Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
Subject to the House agreeing item 1 on the Order Paper, I can confirm that the House will rise at the close of business today and return on Tuesday 23 April.
Just stop there.
The business for week commencing 22 April will be:
Monday 22 April—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 23 April—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Northern Ireland (Extension of Period for Executive Formation) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Value Added Tax (Tour Operators) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Electronic Communications (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Animal Health, Seed Potatoes and Food (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
Wednesday 24 April—Opposition day (unallotted day). There will be a debate on an opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 25 April—Debate on a motion relating to school funding 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 26 April—The House will not be sitting.
Following the decision taken yesterday to extend article 50 to 31 October, I confirm that subject to the agreement of the House, the House will rise at the close of business today and return on Tuesday 23 April.
More people than ever are watching what is going on in Parliament, and we now have evidence for that. In March, the number of unique viewers on the Parliament Live website exceeded 1 million in a month for the first time. To put that into perspective, the average number of unique views during 2019 has been around 300,000 a month. We might be facing a very challenging time in Parliament, but the silver lining is that huge increase in democratic participation.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) on his private Member’s Bill having achieved Royal Assent. Finn’s law will help to protect our much-loved service animals.
Finally, I welcome the new hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones). Her predecessor was much admired, and he was a keen attendee of business questions. I look forward to her contributions in the Chamber. I wish all Members of the House, their staff and all House staff a very relaxing break and a happy Easter.
I thank the Leader of the House for the Opposition day debate—I was going to point out that it is 150 days since we last had one, so I thank her for that. Will she supply us with a new list of ministerial responsibilities, as there have been a number of resignations and appointments?
I do not know whether the Leader of the House wishes to correct the record. She said that a no-deal Brexit would not be nearly as bad as many would like to think. Did she receive the 14-page memo from the Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill, who said that a no-deal scenario would be catastrophic for the country? Luckily we are not going down that route. She also said that all the Prime Minister had to do was persuade the German Chancellor to re-open the withdrawal agreement and remove the Irish backstop, and then a deal could be secured. However, a spokesperson for No. 10 said that the EU was clear that that was not going to be possible. Can the Leader of the House confirm what exactly is Government policy?
On Monday, the Leader of the House made a business statement about the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill, yet she did not vote with her colleagues. I was warmly welcomed by both the Government and the Opposition Chief Whips, but the absentees included the Leader of the House, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State for International Trade, and the Secretary of State for Transport. Was the Leader of the House at an alternative Cabinet meeting, and was the Prime Minister invited to that alt-Cab?
I am pleased that the Leader of the House set out a number of statutory instruments for consideration, but could I ask for some more motions to be debated on the Floor of the House? For example, the Opposition have tabled early-day motion 2190 on higher education.
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Higher Education (Registration Fees) (England) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 543), dated 11 March 2019, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12 March 2019, be annulled.]
It seeks to annul statutory instrument 543, which sets out the fees for higher education providers. Universities UK has concerns about those fee increases, and as the SI came into force on 6 April 2019, it is still within the praying period. The European Statutory Instruments Committee disagreed with the Government and recommended that the European University Institute regulations should be debated on the Floor of the House. Those regulations enable our withdrawal from the European University Institute, of which we have been a member since 1976. Academics are up in arms about the fact that we have to withdraw from it.
I have raised previously the Non-contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018, which is actually very contentious and is found under Future Business B. Can the Leader of the House assure us that there will be a debate on the Floor of the House, and that it will not be pushed through by the Government? Mr Speaker, yesterday you granted an urgent question to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) on voter ID pilots. Can the Leader of the House confirm that every study that has been applied for will come to the House for debate as it is important to have that parliamentary scrutiny?
Last week we were—quite rightly—concerned about the gender pay gap. When will the Government tackle the huge differentials in the pay system between executive and employee pay? The managing director of Waterstones, James Daunt, is paid a salary of £1.6 million, while nearly 1,900 of his employees do not even receive the real living wage. The chief executive officer of Centrica, which owns British Gas, is paid 72 times the salary of an employee in the lower quartile of its salary range. The people at the base of the pyramid are the wealth creators. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), recommends that the Government send a strong signal on pay reform by giving the regulator the powers and remit to ensure the highest standards of engagement with shareholders and other stakeholders, particularly employees.
For the first time, Parliament will not be sitting to wish my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) a happy birthday, which falls on Easter Sunday. I also want to send the wishes of the whole House to our gracious sovereign, who will also have a birthday on that day. She said:
“over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”
This week we all celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. I pay tribute to John Hume, who won the Nobel peace prize, the Martin Luther King prize and the Ghandi peace prize for starting the peace process. You will recall, Mr Speaker, that the agreement was put to the people of Ireland in a confirmatory vote. Given the divisions at this time in our country, the words of John Hume are important. He said:
“Difference is the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”
I, too, welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) to this place and we look forward to her maiden speech. If her acceptance speech when she won the seat is anything to go by, it will be absolutely fantastic, as will be her contribution to this House.
I welcome Sarah Davies as the new Clerk Assistant. To Sarah there is no such thing as a stupid question. I thank Liam Laurence Smyth and Paul Evans. As the Clerk of the House said, they have covered many jobs to make the work of this House seamless.
Mr Speaker, you are an internet sensation. Apparently in Europe they think you can only say four words—order, order, ayes and noes—but they do like you. I thank you, the Deputy Speakers and your office for their unfailing courtesy and kindness. I also thank: the Serjeant at Arms for all his work; Phil and his team of Doorkeepers; the House of Commons Library; the Official Reporters; the Vote Office, who have had to work overtime to print amendments; the catering and cleaning staff; the postal workers; the police officers; and all the security officers on the estate. Our staff and the staff of all the political parties are unseen, but they have worked incredibly hard. Mr Speaker, not a single person has complained about working extra time to enable us to do our work. We thank them all. I wish everyone a happy and peaceful Easter.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I join her in wishing the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee a very happy birthday for Easter Sunday. Yesterday, I had the huge pleasure of attending Privy Council at Windsor castle. I can tell the House that Her Majesty is in excellent form. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her personal tribute to the Queen.
The hon. Lady asks for an update on ministerial responsibilities. She knows that that will be provided as soon as it can be done.
The hon. Lady asks about the Prime Minister’s policy on Brexit. She will be aware that the Prime Minister made a statement yesterday, in which she said:
“The UK should have left the EU by now and I sincerely regret the fact that I have not yet been able to persuade Parliament to approve a deal which would allow the UK to leave in a smooth and orderly way.”
She went on to add:
“we have a duty as politicians to find a way to fulfil the democratic decision of the referendum, deliver Brexit and move our country forward.”
I totally agree with the Prime Minister.
The hon. Lady asks about certain negative procedure statutory instruments. It is, of course, a matter of parliamentary convention that, where a reasonable request for a debate has been made, time should be allowed for that debate. I think we have demonstrated in this Session that the Government have been willing to provide time in line with the convention to accede to reasonable requests. I encourage her to raise her request through the usual channels.
The hon. Lady raised particular questions about ID pilots and the gender pay gap. She will be aware that we have had urgent questions on both those issues in the last week, so I hope that they answered her questions. She talked about inequality. She should celebrate, as we all should, that the employment rate is at a record high; that we have the lowest unemployment since the 1970s; that over 4 million of the lowest earners were taken out of income tax altogether between 2010 and 2015; and that, importantly, the top 5% of earners are paying half of all income tax. That is absolutely vital; those with the broadest shoulders are carrying the heaviest burden.
Finally, I join the hon. Lady in celebrating the 21st anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which has been so important in ensuring peace in Northern Ireland.
While I regret that there is no Easter Adjournment debate, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the sacrifices that animals have made with their lives for human beings throughout the ages? Over 1 million horses lost their lives in the first world war and every day, sniffer dogs come into this House to ensure that there is not another gunpowder plot. I am delighted that tomorrow in Essex, a memorial will be unveiled to commemorate the sacrifices that police sniffer dogs have made with their lives.
I know that all hon. Members always look forward to my hon. Friend’s contributions to pre-recess Adjournment debates. I am sure that Mr Speaker would look very favourably on his desire for a specific Adjournment debate to address the sacrifice that animals have made in the service of our country. I say again that we should all celebrate the Royal Assent that was achieved last week for the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019—Finn’s law—which will help to protect our service animals.
I thank the Leader of the House for at least giving us the second part of our Easter break.
We really could not make it up: of all the dates to kick the Brexit can down the road to, Halloween could not be a more appropriate destination. Can we therefore have a debate about something that this House is now supremely experienced in: horror and ghouls? That is the date that this House of horrors will eventually meet its Brexit afterlife, and if that is not frightening enough, there is nothing in store for us other than more torment, purgatory and trick or treat, with a special emphasis on trick.
When watching the scenes from yesterday, it must have seemed to so many of my colleagues on the Government side to be the ultimate humiliation and the real horror. Their Prime Minister was sitting in an anteroom waiting to hear what the EU were prepared to grant the UK. After telling us that we would be out of the EU by the 29th of last month, after saying that there would be no extension, and after trying to secure a short extension, they are now obliged to contest the European parliamentary elections, in which they will undoubtedly be gubbed. If that is taking back control, can we not just go back to the good old days when we were just a bog-standard vassal state?
We have been warned that the House should not waste the time that the EU has so generously granted us. Can the Leader of the House detail how the time will be used much more productively and convince us that there will not be just more of the same repetitive and ultimately doomed agenda; no more of this “My way or the highway”; no more not listening; and no more not compromising? Will there be a real attempt to work right across the House and engage with all parts of the UK to show that the Government are at least prepared to listen to others?
Lastly, I very much welcome the new hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones)— she is more than welcome in this House—and I congratulate Sarah Davies on her new appointment to Clerk Assistant. I also take this opportunity to thank the staff of the House, including the police and all those who look after us. It must be difficult to work in a House dominated by chaos, indecision and confusion, when arrangements are changed at the last possible minute, but they have dealt with it stoically and without any complaints. I wish them the very best for the week that they will have for the Easter break.
The hon. Gentleman talks about Halloween, ghosts, ghouls and horrors, but the real horror is that we as a Parliament have not yet delivered on what we were expressly told to do in 2016, which is to leave the European Union. That is what we will be spending the next few months seeking to do.
The hon. Gentleman says that that means that we need to consult. He knows full well that the Prime Minister is indeed consulting, and has been for many months, with Opposition Members across the House. However, I would remind him of the words of his colleague the constitutional Minister in the Scottish Parliament who was asked by a Select Committee whether, if there were a second referendum, which I gather is SNP policy, and the United Kingdom were to decide again to leave, he would abide by that. The answer? No. The truth of the matter is that it is the hon. Gentleman and the Scottish nationalists who do not want to listen to the will of the people and who do not respect the will of the people.
Given that the Leader of the House has just made an announcement regarding our going into recess, I am surprised that she has not told the House whether the Government intend to lay today the statutory instrument that is required to implement what is regarded as the unlawful agreement made last night extending the time when we will leave the EU, and that is now, disgracefully, under a negative, rather than an affirmative, resolution. Could she please explain to the House what is going on?
My hon. Friend will be aware that, since the Prime Minister has agreed an extension of article 50 until 31 October at the latest, that is now set in international law. The EU has agreed that the extension can be terminated when the withdrawal agreement has been ratified, so we now need to reflect this change on our domestic statute book. Following the amendments made by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019, the statutory instrument needed to redefine exit day is now subject to the negative procedure.
I thank the Leader and the shadow Leader of the House for their birthday wishes, although my birthday is not for a week and a bit yet—I was born on Easter Sunday, and it comes round every now and again. I also wish a very happy birthday for tomorrow to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Kate Hollern)—I think she will be catching up with me quite soon.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the Backbench Business on Thursday 25 April—they are very important debates, which we have been waiting some time to hear while they have been in the queue.
I think this has been circulated, but the debate on Islamophobia, which was scheduled for this afternoon, is to be withdrawn so that time is given to the conclusion of the debate on the 2019 loan charge and we can get that all-important ministerial response.
We are coming back on Tuesday 23 April, and I understand that we will be sitting in this Chamber on Monday hours. Can we make sure that Westminster Hall is in a similar vein, because it is unfair for Members travelling from further afield to be expected to attend Westminster Hall on Tuesday hours when this Chamber is meeting on Monday hours?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Westminster Hall will be sitting Monday hours on the Tuesday, alongside this Chamber.
I sincerely regret that, owing to the pressures of the very important business today, the hon. Gentleman has found it necessary, quite rightly, to move the date of the debate on Islamophobia. I just want to say again from the Dispatch Box that nobody should ever fear persecution of their faith. It is vital that we all stand together to reject those who seek to spread hatred and to divide us. I want to assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are doing everything they can to tackle hate and extremism.
I thank the Leader of the House for her comments about the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019. I notice that one or two of my co-sponsors are here in the Chamber, and I would like to thank them and Members in all parts for their support. During proceedings on the Bill, the Government consulted on increasing the sentence for offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to five years. Will legislation come forward in the week commencing 23 April, or shortly, so that that important measure can be introduced to protect all animals?
My right hon. and learned Friend raises a really important point. He will know, and will no doubt be proud of the fact, as all hon. Members should be, that animal welfare standards in the United Kingdom are rightly among the highest in the world. The Government have sought to do as much as they can to further protect animals, including through some of the measures to prevent illegal puppy trading and so on. The Government will always continue to do all they can to increase animal welfare standards, including by bringing in measures to increase the possibility of sentencing as soon as parliamentary time allows.
I am privileged to be able to speak in this Chamber as the new Member of Parliament for Newport West.
County lines is a growing issue across the UK, and no more so than in my constituency. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss the way in which it is damaging our communities?
Let me again welcome the hon. Lady, and congratulate her on her delivery of an excellent question. She will no doubt be aware that the subject she has raised is of huge concern to Members in all parts of the House, and that the Government have taken significant steps to try to resolve the appalling issue of county lines, which involves drug dealing, the abuse of young people—many of whom are being tackled violently—and the increased incidence of knife crime. It is an appalling problem.
The hon. Lady may also be aware that the Government have set up a serious violence taskforce and a consultation on treating serious violence as a public health emergency. The police are making efforts to tackle the county lines problem and, specifically, gang membership. They are trying to catch gang leaders and intervene earlier to take young people away from a life that leads to serious violence, knife crime and county lines.
Tilly Green is an 11-year-old who lives in Bradfield, in my constituency. She suffers from cystic fibrosis and would benefit from the use of a drug called Orkambi, but unfortunately the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence does not allow it to be used. I am consulting Ministers about the matter, but it would be a great help if there were the possibility of a debate in the House to draw out the relatively opaque nature of how NICE decides whether a drug can or cannot be used. Knowing that the treatment would be available in due course would bring great comfort to families like Tilly’s.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. There are two children with cystic fibrosis in my own constituency, and they and their parents are also campaigning strongly for access to Orkambi. There have been a number of meetings in Parliament between Members and Vertex, the supplier of the drug, to try to move things forward. The Government are doing everything they can to find a way through the problem, but I encourage my hon. Friend and others to keep on fighting for access to this drug.
Last September my constituent Jacqueline Wileman was hit and killed by a lorry that had been stolen by four men in Barnsley. Three of them were on probation, all four had nearly 100 criminal convictions between them, and one had already been convicted of causing death by dangerous driving. They all received prison sentences of just 13 years or less, including the man who had been driving, who could be released within four years. Will the Government make time available for an urgent debate on removing the 14-year maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving? No other family should have to go through what Jackie’s have been through.
I am so sorry to hear that. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise it in the Chamber. It is appalling when something as terrible as a death happens, perpetrated by people who already have offences against their names. It appears that the sentences received by those people were too lenient, which must be absolutely terrible for the family of the person who was killed. Justice questions will take place on our first day back, 23 April, and I encourage the hon. Lady to raise the issue directly with Ministers then.
May we have an urgent debate about the action that is needed to deal with the theft of tools? I hope that the Leader of the House shares my horror at this particularly pernicious crime. Someone who steals a self-employed tradesperson’s tools steals their livelihood, and many of those people cannot claim on their insurance. This is a serious issue, and we need to deal with it.
My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. I think that we all understand the distress and disruption caused by this type of crime and the effect that it has on victims, particularly when they rely on the tools of their trade to earn a living. It is absolutely clear that all this type of crime should be reported to the police so that it can be properly investigated. It is, of course, for chief constables and police and crime commissioners to decide how best to deploy resources to manage and respond to individual crimes.
In my constituency we recently had a successful operation that resulted in the return of many stolen tools as a result of good police intelligence and good reporting by the victims.
May we have a statement or an urgent debate on the UNICEF campaign to protect children from deadly toxic air? It is a subject on which I have received a number of representations from the children of Cullivoe Primary School in Yell, who take the view very reasonably that everyone should be entitled to air that is as clean as Shetland air, even if they might not necessarily want it to move at the same speed as ours occasionally does.
I will take that as an invitation from the right hon. Gentleman to come to Shetland. He is right of course; we have to do all we can to ensure that not just children but all of us are able to breathe clean air. That is absolutely vital. He will be aware that air pollution has declined significantly since 2010. Emissions of toxic nitrogen oxides have fallen by 29% and are at their lowest since records began. But the Government are committed to ensuring that, where people live, and where NO2 levels are at their worst, we do all that we can. We have announced our world-leading new clean air strategy to try to clean up air, and we are spending £3.5 billion on it to try to reduce harmful emissions.
A number of NHS clinicians have quit the gender identity development service clinic over ethical and safety concerns. They state that they were
“often under pressure to refer young people for life-altering treatment even though they did not believe that it was in the individual’s best clinical interests. … It feels like conversion therapy for gay children.”
They fear that homophobia is driving a surge in transgender young people. They say that
“experimental treatment is being done on children who have experienced mental health difficulties, abuse and family trauma.”
I know, having spoken to her, that the Minister responsible, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), would welcome the opportunity to make a statement, and I hope that the Leader of the House will facilitate that. We are driving too many young people down a road to a destination from which they will never return.
My right hon. Friend raises an incredibly sensitive topic. We want to make the legal gender recognition process less intrusive and bureaucratic for transgender people. Being trans is not an illness and it should not be treated as though it is. That is why we held our consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004. It is a sensitive topic, and it is important to hear all views on it, including those of some young people perhaps being pushed to make decisions too early. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is determined to ensure that we get this right.
May we debate the power of science? Astronomers have achieved an accurate image of a black hole, which is a region in space-time with a gravitational pull so strong that nothing can escape from it. May I suggest that the Government ask the astronomers to point their telescopes next at planet Brexit so that we can reveal that there is a means of escape by holding a confirmatory referendum?
Well of course, many of us in this place saw our first black hole when we came into office in 2010 and saw the state of the finances that Labour had left for the United Kingdom, so we have already had our own bit of experience. On a more general point, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise this extraordinary scientific progress, and he will be pleased to know that the UK scores the highest of all countries for having the most highly cited papers in astronomy, physics, Earth observation and planetary science. We remain a leading member of the European Space Agency, which is independent of the EU and allows UK scientists to collaborate with international partners on pioneering space science missions. The UK space sector is growing; it is worth a total of £14.8 billion and employs almost 50,000 people in the UK.
You enjoyed that, didn’t you?
Residents in Reston in my constituency have fought hard for many years to bring east coast main line rail services back to their community. Despite a promise by the SNP Scottish Government that the station would be reopened by 2016, this has still not happened because of dither and delay by the SNP Administration in Edinburgh. May we have a debate about how Network Rail interacts with the Scottish Government to ensure that Reston station and other rail projects across Scotland are delivered more quickly?
It is interesting how the Scottish nationalists opposite are trying to shut my hon. Friend down—obviously because this is a devolved matter. He rightly raises a frustrating issue. A number of colleagues have raised concerns about trains, stations and network projects in their constituencies. I am sure that a debate on those matters would be very welcome. He might want to speak to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), so that all hon. Members can share their concerns.
At Foxhill Primary School, which I visited last week, a reduction in funding has forced it to consider cutting parts of its arts programme despite having an amazing brass band and choir. May we have a debate in Government time on the importance of arts and creativity in the school curriculum?
I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the schools in her constituency who are doing a great deal to try to ensure that culture and the arts are alive and well—and music in particular, which many children enjoy so much at a young age; some continue with it. She is right that schools need to protect as wide a curriculum as possible, and she will be aware that this year there is more than £43 billion of core funding for schools—the highest figure ever—and 1.9 million more children are being educated in “good” and “outstanding” schools than in 2010. The Government are committed to allowing headteachers the flexibility to provide the kind of education that young people deserve to receive.
This Sunday sees the Hindu festival of Rama Navami, which celebrates not only the birth of lord Rama but his betrothal to his consort, Sita. This is a time of great joy for Hindus and the deities will be paraded all around the country. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate in Government time on the joys of marriage and the opportunity once again to celebrate the triumph of good over evil?
My hon. Friend often raises these important occasions on behalf of his constituents, and he is absolutely right to do so. I extend warm wishes to all those celebrating the occasion of the birth of lord Rama. Rama Navami also marks the start of spring, and we are reminded of the hope that this time of year brings for growth and happiness.
On Monday evening a man was rammed off his motorbike, stabbed and had his motorbike stolen. He is in a critical condition in hospital. The week before, a young man was stabbed at half-past 3 in the afternoon. Fortunately, he is not in a critical condition. May we have a debate in Government time about the impact of a cut of 21,000 police officers on the police’s ability to apprehend the people carrying out these atrocious crimes?
May I say to the hon. Gentleman how sorry I am to hear about these appalling crimes? It is totally unacceptable, and our hearts go out to the victims.
In the spring statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an extra £100 million in the short term to allow police and crime commissioners to allocate more resources to tackling knife crime. Importantly, we have introduced the Offensive Weapons Bill, which includes a new knife crime prevention order that will give police more powers to stop people carrying knives and prevent young people from accessing knives online. We have extended stop-and-search powers, and under Operation Sceptre police forces are undertaking co-ordinated national weeks of action to tackle knife crime. The Government are taking a huge number of steps in collaboration with local police forces to try to get a grip on the appalling rise in knife crime.
Aberdeen International airport is essential to the engine room of the Scottish economy, the oil and gas capital of the UK. There has been a serious reduction in the number of flights, which is inconveniencing the business community, leisure travellers and six MPs, including several who sit across the Floor. Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate on regional connectivity?
I am sorry to hear that from my hon. Friend. Obviously, we rely on our regional airports, and it is absolutely vital that they continue to offer a good service. I am not sure whether the Aberdeen city region deal will offer any route forward, with new investment coming into the area, but I encourage my hon. Friend to raise his particular issue directly with Ministers at Transport questions.
We have learned that 4 million older people live in poverty, nearly 1 million live in severe poverty and 46,000 died prematurely last year. Can we have an urgent debate to discuss what is happening to older people in our country and their rights, and a commission to uphold those rights?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point. It is vital that we do everything we can to ensure that our older population are living in comfort. That is why the Government introduced the triple lock on the basic state pension. We have renewed that commitment, guaranteeing that pensions will rise for each year of this Parliament by the highest of average earnings growth, price inflation or 2.5%. That means that the basic state pension is now more than £1,450 a year higher than it was in 2010. This Government are determined to ensure that our older people have the right level of state support.
Following on from my right hon. Friend’s answer, when might we have a debate on early-day motion 2265?
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 552), dated 12 March 2019, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18 March 2019, be annulled.]
Why are 500,000 British pensioners still denied increases 17 years after Judge Stanley Burnton declared that Government policy was not consistent or coherent? It seems time that we take our responsibilities to those pensioners as seriously as we take our responsibilities to others. Why do they get the increase in Jamaica but not Trinidad, in the United States but not Canada, and in the Philippines but not Indonesia? It is crazy.
I assume my hon. Friend is talking about overseas pensioners—he was not clear. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise his question directly with Ministers. He will be aware that there have been different arrangements over many years. Of course, it is vital that we show fairness to pensioners overseas but also to those who are working hard in the United Kingdom to pay their taxes.
My constituent David has significant health issues, recently described by his consultant as severe and debilitating. He recently had his personal independence payment cut and faces a lengthy wait for an appeal, which is impacting on his physical and mental health. When I wrote to the Secretary of State to ask her to expedite his hearing, I received a patronising and, frankly, inhumane response unbefitting of a Secretary of State. May we therefore have a debate to consider how we can fix this broken system?
The hon. Lady raises a particular constituency case, and she is absolutely right to do so. I am sorry if she is not happy with the Department’s response. Obviously, as I often say, I will raise the issue on her behalf, if she wants to write to me. Since the personal independence payment was introduced in 2013, there have been 3.9 million decisions and the total number of people unhappy with those decisions is less than 1% of all assessments. We are seeking to review and improve the system all the time, to make it easier for people to receive the care and support they need.
The best part of BBC “Question Time” is not the opinion of the panellists but the voice of the audience. Given that the “Question Time” that was due to be broadcast from Bolton was cancelled in favour of London, may we have a debate on how well our national broadcaster represents the nation as a whole?
I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend. Programming decisions of that kind are a matter for the BBC, but I note that it said that the business of the House was an important factor. We all want the BBC to broadcast right across the United Kingdom and facilitate proper debate across all regions.
At this time of year we, as Christians, remember the resurrection of Christ and offer thanks for his sacrifice and death on the cross, which offers hope of redemption and life eternal. We also remember all those countless persecuted Christians across the world who must believe, worship and pray in secret for fear of their life. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on how we in the UK can support the persecuted Church throughout the world?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue. He has a strong voice on the subject of religious persecution, and he will know that the United Kingdom is committed to freedom of religious belief. On 26 December 2018, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced an independent review of the persecution of Christians overseas. That review is to be conducted by the Bishop of Truro and will provide recommendations on additional practical steps that the Foreign Office can take to support persecuted Christians. The report is due by the summer.
There is public concern that the Government are not following through on the will of the people. Does that now extend to all consultations? Can we have a statement on the Government’s response to consultations? Is it acceptable that the Government have felt able to discount the views of 80% of those who responded to their proposed divorce law changes, simply because many objected to them as the result of a campaign to raise awareness of that very consultation? Are some individuals’ responses more worthy than others? If a person has a view of conscience on policy, does it not count?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I know this is something she cares about very deeply, as do many hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House. The fact is that hostility and conflict between parents leaves a terrible mark on children and can damage their life chances, whether the parents are together or separated. Although we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that outdated laws help to create or increase conflict. All views will be taken into account, but nevertheless the Government, while listening to calls for reform, want to replace the requirement to provide evidence of fault and create the option of a joint application for divorce.
The Leader of the House said at business questions last week that the House would have a debate this week on the knife crime summit. Why did that debate not happen? Why is there nothing in the future business? This should be a national priority.
While I am talking about issues on which we seem to be making no progress, will there be an update on the Timpson review of school exclusions?
The hon. Lady will be aware that I announce the business for the following week at business questions on a Thursday morning. I am keen to facilitate further debates, as I already have, on the important issue of knife crime and serious violence. I will continue to seek to find Government time for such a debate.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards has said that he would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady on the Timpson review.
The last business questions before Easter is a good moment for cross-party unity, so may I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the joint letter by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon)—the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly—and myself on behalf of Commonwealth servicemen and women in our armed forces? The letter seeks to waive the application, after four years’ service, for indefinite leave to remain, the cost of which has now risen to £10,000 for a family of four. I understand that the Defence Secretary has raised this issue with the Home Secretary. Meanwhile, may I seek the support and signatures of every Member present today, and the support of the Leader of the House, for both the issue and for a debate on it?
My hon. Friend raises an issue on which there will be a lot of support from across the House. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate, so that all hon. Members may contribute to it.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Last month, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission launched the “Legacy of Liberation” campaign, marking 75 years since the liberation of Europe and the far east. That includes activities across the historical sites of the great escape, Monte Cassino, Normandy and Arnhem. Could we please have a debate allowing Members across the House to mark this milestone anniversary of when we did not just stand alone, but built alliances that delivered Europe from pure evil?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue. She rightly pays tribute to all those who gave so much in a co-ordinated effort to stamp out evil. It is right that we commemorate these anniversaries, and I will certainly see whether we can find time for such a debate.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, Christians around the world will be celebrating the resurrection on Easter Sunday, after the darkness of Good Friday, but for many Christians, particularly those in places like the middle belt of Nigeria, this is a very, very dark time, when they are under attack, seeing people—including members of their families—murdered, and churches burnt down. May we have a debate on that persecution of Christians and others in the middle belt of Nigeria and elsewhere?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Specifically with regard to Nigeria, we continue to call for an immediate de-escalation of violence, and for the Nigerian Government to demonstrate a clear strategy for resolving the conflict, ending the violence and ensuring that the needs of all affected communities are met. The United Kingdom promotes 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.
I wonder whether the Government might provide time to debate the state of a political party whose primary policy is, by its own admission, to undamage our economy, which does not have a leader—just a caretaker manager; a party scared of the public, and even of standing in European elections, with its own MPs openly backing other parties, and which, according to its own accounts, receives more funding from dead people than from the living. But unlike those Tory donors, I will not hold my breath.
There is really no answer to that.
Several days ago I met volunteers in Broadfield, who are participating in a community action to clear up litter in that neighbourhood. Unfortunately, over the past five years Labour-controlled Crawley Borough Council has not issued a single litter penalty notice. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the responsibility of environmental health departments to support communities to clean up their local areas?
My hon. Friend has thoroughly excited my lovely Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), who as he knows is extremely keen on cleaning up our environment. He points out rightly that there is a duty on local authorities to ensure that we keep our communities, roads, hedgerows and waterways free of litter. I would encourage him to raise that at the next local government questions.
May we have a debate on the vital importance of extending musical tuition to those from low-income backgrounds and deprived areas? I particularly commend the work of the Beatroute Arts centre in my constituency, which recently received a £69,000 grant from the Young Start funding programme. It does very important work in the constituency, particularly in extending opportunity to young people who would not normally be able to access private musical tuition or élite institutions such as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which are often disproportionately enjoyed by middle-class families. Can we commend the extension of that opportunity to those from all backgrounds?
I join the hon. Gentleman in commending that arts centre for its work for young people. It is absolutely vital that young people get to enjoy the wonders of music and taking part in performance, and I totally commend all those who seek to make that happen.
I, too, welcome the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones). I would like to reassure her that Parliament and governance is not always like this—intent on self-destruction. How soon after the talks between the Government and Labour collapse will the Leader of the House be able to bring forward indicative votes? Will she allow an indicative vote to take place that allows the Prime Minister’s deal to be linked to a people’s vote?
We had a people’s vote in 2016. The result of that was clear. We will be leaving the European Union just as soon as we have been able to find a way forward that works for the United Kingdom and for our EU friends and neighbours, and that this House can support.
Constituents of mine, the Riddells, an Australian couple, run a community bakery that employs 15 people. They have just had their visas refused by the Home Office because of a very small error that could have been quickly and easily rectified, but it has taken over six months for the family to be told of it. Now they are desperately awaiting an admin review, but they need their passports back to travel to their daughter’s wedding in Australia in a few days’ time. Their life in Scotland and jobs in my constituency now hang in the balance. How would the Leader of the House suggest we might encourage the Home Office to routinely contact applicants at the beginning of the visa process, raising any questions over their documents, to give people a chance to sort those out in good time?
The hon. Lady raises a very good point about the need for urgency in the rectification of small errors, so that people can get on with their lives. She has raised a particular constituency issue, and if she wants to write to me I can take it up with the Home Office on her behalf.
I am concerned that many applications to go on the electoral register are being stymied for administrative reasons, such as the lack of a national insurance number. May we have a statement from the Cabinet Office containing an estimate of the number of uncompleted voter registration applications, and stating what the Government are doing to overcome such hurdles so that we can boost electoral registration?
I am sure that hon. Members right across the House want to see electoral registration boosted and improved. That is precisely what the Cabinet Office is seeking to do, while at the same time minimising any prospect of electoral fraud. We have Cabinet Office questions on Wednesday 24 April—the first Wednesday back—and I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise that question then.
A few weeks ago, I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on climate change. Young people and many of us in this place want to see more energy and urgency in addressing the issue. Tomorrow will see yet another climate change strike, including, I believe, at schools in Warwick and Leamington. Given that we now know what a black hole looks like at the heart of Government, will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to fill the power vacuum and grant us a full debate?
As I said to the hon. Gentleman on the previous occasion, I will try to find Government time. We had a debate in February, which unfortunately many hon. Members were unable to attend because they had other commitments. The subject is important; it is one of the single most important issues that face our world today. The Government’s work towards tackling global climate change has been second to none. We have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation. We have generated record levels of solar and wind energy. The latest figures show that we have reduced greenhouse gas by 25% since 2010, and Carbon Brief analysis shows that UK CO2 emissions have fallen for six years in a row, which is the longest decline on record. So there is a lot more to be done, but the Government are taking action.
Last month, the Home Secretary made a very welcome announcement of new funding for security at mosques and other places of worship. Following my question in Home Office orals on 1 April, nearly 100 colleagues have written to ask for that funding to be brought forward in good time for Ramadan, which is just three and a half weeks away. Could the Leader of the House arrange an urgent statement for as soon as we come back, about what the Home Office is doing to ensure that our Muslim constituents are safe during Ramadan—a time when the community is highly visible?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point. I know that the Home Office is absolutely committed to ensuring the safety and security of all those who are at worship, at all times. If she wants to write to me following the business question, I can take up her specific question directly.
When we come back from Easter recess, can we have, in Government time, a debate and a vote on changes to pension credit? Would that not be a great opportunity for this House to stand up for 1950s-born women, who are now referring to these changes as a toy boy tax?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has been very committed to campaigning on this issue, and he is absolutely right to do so. He knows that we have had many debates on the topic in recent months and years. As we have made clear previously, Conservatives in government have committed £1.1 billion to support those affected, so that no one will see their pension age change by more than 18 months relative to the Pensions Act 1995 timetable, and those with the most significant changes receive at least seven years’ notice. The new state pension is much more generous for many women. By 2030, more than 3 million women stand to gain an average of £550 more per year as a result of the recent reforms.
As the Leader of the House will be aware, the last Wednesday in April is International Guide Dogs Day. I want to draw attention to the competition being run in the Scottish Parliament by the Kennel Club for Holyrood dog of the year—I will put in a plug for Giles, Iain Gray MSP’s guide dog puppy. May we have a debate in Government time on the role of assistance dogs for individuals who need them in our communities?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. Many people rely on assistance dogs just to get through the day, and not only as a companion but to provide practical support in their everyday needs. I encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that other Members can share their experiences.
Too many of my constituents, such as those living on the Isles of Cumbrae and the Isle of Arran, continue to be penalised with unfair delivery charges. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out her views on the need for action to ensure that all consumers are offered the lowest possible cost regardless of where they live, and does she agree that, as more shopping is done online, this is very urgent?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. A number of her hon. Friends have raised that issue at business questions in recent weeks. It is absolutely right that there should be fair and reasonable delivery charges right across the United Kingdom. We have Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Question Time on 30 April, so I encourage her to raise the matter directly with Ministers then.
Julian Assange was arrested a couple of hours ago, and in an hour or two the Home Secretary will make a statement about it. Why can he not do the same for knife crime and the knife crime summit? Young people are being murdered on our streets every single week, and it has been going on for months. Communities are worried and concerned—many are devastated—yet the Home Secretary has gone missing. It is a complete and utter embarrassment to this Parliament and to the office he holds. He needs to get himself here and answer some questions about this very serious issue. Will the Leader of the House go to him and say, “Get here, Home Secretary, and make a statement about knife crime.”?
The hon. Gentleman feels extremely strongly about this, and I absolutely sympathise with his view. He will appreciate, as will all hon. Members, that this issue comes up frequently at business questions, and I do keep the House updated on the several different measures that the Government have in train to tackle it, including through early prevention, through working with communities and with police officers, through legislation such as the Offensive Weapons Bill, through our serious violence taskforce and indeed through the public health approach to preventing knife crime. However, I hear what he is saying and I will take this up again with the Home Office.
We have seen the scandal of Windrush and, in Hackney, we have thousands of Commonwealth citizens who are likely to be affected. Some 41,000 European citizens are going through the immigration process and there are increasing problems with entrepreneur and spouse visas. Is it not time we had a proper debate in Government time about the functioning, or mis-functioning, of the Government’s immigration system?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the Home Secretary made a statement to the House about the Windrush compensation scheme only a few days ago, so I hope that she had the opportunity to raise her concerns with him then. I understand that she has particular concerns. If she wants to raise those with Home Office Ministers, I am sure that they will be delighted to meet her to discuss them.
The ongoing show trial of 18 Catalan political prisoners in Madrid, including the former Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, has been an utter sham, with evidence that would have exposed the charges for the nonsense they are being disallowed by the Spanish court. May we have a debate on the importance of the independence of the courts and of this Government’s double standards in promoting that across the globe while ignoring the situation in Madrid?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Spain and the United Kingdom have a very strong and open relationship. The UK is always clear about the need to work within the rules of the constitution and the law and to seek assurances at all times that they are being upheld.
Brunei, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have two things in common. First, they are repressive regimes that breach international human rights for women and LGBT people every day. Secondly, they are recipients of UK Government military training. May we have an urgent statement from the Defence Secretary on the hypocrisy of our Government’s policy?
The hon. Lady raises a really concerning issue. It is appalling that in the 21st century people still face discrimination and persecution because of who they are or who they love. The Government urge Brunei to uphold its international human rights obligations and to respect individual freedoms. She will know that there was a discussion about that yesterday in this place—I think that she was there. I can assure her that the Government will continue to express our deep concern at ministerial and diplomatic levels.
Many women across the UK have been led to believe that they were at fault and responsible for the birth defects of their own children, when in fact they had taken the hormone pregnancy drug primodos. My constituent Wilma Ord and her daughter Kirsteen have been waiting for answers and justice for Kirsteen’s whole life. We are due to have a debate in Westminster Hall on Wednesday 23 April. I am grateful for the answer the Leader of the House gave to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), but could she clarify for my constituents and me at what time the debate will be held, and will she give an absolute assurance that it will not be shifted or changed as a result of whatever shambles next appears in this place?
The hon. Lady raises a very serious issue, and she will know that there has been a consultation and evidence gathering about the problem. I am glad to hear that she has a debate in Westminster Hall. I will have to write to her after these business questions, because I do not know at exactly what time the debate is scheduled to start.
It was announced this week that the boss of Centrica, which owns British Gas, has got a 44% pay increase, which comes off the back of 10% rises in gas bills for my constituents. People are rightly asking whether that is a fair and reasonable way to proceed with our utilities, which everyone needs. May we therefore have a debate on controlling corporate greed?
There will be a lot of sympathy across the House for the hon. Gentleman on the need for corporate pay to remain at a suitable level and not to be excessive. There are concerns across the House about excessive corporate pay. However, he will no doubt be pleased to know that income inequality is at an historically low level. The Government are seeking to do all we can to curb excesses.
This feels like groundhog day, because here I am again, about to ask the Leader of the House where the immigration Bill is. The Prime Minister said that we need to get on with something, and here is a list of something. Delighted though I am to see the return of the seed potatoes statutory instrument, for what I think is the fourth time, I really think it is time we debated the Bills that need to be passed. The immigration Bill is of critical concern to many of my constituents and, I am sure, to those of Members across the House. Where is it?
The hon. Lady will know that, in addition to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, there are nine exit-related Bills, which are either before Parliament or have already received Royal Assent. The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill has completed its Committee stage and will progress at the right time in order to ensure that it receives Royal Assent when necessary to implement our new immigration policy. She will appreciate that, to an extent, that depends on the agreement we come to with the European Union.
The Government’s recent review of Whirlpool tumble dryers paid little attention to product recall and consumer safety. The London Fire Brigade, Electrical Safety First and Which? joined me in calling for better product recall processes for dangerous products. Can we have a debate in Government time to discuss this important issue?
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue about dangerous products and the appalling impact that they can have if, for example, they catch fire in somebody’s home. She is right to raise this issue, and I encourage her to discuss it directly with Ministers on 30 April at Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions.
It is now obvious that the UK will be taking part in the European Union parliamentary elections and, as a consequence, the regulated spend period began on 23 January. This will have implications not just for political parties, but for non-party campaigning organisations that may already have spent over the limit on targeted online adverts. Before the House goes into Easter recess, can the Leader of the House advise us—or ensure that a Minister from the Cabinet Office attends the House to advise us—on what the implications are for any third-party organisations that may have already breached the spending limits?
The hon. Lady raises a very serious matter. I encourage her to write to the Cabinet Office with her specific request. However, let me say more generally that none of us wants European parliamentary elections to be held, and as long as the UK leaves the EU before 23 May, they will not take place. The Government are doing everything they can to ensure that the UK has reached an agreement by that date. However, let me be clear: any extension beyond 12 April was going to put on us a legal obligation to have European parliamentary elections on 23 May in train. If the withdrawal agreement becomes law on both sides before 23 May, no European Union parliamentary elections will be held.
It is reported that Stagecoach has been banned from bidding for further franchises, with pensions cited as a specific reason. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has rightly raised concerns about train operating companies meeting their pension liabilities. What can this Government do to ensure that train operating companies are meeting those liabilities and that there will be no attacks on pension rates of staff?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about workers’ rights. I am not sure whether he was able to attend the earlier urgent question, but if he was not, he might like to raise the matter directly with Ministers at Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions on 20 April.
When can this House expect to receive the Cox report recommendations and see them implemented in full?
The House received the Cox recommendations—there were three of them—some time ago. The first one has already been done. I am keen to make progress on the second as soon as possible. I am just waiting for the House of Commons Commission to finalise its agreement on the proposed way forward, which will enable historic allegations to be tackled properly. On the third recommendation, a small committee is being established by the Clerk of the House on behalf of the House of Commons Commission to look at how to remove Members of Parliament from marking their own homework.
Stop and search is controversial and a highly sensitive issue for many communities, yet it is regarded as an important police power. This power can sometimes lead to strip search, the regulations of which are ambiguous. Strip search can also lead to humiliation and mental health problems. Can we have a debate on stop and search, specifically in relation to strip search?
The hon. Lady raises a very concerning issue. Obviously, stop and search is a vital policing power that is important in the fight against knife crime and serious violence. At the same time, it must be used legally and in a measured way. She is right to raise the issue. She might want to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can discuss it directly with Ministers.
It stands to reason that the older we get, the more likely we are to develop health conditions and to need additional support mechanisms, and yet too many state benefits are tied to the working age. Once a person retires, they no longer get these benefits. One example is the vehicle excise duty. I have a constituent who cannot believe that his frail 84-year-old mum still has to pay her road tax. Can we have a debate in Government time about extending benefits and support mechanisms for people beyond working age?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very interesting point. He will be aware that there are a number of benefits that our older population receive, such as free bus passes, free TV licences and not having to pay for prescriptions, eye tests, hearing tests and so on. Nevertheless, he raises an interesting issue and he might like to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that all hon. Members can share their views on the matter.
I am delighted that we are having an Easter recess. At the rate we were going, I thought that we would get to Easter Sunday and the good Lord would be rising again before this House ever did. [Interruption.] Thank you very much! However, I am worried that the business that the Government have announced does not seem to address any of the issues that were raised by Donald Tusk last night. Surely this parliamentary Session has now run its course. We should decide to end it and start all over again. The Government can come up with a new Queen’s speech, which will doubtless contain many interesting things, so that we can really get on with tackling the issues that face this country, including poverty wages, poverty, austerity and local authorities that cannot meet their proper responsibilities.
Well, the hon. Gentleman was doing so well until that last bit. Obviously, the way forward is something that the Prime Minister needs to consider carefully. She will be making a statement to the House shortly, so he will be able to direct his questions to her. When he talks about our economy and the state of our society, he should be pleased that there is an extra £1 billion available for the police, more than £1.3 billion extra available for local councils, more than £1.1 billion extra for our schools, a rise in the national living wage, another rise in the personal allowance, another fuel duty freeze, and a rise in the basic state pension, which is now more than £1,450 a year higher than in 2010. Added to that, more than 3.6 million more people are in work and we have the lowest unemployment since the 1970s. He is rolling his eyes, but this is really good news for real people.
Members of this House will doubtless be pleased that the House is not reconvening until 23 April. However, my constituent, who was unfortunate enough to claim universal credit five days before the Secretary of State decided that people on severe disability premiums should not be claiming universal credit and who is therefore undergoing a weekly detriment to his income of almost £100 a week, is waiting for the managed migration regulations for universal credit to be laid by this House in order for his back payment to be made. He and thousands of other disabled people living well below the poverty line need those regulations to be laid. When will that happen, please?
The hon. Lady is raising a very serious constituency issue, and I am very sorry to hear about it. If she wants to write to me, I will happily take it up with the Department on her behalf. In more general terms, we spend £55 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions. That is up more than £10 billion in real terms since 2010. Under this Government, the number of disabled people in work has increased by more than 900,000 in the past five years. That shows a really important Government commitment to doing everything we can for people with disabilities.
I am told that some people seeking mental health support are just being given a phone number to ring by their GP. For vulnerable people, this can be quite difficult, but it shows the pressure that GPs and mental health services are under. Can we have a statement on the Government’s plans properly to resource and deliver effective mental health services?
The hon. Gentleman is right that mental health is absolutely vital to all of us. The Government are putting in more money—a record £12 billion—and are taking more action on mental health than any previous Government. At the heart of the NHS long-term plan is the largest expansion of mental health services in a generation: £2.3 billion of extra investment to support almost 345,000 more children, at least 380,000 more adults and 24,000 new and expectant mothers. It will see 24/7 mental health crisis care for adults, children and young people, which will be rolled out through NHS 111. What is vital is that people have access to support as soon as they need it.
May we have a debate about digital inclusion—not just about broadband access but about mobile phone signal and basic television services? That is still a huge issue in many parts of the country, including in my constituency, where some communities and villages do not even get a basic mobile phone signal. I would be grateful to the Leader of the House if she found some time for a debate about that important subject.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman—that is a big issue for many of us. I, too, have problems with basic mobile phone signal, as well as with broadband, in my constituency. The Government are committed to resolving this issue and to having a universal service obligation to demonstrate that we will have universal broadband coverage of at least 10 megabits per second, so that no home or business is left behind. I am sure that there would be great demand for a debate in Westminster Hall should the hon. Gentleman want to ask for one.