Subject to the House approving the motion on the Order Paper in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this evening, the business is as follows.
The business for tomorrow will be:
Friday 29 March—Debate on a motion relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
The business for next week will be:
Monday 1 April—Business motion relating to the resolution of the House dated 27 March, followed by motions relating to the resolution of the House dated 27 March, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Animal Health, Plant Health, Seeds and Seed Potatoes (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019—that old potato—followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Protecting against the Effects of the Extraterritorial Application of Third Country Legislation (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
Tuesday 2 April—Motion relating to the first report from the Committee of Privileges, followed by consideration of Lords amendments relating to the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords], followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Geo-Blocking Regulation (Revocation) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
Wednesday 3 April—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Electronic Communications (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by general debate on the 50th anniversary of the continuous at sea deterrent.
Thursday 4 April—Debate on a motion relating to the introduction of the 2019 loan charge, followed by debate on a motion relating to restrictive intervention of children and young people. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 5 April—The House will not be sitting.
Colleagues will note at this moment in time we are not bringing forward the motion for the Easter recess. I know that Members have many responsibilities to carry out in their constituencies and in other matters, but the House rightly needs time to address our exit from the European Union. Our constituents will expect Parliament to work flat out to do so. I will seek to provide further clarity on the recess dates as soon as possible. I wish to express all of our thanks to the civil servants, House staff and the staff of Members who are continuing to ensure that we are well supported at this important time.
I want to provide the House with further clarity on tomorrow’s sitting day. Should the House agree the motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister later today, it is intended that the hours will be the same as for a normal sitting Friday, with the House sitting at 9.30 am, and the moment of interruption at 2.30 pm.
If agreed by the House, tomorrow there will be a motion relating to the UK’s exit from the EU. The motion tabled will comply with the Speaker’s ruling, but the only way we ensure we leave in good time on 22 May is by approving the withdrawal agreement by 11 pm on 29 March, which is tomorrow.
The European Council has agreed to an extension until 22 May, provided that the withdrawal agreement is approved by the House of Commons this week. It is crucial that we make every effort to give effect to that and to allow the House to debate this important issue. We do not want to be in the situation of asking for another extension and, of course, for the requirement to undertake European Parliament elections.
I thank the Leader of the House for the statement, which we received only about two minutes before I came to the Chamber. I am not sure how much discussion there was with the usual channels; certainly, the business managers have not seen the content of the motion. I would like further clarity on behalf of the whole House on whether this is in fact meaningful vote 3. I understand what the Leader of the House said about complying with the Speaker’s ruling—I do not know whether you, Mr Speaker, have had any discussions about the motion or whether this is in fact meaningful vote 3. I understand that the Government have to comply with what the EU has said, but we need more clarity on what exactly this motion is about and whether it is the meaningful vote, the agreement or the full package.
Again, I do not think this is the way to conduct business in the House on such an important matter. The Leader of the House has given the times, but only just, and there are people who have to make adjustments—I am talking not about Members but about the staff of this House, such as the doorkeepers, and all the civil servants.
I want to say thank you. There was a new process yesterday, and staff—the Clerks and all the staff of the House—rose to the occasion. It went very smoothly; we voted in the correct Lobbies, and we voted on the green sheets, which made a nice change from the pink sheets. I thank staff for working late to get the result to us on time, and we waited patiently for that. Yesterday was interesting: it was not just about process—to me, it was a confluence of process and principle. We know that the House can do that, and we know that it can be a modernising place.
Yesterday, the Leader of the House will have heard Opposition calls for an Opposition day. When will the next Opposition day be? This is a two-year Session.
I am not sure whether the Leader of the House was in the House yesterday when my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) made a point of order about the Minister for Disabled People. I do not think one has been appointed. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), stepped up today for the urgent question, but I do not think he is the Minister for Disabled People. There are 13.9 million disabled people who need a Minister who will champion their needs. I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware that we have had seven since 2010.
There are also a number of other vacancies. The right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and the hon. Members for Winchester (Steve Brine) and for Watford (Richard Harrington) have all resigned their positions. Those were key roles, dealing with the middle east and north Africa, public health and primary care, and business and industry. A number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries have also resigned. It is about time that we had an updated list of ministerial responsibilities. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could provide one.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the survey carried out by Sir John Curtice for the independent agency NatCen Social Research. He was one of the few people who correctly called the result of the election. He found that 85% of those who voted remain and 80% of those who voted leave in 2016 think the Government have handled Brexit badly. Among our voters, just 7% believe that the Government have handled Brexit well. The Government keep saying to us, “This is the mandate from the people,” but all hon. Members know that the Government have had no problem U-turning on their manifesto commitments. I will give two examples: the means test on winter fuel payments and, just four days after the manifesto was published, the U-turn on the so-called dementia tax.
Yesterday, during Prime Minister’s question time the Prime Minister said:
“We have a deal that cancels our EU membership fee”.—[Official Report, 27 March 2019; Vol. 657, c. 311.]
That is not strictly correct, because the withdrawal agreement is littered with references to how we will have to pay into the EU to secure benefits. For example, page 51 of the March 2019 agreement mentions communications infrastructure.
Earlier this month the European Parliament voted to guarantee funding for UK students who are already on the Erasmus+ programme, and in the event of a no-deal Brexit it promised to continue supporting European students who are on that scheme in the UK. There are 17,000 students in the UK who planned to study in Europe under Erasmus+, and they still face uncertainty about whether they can do that in September. Where is the Government’s commitment to our future, and to those students who want to work in the EU? May we have a statement from the Secretary of State about whether funding for those students will be guaranteed?
I have heard nothing in any statement about revelations in The Guardian that the Government have spent £12 million on a penthouse for the trade envoy. May we have a statement on whether that public money has been properly spent? Will we spend that sort of money in all countries where we have a trade envoy? When will the Government respond to the report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), which concluded that more than 3 million Europeans living in Britain could be left in legal limbo after Brexit? The Committee proposed amendments to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. May we have a statement from the Government about whether those people will be protected, and a timetable for the progress of key legislation that needs to pass through Parliament before exit day?
Monday 25 March was International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and it is vital that we remember that history and treat everyone equally. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) said yesterday during Prime Minister’s questions that 15 Conservative councillors who had been suspended for posting racist or Islamophobic content online have been let back into the Conservative party. Some of those members referred to people as “cavemen” and to Saudis as “sand peasants”, and they compared Asian people to dogs. A man puts on an England shirt, scores a goal, and is racially abused: we stand with Raheem Sterling.
I completely agree that any form of racism is abhorrent and must be stamped out wherever it is seen. The hon. Lady asks about the statement I have just made, and the motion for tomorrow. As I have said, we recognise that any motion brought forward tomorrow must comply with the Speaker’s ruling, and that discussion is ongoing. A motion will be tabled as soon as possible—obviously by later today—to allow the House to consider the motion in the name of the Prime Minister.
The hon. Lady asks about Opposition days, and I take this opportunity to thank all Members across the House, and to mention the tremendous work by civil servants that has gone into the secondary legislation programme. We are tabling a number of statutory instruments related to Brexit to ensure that we have completed our secondary legislation programme. All statutory instruments needed for exit day have now been dealt with appropriately, and Members have spent more than 120 hours debating more than 230 EU exit SIs in this Session. The sifting committee has considered more than 220 proposed negative SIs, and recommended more than 60 of those for upgrade to the affirmative procedure. I am very grateful for that huge amount of work.
The hon. Lady asked for an undated list of ministerial responsibilities, and I will seek that as soon as possible. She asked about European citizens, and I am sure she will be pleased that the Government have brought forward, through the Immigration Minister, a UK-wide campaign for the EU settlement scheme. That will include billboards and radio advertising, to ensure that everyone who is eligible knows how to apply and get the status they need. It is this Government’s priority to ensure that EU citizens who have built their lives here and contributed so much to our society know that they are welcome in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Lady asked about the new residence in New York, and I assure her that we secured the best possible deal and value for money on a property that will help to promote the United Kingdom in the commercial capital of our largest export market, and a trading partner for years to come. She will appreciate that diplomatic and trade-related activities around the world generate billions of pounds in the United Kingdom. We are also in the process of selling the consul general’s current residence, which will reduce the cost of creating that new centre of expertise. Finally, I congratulate the hon. Lady on her comments about racism. She rightly always stands up for those who have been racially abused, and I will always support her efforts to stamp out racism wherever we see it.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on what further help the Government can give to small businesses? The lifeblood of our local parades is often the convenience store and the post office, yet under permitted development, freeholders can change a property from a commercial to a residential premises, which gives very little security to leasehold convenience stores.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Our high streets and small businesses are so important to the communities that rely on them, and we must recognise the challenges they face and support them to survive and thrive. The planning system has a vital role to play in that, and the spring statement announced further changes to permitted development rights. We are extending the period of temporary use from two to three years, to give start-ups more time to establish their businesses.
I thank the Leader of the House for whatever that was supposed to be. I have the real business for next week here—a blank sheet of paper. The Government do not have a clue what is going on any more; they are totally at the mercy of events, parliamentary arithmetic, and all sorts of party shenanigans. Only this morning have they confirmed that we are sitting tomorrow, and—at last—that the Easter recess will be cancelled, although we do not know about the second week. They cannot even say who will be at the Dispatch Box next Wednesday as Prime Minister. This is beyond a shambles—perhaps the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) should be at the Dispatch Box announcing the business. He could not make a worse mess of it than this, and it is almost as if he is the Leader of the House anyway just now.
The only thing that everybody wants to hear from the Leader of the House is whether the Government are bringing back the meaningful vote tomorrow, because what is on the Order Paper clearly is not that. The right hon. Lady has until 5 o’clock today to table a proper motion. Will she do that, and will we have the meaningful vote tomorrow—yes or no?
The Prime Minister’s “back me then sack me” strategy has spectacularly failed—she cannot even get her departure right, even when everybody wants her gone. The race to replace her has begun. I understand that 22 right hon. and hon. Members will feature in that leadership race, but the Leader of the House is not among the favourites this time. Perhaps if she promises to resign immediately after she gets elected, her chances will be significantly boosted.
Our constituents are watching this with increasing horror. They are confused, frustrated, bewildered, and increasingly angry. This is what these Conservatives have done to us. They have divided a nation and paralysed a Parliament. Thank goodness that the people of Scotland have a get out card and a way out of this madness. As it becomes apparent that a UK solution for Scotland to remain in the European Union is disappearing, more and more people are recognising that only a Scottish solution will rescue our EU membership.
Before I respond to the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, I must put something important on the record: I understand that I am over two weeks late in wishing him a very happy birthday—[Laughter.] Wait for the punchline. I can more than make that up to him, however, because today is a bumper edition of Cake Thursdays in the office of the Leader of the House, as we have four birthdays over the next few days. I hope that he will swing by after business questions for a slice of Colin the Caterpillar—other cakes are available.
In response to the hon. Gentleman’s very serious and important points, I would like to put on the record that, in spite of his slightly less than generous remarks, the Prime Minister of this country has done enormous service. She has absolutely shown her determination at all times to put her country first and to make sure that we leave the European Union in line with the referendum. I think all Government Members support her in doing that.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that if the withdrawal agreement is not voted for tomorrow, on Monday my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) will take control? There is nothing to stop him, under our procedures, now whittling down the options to one option. Almost certainly, given the results last night, that will be permanent membership of a customs union. There is nothing to stop him putting that in a Bill. There is nothing to stop him making that an Act of Parliament. The choice will then be between—I say this to my colleagues—permanent membership of a customs union or a general election. And that, as they say, will be that.
My right hon. Friend sets out very clearly that on Monday my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset will in fact be carrying out my role, if not that of the Prime Minister, in determining the order of business for the day and in seeking an agreement from the House on a way forward. I certainly feel that this House needs to agree to fulfil on the 2016 referendum. The Prime Minister’s deal offers the means by which to deliver on that referendum, but at the same time, for those who do not want to leave the European Union, the closest economic and security partnership. It is a compromise and I do urge colleagues right across the House to back it.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the two Backbench Business debates for next Thursday. We still have a hefty queue of 17 unaired debates, so any additional time is always welcome. Can she promise us that we are not sitting next Friday? I am already rearranging my diary for tomorrow and am hoping to use next Friday for that purpose. When she said the House would not be sitting on Friday 5 April, did she really mean it?
The hon. Gentleman is a very knowledgeable and experienced Member of Parliament. He will know that the business statement always sets out what is known at the time. But, of course, this is Parliament and things change, so I cannot promise or absolutely guarantee. Nevertheless, what I can tell him is that, all things being equal, the House will not be sitting next Friday.
As we prepare to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the second world war, will my right hon. Friend consider how Parliament can best play its part in recognising the many servicemen and servicewomen who so bravely defended our country in its darkest hour?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to all those who suffered so much for our freedoms. We should always value their sacrifice for us. I will certainly take away and consider how the House can mark the outbreak of the second world war, as she suggests.
I am sure the Leader of the House is aware that there has been a fantastic campaign over many years to save Huddersfield Royal Infirmary from being closed as a fully functioning hospital and downgraded to a much smaller local hospital on a different site. There was news this week from the Secretary of State for Health about saving Charing Cross Hospital, which has exactly the kind of challenges that we have in Huddersfield. There is obviously a change in mind, purpose and objectivity in terms of this new Secretary of State, so may we have a debate on the future of local hospitals?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman raises his success in his local campaign for Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. He has made a really important point. We all have local hospitals that we are very keen to support. I encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall debate, because I am sure many hon. Members will have their own local hospital issues, as indeed I do, along with my excellent Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), with regards to Horton General Hospital.
May we have an urgent statement from the Universities Minister about the disgraceful situation at Bristol University, where the free speech society has been told it cannot have a speaker—the person who drew up the extreme speakers’ league table in which Bristol University came 10th—unless it has an independent chairperson and another speaker to balance up the views of the person who lists extremism in universities in league table order. This is from a university which is said to have hosted no fewer than nine extremist speakers on its campus. It is a disgrace and we need to have an urgent statement about it.
My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. I know all of us across the House support the idea of freedom of speech at all times, but nevertheless within the law. That is a very important balance to be struck. In particular, we all believe that freedom of speech in universities, to enable young people to learn about and be exposed to different views, is absolutely vital. My right hon. Friend might well like to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss this matter directly with Ministers.
I thought the deal was a package of the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration that cannot be split. However, the Leader of the House only mentioned the withdrawal agreement in relation to tomorrow’s business. Can she confirm that, to secure an extension of the article 50 process to 22 May and to comply with section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, this House has to approve both the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on the future framework by the time the House rises at 2.30 pm tomorrow?
Two hundred thousand nurses have left the NHS in less than a decade and there are 42,000 vacancies, which is 12% of the nursing workforce. Notwithstanding a small number of apprenticeships, the fact that this is widely perceived as a graduate job has robbed nursing of those who long to care and once learned to do so. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate, mindful of the words of John Ruskin, who said:
“The highest reward for a person’s toil is…what they become by it”?
It is time for a debate on practical skills in which we can challenge the view that only academic accomplishment brings fulfilment. It is time, Mr Speaker, to elevate the practical.
My right hon. Friend raises the vital role of nurses. It is a good opportunity to pay tribute to the amazing work they do for so many people. What I can tell him is that there are now 16,300 more nurses on our wards than there were in 2010 and over 50,000 nurses in training. The introduction of the new nursing degree apprenticeships and nursing associate roles will help us to build the workforce we need.
Let us try again, Mr Speaker. Is what the Leader of the House announced for tomorrow meaningful vote 3, or more attempted trickery and potentially illegal trickery by the Government by separating out the withdrawal agreement from the political declaration? Does she understand that that will be completely intolerable? It would not only be potentially illegal, but would ask this House to vote for a completely blind Brexit. Does she also understand that she and the Prime Minister could put this House and the country out of our misery by bringing back meaningful vote 3 and making it conditional on a public vote? Why is she so frightened of the views of the British public?
At 5 o’clock, we are going to be asked about the sittings of the House motion for 29 March. It is very unusual for us to have such an emergency sitting on a Friday. It seems rather strange that the Government have not decided what the motion is for that day. If a motion cannot be moved because you would not allow it, Mr Speaker, is the Leader of the House guaranteeing that she is still going to move the motion at 5 o’clock for the Friday sitting? Is that definite or is it optional?
There seems to be some shenaniganating going on here. The Leader of the House is being very coy, which is not normal for her; she is normally more up front. Maybe we can tease it out of her: is the plan to bring forward just the withdrawal agreement for the motion tomorrow? If that is the case, a lot of us in this House will think that that does not meet the requirement of the withdrawal Act, which states quite categorically that the Government will not be able to ratify the withdrawal agreement unless
“the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship have been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons on a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown”.
Unless she is going to say now that tomorrow’s motion is properly in line with the Act and would allow ratification, frankly tomorrow is a complete and utter waste of time, and we would be better off voting against her motion later today.
I have tried to be as open as I possibly can on this. As the hon. Gentleman will realise, the fact is that a motion that comes forward tomorrow must enable us to meet the European Council conclusions, which say:
“Any unilateral commitment, statement or other act…should be compatible with the letter and the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
It must also comply with the Speaker’s ruling, and it must enable the House to move forward. Quite genuinely, of course it will meet UK law, and the reality is that it has not yet been finalised, but it will be brought forward just as soon as possible, in time for the House to discuss the business motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this evening.
In North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there have been more than 1,000 cases of Ebola, resulting in more than 500 people dying. This is an incredibly serious situation with implications for the very large city of Goma and for Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and further afield, as well as of course throughout the DRC. Will the Secretary of State for International Development or one of her colleagues make a statement to this House? I remember how in 2014, there were regular updates on an equally serious situation in west Africa. I believe that this has international implications and we need to hear about it.
My hon. Friend raises a very concerning matter and he is absolutely right to do so. The Government are working with the DRC and the World Health Organisation to tackle the latest outbreak of Ebola. UK aid has played a crucial role in supporting the response since the outbreak was first announced in August 2018. That support has provided funding and expertise to the World Health Organisation for response activities in the DRC and for regional preparedness. We are the leading donor by far for regional preparedness in neighbouring counties such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. Preventing the spread of the disease not only saves lives, but provides the stability necessary for economic growth and security.
I have recently been contacted by a constituent—an EU citizen—who worked here for many years before suffering ill health. She was previously entitled to housing benefit and employment and support allowance, but after these were absorbed into universal credit, she lost her entitlement because of stricter residency criteria. Many EU citizens have been plunged into poverty because of these benefit changes and no longer feel welcome, so can we please have a debate on the impact that universal credit is having on EU citizens living here?
The hon. Lady is raising a specific constituency issue, and I encourage her to raise that directly with the Department for Work and Pensions. I would say, again, that the Government’s priority is to make sure that EU citizens who have built their lives here and who have contributed so much to our society should continue to feel that they are very welcome here. That is the top priority and it is why we have introduced the EU settlement scheme to make sure that, as we leave the European Union, what we do will be entirely fair to those who have contributed so much to our society and our communities.
Yesterday, we did things differently in this House. We voted on eight options, most of which we had never given five minutes debate to, which I found rather upsetting. We had not had any legal advice on any of them and they were all, quite wisely, roundly thrown out by the House. Does the Leader of the House agree that when we look at the figures, which are quite stark, we see that meaningful vote 2 had a majority of 123 over the top prize winner yesterday and had significant majorities over everything that happened yesterday? Given that the two options that I supported yesterday dropped off the list, may I ask if it is possible, if we are going down this beauty contest route, that we ensure that something that got more support in the House is not ruled out by you, Mr Speaker, that we all have to look at what we might wish to support, and that you, Mr Speaker, will look at the ruling on the one that had the top number of 391 —over the second referendum’s 268—and ensure that that is now not ruled out because of some ruling by yourself?
Order. That has very little to do with the business of the House for next week. I do not say this in any spirit of discourtesy to the hon. Lady, but I am perfectly conscious of and capable of executing my responsibilities in relation to that business and all other business. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) is in the lead on the matter. Procedural propriety has been observed and he is perfectly clear with other colleagues as to the basis, sanctioned by the passage of the business of the House motion, on which we will proceed in these matters. I am sorry if the hon. Lady is not clear about the matter, but there is no basis for that ambiguity.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) for her comments. She, like me, would like to see resolution; we would like to see the UK leave the EU in an orderly fashion. Again, I urge all colleagues to find it in their hearts to consider finding a way forward urgently so that we can give businesses and citizens some certainty.
On 12 May, it will be the 25th anniversary since the devastating passing of the former leader of the Labour party, John Smith. I have applied to the Backbench Business Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for a debate around 12 May, but given that it is a significant anniversary, I wonder whether the Leader of the House would consider providing some Government time in this place so that we can commemorate the death of John Smith properly.
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in having fond memories of the late John Smith and I applaud him for raising that in this Chamber. I will of course look at this, but he will appreciate that there are often calls for Government debates to pay tribute to particular individuals and it is not always possible to offer time.
Angus has seen over 15 bank closures in the past eight years. It is one of the worst affected areas of the country for closures and Kirriemuir in my constituency will see its last bank in the town gone in the summer. Can I ask the Leader of the House for a debate in this place around having banking hubs in each town, so that consumers have choice about access to cash, and around the role of the post office, because this is a real, urgent issue for my constituents?
My hon. Friend raises important issues on behalf of her constituents and she is quite right to do so. While banks are obviously commercial businesses, the impact of closures on communities must be understood and mitigated wherever possible. That is why we support the industry’s access to banking standard, which commits banks to carrying out a number of steps before closing any branches. We also welcome some of the innovative solutions that banks can find to ensure that they can continue to provide banking services to communities when they do close branches. She will be aware that the Post Office has reached an agreement with the banks that allows more banking customers to access a wider range of services at the post office than ever before. I encourage her perhaps to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can discuss this more, directly with Ministers.
I was privileged to join Councillor Glyn Williams, Mayor of Bottesford, for an event at Bottesford Town football club to celebrate the role of volunteers in the community. May we have a debate to recognise and thank all volunteers for their strong contribution to our communities?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. I pay tribute to all those who do so much volunteering for our communities, and in particular to the Mayor of Bottesford for his contribution. We recently had a debate on this subject in Government time, because I know that Members like to seek such an opportunity from time to time, but I will certainly look at the issue again.
The people of West Oxfordshire—and, no doubt, all our other constituents—are puzzled when new homes are built without some of the features that one would expect in a modern age, such as full fibre to the door or environmental features such as solar panels. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss the planning system and what should be required of new homes in this day and age?
I am sure that many Members will agree with my hon. Friend, but I can tell him that building the homes our country needs is our top domestic policy priority. We want everyone to be able to afford a safe and decent place to call their own, and we want to help many more people on to the housing ladder. More than 222,000 new homes were built last year, the highest number that we have seen in all but one of the last 31 years, and the average cost of installing solar panels at home has fallen by about two thirds since 2010. As he may know, we have committed more than £1 billion to next-generation digital infrastructure, and we have also committed ourselves to providing full-fibre connections for most homes and businesses by 2025. However, I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss his ideas directly with Ministers.
I know that, when the February recess was cancelled, many members of the House staff were very unhappy about having to cancel leave at short notice. The Leader of the House has been deliberately opaque about the Easter recess. What talks is she having with the trade unions about the possibility that staff will have to cancel leave at short notice again?
As the hon. Lady will know, recesses are always subject to the progress of business and no motion was tabled in relation to the Easter recess. Although the dates were announced, the motion was not tabled. Discussions are taking place constantly, and the House staff are very aware and extremely professional. I pay tribute to them for their commitment to supporting us at all stages. It is the case, however, that, unless a motion is tabled, a recess is not confirmed.
Yesterday was a very busy day in this place, but I was pleased to see in my inbox an email from the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), announcing another £48 billion of investment in our railways. I know that you, Mr Speaker, are a stickler for punctuality, so you will be pleased to hear that from Monday onwards—thanks to that same Minister—if my train is more than 15 minutes late, I, and other Chelmsford commuters, will be able to get some of our money back. Please may we have a debate about the Government’s outstanding track record and investment in infrastructure?
My hon. Friend has raised a number of points about the railways. She is absolutely right to do so. We will be spending nearly £48 billion on improving our railways to deliver better journeys. That is vital. When people buy their ticket, they deserve a reliable service that gets them to their destination on time. She may be aware that we have launched a comprehensive review of our railways in order to build on the success of privatisation and to ensure that we get the best from both public and private sectors.
In a throwaway line during Health questions on Tuesday, the Health Secretary withdrew the Government’s threat to demolish Charing Cross Hospital after seven years. We have been partying in west London since then, but now the hangover has set in. May we have a debate on health service funding, so that the Government can explain how they intend to deal with the £600 million backlog of works at our three local hospitals, the £30 million-worth of cuts to our local NHS this year, and the extra £10 million that we are paying to subsidise the private Babylon GP at hand digital service promoted by the Health Secretary?
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would want to celebrate the fact that the NHS has now published its long-term plan, and the fact that a record level of Government funding behind it will enable the NHS to continue to deliver world-class care to patients at every stage of their lives. He is, as I understand it, celebrating the protection of his local hospital, and I am delighted to share in his pleasure, but at the same time he must appreciate that this Government have done more for the NHS than has been done at any time in its history, with the biggest-ever investment. Under this Government, the NHS is surviving and thriving.
At a time of great uncertainty and angst, may we have a debate about things that make us happy? A survey released this week shows that East Renfrewshire is the happiest place to live in Scotland. May I extend an invitation to the Leader of the House? If she is looking for something to spark joy, Marie Kondo-style, I suggest that she make her way north for a warm welcome from me and from my very happy constituents.
Well, the people of East Renfrewshire did unseat the Scottish National party MP and elect a Conservative Member, so it is not surprising that it is Scotland’s happiest place to live. However, my hon. Friend has made a very good point. We all need to make time for the little things that make life happy. I should be delighted to visit him.
Notwithstanding the sunny disposition of the Leader of the House at the Dispatch Box, she is still being sleekit about tomorrow’s business. Will it be meaningful vote 3, and is she going to split the withdrawal agreement from the political declaration? If it will not be meaningful vote 3, what is the flaming point of tomorrow?
If you will forgive me, Mr Speaker, I would have to add to your examples a win by Northampton Saints. As for the hon. Gentleman’s point, it is simply the case that the motion has not yet been finalised. It will be tabled as soon as possible, but let me say again that it needs to comply with UK law, with the European Council resolution, and, of course, with the decision that was made by you, Mr Speaker.
Fish, Mr Speaker! Not kippers, which have much to recommend them, but bass. May we have an urgent debate on minimum fishing net size? Too many immature bass are being caught before they have had a chance to spawn, which is putting both the sport of recreational fishermen and the businesses of inshore fishermen at risk.
I know that my hon. Friend is a keen fisherman, and he never tells a fisherman’s tale, does he? No, never.
I think that we are all keen supporters of this important recreation. It is one of the most popular sports and it certainly adds to the happiness of the nation. The key point about leaving the European Union in this context is that we will be leaving the common fisheries policy, which means that we will be in charge of our own regulations. That will help our UK fishing sector and it will also help our recreational fishermen.
Happiness, Mr Speaker, is clearly Newcastle United beating Arsenal on Monday and I look forward to watching that here in the House.
Just as in the House, civil servants and local authorities are having to deal with the consequences of Government incompetence over Brexit. Key Whitehall staff have been moved on to Brexit and are unable to perform their daily duties. Newcastle City Council, for example, is expected to produce a Brexit plan when the Government do not have one. May we have a debate about the impact of Brexit resourcing on the delivery of the public services on which so many of my constituents depend?
The hon. Lady has given me an opportunity to pay tribute to the amazing work done by civil servants, and by officials in all local authorities, to prepare for leaving the European Union in all circumstances. They have done the most amazing job. She says there is no plan, but that is simply not true. There have been getting on for three years of work to prepare for all eventualities, involving thousands of civil servants who have shown their absolute commitment to taking the UK out of the EU in line with the referendum result. I will certainly not hear of anyone not pulling their weight or not doing a good job.
May we have a debate about the Police Scotland youth volunteers? Because I was in Parliament last night, I was unable to get to the annual award ceremony for the Moray group. A debate would allow us to celebrate and recognise the great work of group co-ordinator Yvonne Squair and the dedicated work these youth volunteers do in communities across Moray and Scotland.
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in commending Yvonne Squair and all the dedicated Police Scotland youth volunteers for the work they do. The PSYV are groups of young people based across Scotland, supported by adult volunteers and led by a police constable. They do great work volunteering at community and national events across Scotland. He might well like to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can commend them further to Ministers.
My constituent Andrew Lindup was killed in a hit and run in December 2016. By the time the driver was arrested, it was too late to breathalyse him and gather evidence for a charge of dangerous driving, for which he could have faced up to 14 years in prison. Instead he got just six months for failing to stop. There are serious concerns regarding the appropriateness of sentencing for this offence, particularly when the driver causes a death. May we have an early debate on this issue? Bereaved families must know that we view this crime with the utmost concern.
May I first say that that is an absolute tragedy and I am very sorry to hear about it? The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that in this Chamber. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can discuss it directly with Ministers.
I like the idea of a happiness debate. People are so fraught around here. Nobody asks “How has your day been?” Instead they say, “How bad’s your day been?” So that is a great idea.
While we try to deliver Brexit, that is in danger of crowding out other issues. As people know, 850 people have been affected by the loan charge legislation, involving £33 million. It has led to bankruptcies, breakdowns and, sadly, suicides. Is it possible to have a statement from a Treasury Minister next week in order to see what changes can be made to alleviate their misery?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. This issue has been raised with me directly by constituents of mine. A debate is being arranged by the Backbench Business Committee so that Members may discuss that very issue with Ministers and I encourage him to take part in that.
On my hon. Friend’s other point about Brexit squeezing out other legislation, I would like to highlight that, so far in this Session, 51 Government Bills have been introduced, 43 of which have already received Royal Assent—important legislation ranging from the counter-terrorism Act to the Tenant Fees Act 2019, the overseas crime production orders Act and of course the voyeurism offences Act. Some of these things really improve the lives of all of our constituents, which we should celebrate.
It appears that the country faces the imminent prospect of a new Prime Minister, so may we have a debate on the qualities required for leadership and whether it is appropriate for someone who describes Muslim women as “letter boxes” and historical prosecutions of child sexual abuse as
“spavving money up the wall”
should ever be considered appropriate for the highest post in Government?
As a west midlands MP, I have been delighted by the resurgence of the UK automotive industry in recent years, but I was concerned to read this morning the report from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders showing production at a six-year low, with investment running at just 10% of six years ago. This is a sector where 80% of the vehicles produced are exported, so may we consider the decisions we might take in this place to provide certainty and to renew confidence in that vital manufacturing sector?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the concern over the slowdown in the car manufacturing sector. Of course businesses are crying out for certainty; they are crying out for this House to settle the issue of how we leave the EU. Again, I urge all colleagues across the House to consider the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement in order that we can move on and give certainty to businesses and to our constituents.
On 4 March, I raised a point of order after the press had been briefed about the Government implementing key parts of my Food Insecurity Bill. Mr Speaker, you stated that Ministers are expected to announce important policy changes to this House and that it was unsatisfactory that I had not been directly informed of developments. I then received a response to a written question on the matter with some very scant detail stating that it is not usual practice for the Government to make statements on private Members’ Bills. Can the Leader of the House ensure that somebody—anybody—from the Government responds to me fully on this matter?
Paul Raybould was a constituent of mine, for many decades he was an active trade unionist and he was a very worthy opponent of mine for the Labour party at the last general election, so it was with great sadness that I heard of his death earlier this week at the age of 55. May we have a debate about those who may for decades campaign for what they believe in, perhaps even stand for election to this place and not get elected here, but still contribute to making sure that this is a vibrant democracy?
I am sure that the whole House will join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to his opponent at the last election and sending our sympathies to his family at this time. He is absolutely right that, among the passionate debate and disagreement, especially during political campaigns, we all have respect for those who put themselves forward for election. My hon. Friend is right that they make an invaluable contribution to making our democracy as strong as it is.
I was surprised that there was no statement from the Government on the report this morning from the chief inspector of probation into the shocking performance of the transforming rehabilitation programme. She states that not enough attention has been given to keeping victims safe, she speaks of poor-quality work generally in the community rehabilitation companies, and she says the privatised contracts have been a failure. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to come forward with a statement to this House so that we can question him on this shocking report as quickly as possible?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. I can tell her that the Justice Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), is meeting with probation officers today and will of course look very carefully at what Dame Glenys’s report shows up. We are now providing support and supervision to an additional 40,000 offenders leaving prison and have invested an additional £22 million a year in services for offenders on release. We will be creating new arrangements for offenders to build a more stable and resilient probation system. We will set out our detailed proposals later this year, but they will take very careful account of the report the hon. Lady mentions.
Happiness, Mr Speaker, also has to be Nadal beating Federer, I think.
The Wellington monument is an iconic symbol on the Blackdown hills in Taunton Deane and very much the gateway to the south-west. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking all the people involved in a fantastic project to restore that monument, which celebrates one of our greatest war heroes, the Duke of Wellington? It is proving to be much more than a monument. We are nearly at our £4 million target and, in recognition of its importance in so many ways, the National Trust has made restoring it one of its three top national priorities.
Good. My hon. Friend is a great champion of her constituents in Taunton Deane and they are very fortunate to have her. This very worthwhile project is undoubtedly pulling the community together. I understand that the Wellington monument will be the tallest three-sided obelisk in the world. I am sure that we all wish her constituents great success with its refurbishment.
The Leader of the House mentioned tomorrow’s 11 o’clock deadline. Can she clarify when the vote is expected, so that we can make our travel arrangements?
Residents in Westruther in my constituency have set up a community enterprise scheme to buy the local pub and convert it into a community café, community hub, post office and shop. These local facilities—shops, pubs and post offices—are at the heart of local communities in my constituency and elsewhere, but they are increasingly being lost. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate to praise the volunteers behind this scheme and similar ones, and to recognise the important work they are doing to keep the heart of their communities alive?
That sounds like an excellent initiative, and I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in wishing the Westruther community all the best with their plans. He is right to raise this issue, and I agree that it is the hard work of local people that keeps smaller communities going. I am sure he is as delighted as I am that the Chancellor recently announced the package for a borderlands growth deal which, in addition to the Scottish Government commitment, would provide the area with a total funding package of £345 million.
May we have an early debate on democracy and accountability across Europe, highlighting in particular the achievements of the European Parliament, which has done so much on roaming charges, clean beaches, air quality and many other issues? In that debate, could we have clarification from the Government on what preparations are being made to fight the European Parliament elections in this country on 23 May if there is a need to extend beyond 12 April?
The hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to the work of the European Union in achieving so many good things right across the EU, including in the United Kingdom. It is this Government’s determination to ensure that we continue and build on that good work, as indeed we have already done in certain areas. For example, we have introduced shared parental leave ahead of other parts of the European Union. He asks for further information on standing European elections. As I said earlier, the EU Council has said that if we can agree to progress with the withdrawal agreement this week, we will have until 22 May to legislate for the withdrawal agreement Bill in order to avoid having to fight the European elections.
The Eden Project would like to come to Morecambe. At this moment in time, £1.1 million has been raised for the feasibility study and the Chancellor has given £100,000 straight to the Eden Project from the Treasury. Will my right hon. Friend help me to secure a debate on the Floor of the House about the benefits of Eden North, the Eden Project in Morecambe?
That sounds like an excellent idea. Having visited the Eden Project some years ago, I know that it would be a wonderful thing for it to be able to move to my hon. Friend’s constituency and to others. I would certainly encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss this with Ministers.
Shocking figures today show that life expectancy for women in poorer areas has declined badly under this Government. This shameful inequality in our society is quietly worsening. May we please have an urgent statement outlining concrete action so that everybody can reach a good age, not just the prosperous?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to suggest that it is our aspiration that everybody in society is able to enjoy a long and healthy life. That is why the Government have prioritised ensuring not only that more people are able to get into work and have the security of a pay package but that, through universal credit, people are supported when they are unable to work. We have also made significant investment in our NHS to ensure that it can help to support people to lead longer and more successful lives.
Two weeks ago, 50 innocent people were killed in Christchurch simply for practising their faith. It is clear that the rise of the far right is a growing threat to freedom of religion or belief across the world. Indeed, the Minister for Security and Economic Crime, the right hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), speaking in his role as the security Minister, said that a similar far-right shooting could absolutely happen here in the United Kingdom. After the fact, the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, called for a global fight to root out racist right- wing ideology. I believe that the UK must join that fight. Will the Leader of the House therefore agree to a statement or a debate on this extremely important issue?
We were all shocked and appalled at the horrifying attack in New Zealand, and I reiterate that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of New Zealand. The Home Secretary has been very clear that the far right has absolutely no place in Britain. The British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance and respect. Through our CONTEST policy and our counter-extremism strategy, we are dealing with the threat of extreme right-wing terrorism and the wider harms caused by the far right, including seeking to deal with community tensions, hate crime and public order issues. This is of course about keeping our communities safe and secure, and there will be many opportunities to discuss this with Ministers in the coming weeks and months.
Given the motion that has been tabled for tomorrow, may I offer the Leader of the House an opportunity to provide some clarification? Should the withdrawal agreement be separated from the future framework, it is not the intention of the Government to seek to place the responsibility for that fracturing on the conventions of this House and the decisions that have been made under those conventions, is it?
No. I repeat what I have said in answer to a number of questions, which is that the motion is being carefully considered in order to deal with the need to meet the Council resolutions within the law of the United Kingdom and to meet the ruling of the Speaker. As soon as that motion has been finalised, it will be brought forward for the House to consider in time for this evening’s business motion.
There have been around 130 preventable new cases of HIV in Glasgow among the drug-injecting community since 2015, and the British HIV Association is the latest organisation to come out in support of a drug consumption room. Will the Leader of the House make some time for discussion of my ten-minute rule Bill on this subject—the Supervised Drug Consumption Facilities Bill—which would provide the UK Government with a legal route to allow Glasgow to get on with the job of reducing harm and preventing deaths from drug injecting?
The hon. Lady is quite right to raise this really important matter. HIV is an appalling health problem and we want to do everything we can, not just here in the UK but globally, to eradicate it. I would encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise this directly with Ministers—
The Leader of the House has not been as clear as she might have been, but it appears to be the case that tomorrow’s vote will not be a meaningful one because the Government seem to have separated the withdrawal agreement from the political declaration. The House needs to approve both in order for them to be put on a statutory basis, but it has been suggested that if the House debates and approves only the withdrawal agreement, that might be sufficient for this country to remain within the European Union until 22 May through an extension of our timetable to depart. Can she confirm whether that is correct?
The hon. Gentleman asks me a very specific question about a motion that has not yet been finalised. That is something that I am not in a position to answer at the moment. I apologise to him for not being able to answer it, but I have responded to many Members in the same vein and I have sought to be as transparent as possible in saying that the motion will be brought forward as soon as it is finalised.
I acknowledge the Leader of the House’s warm words about civil servants, but may we have a debate or statement next week to mark what will be the 10th consecutive year of the public sector pay cap and pay restraint for public sector workers? This situation is typified by workers at Tate Modern—now the most successful UK tourist attraction—who are now balloting on industrial action after years of pay restraint. When are public sector workers going to get a decent pay rise?
The hon. Gentleman and all right hon. and hon. Members should celebrate the fact that wages are growing at their fastest rate for a decade, and that the national living wage will rise again from April, taking the total annual pay rise for a full-time worker since its introduction to over £2,750. Most importantly, we now have over 3.6 million more people in work because of our reforms of welfare and our determination to back businesses. Significant improvements to people’s living standards are under way, and all hon. Members should celebrate that.
Last week, in the midst of this Brexit mess, the University of Nottingham held an event to celebrate their European staff. The vice-chancellor told colleagues that the university will remain open and welcoming even if—especially if—the political climate does not. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the University of Nottingham? Does she share my shame that a major employer should have to go to such lengths to reassure EU citizens that they are welcomed and valued? What will she do to ensure that EU staff working here in the House know that we value them and want them to stay?
The best way for this House to show that we want to support the EU citizens who are here is by supporting the Prime Minister’s deal. That will ensure that EU citizens who have come to the UK to make their lives here and have contributed so much will be able to continue as before. Importantly, it will also ensure that UK citizens who have made their lives in the EU can continue as before, too.
While the House quite rightly continues to discuss Brexit, the knife crime epidemic across our nation continues unabated. On Tuesday alone, six people in London were stabbed in six hours, and people were stabbed in other parts of the country too. It just goes on and on. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said at the Home Affairs Committee that there was a lack of interdepartmental co-ordination. It has taken a month to get the knife crime summit, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) pointed out in an urgent question last week. When are the Government going to get the necessary grip on things and come to this House to make statements on a regular basis? The knife crime summit is on Monday, so can we at the very least expect a statement by the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister to tell us what happened and to allow us to ask questions?
The hon. Gentleman often raises this incredibly important issue, and he is absolutely right to do so. The Government are determined to get a grip on the problem of serious violence, and he rightly points out that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has a summit on this subject on Monday. He will appreciate that the business of the House is not under the Government’s control on Monday in terms of statements and so on, but I will nevertheless take away his request and see what can be done.
As for his call for the Government to get a grip, that is exactly what the Government are doing. At the spring statement, the Chancellor announced £100 million for police and crime commissioners so that they can urgently divert resources to deal with serious crime. At a more strategic level, we have our serious violence task force, and our Offensive Weapons Bill will introduce new knife crime prevention orders that will help the police to prevent people from carrying knives. We are also extending stop-and-search powers, police forces are undertaking co-ordinated national weeks of action to tackle knife crime, and we are launching a consultation on a public health approach to tackling violent crime. I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that this Government are absolutely determined to get a grip, but I will certainly take away his request for a statement following the summit.
The statutory instrument needed to create a new state aid regime after we leave the European Union was due to be debated in Committee on 25 February, but it was withdrawn at short notice. In the four and a half weeks since that date, several other statutory instruments have been laid and debated, including SIs from the Department responsible for state aid. Without a state aid regime that functions properly, businesses that rely on state aid, and those who work for them, will be in serious difficulty, and that will have a profoundly negative impact on our economy. Will the Leader of the House tell me why there has been such a long delay and when the SI is likely to be brought back and considered?
The hon. Gentleman will know that that statutory incident has in fact been debated and agreed in the other place. As I said earlier, the programme of statutory instruments that we sought to finalise by the date of exit has been completed on time, and any others will be considered in good time for leaving the European Union, as necessary. To be clear, a statutory instrument may not be needed for exit day—I am not commenting on this particular one—but all the statutory instruments that need to be in place by exit day will be.
Today marks the 13th anniversary of the formation day of the Royal Regiment of Scotland as a new regiment in the British Army. Of course, it may be relatively new, but it is also the most senior regiment of line infantry, combining some illustrious names in the Army’s history, including the Royal Scots, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, the Black Watch, the Royal Highland Fusiliers, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and the Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons). It also includes two reserve battalions in the 51st Highland Volunteers and the 52nd Lowland Volunteers, and I am proud to have been a member of the latter. I joined the regiment in 2006—the year it was formed—and it was a formative part of my growing up. Will the Leader of the House join me in marking this occasion, and may we have a debate on the huge contribution that the regiment has made over the past 13 years?
I am delighted to join the hon. Gentleman in celebrating the Royal Regiment of Scotland, its great contribution, and all the regiments that now form a part of it. We owe a real debt of gratitude to all those who do so much not only to keep us safe, but to support international humanitarian exercises and work for our communities.
On 14 January, ahead of the first meaningful vote, the Prime Minister said that the link between the political declaration and the withdrawal agreement
“means that the commitments of one cannot be banked without the commitments of the other.”—[Official Report, 14 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 826.]
Does the Leader of the House agree with the Prime Minister?
The hon. Lady asks me about a specific statement that the Prime Minister made a few weeks ago, and what I can say to her is that any motion that is brought forward will of course comply with the law, with the European Council decision and with Mr Speaker’s ruling.
Next week is World Autism Awareness Week, so may we have a debate in Government time on the difficulties in accessing employment and apprenticeships for adults with autism spectrum disorders and what this Government are doing to help?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. It is vital that we do everything we can to support people with autism, many of whom can have extremely rich and fulfilling lives and may need some support to do that. There was a debate on autism quite recently, but the hon. Lady may like to seek a Backbench Business debate so that this important issue can be discussed further.
Last August, Siobhan McLaughlin won her case in the Supreme Court giving her access to widowed parent’s allowance for her children, which she had been denied because she was not married to her late partner of 23 years. The Court ruled that the purpose of the allowance is to diminish the financial loss caused to families with children by the death of a partner, and that it is unlawful to deny the allowance to an unmarried parent. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on why, seven months after the Supreme Court judgment, unmarried parents are still being denied this support after the death of a partner?