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Business of the House

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 28 February 2019

The business for next week will be:

Monday 4 March—Remaining stages of the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill [Lords], followed by a motion relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2019.

Tuesday 5 March—Proceedings on a business of the House motion, followed by proceedings on the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) (No. 2) Bill.

Wednesday 6 March—Motion relating to the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General, followed by proceedings on a business of the House motion, followed by proceedings on the Northern Ireland Regional Rates and Energy (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 7 March—General debate on International Women’s Day, followed by a general debate on the opportunities and challenges facing the modern Commonwealth in its 70th year. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 8 March—The House will not be sitting.

I would like to wish the House a very happy St David’s Day for tomorrow. I thought about wearing a leek, but then I thought a daffodil would be more subtle. Some of my real highlights as Leader of the House in the past 12 months have included my visit to the Royal Welsh show, meeting Women2Win Wales and stopping off for a quick half at the Tiny Rebel brewery in Newport.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the House will want to pay tribute to Eve Griffith-Okai, who retires this week after many years of dedicated service to four Speakers. I was delighted that you, Mr Speaker, the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), the next Clerk of the House, John Benger, and others raised a glass with me this week to wish our fantastic Clerk, Sir David Natzler—he is in his place—all the very best for his retirement. This is his last day at the Table, and we will miss him. I hear that his retirement balloon has pride of place in his office. We wish both David and Eve, and their respective families, all the best for a healthy and happy retirement.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, but I am surprised that she did so for only one week. The Prime Minister practically told us what will happen in the following week, and I cannot see why the Government did not put that business through. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union actually announced the business and said when the vote will take place.

Last week, I asked the Leader of the House to confirm that all fire and safety works that were due to take place in the February recess had been carried out. Is she satisfied that that will be done in time? Again, I ask about Opposition days and the Easter and May recesses. I know what she will say—in a robotic way she will say that a business of the House motion will be tabled—but I ask her to help the House and its staff a bit more, so that they can plan.

Let me help the Leader of the House with a figure for the costs of the Government cancelling recess. In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) put the figure at between £300,000 and £400,000. It was the Government who decided to cancel recess and waste those costs.

Is the Leader of the House still confident that there is enough time to put in place all the necessary secondary legislation by the time we leave the EU? During the Government-cancelled recess last week, just eight Brexit statutory instruments were laid before Parliament—the lowest total number out of the past six weeks. Only 59% of affirmative Brexit SIs have now been debated, which leaves more than 100 in this place and the other place. When will they be debated, because we need that scrutiny?

The Labour party has prayed against the Human Medicines (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which is statutory instrument No. 62. Under the serious shortage protocol for medicine, that appalling piece of secondary legislation enables pharmacists to override GPs when deciding what medication to give people. Some people need specific, rather than generic, medication, and pharmacists would be able to lower the dosage. That is absolutely appalling, to such an extent that the Good Law Project has started judicial review proceedings against the Government. When will we have that debate, and when can that SI be annulled? Labour Members also prayed against the Amendments Relating to the Provision of Integrated Care Regulations 2019, which is statutory instrument No. 248. May we have a debate on that?

In her statement on Monday, the Prime Minister made no mention of the proposed European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. If the Government manage to get the withdrawal agreement through, they must bring forward that Bill. What is the timeframe for that, and in the meantime could the draft Bill be published? The Government—not anybody else—have postponed the meaningful vote, and that has led to the possibility of a no-deal scenario. It is the Government who have been appalling and disloyal to this country and the British people, not those who have had to point out what will happen if there is no deal.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House has read the Government’s “Implications for business and trade of a no deal exit on 29 March 2019”, which was published on 26 February. A no-deal Brexit could mean that the UK economy would be 9% smaller in the long term, and the flow of goods through Dover would be “significantly reduced for months”. The Government are behind on contingency planning for a third of their critical projects. Banks will gain access to £300 billion to help them to deal with the financial shock, but what about the rest of us? What about the people of this country who will also face that financial shock? The UK trade and drinks industry has warned that one in eight companies could go out of business if the UK leaves without a deal, and around 70% of the UK’s food imports come from the EU.

On Tuesday, the Government held emergency talks after discovering that we have the wrong kind of pallets for a no-deal scenario. Will the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs come to the House and explain what happened at those emergency meetings? May we have a debate or statement on what will happen regarding our food security? That situation is what is appalling and disloyal to this country.

There is some good news. The former chair and current president of the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory) all-party group, the Leader of the Opposition, has been an advocate for the rights of the Chagossians for some time. The International Court of Justice said that Britain’s acquisition of the Chagos archipelago in the 1960s was “wrongful”, and that Britain must

“bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible.”

About 2,000 people were evicted, and they want to go home. That was in our manifesto—that is another point fulfilled—and we want the Chagos islanders to return to their homelands. Given that the Government seem to want to cling on to their colonial powers, may we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary? Will the Government abide by the Court’s decision, or are they going to appeal?

Finally, it does not really matter how big your daffodil is; it’s the wishes that count, and I want to wish everybody a happy St David’s Day. I, too, thank David Lionel Natzler and Eve for all their work. It is David’s last day today. It is lovely to see him at the Table; I was sorry he could not be there when we all wished him well. I shall miss seeing him in his Lycra as he gets on his bike. I want to wish everybody—those who are obvious, those who are behind the scenes, the admin assistants and unsung heroes who keep this House going—who are also retiring. We wish them well. Thank you for your years of service to the House, good bye and good luck.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her good and thoughtful remarks about Sir David Natzler.

The hon. Lady asks why I am not announcing more than one week of business. To be clear, the Prime Minister said that the meaningful vote would come back by 12 March at the latest. I have announced the business for next week, but, as always, if we can come back to the House before then, we will. The hon. Lady asks about fire and safety measures in the House. I apologise; I did not catch that last week. I will write to her with an update, although she will appreciate that it is a House of Commons Commission matter, and as a member of the Commission, she could equally ask the Director General for that information.

The hon. Lady asks about Opposition days. She will appreciate that I am seeking to balance the many different requests from across the House for business, including from the Opposition, the Backbench Business Committee and Members across the House. As I said last week, I was pleased to be able to find time for a debate on the draft REACH— registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—regulations on Monday, following her request in business questions on 24 January. She also mentions two further statutory instruments that she would like debated in the Chamber. I have seen the official Opposition’s prayer against the NHS and human medicines SIs. I encourage her to raise those through the usual channels, as is the convention.

The hon. Lady asks about recesses, particularly the cost of the February cancellation. She will appreciate that there were several very important debates that week, including on the NHS 10-year plan, which she herself asked for, and the opportunity for many Members to question Ministers on important and urgent matters that arose that week, while several Brexit SIs also passed through their Delegated Legislation Committees that week. The Public Gallery was also full of young people on their half-term school holidays who were able to participate and see their democracy in action. It was a very important week.

The hon. Lady asks about the timeframe for the withdrawal agreement Bill. As I have said several times, we will bring it forward as soon as the House votes to support the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement and future political declaration. She asks about no-deal preparation. As she will appreciate, there has been an enormous operation by a superb civil service, to which we owe a huge debt of gratitude for its enormous contribution to this complex project. The United Kingdom is extremely well prepared. A number of the challenges are around our inability to force third parties to do their bit, but the UK has made significant steps towards being prepared for all eventualities. She will appreciate that we have just had Brexit questions. I am sure she will have listened carefully to the answers.

Finally, on the Chagos islands, the hon. Lady will be aware that what the UN gave this week was an advisory opinion, not a judgment. Of course, the UK Government will look at the detail carefully, but the defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organised crime and piracy.

I join others in wishing our Clerk a long, happy and healthy retirement. He has been a magnificent servant to this House.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on mechanisms to help people manage personal debt? I recently attended the 10th anniversary of a local charity that does just that, and it told us that the Office for Budget Responsibility has said that by 2022 total household debt will be £2.26 trillion. The message should go from this House that credit card companies and banks should stop ripping people off and making the situation worse with their outrageous interest charges.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was City Minister in 2014, when the Government fundamentally reformed the regulation of the consumer credit market, giving the Financial Conduct Authority robust regulatory powers to protect consumers better. He is right that no lender should be ripping off consumers with appallingly high interest rates. As he will be aware, we are increasing funding for publicly funded debt advice to more than £56 million in this financial year—enough to provide financial advice to help more than 530,000 people. The Government are committed to delivering a well-functioning and sustainable consumer credit market that meets the needs of all consumers.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, and I wish everybody a happy St David’s Day tomorrow. I am pleased that the Leader of the House chose to wear a daffodil—there have been more than enough “leeks” from her side of the House.

My party and I wish the very best of retirements to our Clerk, Sir David Natzler, although we might not miss the Lycra quite as much as the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz).

Following meaningless vote No. 3, we are still no further forwards, and there are now only 29 days left until we are supposed to leave the EU. What a waste of another week! Nothing whatever has been achieved in the past few days. The Government’s disastrous no deal remains on the table. There may or may not be a delay to achieve God knows what. In the meantime, there is no sign whatever that the EU will do anything to satisfy the Government’s damaging demands that the backstop be reviewed.

Britain’s biggest post-war political crisis is currently on hold, and at some point the inevitable conclusion will have to be played out. When is that going to be? When will we have the meaningful vote? This Brexit crisis will define the Conservative party for the rest of its wretched future. It is theirs to own—it is a Tory Brexit—and it is something that this nation will have to deal with.

May we have a debate on double-speak? Last night, we had the ridiculous sight of the Secretary of State for Scotland saying that the Scottish National party supported and coveted a no-deal Brexit. That is what he was saying. That was right after the House had voted on an SNP amendment that no deal, forever and a day, be taken right off the table. And the Scottish Tories all voted for this no deal to remain on the table—perhaps in an attempt to have it taken off. That must now rank with “War is peace,” and “This Government are strong and stable,” as an example of Tory double-speak.

Lastly, may we have a debate on a car park tax? [Interruption.] You’ll enjoy this one. Yesterday, the Prime Minister raged against the SNP for introducing such a tax in Scotland—which we have not, but which already exists in England. The English car park tax is, of course, discretionary and remains a matter for local authorities. So far, only one English local authority has taken advantage of the power. I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to join me in my huge guffaws of laughter at the absurd sight of Tories in my constituency in Perthshire protesting against their own Perthshire Tory council so that it does not introduce a tax that does not even exist yet and it has already ruled out. Now, Mr Speaker—there you have Tory double-think and Tory double-speak.

On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, he is really clutching at straws as an SNP Member who has allowed his own Government in Scotland to raise taxes for workers in Scotland. He is guffawing about the question of a car park tax—far more important that he look at the log in his eye over the mainstream taxes on Scottish workers, who now pay more than those in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the next steps for the meaningful vote. He will be aware that the Prime Minister has given three commitments—[Interruption.]

Order. I can see that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is in a jovial and jocular mood, but he asked a series of questions. The Leader of the House is answering them, but he seems more interested in having a sort of finger- wagging competition with Conservative Members on the Government Benches. He should do the Leader the courtesy of listening to her replies.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the next steps for the meaningful vote. The Prime Minister has set out three steps. First, we will hold a second meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March at the latest. Secondly, if the Government have not won a meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March, then, in addition to our obligations to table a neutral amendable motion under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, we will table a motion to be voted on by Wednesday 13 March at the latest, asking this House if it supports leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for a future relationship on 29 March. The UK will leave without a deal on 29 March if that vote is passed. Thirdly, if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then also rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short, limited extension to article 50. If the House votes for an extension, the Government will seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU and to bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date. That is what the Prime Minister said and I hope that that is very clear to the hon. Gentleman.

What I would also say to the hon. Gentleman is that we on the Government Benches are trying our hardest to deliver on the result of the June 2016 referendum. He and his colleagues in the SNP are trying their hardest to undermine the result of their referendum in 2014.

Edmund Burke defined statesmanship as a combination of

“a disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve”.

In such a spirit, I met representatives of the taxi industry, trade unions and local authorities yesterday to discuss the excellent report “Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Licensing”. This was commissioned during an enlightened period at the Department for Transport and was responded to by the Government a couple of weeks ago in a written statement. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Government to come to this House, with an oral statement or possibly even a debate, to make clear when they intend to bring forward the necessary legislation to give the 30-odd recommendations in that report real life? It is clear that the taxi and private hire vehicle licensing system at the moment is not fit for purpose. Public safety is critical to all our interests and the nation’s. It must never be curtailed, capped or compromised.

First of all, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his work, as a former Transport Minister, in actually reviewing this issue himself. He will be aware that the Government are looking very carefully at how to improve the licensing of taxis to ensure that we keep the public safe.

May I add my warmest regards to Sir David on his retirement? Sir David, may you have pleasure by the platter and troubles by the teaspoon in your long and happy retirement.

May I also send my best wishes to all Welsh Members and their constituents for St David’s Day tomorrow? I do know, however, that the Welsh carry a grudge against people from the north-east, particularly the men, because we have always grown much bigger leeks than the Welsh—much, much bigger leeks. [Laughter.]

I am grateful for the business statement and the fact that next Thursday we will have important debates on International Women’s Day and on the Commonwealth. We had a veritable cornucopia of applications in the Backbench Business Committee on Tuesday. With that in mind, we have managed to secure time for: a debate in Westminster Hall on Thursday 7 March on short prison sentences, which had been an estimates day application; a general debate, on 12 March, on fire safety and sprinkler systems; a general debate, on 19 March, on the effect of leaving the EU on the UK’s health and social sector; and on 26 March a general debate on forced live organ extraction in China. We have an awful lot still waiting, so the more time we can secure, the happier Back Benchers around the House will be.

Obviously, I am always very happy to hear from the hon. Gentleman about the many and varied subjects that Back-Bench Members want to discuss, and I will always try to accommodate them wherever I can.

Tomorrow, I will be going out with an ambulance crew in my constituency. Across the House, we will know of the challenges that the ambulance service faces, particularly including some horrendous violent attacks on ambulance crews. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the ambulance service and those challenges?

I am glad that my hon. Friend raises this issue and gives me the opportunity to thank all our ambulance crews for the amazing work that they do. He will appreciate that the ambulance service is something that all of us, right across the country, absolutely depend on. I encourage him perhaps to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that right hon. and hon. Members can share their experiences of the amazing work done by ambulance paramedics right across the country.

Cuts to police budgets have left my constituents in Hoyland well over eight miles from their nearest police station. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on how police funding should be based not on how much council tax can be paid, but on the actual demand in our community?

The hon. Lady will be aware that since 2010, we have been tackling crime, reforming the police and toughening sentences for serious offences. We have protected police funding overall since 2015, and in the last police grant settlement we announced up to £970 million of extra investment in the policing system next year. That is more than Labour promised at the last election, and it is for police and crime commissioners to allocate that money to meet the policing priorities in their area.

I add my congratulations to Sir David and Eve on their retirements.

This House has rightly concentrated a substantial amount of time on debating measures to combat antisemitism, but we should abhor all racism, racial hatred and religious hatred. It is now time for a proper debate on a definition of Islamophobia. The all-party group on Islamophobia has come up with a working proposal, on which it is consulting, but that has drawn criticism from a large number of faith communities. It is time for the Government to come forward with a proposal so that we have a clear definition that everyone can support. May we have a debate on this in Government time so that we can reach some solid conclusions on which the whole House can agree?

My hon. Friend is right to raise our disgust at any form of racial or religious hatred or disadvantage. The APPG that he mentions has a very interesting proposition and I am sure that he will find a way to bring that to the attention of Ministers so that we can see what progress can be made.

The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), was somewhat snippy with me earlier when I asked him about the possibility that we will not have a functioning statute book at 11.1 pm on Friday 29 March, so I ask the Leader of the House for any information that she can give us about the whereabouts of the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill or any of the other statutory instruments that we have to get through. Does she share my lack of confidence about our having enough time to get through all of those by the deadline?

I can certainly reassure the hon. Lady in an entirely non-snippy way that I know exactly where all those Bills are. The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill are all currently before the House of Commons. The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, the Trade Bill and the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill are also progressing. We have nine exit-related Bills, in addition to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which are either already going through Parliament or have already received Royal Assent. I can assure her that we are comfortable that all primary legislation that needs Royal Assent by Brexit date will be achieved. If it does not have that, it will have Royal Assent by the date on which it is needed.

With regards to secondary legislation, the hon. Lady will be aware that over 460 EU exit SIs have been laid to date—more than 75% of the SIs that we anticipate will be required by exit day. More than 240 have already been made and are thus ready to come into force. Good progress is being made and I remain confident that we will be able to get all the urgent SIs that we need through in time for 29 March.

May we have a debate on the respective roles and responsibilities of Back Benchers and Ministers? There appears to be some confusion among colleagues who happily accept the Queen’s shilling. They might well enjoy life more on the Back Benches, and would be able to participate in such a debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend, who always enjoys full participation in debates. I completely understand the point that he has made, but he will appreciate that it is vital for all members of the Government to retain collective responsibility, and to seek to support the Prime Minister as she finalises these very tense negotiations. I encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to think very carefully, because at the end of the day we owe it to the country to deliver on the referendum and vote for the Prime Minister’s deal.

More than 50% of the prison population were excluded from school. Last year the Government announced a review of school exclusions, led externally by Edward Timpson. They said that they would publish its report by the end of 2018, and now they are saying they will do so by early 2019. How early in 2019 can we expect to see the report?

The hon. Lady did not mention that she would raise this matter, so I cannot answer her question because I am not aware of the timing. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is shouting at me, “When is the report coming?” She will appreciate that had she asked me in advance, I could have provided the answer. If she will write to me, I will seek a response for her.

Colchester Borough Council wants to waste £100,000 of our new homes bonus infrastructure money on a giant elephant sculpture on a roundabout. I am a big fan of elephants, but this is ridiculous. May we have a debate on the appropriate use of new homes bonus money, and the role that it plays in providing infrastructure to support housing growth?

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. The question is, is the elephant on a trunk road? [Laughter.] I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend. None of us wants to see white elephants, particularly when they are paid for with public money.

Gordon Banks’s funeral will take place on Monday, and lots of people will be lining the streets. My constituents find it upsetting that he never got his knighthood. May we have a debate in Government time about honouring our heroes in their lifetimes rather than after they have departed?

The hon. Lady has taken the opportunity to pay her own tribute to Gordon Banks, and I know that many other Members would like to do the same. I suggest that she seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise the issue directly with Ministers.

Many Members welcomed the launch of Fairtrade Fortnight yesterday. My constituents in Montrose are going the extra mile and launching events as part of the celebration organised by Montrose Fairtrade Forum, which starts on Saturday and which I am delighted to be able to attend. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the forum’s chairman, Ian Sykes, and its secretary, Pam Robinson, on all the fantastic work that they do, and may we have a debate about the wonderful people who give up their free time to spread this positive message?

I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating Ian and Pam on the work that they are doing to celebrate the launch of Fairtrade Fortnight in Montrose. Many events will be taking place throughout the country to mark the fortnight, and I hope that the hon. Lady was able to attend yesterday’s event in the Churchill Room, hosted by our hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince). I congratulate all those in Montrose who are making the most of this opportunity to provide fair trade for people all over the world.

The Leader of the House will know of the publication of various reports showing that the UK Government’s austerity drive is adversely affecting women more than anyone else. According to Unison Wales’s recent Audit of Austerity, 18,400 of the local authority jobs that have been lost in Wales as a result of that austerity drive were women’s jobs. Will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on the Government’s austerity agenda and the terrible impact it is having on women in the workforce?

The hon. Gentleman is giving his perspective on the current plight of women, but across the country the female unemployment rate is at a record low and there are higher percentages than ever before of women on FTSE 100 and FTSE 350 boards, getting women into the most senior roles in our economy. There is a huge amount more to do to ensure we close the gender pay gap and ensure more women can have the flexible working they sometimes need in order to accommodate caring roles as well as their desire to have a fulfilling career. All of us right across the Government are committed to ensuring women can have fulfilling and decent jobs throughout their careers.

In the Budget, this House increased Scotland’s block grant by £950 million. In spite of this, local councils in my area are facing service cuts, and increases in council tax and tax on their workplace parking. [Interruption.] May we have a debate in this place on local government funding? Although Scottish National party MPs may laugh about these funding measures, but my constituents in Alloa are facing cuts to their Leisure Bowl, constituents in Fishcross are facing threats to their primary schooling, and constituents in Perth and Kinross have to endure council tax increases because increases in funding from this place are not being passed to local councils in my constituency.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this point. It is an issue that a number of our Scottish Conservative colleagues have raised in this House, and the fact is that there is absolutely no need for further SNP tax rises, thanks to this Government in Westminster delivering a £950 million funding boost to them. It is absolutely vital that the Scottish nationalists recognise the importance of preserving and maintaining local services to all Scottish consumers and residents.

May I add my voice to those wishing David Natzler all the very best for a long and happy retirement?

The all-party group on Heathrow expansion recently reported that the Department for Transport methodology for assessing major airspace changes is deeply flawed. This has major implications right across the House for many constituents, including mine. May we have a debate or a statement on the report?

I am not aware of the report the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I suggest that in the first instance he perhaps seeks an Adjournment debate so he can discuss it directly with Ministers.

May we have a debate about online dangers for young people? I have been contacted by a constituent in Moray concerned about growing participation in something called the Momo challenge: young people can be watching various social media platforms and messages pop up urging them to contact a number on WhatsApp which then sends them images and instructions on how to harm themselves and others. Unfortunately in some parts of the world this Momo challenge has been linked to young people taking their own lives. May we have a debate and allow the Government to explain what more we can do to protect young people and educate them about the scourge of these online dangers?

My hon. Friend raises an appalling situation; I have also heard of the Momo challenge, and the Government are extremely concerned about it. We have been very clear that more needs to be done to protect young people online, including from cyber-bullying and suicide and self-harm content, and internet companies do have a responsibility to their users. The forthcoming online harms White Paper will set out a range of legislative and non-legislative measures to keep UK users safe online, but I can say that organisations including the Samaritans, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the UK Safer Internet Centre have said there is no confirmed evidence that the Momo phenomenon is posing a threat to British children.

The Leader of the House may be aware of a report by the charity Project 17, “Not seen, not heard”, released on 19 February this year which found that many children of parents whose immigration status means they are not entitled to mainstream benefits are living in extreme poverty and are left feeling socially isolated, distressed, ashamed and unsafe. Local authorities are legally required to support children in this situation through section 17 support under the Children Act 1989. However, the report finds that many local authorities are routinely failing to act and support the children. May we have a debate in Government time on this tragedy of children living in an appalling state of vulnerability imposed on them because of their parents’ no recourse to public funds status?

I share the hon. Lady’s grave concern about anybody who is put into the position where innocent children are disadvantaged, and I am concerned to hear about that report. I urge her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise this issue directly with Ministers.

As a long-term former resident of Tanzania and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Tanzania, I am a great admirer of that country and its people. I am also an admirer of the great work that President Magufuli has done to tackle corruption there, but I am increasingly concerned by the fact that a large number of opposition politicians are now in jail or on trial. May we have a debate on the importance of having a responsible opposition and a responsible Government who respect that opposition rather than putting them in jail and bringing charges against them all the time?

I believe that my hon. Friend lived in Tanzania for some years and is chairman of the all-party parliamentary group. I pay tribute to him for the way in which he has raised this issue. He is absolutely right to say that we in the United Kingdom will always stand up for democracy, human rights and freedom of speech, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise that particular issue directly with Foreign Office Ministers.

The Tories in Scotland were fined a mere £400 by the Electoral Commission over a £100,000 donation of dark money to the party in the weeks before the 2016 Holyrood election. Does the Leader of the House agree that such a paltry fine is no deterrent at all? Does she also agree that, when breaking electoral law carries such derisory penalties, it makes it almost worth the risk for those who are minded to be dishonest? Will she make a statement on whether the Electoral Commission has enough tools at its disposal to deal more severely with those who break electoral law, which is the foundation of our entire democracy?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Electoral Commission is independent, specifically to ensure that it can look in an unbiased way at any accusations, from wherever they come. We have Cabinet Office questions on Wednesday 13 March, and I encourage her to raise that question then.

May we have a debate on the governance of city deals and growth deals? As a Scottish Conservative, I am proud of the fact that we have so many city deals and growth deals in Scotland. They are worth billions of pounds, and they show what can be done when the UK Government, the Scottish Government and local authorities work together, but I am really concerned that every penny of the money that is invested should deliver the social and economic transformation that we need in Scotland in the cities that have been chosen for these deals. May we have a debate as soon as possible, and perhaps a statement from the Government on the governance of city deals?

I certainly share my hon. Friend’s great delight at the extent of the city deals that have already been negotiated with Scotland, and there are many others to come. The areas involved include Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Highland, Edinburgh and South East Scotland, Tay Cities, Stirling and Clackmannanshire, Borderlands, Ayrshire, and Moray. We can all be proud that these enormous achievements are contributing to the progress and development of the great cities in Scotland. I would certainly welcome such a debate, and I will see whether Government time can be found for one.

I know that the Leader of the House gets this, but could she have another go at the Home Secretary? Will she ask him if he can yet again come to this House and explain to us what he is doing about the knife epidemic in this country? Since the serious violence statement last Monday, nine young people—some of them young adults—have been slaughtered on our streets by stabbings. I know that the Leader of the House finds this appalling, as does every Member, but we should be discussing it in the House. This morning, we heard the announcement that 27,000 young people, including children, are in gangs in this country. That is four times the number that the authorities knew about. We have not got a clue. What does the Home Secretary have to say about that? When is he going to come to the House and tell us what he is going to do about this issue and what urgency the Government are going to bring to it? I say again that Cobra should be meeting to discuss it. Cobra meets for other national emergencies, and this is a national emergency. It is a crisis, and it should be treated as such by the Home Secretary and the Government.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, all Members are incredibly concerned about the levels of violent crime, particularly knife crime. What is going on is absolutely unacceptable.

I have been pleased to give Government time to a number of debates in this Chamber and, of course, I will continue to seek further updates. We have just had Home Office questions, and I am sure the matter was also raised then. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government have a serious violence strategy that includes a £200 million commitment to a youth endowment fund that specifically seeks to get young people away from this conveyor belt to the appalling violence and gang crime we see far too often.

The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that the Government are proposing a new statutory duty across education, social services and health to tackle serious violence as a matter of public health. All these measures, including funding community groups that seek to get young people away from knife crime, will start to make a difference, but I think we all share his concerns.

I am contacted several times a month by understandably angry constituents who have received extortionate fines from private parking companies. The fines often arise from having been just five minutes late in coming back from their supermarket shopping. The signage is often questionable or incredibly discreet. Can we have a debate in Government time specifically about how to tighten up legislation so that these robbers, who often prey on the most vulnerable in society, can no longer impose such ridiculous fines?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady and, given the murmurs on both sides of the House, it seems all hon. and right hon. Members have constituency examples of shocking practices by private car park attendants, who are really just stealing money from people who are trying to do the right thing.

I am sure the hon. Lady is diligent; I have had some success in tackling some of these companies on behalf of my constituents, and I bet she has, too. She is right to raise the issue. We have Housing, Communities and Local Government questions on Monday, and I encourage her to raise it then and perhaps see what more can be done from a legislative point of view.

Your tie is not as nice as the one you wore last week, Mr Speaker.

The Leader of the House told the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) that she knows where a whole range of Bills are. Where is my Bill to help families and refugees? This is the third time I have raised my Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill at business questions, and the Tory Whips Office say it is down to the stalling of one Whip—they seem embarrassed. At the third time of asking, will the Leader of the House acquit herself well and tell us what she has done, and what she will do, to help families and refugees by getting this process moving along? It would be appreciated.

The hon. Gentleman is right to continue to press for his private Member’s Bill. I am sure he will join me in welcoming the fact that we have had Royal Assent for 50 private Members’ Bills since 2010 including, just in 2018, the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 and the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018. These are all important measures.

The hon. Gentleman raises the question of his own private Member’s Bill, and he will be aware that the Government support the principle of family unity and have helped to reunite 24,700 family members in the past five years. Our 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 their country.

The Government are following the passage of the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill closely, and we will continue to look at providing money resolutions for those Bills that require them in the usual way, which is on a case-by-case basis.

The Leader of the House will know that next Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday, and then we have Lent. Can we try to do something about the political culture and how we all speak and relate to it? I stand in front of the Jo Cox memorial. During those 40 days, at least, can we remember to think about how we have more in common on so many issues? We have just had a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), my dear friend, who is under ghastly pressure from awful people on social media. Can we stop this nonsense? Has the Leader of the House read Quentin Letts’s so-called political sketch this morning in which he uses disgraceful language about people who work in this House? Can we have a different kind of mood in this place and in our country? Perhaps we could lead that change in these next 40 days.

I commend the hon. Gentleman for making that suggestion and I entirely support it. This is a matter for all of us, and I have made my position very clear. Just yesterday, I opened the all-party group on women in Parliament’s event on its sexual harassment report, making clear again my personal commitment to ensuring that everyone in this place is treated with dignity and respect. That includes on social media, where those awful people sit there abusing MPs for what they are wearing, what they said and what they did. It is absolutely disgraceful, and we are sick of it. We need to be the role model that we want to see, so I absolutely join the hon. Gentleman in saying, “Let’s be nice to each other during Lent.” That would be a fabulous thing to do.

May we have a debate on how companies treat their staff? Some 360 Vodafone staff based in Berkeley Square in my constituency were told that they would have to relocate to Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent or Newbury, or lose their jobs. According to “STV News” a senior manager based in England was pictured posing with Irn-Bru and a “See You Jimmy” hat on. That just adds insult to injury for the staff in Glasgow, who are facing losing their jobs on poorer redundancy terms than those who lost their jobs just a few months ago. This is no way to treat employees. Does the Leader of the House agree?

From what the hon. lady is saying, it sounds as though the supposed joke was in extremely poor taste, and I certainly agree with her that when a business has to relocate jobs the greatest sensitivity needs to be paid to those who will have to relocate or lose their jobs. She is absolutely right in that regard, and she may well want to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise her concerns directly with Ministers.

Like many MPs, through my casework I have heard numerous stories of aggressive and inappropriate behaviour by bailiffs, often towards some of the most vulnerable. The Ministry of Justice has just closed a consultation on this issue, so may we please now have a debate, in Government time, about introducing an independent regulator for the bailiff industry and an ombudsman-style complaints procedure?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. I understand that, as a member of the Select Committee on Justice, she has played a full part in trying to get to the bottom of exactly what is going on in this sector. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate, so that all hon. Members can share their views directly with Ministers.

The regional prosperity fund is the Government’s regional investment policy for when Britain leaves the EU, but we do not know what it is. Will the Government please come to the House as a matter of urgency to make a statement so that we can begin to address the important issue of infrastructure investment across the UK?

The hon. Gentleman rightly says that that prosperity fund will replace some of the structural funds that we will no longer be party to once we have left the EU. There have been so many opportunities to debate our departure from the EU, and I am slightly surprised that he has not raised the issue in any of the debates we have had in recent weeks or at any of the Brexit questions, such as those we have just had. I encourage him to seek the next opportunity to debate the meaningful vote to raise his questions then.

York is a very welcoming city. We welcome hundreds of international students—young people and children who stay with host families—to our city every year. However, those host families do not have any form of Disclosure and Barring Service checks, so there is a real safeguarding risk. May we have a debate about safeguarding loopholes, to ensure that all children and young people are kept safe?

First, may I say that I am not surprised to hear that lots of people flock to York to see that beautiful city? It really is a lovely place for a visit and I am sure that the many young people who go there thoroughly enjoy it. The hon. Lady raises an important point. Obviously, we would not want to limit the opportunities for young people, but it is an important point and I encourage her to table a written parliamentary question so that she can ask Ministers directly what more can be done to keep that balance between keeping the opportunity open and at the same time safeguarding children, which is vital.

On behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, I wish Sir David, the Clerk of the House, good health, a long life and happy times. I congratulate him on the story and photograph in The House magazine. If anyone has not yet read it—I am sure you have, Mr Speaker, along with others—they should do so.

In Uttar Pradesh in India on 7 February, 25 Hindu militants ambushed a prayer meeting in the home of a local church leader. They subjected some 40 attendees to verbal abuse and physical assault, resulting in six people requiring urgent medical attention. Bibles and other church property were also damaged in the onslaught. A source close to Christian Solidarity Worldwide has reported that the perpetrators threatened to kill the Christians if they continued to gather for prayer meetings. I and many others in the House believe in prayer—at prayer you can move mountains. How despicable it is that anyone should be killed or threatened with being killed for praying to God. There have been reports of similar incidents occurring in Uttar Pradesh. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or debate on the matter?

The hon. Gentleman raises the serious situation in Uttar Pradesh. It is vital that action is taken so that we do not see the situation deteriorate any further. The British high commission in New Delhi meets Christian groups and other minority communities regularly. On 24 January, the high commission expressed concerns to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs regarding the persecution of Christians.

If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman does a great job of raising the issue of religious persecution against whomever it takes place, and he is absolutely right to do so. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise this particular issue directly with Ministers.

I thank the Leader of the House for her leadership on the early years agenda, particularly through the cross-Government review that she chairs. I hope she will read and carefully consider the Health and Social Care Committee report published earlier this week on the inquiry that I chaired into the first 1,000 days of life. Many Members share the Committee’s analysis that the first 1,000 days are the most important time for a developing body and brain. Might the Leader of the House find Government time to debate the issue further?

First, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have already read the report and I am delighted with it. I congratulate him on his excellent chairing of the inquiry. I am absolutely at one with him on the vital importance of that first period in a baby’s life, from conception to the age of two. I was delighted to be asked to chair the interministerial group. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the findings of his report will be taken into account very carefully. In fact, my office will contact his with a request for a meeting so that we can discuss the issue further.

We have already heard the Leader of the House praise all those involved in Fairtrade Fortnight. This week, my office has been trying to help a Ugandan Fairtrade coffee farmer whose visit visa was turned down by the Home Office, despite her having sponsorship from the Welsh Government to come to the UK for the fortnight. We have managed to overturn that decision, but the Home Office turnaround time means that she will not be able to get here to participate in Fairtrade Fortnight. May we please have a debate as soon as possible on the performance and resourcing of the Home Office?

I am really sorry to hear that; I can imagine it must be incredibly disappointing. I say again: congratulations to all those taking part in Fairtrade Fortnight. The hon. Lady raises a specific constituency issue; I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate, because I know that a number of right hon. and hon. Members would be keen to join in a debate on how to speed up processes in the Home Office.

Families in my constituency and throughout the UK rely on the Child Maintenance Service, but for both the paying parent and the receiving parent there are serious failures in the service. May we therefore have a debate in Government time on improving the Child Maintenance Service so that it really works for families?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. It is vital that the Child Maintenance Service works in a fair way for families and I commend her for raising it. She will be aware that we have Justice questions on 12 March and I encourage her to raise her specific concerns then.

The Hooton Park gasification site is currently being constructed just outside my constituency, but, despite representations from me and Unite the Union, the developers are refusing to apply the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry terms. Those terms are vital to upholding standards in employment and training. Can we have a debate, please, about what more we can do to prevent the construction industry leading this race to the bottom?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to see all workers, including those in the construction industry, treated fairly and, of course, within the law. He will be aware that the Government are fully committed to upholding workers’ rights and to improving them and, as we leave the European Union, to continuing to lead in improving workers’ rights wherever they are. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate because he has some specific concerns that he should raise with Ministers.

Last Friday, the Ministry of Justice admitted that the roll-out of PAVA spray to prison officers, which was due to start in January, will now be delayed for up to two years. In light of that broken promise and the current epidemic of violence engulfing our prisons, will the Leader of the House ensure that we have an opportunity to debate how best to protect our brave prison officers to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right: we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our prison officers who face daily threats, intimidation and violence, and it is right that we do everything that we can to protect them. She will be aware that we now have over 4,300 more prison officers compared with two years ago, and that we are investing an extra £30 million in our prisons to improve the facilities in those with the most pressing problems. All of those things will contribute to making a safer workplace environment. She will be aware that we have Justice questions on 12 March, and I encourage her to raise her specific question then.

My constituency is best known by many for its shipping history, whether it be John Brown and Company of Clydebank or Denny of Dumbarton. Next week, for the 78th year in a row, my community, including my family and friends, will gather once again to commemorate those we lost in what was described by a Minister in an Adjournment debate three years ago as the “worst blitzkrieg” in the history of the second world war proportionally anywhere in the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that it is now time that this House considered in a general debate in Government time the long-term economic and social consequences as well as the mental health consequences of aerial bombardment on the communities that suffered it across these islands? It is about time that we learned the lessons from it, given that the impact of it is felt by so many other communities across the world.

The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly serious issue and I pay tribute to him for all the work that he does in his community to commemorate the appalling bombardment. He is absolutely right to raise the fact that this is the reality for far too many people right across the world today with appalling consequences not just of physical injury and harm, but to mental health and the long-term effects of suffering from constant bombardment. I encourage him to go to the Backbench Business Committee and see whether there is an appetite for a cross-party debate on this subject so that we can consider together how we might better commemorate these appalling acts.

I am sad to have to report to the House that Stoke-on-Trent City Council has developed a rather nasty habit of creating wholly owned companies, shovelling public money into them and then denying any proper public transparency or scrutiny of the decisions they make on spending that money. On Unitas and Fortior Homes in the city, we are now being told as MPs that freedom of information requests simply do not apply because they are commercial entities. Will the Leader of the House speak to her colleagues in either the Cabinet Office or the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and ask them to bring forward the necessary legislation to ensure that, where public money is involved—whether that be a wholly owned company or a company under contract—scrutiny will apply.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion will be very popular. He is exactly right that the use of public money has to offer good value to taxpayers. Scrutiny is therefore essential so that people can see how their hard-earned taxpayers’ money is being used. We have MHCLG questions on Monday, and I recommend that the hon. Gentleman raises the matter directly with Ministers then.

Can we have a debate in Government time on the Department for Work and Pensions policy of treating tax rebates as income for the purposes of universal credit? I have a constituent who was diagnosed with breast cancer and was on statutory sick pay, which triggered a tax rebate and stopped her universal credit. Surely that is not what we should be doing to people in such circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important constituency issue and he is absolutely right to do so. If he writes to me after business questions, I can take up his concerns with the Department on his behalf.

I have a constituent who works full time but receives universal credit to assist with childcare fees. The Leader of the House will be aware that any universal credit application effectively means an application for housing benefit so, although my constituent does not receive housing benefit, the mere mention of universal credit in paperwork has resulted in the refusal of her mortgage application. This did not happen under working tax credit. Can we therefore have a statement on what the Government can do to improve correspondence on universal credit and how they can engage with mortgage companies to prevent such situations from happening?

The hon. Gentleman raises a concerning issue. I have not personally come across this problem, but if he writes to me following business questions, I can take it up with the Department on his behalf.