Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 25 February—A motion to approve the draft Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve the draft REACH etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the 20th anniversary of the Macpherson report. The subject of this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 26 February—Estimates Day (5th allotted day). There will be debates on estimates relating to the Department for Education and on estimates relating to the Department for Work and Pensions. At 7.00 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates. This will be followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.
Wednesday 27 February—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) (No.2) Bill, followed by a motion relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Thursday 28 February—A general debate on St David’s day, followed by a general debate on the UK’s progress toward net-zero carbon emissions. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 1 March—The House will not be sitting.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said to this House on 12 February:
“When we achieve the progress we need, we will bring forward another meaningful vote, but if the Government have not secured a majority in this House in favour of a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration, the Government will make a statement on Tuesday 26 February and table an amendable motion relating to the statement, and 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.”—[Official Report, 12 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 733.]
I will make a further business statement if necessary.
I was honoured to be at the unveiling of the memorial stone to PC Palmer yesterday at Downing Street, and I would like to pay my own tribute to his selfless bravery—we will always remember him.
This week, the House has heard a number of touching tributes to our colleague the Member for Newport West. It is always sad to lose one of our colleagues, and we will remember and continue to be inspired by his energy for campaigning and the difference he made in the policy areas he cared so much about.
This Government are making great progress. I am of course talking about the five Government Bills that have just received Royal Assent—legislation that will make a real difference to our country. They are: the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019, which criminalises the abhorrent practice of upskirting; the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which gives our law enforcement and intelligence agencies the powers to keep us safer from terrorism; the Tenant Fees Act 2019, where we are helping renters by banning unfair fees; the Finance Act 2019, which cuts taxes for 32 million people and cracks down on tax avoidance; and the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act 2019, which makes it easier for law enforcement agencies to convict terrorists, sex offenders and those involved in serious crime. I am proud of the legislation this Government have brought forward to address some of the critical issues of our time.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement for next week. I note that she has provided the Backbench Business Committee with two days of debates, and both subjects are very important. I know that the Chair of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), is a cheeky chappie, but the Leader of the House should not have favourites, so as she is being so generous with Government time, may we have an Opposition day? The shadow Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees), whose birthday it is today—I wish her a very happy birthday—will be pleased about the St David’s day debate.
Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the House will rise on 4 April and return on 23 April? I understand that some civil servants are being told that their leave is cancelled during that time. Are there any plans to cancel the recess? Will the Leader of the House place in the Library a letter about the costs that were incurred as a result of the cancelling of the February recess? I particularly thank the staff for being here. It is easy for Members to rearrange their time, but it is not so easy for the staff of the House and our own staff to do that. Will the Leader of the House confirm that all the fire and safety works that were due to take place this week will be done at a convenient time?
I thank the Leader of the House for scheduling the statutory instruments—she will know that it is very important that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise them—but from next week an average of 24 Commons debates on affirmative Brexit SIs need to be held each week through to exit day, so will she confirm that all the affirmative Brexit SIs will have proper scrutiny in the House?
It is absolutely unacceptable that the Government have failed to effectively plan their Brexit strategy over the past two and a half years. The Prime Minister gave a speech in Lancaster House on 17 January 2017, and speeches in Davos on 19 January and Florence on 22 September that year, and she gave speeches at the Mansion House on 2 March 2018 and at Chequers on 6 July 2018, yet with just five weeks to go until the UK exits the EU on 29 March, the Government are still attempting to secure a negotiated agreement with legal assurances. I am not clear how this works, because I understand that the Attorney General—[Interruption.] No, I was here listening to him, and the Attorney General warned in December 2018 that the backstop provision in the Brexit deal could continue indefinitely
“unless and until it was superseded”—[Official Report, 3 December 2018; Vol. 650, c. 547.]
by a new agreement. That is according to the Government’s legal advice, but he is now seeking to secure changes and a new legal interpretation. Does that mean he has misled Parliament? Will the Attorney General come to the House and explain his advice, because it is clearly going to change?
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister was forced to admit to Conservative MPs that the Irish backstop could not be replaced by the Malthouse compromise. The Leader of the House will know that that is not actually a clause in the agreement, and Brussels does not recognise it—it was done only to win the vote. The Leader of the House said that the Prime Minister is going to make a statement on Tuesday and that there is a vote on Wednesday; will she confirm that it is the meaningful vote on Wednesday?
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Spring statement will take place on 13 March? New analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that more than half of day-to-day public spending on the NHS, defence and overseas aid has already been allocated. That means that if the Chancellor was right when he said that austerity has ended, the Government will have to spend £5 billion more than is currently planned by 2023-24 to maintain real spending per person on unprotected services.
May we have a debate on the wholly inappropriate use of public money by the Mayor of the West Midlands combined authority? He wants to introduce articulated buses—or bendy buses—on one of the routes in Walsall where the X51 already provides a perfectly reliable service. Articulated buses were taken out of use because they caused accidents with cyclists and pedestrians. May we have a debate on that misuse of public money?
I, too, attended the unveiling of the plaque for PC Keith Palmer. No one can forget that day. There were some heartfelt tributes by both the Prime Minister and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I can only repeat what the commissioner said to Keith Palmer: thank you and God bless you. We have our own memorial on the estate where PC Palmer fell. People have already been laying flowers.
I want to take up what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said to me and pay full praise to our colleague, Paul Flynn. Newport has lost a famous son. He was a Member of Parliament for more than 30 years. He recalled hearing Aneurin Bevan, the then Minister for Health, speak in the city in 1948, when he established the new NHS. He served on many Select Committees, and, at the age of 81, was very gracious and kind to me both when I first came in and when he handed over to me as shadow Leader of the House. In 1996, he won Back Bencher of the Year award from The Spectator. Hon. Members will be aware of his book “Commons Knowledge: How to be a Backbencher”. I hold it up to the Chamber because he said that one of the 10 commandments for a Back Bencher was:
“Honour your party and extend its horizons.”
And I think he did that. He also showed us how to live through Private Bills and—Mr, Speaker, you will like this—how to survive the Speaker. On making bogus points of order, he said, “Flatter the speaker subtly.”
Nice tie, Mr Speaker.
I think it’s a nice tie—it is one of the better ones anyway. Paul also said to be cheeky to the Speaker.
In the foreword, the late Tony Banks said that Paul Flynn was
“one of Westminster’s sharpest of brain and tongue”—
“well-merited reputation for forthright and controversial views.”
Paul was ahead of his time in many ways. He was one of the first MPs to use the internet to communicate with constituents and, in 2000, he won the New Media Award for his website from the New Statesman. We all send condolences to his family and we will miss him and his gorgeous voice.
Finally, Mr Speaker, you will pleased to know—I am sure that Paul would like this, too—that there will be a blue plaque to Bob Marley, which shows great diversity on the blue plaque front. I know that some hon. Members will be singing “Exodus”, but those of us on the Labour Benches will be singing, “One Love/People Get Ready.”
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her very interesting insight into our hon. Friend, the Member for Newport West. That was genuinely very interesting and I thank her for that. I also join her in wishing the shadow Secretary of State for Wales a very happy birthday.
The hon. Lady asked about Opposition days. I hope that she will recognise that I have tried to accommodate a number of requests made by colleagues across the House, including those made by the Opposition and the Backbench Business Committee. I am sure that she will welcome the fact that the House will have the opportunity to debate a motion to approve the draft REACH etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 on Monday following her request in business questions on 24 January. She will also appreciate that I have announced some important business for next week, and that we have had a range of key issues to debate this week, including a debate on serious violence, which was requested by Members from both sides of the House, and a number of statutory instruments recommended for debate by the European Statutory Instruments Committee—all very important business.
The hon. Lady asks about Easter recess. We always announce recesses subject to the progress of business, and that remains the case for the time being. She asks for a report on the costs of cancelling the recess. I will certainly look into it. I imagine that that is a matter for the House of Commons Commission, on which she also sits. Perhaps it is something that she and I could raise at the next House of Commons Commission meeting. I would certainly like to join her in thanking all those members of staff who have worked this week to support us as we continue with important parliamentary business.
The hon. Lady asks for confirmation on the position of Brexit statutory instruments. More than 450 EU exit SIs have now been laid, which is over 75% of the total that we anticipate being required by exit day. The sifting Committee, which looks at all the statutory instruments under the key powers of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, has now considered more than 190 SIs, recommending 52 of them for an upgrade to the affirmative procedure. I can confirm to the House that there remains a relatively small number of SIs for the sifting Committee to continue to review. I can also confirm to the House that the total number of statutory instruments will be fewer than 600. I will continue to update the House, but I am confident that we have enough time to put in place all the necessary secondary legislation by the date of leaving the EU.
The hon. Lady asks about our Brexit negotiations. She will be aware that the Prime Minister is determined to—and continues to—negotiate legally-binding changes to the backstop to ensure that the requirements of this House in approving the withdrawal agreement and political declaration can be met. If necessary, I will make a further business statement, but my statement today is clear that we will meet our commitment to deliver a debate on an amendable motion next week relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and the Prime Minister will update the House next week.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future of travelling shows and fairs? As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on fairs and showgrounds, I know that this family-based sector has made representations about falling customer numbers and is concerned about the effects on the workforce of changes to freedom of movement once we have left the European Union.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Travelling fairs and shows are a brilliant source of fun for families, and they contribute a lot to a thriving cultural scene and local economies. The Government have made clear our commitment to EU citizens who have come to the UK to make their living, and they are welcome here beyond our departure from the EU. A Westminster Hall debate might be a good way in which to raise this matter further.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. May I join in the many tributes to Paul Flynn? He was a brave but kind politician, and we will never forget his sojourn at the Dispatch Box as shadow Leader of the House, which he described as a job creation opportunity for octogenarians.
It is starting to feel distinctly different in here as the Government’s chaotic Brexit starts to play havoc on the UK’s political parties as well as the UK itself. We are all wondering who is next and looking for some willing volunteers on the Conservative Benches—[Interruption.] Oh, there we go; it might be the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning). The smart money certainly is not on the Leader of the House; she is more ERG than TIG. Can we have a debate on political defections, particularly on the question of the point at which defections become a realignment of British politics?
Next Wednesday, we are going to have another one of these “I can’t believe it’s not the meaningful vote” debates as the clock is run down further and attempts to blackmail the House into accepting this rotten deal or a disastrous no deal continue apace. Once again, there will be another one of these Christmas tree motions. The Government will be told that this House will not accept no deal, and presumably the Government will just ignore the wishes of the House all over again. But at some point this nonsense has to come to an end. The House simply is not going to accept no deal, and the quicker the Leader of the House accepts that, the better we will all be. With 36 days left until we leave the EU, the Government are going to have to come back to the House with their real meaningful vote, so when will that be?
The Leader of the House has actually invented a new date—29 February next week. As the Leader of the House knows, there is no 29 February. Perhaps this is not so much running down the clock, but extending February forever so we actually never get to a meaningful vote.
I do not know what the Leader of the House has got against the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil)—the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill—but it has been almost a year since it passed its Second Reading in this House. Other Bills have been given precedence and his still has no money resolution. Again, the Government are defying the wishes of the House. When will the Leader of the House set out a motion to let this important Bill progress?
Please let us not do this week all over again. The Leader of the House’s hon. Friends gave up their skiing holidays and trips to their villas for barely-debated statutory instruments and general debates. I have been listening carefully to the Leader of the House, and it seems as if the Easter recess is under threat and is not particularly safe now. We know that this costs the House God knows how much money and has put staff at a great disadvantage, so let us make sure that we have our Easter recess. The only notable thing that happened this week was the desertion of MPs from the two big parties. In the week of the TIGgers, this Government have seemed little more than a bunch of Eeyores in a bad mood.
I do not want to make the hon. Gentleman envious, but I am pleased to tell the House that I have a fully up-to-date and, dare I say, sanitised version of the business of the House, and mine very clearly says “Friday 1 March”. [Interruption.] Well, I feel very sorry for colleagues. I am obviously in a privileged position and should be thankful for it.
If the hon. Gentleman had only realised, I put that deliberately on his paper in the hope that he might think that, as it would be 29 February, I might propose to him. Just continuing the love, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman says that I am more ERG than TIG, but he is the one who is desperate for independence, so perhaps he should be the one to go and join the Independent Group. He asks about the debate next week. I have certainly tried to make it clear that the Prime Minister will bring back the meaningful vote just as soon as she feels that she has accommodated the wishes of the House for the legally binding changes to the backstop that will mean that the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement and political declaration can be approved by the House. All Members need to take that incredibly seriously. It is not the Government’s policy to have no deal; it is the Government’s policy to have a good deal that works for the UK and our EU friends and neighbours. Should we agree to and pass the meaningful vote, we will swiftly be able to move to the withdrawal agreement Bill and give certainty to citizens and businesses right across the United Kingdom. It is in all our interests to do so.
When my right hon. Friend fills in her questionnaire on restoration, which is available in the Library, she will quickly discern from the questions that, far from preserving Barry and Pugin’s masterpiece, what is envisaged is the creation of Kubla Khan’s stately pleasure dome. When can we debate this matter and get it back on track?
I confess that my right hon. Friend has totally thrown me there. That is absolutely not my understanding at all. The idea of the restoration and renewal of the Palace is predominantly to sort out the mechanical and engineering requirements of the House, to restore and preserve this UNESCO world heritage site for many generations to come. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, I will hope to introduce a Bill that will put in place the new sponsor body and delivery authority that will carry out the work, which is in the interests of the entire United Kingdom.
I am glad that I have been elevated to the status of official parliamentary cheeky chappie by the shadow Leader. I add my commiserations to the family of the hon. Member for Newport West, Paul Flynn. He will be greatly missed in this place.
If there is to be a Government statement on Tuesday, could the estimates day debates be given some form of protected time? The applications were very heavily subscribed. More than 50 Members have backed the applications for debates on education and on work and pensions. If the Government statement on EU withdrawal ate into that by a huge amount, it would demean the whole situation on estimates day applications.
I thank the Leader of the House for confirmation that the debate on the 20th anniversary of the Macpherson report’s publication will go ahead on Monday, and that time has been put aside for Welsh affairs and St David’s day, and on climate change next Thursday. Thank you very much.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point about protected time. I will see what can be done. I obviously cannot make any commitments because statements from the Prime Minister, as he will be aware, command significant interest in the House, but I will certainly take that away and consider it.
With a diligence that chimes with all of your stewardship, Mr Speaker, and characterises the best of my own endeavours, we listened yesterday to the Home Secretary deal with an urgent question—I use the word “question” generously—on passports and their removal. The Leader of the House surely acknowledges that all those who, regardless of passports, who once fled to fight for our foes must now face the consequences, so will she ask the Home Secretary to return here to address the a priori argument that those who promoted, incited, aided or abetted terrorism, regardless of whether they are British or not, should be prosecuted? The law is in place for that to happen. In the cause of virtue, we should be mindful of what Proust said:
“We should never be afraid to go too far, for truth lies beyond.”
My right hon. Friend is right that our priority is to ensure the safety and security of the United Kingdom, and we will not allow anything to jeopardise this. We have tough measures to deal with people who pose a serious threat, including depriving them of their British citizenship or excluding them from the UK. Any British citizen who does return from taking part in the conflict must be in no doubt that they will be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted.
The Leader of the House might recall, not that she was alive at the time, that on 6 September 1620 a little ship, the Mayflower, sailed from Plymouth to America. We still have time to celebrate that great event, so could we have an early debate to discuss how we best do that? We have a strong alliance with the United States and we share that history. Also, she knows my belief that we should use it to celebrate not just that famous journey—there were 102 passengers, 30 crew and some children, waifs from the London streets, went on that boat—but migration, which is not a dirty word. Immigrants bring creativity, energy, great strengths and a great store of knowledge. Can we celebrate in 1620 the Mayflower and all its implications, and have a debate about that?
Personally, I think that is a fantastic idea. I think the hon. Gentleman means, “Can we celebrate in 2020?” I am not sure we have a time turner that would take us back to 1620, but he is right that we should celebrate the contribution of migrants, whether outward or inward, who give so much to our culture and to our communities. This fantastic idea will also celebrate the fact that the UK will have left the European Union and will be re-establishing our close connections with our transatlantic cousins and friends.
The Leader of the House will be aware that I have raised with her before the lack of accountability in our NHS management. In south-west Hertfordshire, the frontline staff do a fantastic job, but they are being let down time and again by the management around the clinical commissioning group and West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which seem to be completely unaccountable to parliamentarians or to the public. Can we have a debate to see how we can have more accountability and find out exactly what goes on with these management systems, which seem to be doing their own thing and ignoring the public’s will?
My right hon. Friend has had some sympathy from others across the House on some of the challenges in dealing with CCGs; he is right to raise that. He might like to seek a Westminster Hall debate, so that all hon. Members can share their concerns, and also possibly propose remedies.
The Scottish Government are in the process of renegotiating pay rises for public sector workers. When that is concluded, they will be backdated to April 2018. While that is welcome, those who are currently claiming universal credit will go beyond their earnings threshold and therefore might be taken off the benefit altogether. May we have a debate in Government time on protecting public sector workers from this penalty?
The hon. Lady will be aware that universal credit is a support that is designed to help people get into work and to increase their earnings, and to keep more of their earnings as they increase their hours and increase their pay, so that nobody needs to face the problem that we had under the old legacy system under which, if someone worked a few extra hours, their benefits would be cut immediately. Universal credit does deliberately seek to ensure a smooth transition that motivates and incentivises people to have extra hours of work and, as they earn extra money, to be more self-sufficient for themselves and their families.
The people of Chelmsford care deeply about the environment and will have been pleased to see the Chancellor taking action on the plastic packaging tax this week. This time last year, 41 Conservative MPs gave up plastic for Lent, and took time to reflect on our own environmental footprint and to think about what more we could do for the planet. It was great that the Leader of the House was one of those 41. Will she again take a pledge for the environment this Lent and encourage colleagues from across the House to do so? Will she perhaps also support the great work of the charity Tearfund, which is partnering with the Department for International Development to address plastic pollution in some of the poorest parts of our planet?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for our environment. I am delighted to take up her challenge and again have a plastic-free Lent, as I did—and enjoyed—last year. I can say to her that our 25-year environment plan aims to ensure that this generation in the UK will be the first to leave our environment in a better place than we found it. We have done a huge amount already, including introducing a world-leading ban on microbeads and taking 13 billion plastic bags out of circulation in the past two years. We have consulted on banning the sale and supply of plastic straws and stirrers and of plastic-stemmed cotton buds. We will be consulting on introducing a deposit return scheme for single-use drink containers and reforms of packaging producer responsibilities. We are doing a huge amount in this Government, and it is right that we do so. As individuals, it is right that we all seek to do as much as we can to protect and preserve our planet for future generations.
Definitely the most important thing I have ever done in my 21 years in this House was to call for the public inquiry into the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. I welcome the debate on Monday, but it was one of the watershed moments for race relations in this country and this is therefore an important moment. I believe that we are losing the focus on the lessons that Macpherson taught us, so will the Leader of the House ensure that the Home Secretary is in his place for that debate to give it the status it really deserves?
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is vital that we continue to learn the lessons from that appalling incident, which is now 20 years old. Stephen Lawrence will never be forgotten for what that demonstrated about the problems and challenges we have in our society today, and the debate on Monday will offer a good opportunity for all hon. Members to give their own thoughts on this. While he will appreciate that it is not for me to decide precisely which Minister comes to this House, I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes a huge personal interest in this issue.
A report in today’s Grimsby Telegraph highlights the cost of missed GP appointments. It points out that the cost to the NHS was £120,000 in north-east Lincolnshire alone. This is a major issue and a big problem that the NHS must tackle. May we have a debate to see how we can focus attention on it?
My hon. Friend is exactly right to raise this issue, which is a huge concern right across the country. People failing to turn up for GP appointments are wasting valuable resources and time from which others might be able to benefit. I strongly suggest that he perhaps seeks a Westminster Hall debate so that he can address this directly with Ministers and enable other hon. Members to put forward the concerns they have in their own constituencies.
May I just say—I learned this from the late Paul Flynn—nice tie, Mr Speaker? It is indeed one of the best. Paul once told me that he was named after the German soldier who spared his father’s life in world war one, and many were the stories Paul shared with us.
First, I would like to say that it is good the business is out and we know what is happening on Wednesday. Again, we will be tabling an amendment to revoke article 50, which is open to all Members.
To turn to the serious matter I want to raise today, this Government keep playing games with the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill. I raised this last week, and the racket still goes on. I want the Leader of the House to put a rocket under the Government Whips to get this moving. Last week, she just read from some bland sheet that was handed to her from behind her. The Government Whips have done nothing in the intervening time: they have not responded to emails, and when they suggested a meeting I was ready to go, but I find out today that the Whip in question is absent today. It is ridiculous, so will she pursue this, or must refugee children yet again be cast aside when it comes to family reunion? What do the Tories have against families? Refugees have the same right to a family life as everybody else. Will she commit today to putting a rocket up the Tory Whips Office—please?
The hon. Gentleman was doing so well until he started accusing the Government of not caring, which is simply untrue. This Government have an excellent record of supporting private Member’s Bills, and more than 50 have received Royal Assent since 2010. We are not blocking progress. The Government are closely following the passage of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, and they continue to look at providing money resolutions for Bills that require them in the usual way, which is on a case-by-case basis. As I have said before, the Government have helped to reunite 24,700 family members over the past five years. Our policy allows a partner and children under 18 to join refugees in the United Kingdom if they were part of the family unit before their sponsor fled their country. It is vital to do everything we can to help asylum seekers and refugees, but we must also discourage people from making treacherous journeys that end up doing so much damage to lives and people’s futures.
If the media are to be believed, this week is commonly known as “ski week.” I would not know about that, but many of us have had to cancel constituency engagements to be here. May I echo the words of the shadow Leader of the House and ask that, if such a move is planned again, the needs of House staff are taken into consideration? I have spoken to many staff this week who have had to cancel family events or simply a much-needed break. If a PR stunt such as cancelling recess is planned again, the needs and wellbeing of House staff must be taken into consideration.
The hon. Lady raises an important point about the need to balance the needs of House staff with those of our Parliament. I received reassurances from senior House staff that all existing commitments would be honoured, and in speaking to many House staff I found them incredibly supportive, and they did not complain that they have had to cancel significant prior engagements. Nevertheless, the hon. Lady raises an important point about the need to take their wishes into account. I totally reject the hon. Lady’s suggestion that this week has been a PR stunt. We have had two statements and five urgent questions, which enabled colleagues to question Ministers on UK nationals returning from Syria and the situations with Flybmi and Honda. Eight pieces of important legislation have been agreed on the Floor of the House, including the annual update of support for our armed forces on Monday. The Home Secretary opened a debate on serious violence for which the House has been calling for several weeks. We had a valuable and well attended short debate on the NHS 10-year plan, which the shadow Leader of the House had called for, and this afternoon we will debate potential future trade agreements. In addition, the Public Galleries have been full this week, with members of the public—including children on their half-term holidays—getting the chance to see their elected representatives holding the Government to account and defending their interests. I simply do not accept that this has been anything other than a valuable parliamentary week.
May I add my name to those paying tribute to Paul Flynn, who was a friend of mine and of many Members across the House? Paul’s hobby was annoying Ministers, regardless of which party they happened to come from, and on Monday evening we will pay tribute to his memory at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party.
The Leader of the House may be aware of a scheme that was introduced by the Government to enable local authorities to take in Syrian refugees. One such council is Waltham Forest, which covers most of my constituency, and the problem is that next year the funding will evaporate unless something is done now or in the very near future. May we have a statement from a Home Office Minister to set out the Government’s plans for continuing that funding beyond 2020?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and the Government are grateful to local authorities that provide care for a significant number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We are currently reviewing funding arrangements, and more than 50 local authorities have taken part in a consultation. We hope to reach a conclusion soon, but it is right to take time to assess the evidence thoroughly. We are committed to putting in place arrangements that work as well as possible for both unaccompanied children and local authorities.
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on antisocial behaviour, so that we can discuss the need for more support and help for police and local authorities to deal with and prevent such behaviour? That problem has recently caused difficulties in my constituency, including some serious incidents.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. Antisocial behaviour is a real scourge for many communities right across the UK. He will be aware that we have recently had a debate on antisocial behaviour, and I hope he had the opportunity to raise his specific local concerns then. I keep under review the possibility of further debates on subjects that are of grave concern to this House, and will continue to do so with regard to antisocial behaviour.
On Tuesday 12 February, hundreds of religious hard-liners attacked members of the Ahmadiyya religious community in northern Bangladesh, leaving 25 injured. Some 700 to 800 men wielding sticks and batons, angry at plans to host an Ahmadiyya convention in the town of Ahmednagar, descended on the town and injured 20 policemen and five Ahmadiyyas. I attended an Ahmadiyya convention, along with lots of other people from across many different religions, here in the United Kingdom. The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, but the authorities blamed the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh, which is accused of killing scores of Hindus, Christians, Sufis and Shi’a. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate or a statement on the matter?
The hon. Gentleman, as he often does, raises a very significant and concerning report of religious hatred and violence. He is right to do so. We have Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday 26 February, and I encourage him to raise it directly with Foreign Office Ministers then, so that he can hear what more the UK can do to help to support religious tolerance around the world.
I thank the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for their remarks about our friend Paul Flynn. He would have had something to say about the business of the House sheet in which the Leader of the House appears to have abolished St David’s Day. As a proud Welshman, he would not have been very keen on that. However, does that not open up an opportunity? When the amendable motion is discussed, could we put down an amendment that brings forward Brexit day from 29 March 2019 to 29 February 2019, since it is here on the business of the House sheet, and thus avoid the whole thing all together?
All I can say is, nice try.
I have a constituent who wishes to remain anonymous, but who recently applied for a job with a UK Government Department. She has, among other qualifications, an A in higher maths and a B in advanced higher maths. This is a higher standard than an English A-level, yet she was told by Capita, which did the initial sifting, that she did not have the requisite qualifications. May we have a written statement from the Leader of the House, directing the attention of Ministers, HR managers and Capita to an explanation of the value of all qualifications sat by school pupils in the UK, including in Scotland? While she is answering, will she take the opportunity to congratulate the Scottish pupils who have just done their prelims—mock exams in England—and are now studying for their highers and advanced highers before the summer?
I am delighted to congratulate all students, in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, who have just taken mocks and preliminaries. I wish them every success with their exams in the summer. I congratulate in particular the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, who sounds as if she has done extraordinarily well in her maths highers. I sincerely hope that she will be rewarded with a good role. He makes a very important point. It is not clear to me whether he is suggesting that perhaps Capita has not understood the way that the grading system works.
If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me about this specific case I can take it up on his behalf, or he could raise it directly with the Secretary of State for Education, who I am sure would be very keen to take it up on his behalf.
This year, 2019, marks the launch of the three-year “I am and I will” campaign, which highlights the power of individual action in reducing the impact of cancer. I am sure the right hon. Lady already knows about it. Leading the way are the 1.4 million people who have joined the UK stem cell donor register, part of a community of more than 33 million people worldwide. Despite that, not every blood cancer patient is able to find the match that could save their life. Will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging more people to join the stem cell donor register, particularly young men, who are under-represented but in the highest demand? Will she look for an opportunity to have a debate in Government time on this really important issue?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for raising this very important issue in the Chamber, and I certainly join her in encouraging all people to consider joining the stem cell donation register. It is absolutely vital that we all do what we can to help our fellow man and our communities in the United Kingdom. She will no doubt be aware that we have made progress in treating all forms of cancer. Rates of survival have increased year on year since 2010 and people are more likely to survive cancer than ever before. The NHS is rolling out a new standard, so someone with a referral for suspected cancer can expect to be diagnosed or given the all-clear within 28 days. So often, early detection is absolutely vital to the outcomes for cancer sufferers, and I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for raising this very important issue.
I call Drew Hendry.
I am on a good run, Mr Speaker.
May we have a statement on the responsibility of Government Ministers to respond to Members of this House in a timeous fashion? There has been an increasing pattern of unacceptable delays in responding to constituents’ queries raised by Members of this House. For example, I have been waiting four months for a response from the Department for Work and Pensions, despite having written four letters to two separate Ministers. Does the Leader of the House believe that that is acceptable behaviour from her fellow members of the Government?
I am genuinely sorry to hear that. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that Departments sometimes overlook correspondence. They have very clear service standards and seek to turn around letters within a short period of time. If he wants to write to me following business questions, I can certainly take it up on his behalf.
Hon. Members may be aware of TotsBots, a fantastic company in my constituency that manufactures eco-friendly nappies. One of the issues that this company, based in the Queenslie area of my constituency, has raised is nappy companies that falsely tell their customers that they are eco-friendly. The Leader of the House will be aware of the Nappies (Environmental Standards) Bill that I presented to the House. May I therefore ask her to find time for us to take forward this hugely important issue and make sure that we are supporting great companies such as TotsBots?
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the company on its efforts to introduce more eco-friendly nappies. The whole issue of nappies is a big challenge in our attempts to improve our environment and reduce waste. I encourage him perhaps to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss directly with Environment Ministers what more can be done to prevent the misrepresentation of how environmentally friendly some resources actually are.