The business for next week will be:
Monday 25 March—Debate on a motion relating to section 13(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Tuesday 26 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill, followed by a debate on a motion relating to section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993.
Wednesday 27 March—Motion to approve the draft Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve the draft Protecting against the Effects of the Extraterritorial Application of Third Country Legislation (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve the draft Animal Health, Plant Health, Seeds and Seed Potatoes (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve the draft Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2019.
Thursday 28 March—General debate on beer taxation and pubs—[Interruption]—during which beer may need to be served, followed by a general debate on permitted development and shale gas exploration. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 29 March—The House will not be sitting.
Further to this business statement, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, she has written to Donald Tusk seeking an extension to article 50 until the end of June. Any extension requires the unanimous agreement of EU member states and must be agreed by the European Council. The Government will seek to amend domestic legislation to alter the exit date set out in the withdrawal Act in line with any such agreement once it is reached, and will bring forward a statutory instrument accordingly. I will therefore make a further business statement next week, as necessary, to provide time for consideration of the legislation to alter the date of exit.
Similarly, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, the Government continue to believe that the UK should leave the EU with a deal, and we intend to bring forward proposals for a third meaningful vote. The precise nature and timing of this debate will, to some extent, depend on the outcomes of this week’s European Council. I shall therefore make a further business statement next week, as appropriate, to provide time for consideration of a further motion under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, we stand in solidarity with the people of New Zealand, following the appalling attack in Christchurch. I was also horrified to hear that several mosques in Birmingham were attacked last night. This rise of Islamophobia in the UK and across the world is deeply concerning, and we must stamp out this kind of vile hatred wherever we see it. We also send our thoughts and deepest sympathies to those affected by the cyclone in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, those killed and injured in Utrecht and those caught up in the terrorist incident in Stanwell.
Yesterday was the International Day of Happiness, and I do have a number of items that I hope the House will be genuinely happy to hear about. First, the review of the independent complaints and grievance system has officially been launched this week, and I know Alison Stanley will bring her considerable experience to bear as the chair. Secondly, the Joint Committee looking at the draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill has published its report today, and I am very grateful for its hard work, and particularly for the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman). Thirdly, the first newly restored clock face of Big Ben has been uncovered, and the stunning original blue colouring can now be seen. Fourthly, all parliamentarians will, I hope, be proud and pleased of their efforts with their private Members’ Bills. I can report that 10 have now received Royal Assent in this Session, which is the joint highest total since 2003.
As a magnanimous rugby fan, may I very much congratulate Wales on winning the six nations grand slam, Scotland on retaining the Calcutta cup in a breathtaking game at Twickenham on Saturday, and last but by no means least—I am sporting my Northampton Saints jacket today—my own local team on winning the premiership rugby cup? Finally, I would like to wish those celebrating it a very happy Nowruz.
The Leader of the House read out the business for next week, but that is not really next week’s business, is it, since she will come back to the House with some emergency business motions? This is a contempt of democracy and parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister said she would come back to the House with a meaningful vote—it will actually be meaningful vote 4, because she pulled the vote in December, when Parliament should have had the chance to debate a meaningful vote but did not.
How will the Prime Minister negotiate with the EU if she does not know the will of the House? What was the point of the statement yesterday, other than to set up a hostile environment between the Prime Minister and the House? The Leader of the House says that the House will not sit next Friday, and that there will be further business. Will she confirm to the House, honestly, whether we will sit on Friday, and whether we will debate the statutory instrument that extends the date of us leaving the EU?
Last week I asked about dates for Opposition day debates, and the Leader of the House said that there was “incredibly important” business for the week ahead. Opposition days are incredibly important business, and they are central to our democracy. On Monday, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) raised a point of order, and you responded, Mr Speaker, by saying that
“colleagues would think that it was a democratic and seemly thing to do to ensure that the principal Opposition party had the requisite allocation of days”.—[Official Report, 19 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 788.]
That is why we take great exception to the Prime Minister’s comments that we are not interested in other matters.
Week after week I have stood at the Dispatch Box and asked the Leader of the House not just for Opposition days, but for statements and debates on local government, the NHS, social care, education, and cuts to our police services. My colleagues have asked for urgent questions on issues that affect our country. It is not us in Parliament who are contemplating our navels—I have never heard such unparliamentary language about hard-working colleagues from all sides of the House. We sit on Select Committees and Delegated Legislation Committees—that is what we do.
Let us remind ourselves: the Government had Lancaster House, Mansion House, Florence and Berlin. Each time we begged the Prime Minister for clarity on the negotiations, and each time she said nothing—“I don’t want to give a running commentary; Brexit means Brexit”. She should have given us broad heads of agreement right at the start, so that she could understand what Parliament wanted. The Chequers agreement was put to the Cabinet in July, but the Leader of the House and some of her pals preferred to have pizza parties instead of supporting their Prime Minister. Secretaries of State have resigned—we are now on our third Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Ministers have resigned. This is a crisis of the Government’s own making, and the Cabinet is divided.
Last week, bizarrely, I was in the Lobby with the Prime Minister, but the Leader of the House and seven of her colleagues were in another Lobby—they voted against the Government’s own motion. That included the Brexit Secretary, who wound up the debate by saying:
“It is time to put forward an extension that is realistic.”—[Official Report, 14 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 628.]
He then voted to reject his own argument. Does the Leader of the House agree with Cabinet responsibility, and could we have a debate about what it means? It is no good her rounding on her colleagues in Cabinet, and then rounding on my colleagues in the Chamber, saying that she does not agree with them.
Let me again raise something that is not about contemplating our navels. Interserve, which employs 45,000 staff in the UK and works on £2 billion of Government contracts, has been put into administration. Tussell data shows that Interserve was handed public contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds in the run-up to its collapse, despite announcing a series of profit warnings—[Interruption.] It is not funny; it is people’s lives. The Government are failing to ensure the viability of their outsourcing contracts.
Last July the Public Accounts Committee described the NHS’s outsourcing to Capita as a “shambles”, and the National Audit Office found that the £495 million contract to provide recruitment for the British Army had been beset by problems. The probation service has been described as “in crisis” since it was partly outsourced. That is what the public are tired of. A third of Government spending goes on external contractors and suppliers. When can the House have proper scrutiny of the failure of Government outsourcing contracts?
Last week, the Leader said that children should be in school. Some 1.4 million children and young people took part in the school strike against climate change. They disagree with her. I do, too. This is about education and citizenship. What to do to influence decision makers is vital. This is what 16-year-old Greta Thunberg said:
“You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win…We need to start co-operating and sharing the remaining resources of this planet in a fair way.”
While the Government have sat contemplating, they could have invested in the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon and in solar power, ended the cuts to feed-in tariffs and initiated a scrappage scheme for diesel cars. That is going to affect climate change.
I want to mention the funeral service of our dear colleague Paul Flynn tomorrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has managed to secure a service in St Mary Undercroft. We thank the chaplain, Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, and you, Mr Speaker, for indicating that you will be there.
On the second anniversary of his death, we remember PC Keith Palmer and those who died on Westminster Bridge. We think of the amazing people who protect us and who give their lives up to do so.
I, too, want to echo the words of Prime Minister Ardern. It is up to all of us to reject racism and hatred of anyone who is different. To the people of New Zealand, we are you and you are us. Rest in peace.
Before the Leader responds, and in the light of what the shadow Leader has said about the second anniversary of the death of PC Keith Palmer, I can inform the House that I intend that there should be a one-minute silence tomorrow in the Chamber, supported, I would hope, by people observing our proceedings. The intention is that that minute’s silence will take place at 11 o’clock.
First, I share the hon. Lady’s tribute to PC Keith Palmer. I was delighted to be at the memorial recognition of his great sacrifice and the unveiling of the memorial to him. She is absolutely right to pay her own tribute. I also share in her pleasure that there will be a memorial service for Paul Flynn, a much-missed colleague. I echo her words about the appalling atrocity that took place in New Zealand. It is absolutely horrendous. We all hope that the communities in New Zealand can come together, as they are doing, and we support all those who have been so tragically affected.
The hon. Lady asks about the meaningful vote next week. She will recognise that, as I said in my business statement, this is a fluid situation and we are waiting for the response of the EU27 to our request for an extension, which the Prime Minister has taken to them in response to the requirement of this House that she do so. As soon as we have a response from the EU Council, I will be able to update the House on when we can bring forward a meaningful vote and a debate next week. But it is certainly the Prime Minister’s intention to do so. Likewise, in terms of bringing forward the statutory instrument, hon. Members will know that, under the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018, it is required that that statutory instrument be approved by both Houses. It is therefore vital that we find time for that as soon as we can.
The hon. Lady asks about Opposition days. We have debated a range of secondary legislation this week. I have announced important business for next week, including the section 13 debate on Monday and Lords amendments to two important Bills, the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill and the Offensive Weapons Bill. This week, we have had debates on two statutory instruments requested by the official Opposition. I will, of course, continue to consider her requests for further dates.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that all Members right across the House have a huge interest in matters outside of Brexit. There is no doubt about that. I think the Business question every Thursday demonstrates the range of different interests across the House. All of us share a desire to be able to talk about things not Brexit-related that are so important to people, so I completely agree with her there.
What I will say about the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday is that what she was seeking to invoke among all parliamentarians was just the absolute reality that in a hung Parliament it is for every Member to seek to support good governance. I think that we can all be proud of the fact that in this Session alone we have introduced over 50 pieces of primary legislation, more than 40 of which have already received Royal Assent. In a hung Parliament, that demonstrates the House’s ability to work together in order to reach consensus, agree concessions and act in the national interest.
What the Prime Minister is seeking is for all individual Members to recognise that her withdrawal agreement and future declaration offer the means by which we can leave the European Union, in line with the will of the people as expressed in the referendum, but at the same time the significant minority of people who want to remain in the EU will also have their concerns met by a very close future economic and security partnership. I therefore urge all colleagues, right across the House, to consider the Prime Minister’s deal very carefully.
The shadow Leader of the House asked whether I believe in collective Cabinet responsibility. Of course I do. I have totally supported the Prime Minister’s desire to get a vote through this place. I have always been absolutely clear—in the press and in this Chamber—that I support a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration that deliver the will of the people, but that at the same time continue a close, collaborative relationship with our EU friends and neighbours.
The hon. Lady asked about Interserve, and she was absolutely right to do so. The Government certainly welcome the announcement that Interserve made last Friday regarding its refinancing, which will not affect the operational part of the company. It will bring the company the stability required to allow it to compete for future business and to continue to deliver good-value public services for the taxpayer. It is in the taxpayer’s interests to have a well-financed and stable group of key suppliers, so we welcome the actions that Interserve has taken.
The hon. Lady asked about schools and climate change. Let me say again that I absolutely welcome, support and endorse the determination of young people to do everything they can to support all those experiencing the negative effects of global climate change. We should do everything we can to support our environment around us. The United Kingdom ratified the Paris agreement in November 2016. More than 50% of UK electricity came from low-carbon sources in 2018, making it a record year for renewables, under this Conservative Government. We have cut the use of plastic bags by 86%, through our plastic bag charge. We have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation. The latest figures show that we have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 23% since 2010. There is obviously a lot more to do, but I commend all young people who show their passion for the subject. At the same time, I reiterate that education is the best gift that a society can give its young people.
W. B. Yeats said:
“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure…but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
We should therefore all have more to smile about, because the UK has indeed grown, according to the world happiness index—we have gone up the table. Yet so much of our discourse here is either doom-laden or dull, and Government perpetually risk being meanly managerial or meekly mechanistic. So will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate that will enable us to measure Government policy in terms of the difference it makes to quality of life; to gauge the difference it makes to wellbeing? We here must make it our mission to inspire and our duty to enthral. We must dare to dream.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. I think that his analysis is absolutely right. If I may say so, I think that all hon. Members, right across the House, come to this place to try to make the world around us a better place. It is vital that we occasionally take the time to consider how well we are doing against that challenge.
I think that there is much to celebrate. We should celebrate our economy, given that employment is at a record high. We should celebrate the tackling of inequality, given that the real-terms wages of the lowest paid are growing faster than those of anyone else. We should celebrate the Government’s determination to tackle loneliness, to consider more suicide prevention measures, and to invest significant sums in our NHS to support people with mental health problems. I think that what we should seek to do, across the House, is support each other sometimes, and celebrate our achievements.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the almost fantasy business for next week.
Following the Prime Minister’s statement last night, we shall have to have an emergency debate about Members’ security, because I am pretty certain that a few of us are feeling just a little bit more insecure this morning. It was the height of irresponsibility for the Prime Minister to pitch public against Parliament in the current climate, on the back of real issues of intimidation and threats against Members in all parts of the House. This is her Brexit, designed, administered and delivered by her Government. An ugly environment has been created in the last couple of years because they chose to divide the country on this toxic issue to try to resolve tensions within their own party, while refusing to consider any alternatives to their own singular approach. How dare the Prime Minister blame Members of Parliament for this mess? I will never stop fighting for what my country and my constituency voted for. I will stand by them, regardless of the “them and us” climate that the Prime Minister is trying to create.
I will tell the House what undermines democracy and erodes trust in Parliament: it is this Government ignoring agreed outcomes in the House. We vote again and again for something and it is then casually dismissed, or we continually reject something only for it to be brought back again and again. For example, where is the legislation that will take no deal off the table, which the House has agreed to twice? Democracy does not mean that it is the Prime Minister’s way or the highway.
We will be out of the EU a week tomorrow unless something is done. We do not know on what basis that will happen, and we do not know whether there will be an extension. The EU has said that it will grant an extension only if the House passes the dead, defeated deal. When will it come to the House—it will not be on Monday; that is just part of the Government’s obligations—and how will it be significantly different in order to meet your ruling, Mr Speaker? How will it be designed in that respect? This must happen next week, because we are supposed to be out of the EU by next Friday.
The situation is totally unbelievable. This disaster is part constitutional crisis, part farce, but 100% Tory. How dare the Government try to blame us for this mess?
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not share his view at all. Let me say again that this House has a duty to decide what it does want. The hon. Gentleman asked, “Where is the legislation to take no deal off the table?” He knows that the House voted to leave the European Union on 29 March. That is the legal position. How does he suggest that we legislate to take no deal off the table unless it is by agreeing a deal? You cannot legislate to take no deal off the table. The House has already rejected a customs union, a second referendum and a no-deal Brexit, and it has rejected the Prime Minister’s deal. The House has said a lot about what it does not want to do; it needs to say what it does want to do.
Let me quote the hon. Gentleman’s words back to him. He said that he would never stop fighting for what his country voted for. His country voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Or not. May I urge the Government to be bold and decisive in order to comply with your ruling, Mr Speaker, and to change the wording significantly so that we can have the vote that we all want? May I suggest that one way forward is by way of the unilateral declaration? A unilateral declaration can of course be changed unilaterally: we do not need the EU to agree. I suggest that we should try to persuade our colleagues in Northern Ireland that, by beefing up this declaration, we can ensure it is not necessary to prove bad faith; we just have to prove that negotiations have broken down and then we can exit the backstop. Also, it should be conditional; we sign up to this treaty on condition that the declaration is not refused by the EU. All we need to prove is that it does not ratify. So let’s be bold, let’s be decisive, and let’s get this vote into Parliament.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his very helpful suggestion and I know this is something he has long campaigned for. As I have said to other Members, the Government will bring back the meaningful vote next week and it will be within terms necessary to enable the House to take a further view on it. But I do really from the heart urge all Members to just consider the fact that we as a House have agreed to undertake to leave the EU and the Prime Minister’s deal enables us to deliver on the referendum while at the same time taking careful account of the 48% of the people of this country who did not want to leave the EU. So what it also delivers is a close economic and security partnership with our EU friends and neighbours. So it really is having our cake and eating it and I urge all hon. Members to give it their very careful further consideration.
This is a day when I do not like being away from home, because back home my friends, neighbours and my whole Haredi Jewish Orthodox community are going bonkers because it is Purim. So may I wish my whole Orthodox Haredi Jewish community a very happy Purim, because they love it; it is a great time of year for them?
If any Chamber time should become available at short notice, the Backbench Business Committee has applications that would readily fill any void for the use of time. We have just had an application for a debate on the definition of Islamophobia, which I think would be very topical, and there are other applications on the stocks for debates about financial exclusion, the future of access to cash, the closure of courts and the effect on access to justice, reducing the use of physical restraint on children in educational and health settings, which also would be timely and important, and school funding, which is a heavily subscribed application. If any time becomes available even at very short notice we will happily fill that void.
As ever I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for prior notice of some of the very important topics that Back Benchers would like to speak about. I think that goes to the shadow Leader of the House’s point that parliamentarians are keen to talk about a huge range of topics. I absolutely support them and pay tribute to them for that. I will of course consider giving the hon. Gentleman time.
On Sunday I again hosted the Contact the Elderly Brechin community afternoon tea at Farnell church. It was a fantastic event at which people put the world to rights—and we also had far too much cake potentially. Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating the fantastic work of Irene Heron and Jean Malcolm, two local community champions, and may we have a debate in this place about how we can all work collectively to combat loneliness?
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. I congratulate her on doing so and on the great charity work going on in her constituency, and I join her in paying particular tribute to Irene and Jean.
Loneliness can cause significant ill health, yet up to a fifth of the UK adult population feel often or always lonely. To tackle this pressing public health issue we have established a cross-Government fund dedicated to a cross-Government strategy that has almost 60 new policy ideas from nine Government Departments. So the Government are determined to tackle this. My hon. Friend and many other hon. Members do their own support in their own constituencies and deserve great credit for doing so.
Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday was the 102nd birthday of Dame Vera? [Hon. Members: “Lynn.”] Yes, Lynn. Sorry; I had a senior moment there. One of her most famous tunes was “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” and I have to say that many of us, on all Benches, are a little upset about the Prime Minister’s remarks yesterday. We spend every minute of the day—every waking hour, and stay awake at night—thinking about this dilemma and to undervalue parliamentarians’ dedication and commitment is not good at all for the current discourse.
May we have an early debate? Many of my constituents want to know about the secret sources of power. They thought they knew about the Cabinet and collective agreements, and about where power lay in the Conservative and Labour parties, but they do not understand why something called the European Research Group is now wielding immense power behind the scenes. They do not understand what the pizza club is and how it can wield such power that it can stop an extension of the period before we leave the European Union. May we have an early debate on this, because going home on a wing and a prayer is not good enough for the future of this country?
I did not know that it was Dame Vera Lynn’s 102nd birthday, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that. However, I did know that today is World Poetry Day. I was tempted to come up with some of my own poetry, but I did not think that the House would be in the mood for it, so I did not bother. I am sure that hon. Members will have their own views on that. The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, however. I do not believe that the Prime Minister was in any sense seeking to denigrate MPs’ commitment to the issue. She was urging colleagues to consider the duty to make an active decision about what they want to see. In a hung Parliament, that is the challenge that faces us. A Government with a big majority will, on the whole, be able to get their business through, but in a hung Parliament, all right hon. and hon. Members have to give great consideration to good governance. The Prime Minister is urging all Members to consider her deal again, because the reality is, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has pointed out, that the legal default position remains that this House voted to leave the European Union on 29 March and the only way we can avoid that is either by extending article 50, as the Prime Minister is seeking to do, or by this House coming up with an alternative solution, which it has so far been unable to do.
I know that there will be a debate on knife crime in Westminster Hall next week, but I wonder whether the Leader of the House could arrange for a Home Office Minister to make a statement about the repellent rise of knife crime? Clitheroe, in my constituency, must be one of the most idyllic and wonderful towns to live in, yet last night, two youths with a knife, one of whom was 16 years old, stabbed another one that they knew. The police inform me that the injury is not life-threatening, and we pray that that is the case, but none the less, if this can happen in a place such as Clitheroe, this tells us that we need to do a lot more, whether through schools, through parents, through greater police numbers or through stop and search. All I know is that if we do nothing, knife crime will rise even further.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue that is often raised at business questions and at other times. We have had several debates on it in the House over the past few weeks, and it is quite right that we do so. He will be aware that the Chancellor announced an extra £100 million in the spring statement for a short-term intervention to ensure that more police officers could be made available through overtime measures to tackle this. We have a serious violence strategy and a serious violence taskforce, and we are bringing in the Offensive Weapons Bill, which will make it harder to get knives. It will contain provisions for a knife crime prevention order, which will be absolutely vital. We are also extending stop-and-search powers and having a landmark review of drug misuse. The Government are taking action at every level, but ultimately we also have to look at prevention, and perhaps the most important part of that is the Government’s commitment to trying to ensure that young people are not tempted into a life of knife crime.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Has the Leader of the House noticed the alarming headlines about the unprecedented drug shortage linked to Brexit? The chief executive of NHS Providers has reported a shortage of 300 different drugs in one English trust alone. Hospital chiefs are reporting shortages of hundreds of different types of medicine, including drugs used to treat cardiac problems and high blood pressure, so can we please have a debate on the issue? Our constituents need some sort of explanation of how Brexit is affecting the supply of medicines, when previously we had no problems.
First, I wish the right hon. Lady a very happy birthday. Secondly, I hope I can reassure her that the issue with a potential no-deal Brexit would be one of capacity at the different borders. Since the UK is still a member of the European Union, there are no problems with borders and accessibility, but she makes a serious point. I am afraid that I am not aware of those reports, but if there are shortages of medicines, that is a serious issue. We have Health and Social Care questions on Tuesday 26 March, and I encourage her to raise the matter then, but I hope that I can reassure that borders are currently fully open, so I cannot see that the issue would be in any way related to Brexit.
The United Kingdom has a proud tradition of entrepreneurial spirit, and I am sure that it will continue to flourish as we leave the EU. May we have a debate in Government time on the confidence that entrepreneurs have in this Government’s policies?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Entrepreneurs’ confidence in the policies of this Government should be celebrated by everyone. The number of business ventures started in 2018 rose by 4.7% to over 640,000; there have been 1.2 million more business start-ups since 2010; exports are at a record high; and we are cutting corporation tax to the lowest rate in the G20 and cutting business rates, which is worth more than £13 billion to businesses. Our economy has grown for 24 quarters in a row and is now over 18% bigger than it was in 2010. This Government are dealing with our debts, keeping our economy strong, investing in public services and keeping taxes low for working people.
Hate is on the march. Last night, mosques across Birmingham were attacked, including the Slade Road mosque in Erdington. Fear stalks the Muslim community, but so too does a determination never to surrender to the forces of fascism. I pay tribute to the different faiths across Birmingham that are rallying in support of the Muslim community. Can we have a debate on the importance of celebrating our diversity, standing together in national unity and rejecting anyone who fans the flames of prejudice and division?
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I said earlier, our hearts go out to those who were affected by the attacks on mosques in Birmingham last night. It is absolutely unacceptable to see any form of religious or racial prejudice in our free and open society. I know that many Muslim communities are feeling vulnerable and anxious, but they should seek comfort from knowing that the Government are doing everything we can to tackle hate and extremism. One practical thing that we are doing is doubling next year’s places of worship fund, with the Home Secretary this week boosting funding for protective security to £1.6 million to reassure communities and to safeguard mosques and other places of worship. In addition, a new £5 million fund will provide security training. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman we must stamp out this type of vile abuse.
This week we have seen record employment numbers, with especially great opportunities for women, for those with disabilities and for young people. I think of the brilliant young apprentices I recently met in Chelmsford when I say that we should never forget that, less than a decade ago under the last Labour Government, there were 1 million young people not in employment, education or training. May we please have a debate in this House on the brilliant opportunities for employment under this Conservative Government and how that compares with the disaster under Labour?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and there are now 429,000 fewer young people out of work than in 2010, which means that the number of young people out of work has almost halved since the Conservatives came into office. Nearly four fifths of jobs created since 2010 are full time, with 2.6% of our workforce on zero-hours contracts—a reduction over the last year. Employment is expected to be higher than forecast over the next five years, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, which forecasts 800,000 more jobs to be created by 2023. Those are real reasons to be proud of the success in our economy and the prospects for our young people.
I know that the Leader of the House believes that Members of Parliament should be able to perform their duties without fear for their safety. In recent weeks, like many MPs, I have been accused of being a traitor, and I have received Facebook posts saying that, along with the two other Hull MPs, I should be shot and hanged.
Does the Leader of the House agree with the Prime Minister’s statement last night, in which she pitted Members of Parliament against the general public? May we please have a debate in this House about patriotism and about how Members on both sides of the House love our country and want to make sure that we get the very best for our country? There is much more that unites us than divides us.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that colleagues on both sides of the House—she is a perfect example—all want to do the best for our country and our society. I totally endorse her thoughts that MPs need to be treated with respect and given the opportunity to represent their constituents and their country in alignment with their own beliefs and with doing the best they can possibly do. I pay tribute at all times to all Members of Parliament, and I will do everything I can to ensure that we are all able to go about our business and do a good job for our constituents and for our country.
I thank the Leader of the House for what she said in response to that very powerful inquiry from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). I have said it before, in the light of some extremely ominous coverage of Members some months ago, but I will say it again, because it brooks of no misunderstanding or contradiction: none of you is a traitor and all of you are doing your best.
This should not be, and I am sure it will not prove to be, a matter of any controversy whatsoever. From the Chair, let me say that I believe passionately in the institution of Parliament, in the rights of Members of this House and in their commitment to their duty—I use the word “duty” in the singular advisedly. The sole duty of every Member of Parliament is to do what he or she thinks is right. There is nothing, in my judgment, to be added.
I would like to introduce you to another anniversary, Mr Speaker, but it is not a particularly pleasant one: this is the fifth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Will my right hon. Friend allow us a debate so that we can consider this issue and also continue our condemnation of Russia for its annexation of that part of Ukraine?
My hon. Friend raises a serious issue, and I know that the House and the Government have condemned the annexation of Crimea. It hardly seems possible that five years have already gone by since those terrible events. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate or a Back-Bench debate so that all hon. Members can express their support for resolution of this annexation.
The principles that underlie the role of MPs were set out 250 years ago by Edmund Burke: not only to be accountable to and listen to our constituents, but to observe our own conscience and judgment. Those principles were seriously undermined last night by the Prime Minister, in one of the most contemptuous statements that I have ever heard—it is up against some stiff competition. May I ask the Leader of the House, again, whether she agrees with what the Prime Minister said last night?
Order. Let us grow up. Do grow up, for goodness’ sake. This is not a matter of party political hackery. Let us have some seriousness of purpose and mutual respect. The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) is an experienced Member of the House. He has asked an honest question, to which I know the Leader of the House will honestly reply. For goodness’ sake, let us raise the level.
Order. Resume your seat, Leader of the House. My response sets out the constitutional position that has applied to Members of the House of Commons over generations, and I cannot for the life of me see or believe that there is anything remotely controversial about what I have said.
In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), what I wanted to say is that I will speak for my own views when I say that I have the highest regard for Members from right across this Chamber. All hon. Members do exactly as they think is right for their constituents and for their country, and it is absolutely right that they should continue to do so. What I think the Prime Minister was urging upon all hon. Members is to recognise that in a hung Parliament it is incumbent on us all to ensure that there is good government, because, by definition, it is important that we all participate in ensuring progress for our country, as indeed we have done through more than 40 pieces of primary legislation in this Session alone, where we have been able to come together in the national interest to make progress on certain areas of legislation, ranging from counter-terrorism to tenants’ fees, all manner of automated vehicles and so on. We have been able to work together to come to a conclusion and make a positive statement about the way the country should go. I think that the Prime Minister was seeking to urge all right hon. and hon. Members to look carefully at the reality, which is that there is a means by which we can deliver on the referendum, while ensuring we keep a close and collaborative relationship with our EU friends and neighbours. Alternatively, the legal position that this House voted for is to leave the EU on 29 March without any other arrangements. What the Prime Minister is seeking for this House to do is to come together to support a way forward. The House has not so far done that.
For inclusiveness, let me say that it is currently not only the festival of Purim, but the Hindu festival of Holi.
This weekend, we will have the national hospital radio awards ceremony, so may I send my best wishes to Radio Harrow, which has been nominated for eight awards? It comforts patients at Northwick Park Hospital, where many of my constituents have to go. I also send best wishes to Radio Mount Vernon, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. May we have a debate in Government time on the wonderful work done by volunteers in our hospital radio stations, who provide comfort to patients at the time when they need it?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to the amazing work done by volunteers in hospitals. He raises the particular issue of those who run hospital radio stations. Having visited local hospitals myself, I have absolutely seen at first hand the warmth and support that they give to people—and, frankly, the distraction that they provide for people who are undergoing painful procedures—so I am happy to join my hon. Friend in thanking them and paying tribute to them for all the good work they do.
Last night, the Prime Minister told the people of the United Kingdom “I am on your side”, but presumably she was not speaking to anyone who voted to remain, such as the majority of the people of Scotland; she was not speaking to Europeans living and working in the UK; and she was not speaking to those who are dissatisfied with her deal. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out her views on whether she thinks it is wise or healthy to set Parliament against the people, reject any notion of personal responsibility, and ignore the genuine concerns about Brexit in this House and throughout the UK?
The Prime Minister’s deal absolutely does seek to resolve the issues and concerns for EU citizens living in the UK and for UK citizens living in the EU. It seeks to reassure those who wanted to remain in the EU by securing a close economic and security partnership with our friends and neighbours in the EU. Very importantly, it also delivers on the will of the people expressed in the referendum, which is something that the House has voted to do. My own assessment is that the Prime Minister’s proposal—the withdrawal agreement and the future political declaration—does seek to achieve the very complicated balance of bringing all sides together. We can all point to parts of her deal that we do not like—every single one of us can do that—but it is a compromise that really does seek to provide something for everyone and the best possible combination of outcomes that enables us to deliver on the will of the people.
Almost every week in the Chamber, we hear Members raising issues to do with bank closures in their constituencies. Over the past two months, Santander and now Barclays have announced that they are leaving Cleethorpes. People need financial advice as well as access to banking services. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in which we can explore ways to create financial hubs in town centres, to which people can go for advice and to obtain banking services?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about the issue of the last bank in town and access to financial services, which has come up in the Chamber many times, and he is quite right to raise it. Obviously, we recognise that the way people access financial services is changing, with more people going online and so on, but the industry’s access to banking standard requires banks to carry out a number of steps before they close any branches. Some are coming forward with innovative ways to deliver ongoing banking services, and of course the Post Office now delivers access to banking services, very often at more flexible times—for example, at weekends and so on—than a bank was previously able to offer. My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate to talk about the issues in Cleethorpes.
The Leader of the House has said that we should seek a cross-party consensus on the way forward, and I agree with her, which is why I wonder what thought she has given, in respect of her role, to the House voting on options in parallel, so that we can end the game-playing and move forward.
I completely understand the hon. Lady’s desire for many more varied options to be brought forward, and I hugely respect the hon. Lady and her views, but the House has already rejected a second referendum, a customs union, the meaningful vote and leaving without a deal. It is vital that the House comes forward with a proposal that it can support. What the House did support was an extension to article 50, and the Prime Minister is acting on that request and seeking to fulfil the will of the House. I am sure that if hon. Members feel there is a majority for another type of solution, they will come forward with those proposals.
Yesterday, I met some people of Christian faith from Cuba, who expressed concern over the Cuban Government’s attitude to church congregations. Christians represent some 20% of the population in Cuba, and the congregations are continuing to grow. They are now a significant religious minority and group in that country. These people also informed me that the Cuban Government have failed, and refused, to return church properties to Protestant Churches, which is totally unacceptable. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this important matter?
The hon. Gentleman always raises matters of freedom of religion and he is absolutely right to do so. The situation that he raises around Cuba is very concerning. The UK does, of course, promote tolerance and acceptance of different faiths and beliefs within our own country, but it is also something that we want to see right around the world. We have Foreign Office questions on Tuesday 2 April and I encourage him to submit a question, or to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can raise this matter directly with Ministers.
The knife angel, a sculpture created from confiscated knives, has again gone on display in Coventry. The sculpture is a stark reminder of the surging levels of knife crime that have infected our city and wrought such devastation on individuals, families and communities. More than anything else, the knife angel symbolises our city’s commitment to tackle violent crime and to encourage all those who carry knives to turn away from violence and aggression and towards peace and reconciliation. Will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging other towns and cities to offer to host the knife angel, and will she arrange a debate in Government time on knife crime and the impact that cuts to public services have had on our ability to tackle this increasing scourge?
The hon. Lady makes an excellent suggestion and challenge to other hon. Members to seek to have the knife angel hosted in their own areas. I know that there are many local police and crime commissioners who are really focused on resolving this appalling issue of the rise particularly in knife crime. She will be aware that the Government are introducing a £200 million youth endowment fund to try to prevent young people from being attracted to a life that takes them down that path of knife crime. The Government are doing everything that we possibly can to try to prevent this, and it is right that all hon. Members seek to do what they can to highlight their concerns about it.
May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the continuing problem regarding the awarding of personal independence payments to people who are disabled or who have long-term health conditions? I have experienced some appalling decisions in recent weeks in my constituency. The Government have promised to try to get a grip on this, but they still have not. May I have an urgent debate on the matter?
I am genuinely sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman has had some difficult constituency cases. If he wants to raise a particular case with me, of course I will take it up with the Department on his behalf. He will be aware, however, that since personal independence payments were introduced in 2013, some 3.7 million decisions have been made—all made with the desire to help people to lead a more independent life and to be able to choose the kind of support they need. The total number of complaints received is less than 1% of all assessments, and nearly nine in every 10 PIP claimants are satisfied with their experience. We are constantly seeking to review and improve the system. If the hon. Gentleman has specific proposals to make, I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise them with Ministers.
As a prefix to my planned question and further to the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), I must tell the House that last week, in common with many other Members on both sides of this House, I received a message, among lots and lots of other messages, saying that my head should be chopped off. I apprehended the Prime Minister last Thursday evening and begged her to “dial down the hate”. I told her that it was in her power to do so. People are frightened not just in this place, but in the country as a whole. The Prime Minister must show some leadership; it is within her grasp. I implore the Leader of the House to pass on that message.
I have been contacted by many constituents over 75 concerned about the prospect of losing their free TV licence. As the Leader of the House knows, loneliness is a major issue, and for many people the television is, sadly, their only company. The retention of free TV licences for over-75s was in the Conservative manifesto in 2017, so may we have a debate or statement on the Government’s intentions?
First, it is appalling that the hon. Lady, or any other Member, has received such abuse. I can only repeat that I genuinely believe that all right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to do the best they can for their constituency and their country, and I pay tribute to everybody who works so hard for their constituency and country.
The hon. Lady raises a specific issue about free TV licences for the over-75s. I completely agree that often for people who are lonely the television, as well as a source of entertainment, is a link to the outside world and a way to find a friend in watching friendly programmes. I share her concern, therefore, and encourage her to seek a Westminster Hall or Back-Bench debate so that she can raise it directly with Ministers.
Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the decision by FirstGroup to buy five British-built Hitachi inter-city trains? It is great news for jobs in north-east England. Will she also facilitate a debate on the importance of every British-based company, including Transport for London, buying British-built trains?
I am delighted to join the hon. Gentleman in commending the decision to buy British. I am a big fan of doing that wherever possible. Obviously, in return for our being able to export our great British products, we also recognise the need for our own producers to be competitive, which is why we do not always buy British; nevertheless, I absolutely agree with the thrust of his proposal. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate to talk directly to Ministers about what more we can do to promote great British products.
I have raised previously with the Foreign Secretary the case of Luke Symons, a constituent of mine being held captive in Yemen. There is some hope that the International Committee of the Red Cross might be able to get him out, but he needs to get somewhere where there is a British embassy so that he can apply for a visa for his wife and bring his son back to the United Kingdom. Can we have a statement from the Foreign Office about this case? Barring that, can the Leader of the House pass on the message to her ministerial colleagues that that is what we need and that we need it swiftly?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising his constituency case again in the Chamber—he is absolutely right to do so—and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be looking into it. If he would like to write to me with more details, I can take it up directly on his behalf, or he could raise it directly with Ministers at Foreign Office questions on 2 April.
Last night, the Prime Minister gave a deeply divisive and undignified speech trying to shirk her responsibility for prematurely triggering article 50 without a plan. In response, a petition to revoke article 50 has now been signed by more than 800,000 people, including 3,500 of my own constituents. When will the Government respect the intelligence of British people, admit we have the unilateral power to revoke article 50 to prevent further damage to our country and provide time to debate this crucial issue before 29 March?
It is the policy of the Government—and indeed of Parliament, which voted to trigger article 50 —to leave the European Union, in line with the result of the 2016 referendum. I say again to all hon. Members that I genuinely think that the Prime Minister’s proposal for the withdrawal agreement and future political declaration offers the compromise we want between leaving the EU in line with the democratic decision taken in 2016 and keeping a close and collaborative relationship with our EU friends and neighbours.
Last week, I met year 10 geography students from Myton School in Warwick. The Leader of the House will be aware that many young people across the country, and indeed the globe, are extremely concerned about climate change. Since I met them, we have had extreme weather events such as Cyclone Idai and flash floods in Indonesia, and reports from the head of the Environment Agency that within 25 years we could have severe water shortages here. I understand we had a debate a few weeks ago, but it was held during the recess week and was poorly attended, because we all had various other commitments. May I urge the Leader of the House to arrange another debate in good time so that we can explore the serious issues of climate change?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s young constituents for their commitment to tackling global climate change; they are absolutely right to do so. I am sure that he will acknowledge the UK’s strong record and efforts to tackle global climate change, whereby we have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation. The latest figures show that we have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 23% since 2010. In November 2016, we ratified the Paris agreement, which was the first truly global, legally binding agreement to tackle climate change. Of course there is much more that we should and can do, and I am sure that there will be further opportunities given the clear push from young people right across the country. I will take very seriously the hon. Gentleman’s request for a further debate on global climate change, and see what can be done.
I reckon that I have worked out where everything has gone wrong over the last couple of years in this Parliament. We have discovered today from the Foreign Secretary, and now from the Leader of the House, that a new and rather dangerous doctrine has been developed in the Government that, when there is a hung Parliament, it is the duty of MPs—broadly speaking—to support the Government, even if they do not think that it is a very good idea. That is the essence of it, isn’t it? Actually, it should be the other way around. In a hung Parliament, the Government must listen to the whole House.
I have a solution, and I think the Leader of the House can help. When Government Ministers are given their copy of the ministerial code of conduct, they should all also be given a copy of the 1936 book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. Clearly the Prime Minister did not have a copy last night—not least because it guarantees the reader that it will “increase your popularity” and:
“Help you to win people to your way of thinking.”
I am sure that if the Leader of the House could leave here later, pop over to the Prime Minister and give her a copy, she would manage to solve everything, because the key to the book is to always smile and never get cross.
Well, where to start? I may as well cut straight to the chase and say that I actually agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am not for one moment saying that all parliamentarians in a hung Parliament should do exactly as the Government say. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that people in a hung Parliament work together. I gave the example of 51 Government Bills having been introduced in this Session, 41 of which have already received Royal Assent. As hon. Members will know, that has happened as a result of great discussion, a huge number of concessions and close collaboration right across the House in order for the Government to achieve a consensus that the House would then support.
My point is not that parliamentarians have to do as the Government say at all, but that parliamentarians should be looking for what they can agree to. I am advocating the Prime Minister’s deal on the very clear grounds that it offers departure from the European Union, but a close and ongoing relationship with our EU friends and neighbours. That seems the right kind of compromise, which all hon. Members could get behind. Nevertheless, should we get to the point of introducing the withdrawal agreement Bill, which is the piece of legislation that would put into law the decision of the House, I have absolutely no doubt that there would be very close collaboration, and many concessions and discussions, in order to get the legislation through. So I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As Parliament’s voice in Government, it is my great pleasure that I often find myself pleading with Government Ministers to listen to the view of Parliament, and I will continue to do so.
And us all. The Leader of the House says that she is Parliament’s voice in Government. Although that is constitutionally the position she holds, she is certainly Government’s voice in Parliament. I think that we have always been very clear about that as well, and we acknowledge that part of her responsibilities.
I have a constituent who only found out after the death of her husband that she could actually get additional state pension based on his national insurance contributions. The Department for Work and Pensions had notified her husband but, for whatever reason, he had not taken action. This means that, although she is now claiming the additional money, she is limited to a maximum 12 months’ backdated claim. Rather than the outdated assumption that the man controls the household finances, can we have a Government statement confirming that the DWP will now always notify both husband and wife, and look at changing the law on the length of period for which such pensions can be backdated?
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that it should never be assumed that one half of a partnership controls the finances for the other. He raises an important constituency case, and I encourage him to write to me so that I can take the matter up with the Department on his behalf.
I ask again: when will the Timpson review of exclusions be published? Last week, I joked with the Leader of the House about how soon it would be, but it is actually no joking matter. When there are undeniable links between exclusions and youth violence, it is crucial that we get this report and that it is published now.
I completely agree, and I again pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her commitment to the issue. I will ask again when the review can be published, and I share her desire for it to be brought forward urgently. She may have seen this morning the suggestion of the Secretary of State for Education that exclusions are not necessarily directly the major cause of some of the knife crime problems that we have seen, and that truancy may be an even bigger issue. It is vital that we look across the piece at what is causing this issue, and that we seek to put measures in place. The hon. Lady is right to chase the report, and I will see if I can do more to push for its publication.
I am afraid to admit that I have been glancing at the internet during these exchanges, and I have to tell the Leader of the House that the website for the Brexit petition to revoke article 50 has now crashed. I wonder whether she can help me to help more of my constituents sign the petition, which had reached 800,000 signatures the last time I looked.
I was made aware this morning that there were some technical problems with the Petitions Committee website that people are working quickly to restore, so I can reassure the hon. Lady that the website will be back up and running as soon as possible. I can also assure her that, should the petition reach more than 17.4 million signatures, there would be a very clear case for taking action. However, it is absolutely right that people have the opportunity to put their views, which can then spark yet another Brexit debate.
My constituent Paul McDonald suffers from macular degeneration, and was given the opportunity by a private company, the London Eye Hospital, to have a new treatment, which the hospital claimed would improve his condition. Having got himself into considerable debt, he has now unfortunately found that his eyesight has become worse as a result of the treatment. The company has gone into administration, and it turns out that dozens of other people feel that they have been mis-sold this treatment. Can we have a debate on what we can do to avoid a repetition of the situation and get some justice for the people affected?
Can we have a debate on the urgent need to bring new hi-tech industries and highly skilled jobs to areas such as the Black Country that have lost their traditional industries? This would enable me to set out the case to develop in Dudley not just a new institute of technology, but a hi-tech campus to provide more apprenticeships, degrees and better-paid, secure jobs in areas such as low-carbon technologies, advanced manufacturing, digital technologies, autonomous vehicles, very light rail, computing and software development.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for standing up for Dudley, as he absolutely would do. As part of the UK’s industrial strategy, we have already agreed 10 sector deals with a range of industries including the aerospace, construction and offshore wind sectors. These deals bring together Government, industry and researchers to ensure that we can build on our success and exploit future opportunities. The Government are doing their bit, sector by sector, to promote the huge opportunities that lie ahead, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can talk to Ministers about the opportunities for Dudley.
The primary 7 pupils at Prestonpans Primary School in East Lothian, where I used to teach, had a debate on Brexit, and it was very friendly and goal-oriented. Indeed, one of the children undertook to write to the Prime Minister, and I know that in due course he will get a response. Given their attitude to that debate, and given the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) about what young people can do with regard to climate change, could we have an urgent debate on what we can learn from our young people?
I would absolutely welcome such a debate. There is a huge amount we can learn from young people, right across a whole range of topics. I pay tribute to the school pupils in his constituency for their commitment to talking about Brexit. In fact, there was also a debate about Brexit in my daughter’s school, where she was required to stand up for a second referendum. She rang me for some suggestions about what she could say, which I was of course very happy to provide. Many hon. and right hon. Members have provided me with plenty of ammunition in support of that. I do take seriously what the hon. Gentleman says, but in the meantime he might like to seek a Back-Bench debate, because I am sure that lots of hon. Members would like to commend the work done by young people in this country.
Before I ask the Leader of the House a question, Mr Speaker, may I put on the public record how often I am told by the people of 30 nations with whom I often interact how much they admire our opportunity to have a Speaker who stands up for Back Benchers, who defends the standards of Parliament, and who represents the best of British way of doing things with fairness, openness and transparency? Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Scotland is currently consulting on non-time-limited guidance for clinicians to assess access to terminal illness benefits. Can we have more sitting Fridays in order to debate my private Member’s Bill that looks at amending the current time-limited access to terminal illness benefits to bring it into line with Scotland’s proposed, more compassionate guidance?
I certainly commend the hon. Lady for raising this very important issue. She will be aware that the decision to ensure that people did not have to go through constant assessments when they have a terminal illness was based entirely on compassion. She will also be aware that we have Health and Social Care questions on Tuesday 26 March, and I would encourage her to raise her specific point then.
I wonder, Mr Speaker, whether you can imagine the scene at the great Scottish home of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, Faslane naval base, on 29 April 1969, when a crew of submariners slipped out in one of the Barrow-built R-class submarines and thus began Operation Relentless, which has, 24 hours a day, for every single minute, protected the UK from the threat of nuclear blackmail. As the Leader of the House will know, because I know she can do her maths, on 29 April it will be 50 years to the day since Operation Relentless began. Does she not think that there should be a debate in Government time to commemorate this extraordinary achievement? No matter what one thinks of the nuclear deterrent, I know that Members across the House will want to thank all those involved, from the shipwrights across the United Kingdom who built the submarines to the submariners who have served in them. I have already made a conditionally successful application to the Backbench Business Committee. However, the scale of this achievement surely deserves Government time, given the amount of attention that the Navy is giving to this issue over the coming weeks and months.
I am so pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised this very significant milestone and also given us the opportunity to thank all those who have served, for coming up to 50 years, in protecting our United Kingdom around the world from, as he says, the threat of nuclear blackmail. When I was 13, it was the risk of a nuclear war that made me decide that I was going to become a Member of Parliament, so this very issue has been with me for an extremely long time—longer than I care to think of. I will certainly take his request very seriously and see whether we can find Government time, but I am very glad to hear that he has already got his request in to the Backbench Business Committee.
People in my constituency who formerly worked at the Hoover factory in Merthyr Tydfil are rightly concerned about their reduced pension fund. Given that the Government removed a significant surplus from this pension fund in the past, does the Leader of the House agree that they have a responsibility to support such funds in times of deficit too? Can we have a debate on this issue and the wider issues arising from the Government removing large surpluses from pension pots?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue for his constituency. I know that the profit share that has been agreed with Government in different pension pots has regularly been an issue of concern for Members. I would encourage him to perhaps seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise his specific concerns directly with Ministers.
In a recent answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), a Minister of State at the Foreign Office told him that the UK Government did not normally disclose how they intend to vote ahead of United Nations Human Rights Council meetings. However, this morning, writing in the Jewish Chronicle, the Foreign Secretary has confirmed that they intend to vote against all proposals under item No. 7 relating to the occupied Palestinian territories. Does the Leader of the House agree that if Ministers are telling Members of this House that the Government do not disclose their voting intentions, it is therefore completely inappropriate for them to announce those intentions elsewhere? Will she help to secure an urgent statement tomorrow from the Foreign Office on the Government’s voting intentions at this crucial meeting?
I would certainly agree that it is always preferable for Ministers to come to this House, as is the convention, to make any important statements in the Chamber. I am not aware of the specific circumstances of what the hon. Lady mentions, so I cannot comment on that. However, we have Foreign Office questions on 2 April, and she could certainly raise the matter there, or perhaps seek an urgent question if it is something of a more urgent nature.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I can assure you and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) that Whips always smile and are never cross.
I want to press the Leader of the House on the issue of the House sitting on the Friday, and potentially the Saturday, of next week. I found it quite astonishing that there had never been a plan for us to sit on what was supposed to have been Brexit day. Given the possibility that we could have crashed out at 11 o’clock next Friday, it is astonishing to think that we might have to wait until the following Monday to respond to that. So are there contingency plans in place? This is particularly important for the staff who help to keep this place running. That is also true of the Easter recess. I am quite happy to sleep in the Lobby if need be to get this mess sorted out, but it is simply unfair to keep the Clerks, the security and catering staff, and everybody else who makes this place work waiting to find out whether there is going to be an Easter recess. When will we get confirmation of these dates, if at all?
I totally share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to make sure that people are given as much notice as possible, but equally to make sure that we do not stand people up unnecessarily. Clearly, there is a fine balance between me announcing that we are going to sit 24/7 for the next three months, just in case, versus me coming back with an announcement as soon as possible should it be necessary. Of course, there would be usual-channels discussions should it be necessary to sit, for example, next Friday. However, I do take his point very seriously. We always seek to ensure that we take full account of the impact on the staff of this place—those who support Members of Parliament but also those who support the smooth running of the House.
I hope that the Leader of the House can help me with a debate on the question of Government consultations. The Home Office issued a consultation on air rifle misuse in October 2017. It closed in February 2018. In the answer to a parliamentary question from me this week, I found that there is still no date for the publication of a Government response to that consultation. I have constituents who have lost people due to the misuse of airguns, and they just want to know what is the Government’s view. Can we have a debate on what is an acceptable period between the end of a consultation to the Government responding to it?
I am very sympathetic to the right hon. Gentleman’s request. If he wants to write to me after the business question, I can ask the Department on his behalf. He will be aware that we have Home Office questions on 1 April, and he could equally raise it then, should he wish to do so.
Can we have a statement from the Government on what “in due course” means? Since January, the Government have been supposed to conclude their review into the provision of parental leave for parents of premature and sick babies. I have lodged numerous written questions, including pursuant questions, and the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), just keeps saying “in due course”. Is that “in due course” as in, “I’ll go and cut the grass in due course”, or as in, “We’ll have a meaningful vote in due course”? This is a serious point. Today, babies will be born prematurely, and parents are still not getting the support they need. Can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on what “in due course” means and ensure that we support the parents of premature and sick babies?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a deep personal interest in this matter. I completely understand that he would like a specific date. I can say to him, from the heart, that these things can be quite complicated. When we are seeking to change a law or give a different dispensation, there are often quite a lot of consequential impacts that require consultation, further research and so on. When Ministers say “in due course”, they genuinely mean as soon as all the various aspects can be finalised. Often it is impossible to give a specific date, but if he wants to write to me, I can certainly chase the Department on his behalf.