what more can be done. I will take that point away and see whether Government time can be found for such a debate.

May we have a statement on the achievements of the former MP for Harlow and Epping between 1924 and 1945? Far from being a villain, Winston Churchill was not only our greatest Prime Minister but a wonderful social reformer and the man who defeated Nazi tyranny.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that someone calling Sir Winston Churchill a “villain” is, in effect, denigrating the achievements of a man who led this country to potentially its greatest ever contribution to global peace. It is a great shame that he was described in that way.

I have spoken before about the almost nine-year and counting review of the redundancy modification order, which affects my constituents and many others across the UK. This Government’s dilatory—indeed, atrocious—handling of the review may cost current and former local authority employees thousands of pounds. May we have a debate in Government time to hold this failing Government to account?

The hon. Lady raises a very specific issue, and she is absolutely right to do so. It is of course important that we do everything we can to ensure fairness in the area of redundancy. I am not familiar with the exact concerns that she has. She may wish to seek an Adjournment debate, or if she wants to write to me more fully, I can take the issue up with the relevant Department on her behalf.

Last week, I held a packed meeting for residents in my constituency to question the police about the spike in aggravated burglaries. No less a newspaper than The Times carried the story yesterday of a tragic case of a young married couple who were killed in a head-on car crash—except that that young married couple, together with another passenger, were fleeing the scene of an aggravated burglary, where they had attempted to break in. Could we have a statement in Government time on what action is being taken to combat aggravated burglaries across this country?

My hon. Friend has raised this issue a number of times in business questions, and he is absolutely right to do so. He will be aware that the Government are taking strong action to try to clamp down on the recent increase in some violent crimes. The Government have published our serious violence strategy and established a serious violence taskforce. In addition, our funding for the police includes an increase for next year of up to £970 million compared with 2018-19. However, my hon. Friend may wish to raise this question directly with Home Office Ministers on Monday 25 February.

Order. In reiterating my plea for brevity, I gently point out to colleagues that if they now ask long questions, they do so in the full knowledge that they will be stopping other colleagues taking part.

The hon. Lady will realise that that is way above my pay grade. I do not determine which Ministers come to the House, but of course the appropriate Minister will be here to answer that debate.

It is curious that, given how much debate there has been outside this place on the issue of non-disclosure agreements this week—agreements that silence people who have been bullied or even assaulted at work—there has not been an opportunity here for MPs to scrutinise the Government on their response to the court decision on the Philip Green case. Will the Leader of the House ensure that time is given for the Government to set out their plan on how they are going to regulate non-disclosure agreements?

My right hon. Friend raises a very serious issue, and I commend her for all the work she has done in this area. It is very concerning that non-disclosure agreements are clearly being used to hide workplace harassment and to intimidate victims into silence. It is clearly unacceptable. NDAs cannot stop a worker whistleblowing. It is very important that people are aware of that, especially some of the most vulnerable people in our workplaces. I can assure her that we will shortly be consulting on measures to improve the regulation of NDAs.

On Monday, the Secretary of State for Defence made a number of announcements to the press. They included first, a proposal to have large squadrons of highly skilled killer drones, and secondly—and more oddly—the proposal to convert a number of old car ferries into frontline warships, including, according to The Times, the Empress of Margate. Is it not the case that the Secretary of State should come to the House to make a statement regarding these proposals, and that we should also have a wider debate on them?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have Defence questions on Monday 18 February, which will be a good opportunity for him to ask the Secretary of State directly.

The Oxfordshire Cotswolds Garden Village will be a major development for West Oxfordshire and particularly for the neighbouring village of Eynsham. Will the Government make a statement on the ways in which local communities can be assured that the necessary infrastructure—schools, hospitals, and Cotswold line and A40 upgrades—can come before and not after developments, and that such developments can bring benefits and not detriment to their local areas?

All of us want to see proper infrastructure in our constituencies before there is new housing. The Government have committed to ensuring that that is the case. My hon. Friend may wish to take up his specific issues directly with Ministers in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, perhaps through an Adjournment debate.

Five wasted years after the launch of the northern powerhouse, Whitehall this week killed off Yorkshire devolution. Is it not now time for plan B, and for the Humber docklands to be given the same priority as the London docklands have been given the last 40 years, for devolution to the Humber area to be real, for the regeneration of the Humber region to be allowed to continue, and for transport devolution?

The hon. Lady is a powerful voice for her constituency and her area, and she is absolutely right to be so. She will be aware that the Government remain fully committed to the northern powerhouse and to the devolution projects that we have implemented in recent years. She will also be aware that we have seen over a quarter of a trillion pounds of infrastructure investments since 2010 and that public investment as a percentage of GDP has been 14% higher on average since 2010 than under Labour. The Government remain fully committed to doing everything we can to improve investment, but I would encourage her to seek answers on her area directly, perhaps through an Adjournment debate.

Cheap synthetic drugs such as Spice and Mamba are increasingly becoming a problem in our towns, especially among the homeless and the vulnerable. With users posing a perceived threat to the public and putting immense stress on our public services, will my right hon. Friend consider granting a debate in Government time to discuss the effects of these destructive substances on our communities and what more can be done to ensure that the dealers and users face the full force of the law?

My hon. Friend raises a very serious issue. She will be aware that the Government have put in place strong measures to consult on a new legal duty to underpin a public health approach to tackling serious violence, which would of course look at the problem of drug misuse. The Government want to see law enforcement agencies and policy targeting and preventing the drug-related causes of violent crime effectively. I would encourage her to contribute to the debate on serious violence that I have announced for next week.

We heard this morning in the news that there is a study that suggests that street cannabis may be linked to depression in young people. If the study is correct, it emphasises how important it is that we protect young people from harm, which is why we should legalise and regulate the cannabis supply, in the same way as we do for that much more harmful drug, alcohol. May we have a debate on how we can protect young people by putting in place a proper regulatory regime for cannabis supply and consumption?

The hon. Gentleman, like my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), is talking about a very considerable problem, which is drug misuse by young people, with the appalling impact that it can have on their mental health, as well as the links to crime that are so often associated with drug misuse. The Government are looking carefully at measures to get young people away from a life of drugs and crime before it even begins. We have announced a new £200 million youth endowment fund over 10 years, which will build the evidence, as well as interventions to stop young people from 10 to 14 getting involved in these sorts of activities.

Poor mobile phone reception and the lack of 4G coverage has a huge impact on rural communities and is restricting the productivity of rural businesses. May we have a debate on how operators and the Government can work together to end this digital divide?

As an MP who represents a semi-rural constituency, I am extremely sympathetic to my hon. Friend. As he will know, we have committed more than £1 billion to next-generation digital infrastructure, and we are committed to full-fibre connections for the majority of homes and businesses by 2025, with a nationwide full-fibre network by 2033. There is a huge amount more to be done and I am sure that, if my hon. Friend sought a Westminster Hall debate, many Members would be interested in taking part.

Betty Higgins, the former leader of Nottingham City Council, died this week aged 92. She will be remembered as one of the great Nottinghamians: our publicly owned bus company, our council houses that she built and our schools that she refreshed provide a lasting memory. She was tough but kind, idealistic but pragmatic. She was also my friend and had a profound influence on my career from university to where I am today. May we have a debate in Government time about the impact of our great local government leaders and how to celebrate them?

The hon. Gentleman has paid a touching tribute to the former leader of his local council. I join him in paying tribute to her for her lifetime of commitment to the area. So many people in public life contribute to their areas but go largely unnoticed and unrewarded. It is right that we pay tribute to them from time to time, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can do just that.

Earlier this week my mere mention of Bolton FM brought delight to some Members. May we have a debate about how the Government can support local radio stations through, for instance, the relocation of masts, so that my constituents—especially those in Hunger Hill and Chew Moor—can benefit from better reception for Bolton FM?

My hon. Friend is a keen advocate for his constituency, and I am sure that we would all love access to Bolton FM. He is right to raise the issue of local radio stations, which are often valuable sources of information as well as entertainment for local communities, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate.

Tomorrow I will visit the Angel of the North in my constituency as it celebrates its 21st birthday. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Gateshead Council on its vision in commissioning this magnificent work, and may we have a debate in Government time on the importance of culture to local economies?

The hon. Lady has joined a number of Members in calling for a debate to celebrate culture and she is absolutely right to do so. I am delighted to join her in celebrating the 21st birthday of the Angel of the North, which is an iconic sight for those who travel from the south to the north of the United Kingdom.

Will the Leader of the House congratulate the Polzeath marine conservation group on the installation of two water fountains on two of our most prolific beaches in north Cornwall? Given the increased use of reusable bottles, would it be possible to have a debate about the need for more water fountains around the UK?

I commend my hon. Friend for raising such an important matter on behalf of his constituents. It is vital to make drinking water more readily available if we are to reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles. The water industry supports the Refill campaign, and Refill points will be installed in every major city and town in England, but Water UK is also exploring options for rural communities, and the Government continue to work closely with it. My hon. Friend might like to seek an Adjournment debate to raise the matter further and allow other Members to contribute.

More than 50,000 British-born children whose parents are legally in the UK are being denied any help under the Home Office’s pernicious “no recourse to public funds” rules. That is forcing councils to provide what are supposed to be emergency social services at very high cost. When will the Government provide time for a debate on this extension of the hostile environment, the damage that it does to communities such as mine, and the additional costs that councils suffer as a result?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Home Office questions will take place on Monday 25 February. If he has specific concerns about a particular issue, he will be able to raise them directly with Ministers then.

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Plastic Free Cornwall summit, which brought organisations from across Cornwall together to discuss how to rid Cornwall of plastic pollution. Many of them raised the issue of released balloons which end up littering our beaches and polluting our seas. Under current legislation, balloon releases are not classed as littering. That position was last reviewed five years ago. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make a statement about a further review of whether balloon releases should be classed as littering?

My hon. Friend is to be commended for his campaigning against plastics getting into marine areas. He will be aware that the Government have a strong track record on this. For example, we have introduced a world-leading ban on microbeads, taking 13 billion plastic bags out of circulation in the last two years, and consulted on banning the sale and supply of plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. We have many more plans to reduce the use of plastics and I encourage him to write to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to raise his particular concerns about the release of balloons.

On 9 March, robot day will take place at Coventry transport museum as part of British science week. This major science and technology event, which is free to enter, aims to entertain and inspire people of all generations. Given the skills shortage in the STEM field, does the Leader of the House agree that robot day is a creative way to inspire young people to consider a STEM career path, and will she arrange for a debate in Government time on how we can bring STEM careers to life for people of all ages?

I totally agree that robot day will be a fantastic way to engage with young people and perhaps get them more interested in taking up STEM subjects. I read just yesterday that maths is now one of the most popular A-level subjects to study in this country. A significant rise in the selection of STEM subjects for young people to study is brilliant news for our future as we move into our new modern industrial strategy, seeking the jobs of the future, which will include a lot of the ideas the hon. Lady advocates.

At lunchtime today the Battersea and Wandsworth trade union group will be calling on Wandsworth Council to end its two-tier pay and conditions system, under which outsourced workers are paid poverty wages and have worse terms and conditions than directly employed staff. So may we have a debate in which we can discuss the meaning of a real living wage for people and the workers of Wandsworth?

The hon. Lady raises an issue that sounds very concerning; if there is a two-tier system, she is right to raise that in this place. She will be aware that it was this Government who introduced the national living wage and we will be increasing it again in April. That will mean a significant real-terms increase for people on some of the lowest incomes in our country. There is more to do and I encourage her to raise her particular concerns directly with Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministers.

Will we be able to have a debate on the cycle to work scheme, to respond to calls to raise the threshold of the scheme in order to benefit more people, particularly those with disabilities and those on low incomes?

The hon. Lady will be aware that we are always keen to do more for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and young people with disabilities. It is important that we always seek to do everything we can, and if she has some good ideas I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so she can share them with Ministers.

Given the concern expressed this week by two leading charities and the anxiety being expressed to me by my constituents in Edinburgh West who are affected by the lack of clarity about the availability of vital medicines such as insulin if Britain leaves the EU, will the Government set aside as a priority some time to discuss and clarify this important issue?

We are working very closely with pharmaceutical companies to make sure that patients will all continue to receive the medicines they need. This involves asking many of them to ensure a minimum of six weeks’ additional supply of medicine over and above the usual buffer stocks by 29 March. Patients, doctors and community pharmacists should not stockpile medicines—obviously, that then in itself presents a problem—but we are confident that, if everyone does as they are being asked to do, the supply of medicines will be uninterrupted in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Government responded positively this week to Professor Abdel-Haq’s report on taxi and private hire licensing. Will the Leader of the House look at reintroducing my private Member’s Bill, which would do exactly what the Government want to do but was chopped by one Member of this House?

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill, and that was a shame. He will be aware that the Government have launched a consultation this week on robust new rules for licensing authorities, outlining how they should use their powers to protect vulnerable passengers from harm. These rules would ensure that drivers were fit to carry passengers, keeping people safe while preventing those with bad intentions from getting behind the wheel of a taxi or a minicab.

Will the Leader of the House get a grip on the Government Whips Office and put a rocket right up them? They are playing games with an important private Member’s Bill on refugee children. We need a motion for Committee, a money resolution and notification of which Minister will be on the Committee. Being messed about with false promises, inaction and avoided phone calls is not good enough. This has to be sorted today, and I call on Members more widely, the public, celebrities and whoever else is interested in this to get on to the Government Whips Office so that we can get this shifted.

The Government have an excellent record of supporting private Members’ Bills on to the statute book. I can say to the hon. Gentleman that we support the principle of family unity and that we have helped to reunite 24,700 family members in the past five years. The policy allows a partner and children under the age of 18 to join refugees here if they were part of the family unit before their sponsor fled the country. There are already provisions allowing extended family members to sponsor children where there are serious and compelling circumstances, and the policy caters for extended family members where necessary.

Given that the Department for Work and Pensions is currently contacting older residents in my constituency and asking them to consider having their pensions paid into a bank account, without giving them the option to obtain them at the post office, may we have a statement or a debate on why the DWP is not promoting the post office, which is a vital lifeline to people in isolated communities?

The hon. Gentleman raises a specific concern in his constituency, and I am very sympathetic to his problem. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss this directly with DWP Ministers.

A total of €160 million in European regional funding is due to be lost to the highlands and islands between 2021 and 2027 due to Brexit. May we have a debate in Government time on that, and on the Government’s failure to bring forward any details of the so-called shared prosperity fund, which was meant to replace that funding?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the next EU multi-annual financial framework has not been settled yet, so it is not possible to say what the UK’s share of that might be in return for the UK’s significant contributions. The UK will not be in the EU, and we are replacing that funding with a shared prosperity fund, which will seek to promote growth and opportunity right across the whole of the United Kingdom.

There have been no trains through my constituency all this week due to a landslide. This is two years after I tabled questions in the House asking for the infrastructure to be checked following a previous landslide. My constituents put up with constant failures by the rail operator and by Network Rail. May we have a statement on their performance on the Southeastern suburban rail services?

I am sorry to hear about problems in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and I am very sympathetic to commuters whose journey to work each day is being ruined by problems with the rail network. I do hope that he was present for Transport oral questions earlier and that he raised his question directly with Ministers then, because I think they would have been able to answer it for him.

Endometriosis is a condition that affects one in 10 women, and it is incredibly painful. It involves cells that should be growing inside the womb growing outside it. Please may we have a debate about endometriosis and its surrounding issues?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I also know people who have suffered from endometriosis, and it is a very painful condition, as she rightly says. I think she could raise the issue in the debate on the NHS long-term plan, which we have organised for next week.

Can we have a statement on the UK Government breaking yet another manifesto promise about maintaining pensioner benefits? Will the Leader of the House explain why the UK Government have completely abrogated their responsibility to the over-75s, putting it on to the BBC’s shoulders, by withdrawing their support for free TV licences? The change will potentially leave 9,000 pensioners in my constituency alone much poorer and more socially isolated.

As I said in response to an earlier question about BBC licences, the Prime Minister made it clear that she expects that these licences continue to be made available. They are vital for older people wanting to get information and to alleviate loneliness, which is so often a problem for people in isolated communities. The hon. Lady is right to raise the matter, but it is for the BBC to ensure that licences continue to be made available.

As business looks quite light next week, can legislation be brought to the House regarding tougher sentences for causing death by dangerous driving, as promised by this Government in October 2017?

The hon. Lady refers to an important issue that has been raised in the Chamber several times. Dangerous driving causes too many deaths. We had a debate on road safety quite recently, for which I was able to offer Government time, but I will take her request into consideration against all the other competing requests for time in the Chamber.

An MP hiring an intern is supposed to provide a valuable opportunity, but nearly three months after I made an offer to a London School of Economics undergraduate—paying the living wage, of course—he is still waiting on security clearance and is therefore in complete limbo. Security is important, but can we have a process for expediting security clearance?

I am sorry to hear that. I have recently recruited people and did not have the same problem. It may be an isolated case, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me, I will take the matter up on his behalf.

The SNP Scottish Government have imposed nearly £200 million of cuts on the City of Edinburgh Council over the past decade, with another £41 million to come. May we have an urgent debate on how the Scottish Government are quadrupling Tory austerity through savage cuts in my local council area?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there was absolutely no need for further SNP tax rises or cuts, thanks to this Government delivering a further £950 million funding boost in the Budget. The SNP Government have sought to raise taxes and cut services entirely unnecessarily because the UK Government have supported their budgets. We have Scotland questions on Wednesday 20 February, so I encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise his concerns then.

Attacks on shop workers are up, and shoplifting is up. In the unlikely event that I do not get my Westminster Hall debate on retail crime at the fourth attempt, can we have a debate in Government time?

The right hon. Gentleman should keep pursuing that debate. I am sure that Mr Speaker is listening carefully. He is right that retail crime is a blight on businesses across our high streets, and we need to do everything we can to resolve the matter. He may like to seize the opportunity to contribute his thoughts during the debate on serious violence next week.

It has been evident for some time that properties located next to whisky maturation sites are being affected by a stubborn black material. That is happening not only in West Dunbartonshire, but across the United Kingdom. In a recent survey conducted by my office, 85% of respondents in Clydebank, Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven highlighted the negative impact of “whisky black”. The issue has an impact on all our communities, so will the Leader of the House make time for all Members to discuss it?

I was unaware of that issue before the hon. Gentleman raised it, but he is right to do so. He may like to raise the matter with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Thursday 21 February so that he can look into it on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf.

This Government must surely seek a new mandate for their proposed massive cuts to low-income pensioner households, given that they were approved seven years, two Governments and two Parliaments ago. Why is the Leader of the House denying this House the opportunity to vote on the Government’s cuts to pension credit?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it was this Government, in 2010, who introduced the triple lock to ensure that pensioners on fixed incomes will always have the reassurance of a secure basic income. He raises a specific issue, and he might like to raise it directly with Ministers in an Adjournment debate.

Last month, Pakistan’s supreme court appointed Dr Muhammad Suddle to lead a commission on equal rights for minority religious groups in Pakistan. That will ensure the implementation of a supreme court order requiring the Pakistani Government to establish a national council for minority rights and requiring the police force to protect their places of worship. It is important that this House not only points out human rights violations but praises positive actions to help suffering communities. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming this appointment and urge hon. and right hon. Members to sign early-day motion 2050?

[That this House welcomes the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s decision to appoint a commission chaired by Dr Shoaib Suddle; notes that the intention of the commission is to ensure implementation of the decision PLD 2014 SC 699 of June 2014 to safeguard the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan; affirms its confidence in Dr Suddle as a man of integrity and impartiality and capable of carrying out this critically important task; and assures him of its cooperation and assistance in matters of religious freedom.]

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the need to protect the rights of religious and racial minorities. I join him in welcoming this new move and encourage him to raise this point at Foreign Office questions the week after next.