The business for the week commencing 20 May will include:
Monday 20 May—Proceedings on the Non-Domestic Rating (Preparation for Digital Services) Bill, followed by a debate on a motion on medical cannabis under prescription. The subject of this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 21 May—Second Reading of the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill.
Wednesday 22 May—Opposition day (un-allotted). There will be a debate on an opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 23 May—Debate on a motion on the Yemen peace process, followed by matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 24 May—The House will not be sitting.
I can also inform colleagues that the withdrawal agreement Bill will have a Second Reading during the week beginning Monday 3 June 2019. The Bill will be introduced as soon as possible to give colleagues the chance to consider the provisions within it. I will make a further business statement next week in the usual way.
May I take this opportunity to wish my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) the very best as a new Minister in the Justice Department? He ably stood in for me in a number of Leader debates and I am sure he will be a great success in his new role.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, an opportunity to promote good mental health for all of us. This year’s theme is body image, which can have a real impact on mental health and wellbeing. I congratulate all those helping to raise awareness of these vitally important issues.
Finally, tomorrow is also International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which is recognised in more than 130 countries. I encourage as many Members as possible to take part in the debate later today to promote equal rights across the world.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business. I am pleased that she said we will be debating the withdrawal agreement Bill, but I would just like some clarification. Will that be on 4 June, or 5 June as No. 10 has announced? Are we going to get business from No. 10 in future, or will it actually be announced here in the Chamber? Can the Leader confirm whether we will have the meaningful vote before the Bill? Will she also clarify what the Brexit Secretary said—I know she said the Bill will be introduced—to the Lords EU Committee yesterday? He said he accepted that MPs need to see the Bill before the vote on Second Reading, but that many of the issues raised by the Bill have already been debated. It would be helpful to know whether there will be something new in the Bill or whether everything in the agreement will be in the Bill.
There have been noises off from No. 10, who have said that the Bill will be published next week. If it is published before 23 May, will the Leader publish the advice on whether that would breach the purdah rules, and perhaps lay it in the Library? We do have an impartial civil service and do not want it compromised while an election is going on. It is important in the interests of democracy that we see the Bill as soon as possible but purdah rules must not be breached.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) has said that the agreement could be done and dusted by the summer recess. I assume that that is confirmation that we will get a summer recess. Will the Leader say when that is likely to be?
This is so sad for Parliament. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the House has routinely sat for 150 days a year. This Session is now double that, and there is absolutely no end in sight. We are now straddling three calendar years. There have been no Divisions for a month apart from the one on the Opposition day earlier this week. On Monday, the House sat for just 3 hours and 34 minutes, and the Government, having refused to grant Opposition days for 150 days, have now given us five of them. We are grateful for that, because we can show people that there is an alternative.
Parliament is in paralysis, with the Government in their offices but not in power. Some of them are moving offices, and I also want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who served the Leader well as her deputy.
I turn now to something the Leader said last week. I will write to her formally, but I thought she was somewhat discourteous in saying last week that I did not read my emails. My question to her was, as it is today: will she ensure that Ministers are aware of the ministerial code, which says:
“Ministers intending to make an official visit within the United Kingdom must inform in advance, and in good time, the MPs whose constituencies are to be included within the itinerary.”?
Please will she ensure that all Ministers are aware of that code when they visit our constituencies?
Will the Government look again at the voter identification pilots: their key policy that is subverting democracy? In the local elections, 819 people were denied their vote, and the Local Government Chronicle identified that this included an 87-year-old woman in Pendle. The Leader and I both know how hard we as women have struggled to get the vote. The number of people turned away in some areas could have influenced the election result. In Mid Sussex, 78 people were denied a vote, and in three cases a candidate won by fewer than 25 votes.
The Electoral Commission has said that if the Government pursue this policy and people are not able to provide identification, 7.5% of the electorate—3.5 million people—will be unable to vote. If people are asked to produce their passports or driving licences, 11 million citizens will be disenfranchised. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) has called for a debate. Can we have a debate in Government time on this dangerous, discriminatory and undemocratic policy?
At business questions last week, the Leader of the House said that the Government are
“determined to be world leading in our actions, not words, to tackle the global challenge of climate change.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2019; Vol. 659, c. 672.]
She gave us a few examples. It is actually a climate emergency. Will she explain why the Government announced last week that they will increase VAT on domestic solar installations from 5% to 20%? The Renewable Energy Association has said:
“This change risks setting back the UK decarbonisation of homes and businesses in the UK by a number of years.”
The Government are relentlessly supportive of fracking, despite the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy having found that only 12% of people support it. We want action, not words, to combat the climate emergency.
I join my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and other hon. Members in mentioning that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) have passed the 40-year mark. My hon. Friend is an assiduous attender of business questions. He is also a great supporter of John Clare, so he will be pleased that we have a new poet laureate in Simon Armitage, whom we wish well.
I also pay tribute to the late Brian Walden, who served here in the House and was an excellent interviewer on television. When I was applying for a job in TV, he was a practice interviewee for me. I did not get the job, which means he was a good interviewer and interviewee. We acknowledge his public service in all those fields.
I wanted to mention Philippa Helme, who is leaving next week, so that people would have a chance to say goodbye to her properly. She is the Principal Clerk of the Table Office, and she joined the House of Commons in 1983—as, incidentally, did our Chief Whip.
Philippa has been Clerk of the Welsh Affairs, Science and Technology and Defence Committees, where she formed excellent relationships with formidable Chairs from Renée Short to Michael Mates and James Arbuthnot. She was parliamentary adviser to the Cabinet Office between 2002 and 2005, and head of the Office of the Chief Executive between 2008 and 2010. She was deputy head of the Committee Office for four years before becoming Principal Clerk of the Table Office in 2014. Throughout her career, she has restlessly questioned received wisdom and settled convictions—I suppose she got on well with you, Mr Speaker—and has combined that with kindness to more junior staff. People have liked working for her, and being given space by her to develop themselves. Her door is always open, and has always been open to me, and she has never failed to answer my questions. It was a delight to see her at the Clerks’ Table, and she got there on her own terms. It must have been incredibly difficult at the time to combine a career with family life, but she did that. It was not easy for women.
We all thank Philippa for her service to the House, and wish her clean sailing, fair winds and following seas. She will know what that means.
May I just say a big thank you to the shadow Leader of the House for that tribute to Philippa Helme? I first came to know Philippa in 1997 when I was appointed to the Welsh Affairs Committee, of which she was the extremely accomplished Clerk, and I have known her for the last 22 years. As the shadow Leader said, she has served the House with great distinction, and I look forward very much to hosting the retirement reception for her in Speaker’s House—next Thursday, if memory serves me correctly.
I echo the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) to Philippa Helme. She has been an assiduous Clerk for many years, and we wish her a very happy and energising retirement. I am sure that she will feel some elements of relief in escaping from this place—which reminds me that the hon. Lady is always after recess dates, which suggests that she too is desperate to get away from it.
The hon. Lady asked specifically about the meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement Bill. She will be aware that the Bill is not subject to a motion under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. There will be a Second Reading debate on a Bill that is yet to be introduced. Section 13 of the Act stipulates that a meaningful vote must be passed for ratification of the deal, and the Government will ensure that the conditions are met to enable ratification to take place. There will be no issues relating to purdah: that has been carefully checked, and there are no such implications. As I have said, the Bill will be introduced soon so that colleagues can consider it.
The hon. Lady asked when the Bill would be completed. We have made it very clear that we will be able to leave the European Union on the first day of the month following ratification of the treaty. We would like that to happen this summer, and we will work hard to ensure that it does, but, as ever, there are discussions in the usual channels about the programming of the Bill.
The hon. Lady referred to the length of the Session. It was set out at the beginning that this would be an extended Session because of the enormous change that would be involved in our leaving the European Union. However, we have achieved some superb legislation during this period. Our 44th Bill, the Offensive Weapons Bill, received Royal Assent today. The excellent energy cap has been introduced, and the Tenant Fees Act 2019, which will help people who have been harshly treated by their landlords, has been enacted. So there has been a lot that is good about this Session—and, very importantly, we have to leave the European Union. All colleagues can, of course, influence the end of the Session by voting for the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill.
The hon. Lady asked about the House rising early. I must say that I was rather astonished on Monday. First there were two very important statements, one on the Tessa Jowell brain cancer mission and the other on domestic abuse, and then there was the Second Reading of a Government Bill which had the potential to affect business rates and our high streets. There was huge scope for colleagues to talk about many issues relating to their constituencies yet only one Government Back Bencher made a full speech during Monday’s debate, and there were no Scottish National party contributions at all—not even interventions—and no Labour Back Benchers spoke. It is not for me, I gently say to the House, to determine who speaks in debates; I merely make the time available. So I do not accept in any sense that it is for the Government to determine when the House rises; that is a matter decided by the demand from colleagues to make contributions in debates.
The hon. Lady asked me to ensure that all ministerial visits are advised. All Ministers are well aware of the ministerial code. She again made reference to a visit she feels she was left out of; that was nothing to do with the Minister concerned, who in fact was the person who alerted the hon. Lady to the fact of that meeting going ahead.
The hon. Lady raised an important point about voter ID pilots. She will appreciate that there are huge risks at present with individuals not having to provide any form of ID whatsoever, and merely going up to polling booths and saying they are individual X or Y. There are many anecdotal cases where people have turned up at polling booths and been told they have already voted when they clearly have not. It is because of such problems that we have to ensure the integrity of our electoral system and give the public confidence that our elections are secure and fit for the 21st century.
The Electoral Commission’s own evaluation shows that the 2018 voter ID pilots were a success and the overwhelming majority of people cast their vote without a problem. We need to continue to understand how voter ID will work on a wider scale and what works best for voters, so it is important that we continue piloting before any national roll-out takes place.
Finally, the hon. Lady asked about action not words with regard to climate change, so let me remind her that we have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation. We have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since 2010. In the last year we have generated record levels of solar and wind energy. We have planted over 15 million trees since 2010. We have opened the world’s largest offshore wind farm and the world’s first floating offshore wind farm in Scotland. That is action not words.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on revisiting the Mental Health Act 1983 so that in new legislation we have as an absolute priority supporting young people and children? It is truly shocking that one in 10 young people and children has a mental health issue that lasts throughout their lives, and we must treat them in a better way than we do at present.
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important matter and it is particularly right that he should do so during mental health awareness week. I am pleased to be able to tell him that we have championed investment in children’s mental health services. Last year there was an overall 17% increase in funding in real terms, to around £226 million, and spending by clinical commissioning groups has gone up by 33% since 2015-16 to £687 million, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that more needs to be done, and that is why we have committed to transforming children’s mental health services through the NHS long-term plan.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. It is a pity that we cannot go back to the good old days where provisional business was also announced for the following sitting week, but I am pleased to see that the withdrawal agreement Bill is to be brought before the House, and I too very much look forward to seeing it.
May I also join in the tributes to Philippa Helme, and warmly congratulate the shadow Leader of the House on her warm and glowing tribute? Philippa Helme will be missed by all of us around the House.
May I also gently remind the Leader of the House that Monday’s business was on an English ratings Bill which was exclusively devolved? If she is in the business of trying to curtail the voting and speaking rights of Scottish Members of Parliament it is a bit rich her complaining we were not speaking on something that has absolutely nothing to do with us.
In advance of the withdrawal agreement Bill could we possibly have a debate about masochism, Mr Speaker, because it seems to me that the very definition of May-ite Conservatism is to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result? It is a bewildering condition that involves delusion, deafness and self-flagellation—which they have obviously found a taste for—eventually leading to schism, paralysis and then political death. The idea that the Prime Minister will somehow get it through this time is almost like abandoning all sense of reason as Members are all rushing to tell her that they are not prepared to support her on this withdrawal agreement Bill. Her only hope is to get her comrades in the Labour party to abstain on all this, but I think I heard the shadow Secretary of State for Brexit saying today that Labour will not abstain and I hope that will be the case.
Another week on, and the men in grey underpants are still camped outside No. 10, trying to get the recalcitrant occupant to leave. Ultimatum after ultimatum is delivered, to no effect, and timetables are discussed, to no impact. I believe that another one is being discussed this morning. May we have a debate on enforced evictions and maybe see what this House can do to support the Brexit One?
Lastly, in advance of next week’s EU elections, could we perhaps have a debate on the productive and valuable relationship that we have with our European Union colleagues? In that debate, we on these Benches would make it abundantly clear that, in Scotland, we intend to stop this Government’s crazy Brexit and let the Scottish people determine their own future—and the only way to achieve that is to vote SNP next Thursday.
I am getting a bit worried about the hon. Gentleman: masochism and underpants in the same intervention! Anyway, I gather that he is up incredibly early on Thursday mornings to write his witty interventions. If he had been up early on Monday morning, he could have usefully used his time at the Liaison Committee, where I was appearing. It was very poorly attended, and he could have been there to talk about the effectiveness of what goes on in this place and made a useful contribution to how Select Committees contribute to exiting the EU. He may not have had anything to say about business rates for Scotland, but he could have had something to say in the Adjournment debate of my lovely Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), on self-build housing. I am sure that his constituents in Scotland would be interested in the prospect of many more homes for them. There is a lot that goes on in this place—it is not all about what goes on in this Chamber, as we all know—so that was extremely disappointing.
The hon. Gentleman is pleased that we are getting on with the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, and so am I. It is something that I have been calling for for a long time. It is vital that we give the Bill a Second Reading and that we actually leave the European Union. He also said that it was important to let the Scottish people decide. Well, the Scottish people did decide, in 2014, that they wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom. He was not listening to them then, and it is absolutely extraordinary that he stands up and argues for the Scottish people now when at every opportunity he is denying them the chance to remain part of the United Kingdom, which is good for all of us.
Order. No fewer than 34 hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye and, as per usual, I am keen to attempt to accommodate them. However, I remind the House that there is a statement to follow and that I have to have regard to the importance of protecting the Backbench Business Committee business as well. As a consequence of all that, there is a premium upon brevity—first to be exemplified, I am sure, by the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes).
Thank you, Mr Speaker—there will be speed if not brevity.
C. S. Lewis said:
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking”.
We have heard again this week, and in the urgent question yesterday, that the tech companies’ claims about encryption and security are just so much soft soap. In this dystopian world of spyware, Big Brother is watching all of us. So will the Leader of the House arrange a debate so that we can consider how we can clamp down, bear down and if necessary close down those tech companies that are either callous, careless or crass?
My right hon. Friend is, as ever, succinct and to the point. As he is well aware, the Government’s White Paper on online harms will set out our plans to make this the best country in which to be as safe online as offline. We are encouraging companies to take forward a shared international approach to regulation and we are absolutely determined to resolve the issue of the ongoing harm being created through social media companies.
May I echo everyone’s comments about Philippa Helme? She has been of enormous assistance to me since I became Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, as have her wonderful staff who support the Committee.
In the week we come back, will there be any time for Backbench business? I know it will be busy, but I hope there will be time on the 6th as we already have a couple of debates lined up for that day if time is allocated. One would be on the response to the Grenfell Tower fire; the debate would come one week before the second anniversary of the fire. We must remember that 72 people died, over 70 were injured and over 300 were made homeless, and I think we must mark that occasion. The other debate would be on mortgage prisoners—people caught by the collapse of mortgage companies in the credit crunch—and their subsequent exploitation by what have become known as successor vulture funds. Those people are chained until death because of the way the vulture funds are exploiting them.
As ever, the hon. Gentleman makes a strong case for Backbench time and I will always seek to accommodate it. I pay tribute again to the incredible bravery of the survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy—an utterly appalling event, unrivalled in modern times. I shall certainly seek to give time for that debate.
I and those of my constituents who commute into London and rely on public transport are fed up with the unacceptably poor service from both South Western Railway and London Underground. Not only is the service unreliable, but when disruption occurs it takes practically all day for the service to get back to an acceptable standard, so both morning and evening commutes are affected. May we have a debate on how the Secretary of State for Transport and the Mayor of London can work more effectively together to get the service back up to scratch?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the frustration of commuters who cannot get to work; it is incredibly frustrating and happens far too frequently on some train services. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate, so that she can raise her particular concerns about commuters in her constituency.
My constituent Bhavani Esapathi contacted me following the Home Office’s rejection of a visa application. Bhavani has Crohn’s disease and needs critical care that is unavailable in India. She has lived and worked in the UK for almost 10 years. While Bhavani was in a coma after major surgery, she received a notice from the Home Office telling her that she should leave the country. May we have an urgent debate on the Government’s barbaric treatment of people?
The hon. Lady raises a serious and worrying constituency case. I am sure that, were she to raise it directly with Home Office Ministers, they would respond. Obviously, they do take into account individual circumstances. I encourage her to raise the case directly.
The Government rightly made funding available for the Law Commission to begin work on updating the UK’s surrogacy laws. Very shortly, the Law Commission will publish its initial proposals. I and other members of the all-party group on surrogacy will of course seek a debate on the proposals, either in the main Chamber or in Westminster Hall, but will the Government proactively consider providing Government time for us to debate that really important change to surrogacy law?
My hon. Friend raises an important subject. Surrogacy is a valuable way to provide would-be parents with the child they so long for. Of course, there are complex issues around making that work for both the surrogate and the new parents. I encourage him in the first instance to seek an Adjournment debate, so he can discuss the subject directly with Ministers.
Back in 2010, the present Prime Minister told her party conference that she did not want the Tory party to be regarded as the nasty party. I do not know whether that miracle has happened, but could we have a debate on this Parliament not being a nasty Parliament? I have noticed some really personal attacks, usually on women MPs—of course, the Prime Minister is a woman. Can we have a debate on the standards we have in debate and how we respect each other during debates?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his 40 years in this place. How he can stand it I do not know. He obviously has lots of stamina. I also pay tribute to him for standing up for people treating each other with dignity and respect. He is absolutely right to do so. I encourage him to take part in the Westminster Hall debate on intimidation in public life on Tuesday 21 May. It is clear that whatever our political differences we must treat each other decently.
In recent weeks and months, my constituency has tragically witnessed several suicides within the farming and rural community. Each case is tragic for the individual and devastating for the family and community left behind. My right hon. Friend has already mentioned that this is Mental Health Awareness Week—in fact, she has mentioned it twice—and that shows the commitment to this great cause. Can we have a debate on what can be done to tackle the causes of suicide in the farming community?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this worrying issue. Rates of depression and suicide are particularly high among farmers. The national suicide prevention strategy highlights the high risk of suicide among certain occupational groups, one of which is farmers. In October 2018, the Prime Minister announced our first suicide prevention Minister and recently she met the Farming Community Network to better understand the issues facing farmers. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend already has an Adjournment debate on this issue soon.
I am wearing the mental health Scottish tartan in support of Mental Health Awareness Week.
I welcome next week’s debate on medical cannabis. I have two constituents, John and Laura, whose beautiful daughter, Blathnaid, needs access to medical cannabis. After the Health Secretary told me at the Dispatch Box that he would look into their case, his correspondence department came back and said it was a matter for the Scottish Health Minister, which is not true—the licensing of medical cannabis is an issue for the UK Government. Can the Leader of the House confirm that, when Ministers come to the Dispatch Box and say they will look into something, they should do it?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. Ministers always seek to be very clear about what is a reserved and what is a devolved matter and to pay respect to that, as they utterly should do. Occasionally, people have misunderstood or perhaps there is a different interpretation. I am certain that Ministers would always seek to correct the record if that were the case. He raises a specific point about his constituents and I am glad he will have the chance to raise it in the debate next week.
Can we have a debate to recognise the thousands of volunteers across the country currently fundraising for Christian Aid Week? In Moray, we have many events and collections going on and, last year, local volunteers raised £18,000 to contribute to the £8 million raised across the country. So will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating all the volunteers on what they are doing for Christian Aid Week in Moray and across the country?
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the fantastic volunteers up and down the country fundraising for Christian Aid Week, particularly in his constituency. Christian Aid was founded in the aftermath of the second world war, when it worked to support refugees and rebuild communities, and it is a great tribute to all those involved that their incredible work continues to this day.
Since the campaign by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, I have had several constituents contact me about environmental safeguards and wildlife protection. When do the Government intend to introduce the next stage of their draft environmental Bill?
The hon. Lady tempts me to tell her everything I know about the environmental Bill. It will be a superb and energising Bill demonstrating the Government’s and, I think, the whole country’s commitment to ensuring not only that we are the first generation to leave their environment in a better place than they found it, but that we are truly world leading in our approach to tackling some of the environmental issues ahead of us. Work is going on at pace to ensure that the Bill is ready for the second Session.
The Housing Minister is here, so within his earshot may I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for a debate on local infrastructure and housing? We need more housing. My villages in West Sussex are having to accept large numbers of houses, but they feel that they have little control over the poorly designed process. Above all, the necessary infrastructure—the GP capacity, the local roads, the school places—does not follow. We must ensure that local infrastructure accompanies extra housing that we need.
My right hon. Friend raises an issue with which many colleagues across the House will have sympathy. We cannot build the homes that this country desperately needs without delivering the infrastructure, too. What I can tell him is that the £5.5 billion housing infrastructure fund is available to local authorities to unlock 650,000 new homes by helping to fund much needed infrastructure, and the Government recently awarded £16.5 million from that fund to West Sussex for three projects to help to provide the infrastructure that should enable the building of up to 1,300 homes.
Some years ago, Dianne Watkinson created the Crowlees Hoppa walking bus. Last Friday, I joined Dianne, other volunteers and the children to walk to their lovely school. The scheme reduces traffic congestion and promotes exercise, so will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Dianne and others and encourage other communities to follow suit?
I certainly join the hon. Lady in congratulating Dianne and all those who take part in the walking bus. As she says, it is a fantastic way for children to get exercise, to be community spirited, to see the world around them and, of course, it saves on environmental pollution. It is a profound good.
May I gently remind the Leader of the House that, some time ago, she promised a debate on the work of the Council of Europe? Having looked at the latest list, however, it does not appear to be there. I wonder whether she would give the request urgent consideration because it is important that its work is made known, particularly to Ministers.
I agree with my hon. Friend that we should have a debate about the Council of Europe. When we leave the European Union, it will become an even more important forum, enabling us to share in some of the activities and initiatives that are taking place around Europe in areas of common interest. I will take the request away and look again at when we can provide the time.
May we have an urgent statement from the Cabinet Office on election funding? There is an outstanding investigation by the National Crime Agency into Arron Banks in respect of Leave.EU’s overseas funding and his close ally, Nigel Farage, is now campaigning for the European elections. Will the Leader of the House support my call—I have written to the Cabinet Office today—for the voluntary disclosure of donors by all political parties prior to the European elections, so that we know who is paying for the current campaigns?
May I say how thrilled I am that we will have a debate on Monday on the prescribed use of cannabis in certain situations? It is sad that we have to have it, but I am pleased that it is happening.
I want to raise something with the Leader of the House that I have mentioned before, namely, the lack of accountability to the community for the decisions made by NHS trusts. She has said to me before, “You can get an Adjournment debate, you can go to Westminster Hall.” I have done that. Can we have a debate on the Floor of the House about NHS trust accountability and about when their decisions ignore local communities? My local NHS trust is doing that, spending £350 million on an old Victorian hospital when we need a new, purpose-built one.
I genuinely wish that I could please my right hon. Friend by waving a magic wand and making his wishes come true. Unfortunately, as Leader of the House, all that I can suggest are ways of raising the matter in the House. I can certainly take away his request for a debate in Government time, but he will appreciate that he needs to keep raising the matter with the appropriate Ministers so that they can carefully consider his specific requests.
A recent DWP assessment found a constituent fit for work. He is terminally ill and relies on regular dialysis, but the assessor stopped his benefits based on his adequate rapport and the fact that he was able to keep eye contact. The DWP’s culture of disbelief is plunging many vulnerable constituents into poverty, so can we please have a debate on the impact that such assessments are having on disabled people and vulnerable constituents?
The hon. Lady raises a serious constituency issue. It does sound concerning that the assessment was potentially wrong. At the same time, she will appreciate that the Government spend £55 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions—up by more than £10 billion since 2010 and a record high. Under this Government, the number of disabled people in work increased by more than 950,000 between 2013 and 2018, so the Government’s policy is to support those with disabilities both financially, so that they are able to lead normal lives, and by helping them to get into work to enable them to have a more fulfilling life. Nevertheless, she makes a serious point. If she wants to write to me after business questions, I can take it up directly with the Department.
May we have a debate in Government time on the ongoing scandal of the abuse of freeholds? Many people, particularly in the north-west of England, buy new-build properties thinking that they are getting a traditional freehold only to discover many complex terms and conditions that often cost them a great deal of money. The Government have made great progress in the past year, but we need to consider legislating to give people protection in law.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Grimsby Institute’s level 3 enterprise and entrepreneurship group on its strong performance at the UK final of the Young Enterprise Start-up competition that was held in London yesterday? Our colleges play a critical role in delivering skills and qualifications, and they are at the forefront of the biggest reforms to technical education in a generation. When will we get a statement committing to increasing base rate funding for 16 to 19-year-olds by £1,000 so that colleges can meet the challenges that this place puts on them?
I join the hon. Lady in congratulating Grimsby Institute on its excellent performance. It is important to encourage young people to consider starting their own businesses. She asks a specific question about a funding review, and I encourage her to seek a Westminster Hall debate or an Adjournment debate so that she can ask that question directly to Ministers.
I think that the whole House would like to thank the Leader of the House for announcing that the withdrawal agreement Bill—a major constitutional piece of legislation—will be debated in the first week after the recess. I understand that the Bill has 37 clauses and is already drafted, so could it be published so that Members can decide how to debate it and vote on it?
More importantly, will the Leader of the House explain why the Bill has been scheduled for that first week after recess, when we have the important D-day celebrations? On the political side, we have the Peterborough by-election and—I have twigged it—President Trump is also coming that week. Does the Leader of the House intend to invite President Trump to sit in the special Box in the Chamber reserved for important people so that he can see how British democracy works when discussing a major constitutional Bill?
May I say that the President of the United States will be very welcome in this place as far as I am concerned? My hon. Friend asks about the timing of the withdrawal agreement Bill. It is being brought forward in order for us to leave the European Union in line with the will of the 2016 referendum, and we need to get on with it. We certainly will publish the Bill in time for colleagues to be able to consider it.
Many people lost money due to the collapse of London Capital & Finance, including my constituent Mr Fulcher, who lost thousands of pounds. The media have raised hopes of compensation, but may we have a Government statement so that we can have certainty about what will be done for the victims?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very serious issue. I also have constituents who have lost money—it was scandalous—and I have heard from the Financial Conduct Authority about the steps that it is taking. We have Treasury questions on 21 May, when I encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise his specific question directly with Ministers.
First, may I add my congratulations to Grimsby Institute, which also serves my constituency?
Many of my constituents work at British Steel in Scunthorpe and there is much local media coverage about the uncertainty of their future employment. May I urge the Leader of the House to ask the Business Secretary to update—and, I hope, reassure—the House early next week?
First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on the performance of Grimsby Institute? He is a strong voice for his constituents.
This is a very concerning time for all those who feel nervous about the future of British Steel. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are doing everything they can to ensure that all those concerned have a good future. I am sure the Business Secretary will make a statement when he is able to do so.
On Tuesday, the results of the great British transport competition, sponsored by the TaxPayers Alliance, were presented at Parliament by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey). The winning entries included 22 sensible railway schemes. I have to say that not all railway schemes are sensible, but the country is in desperate need of a sensible future for our railways. Will the Leader of the House make time for a full debate in the Chamber about those proposals and other railway investment to provide for our long-term transport needs?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has been very closely involved—certainly for as long as I have been in Parliament—in looking at different rail projects. I absolutely admire his fortitude. He will be aware that the Government are investing the largest amount of money in our rail programme since the Victorian era. We are determined to improve the experience of passengers right across our rail network. I strongly suggest that he seeks a Westminster Hall debate in the first instance because I have no doubt that those 22 rail projects will be of interest to many Members on both sides of the House.
Residents who live on a Bellway Homes-built estate in my constituency contacted me in April last year with concerns that the gas installation did not meet the safety regulations when the estate was built. We met Bellway on site in October, and it wrote to me the following week to say that the issue was with its lawyers and it would be back in touch. Despite my office and me chasing up Bellway many times, it has yet to respond. May we have an urgent debate on how we can hold house builders responsible to the people they sell houses to?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising that specific point in the Chamber, and I am sure that those listening will respond to him extremely urgently indeed. The safety of his constituents is a very serious issue, and I know that all hon. Members would want a very fast response.
Next week, on 26 May, Campie Primary School in Musselburgh will be 100 years old. Education is, of course, devolved, but I think that colleagues across the House agree about the importance of our primary schools in creating a society that is built on the foundations of empathy, kindness, knowledge, hope and inspiration, so could we have a debate in Government time to celebrate the work that primary schools do for our and our children’s future?
First, may I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Campie Primary School on its centenary? That is fantastic and wonderful news. What a great, long track record of raising children. I am sure, sadly, that not too many, if any, of its first pupils are still around to see it—it would be interesting to know if there are any.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about primary schools’ incredible contribution to the future of our society and all young people, who will be able to recall an amazing teacher who taught them one particular thing—often, it will be how to sit still and answer a question. I absolutely share his enthusiasm for the work of teachers and schools, and will certainly look for Government time for a debate.
Earlier this month saw the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Nottingham commemorated it with a walk to remember, organised by my constituent Amdani Juma. As well as the solemn remembrance of lives lost, we also marked the progress made in Rwanda since. May we have a debate in Government time on how those in conflict situations around the world today might be able to learn from the experience in Rwanda?
The conflict in Rwanda was truly terrible, with appalling consequences for so many people, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise its anniversary. I certainly support the idea of a debate to look at how those in conflict situations can recover. There are far too many current conflicts and we should always seek to learn how we can better improve people’s lives so that they can survive and thrive again. I will certainly see what can be done.
The Leader of the House will be concerned to know that Marks & Spencer’s main store in Hull closed its doors on 4 May, 88 years after it opened. There are vacant units in our local railway station in the centre of Hull, and local MPs are asking for consideration to be given to Marks & Spencer opening a Simply Food outlet there, as has happened in many other stations up and down the land.
May we please have a debate, however, about the management of our train stations and whether they fulfil the needs of passengers and provide the necessary facilities? In Hull, the toilets are very smelly and signage is covered by masking tape. The current system is not working for passengers.
I am tempted to say that the M&S closure will be a disaster for all the grey underpants that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has talked about. They will obviously have to go elsewhere. It is a great shame and, after 88 years, a local tragedy—I can well understand that.
The hon. Lady raises an important point about the quality of the services available in train stations. All too often the toilets are closed late at night, when passengers may well want to use them, so I absolutely share her concern. She will be aware of the significant investment the Government are making in improving our rail infrastructure network, including the actual services available to passengers, but I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise her particular local concerns.
I hear that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, which runs driving test centres, may close a centre in Dunfermline in my constituency. That will cause great inconvenience to learner drivers and will come at a huge cost for driving schools and instructors. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on the strategic direction of the DVSA so that any proposed closures can be averted?
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that organisation is designed to be independent; it looks at where demand is, and manages its infrastructure and the availability of its learning centres independently of Government. Nevertheless, I fully appreciate that a local closure is always disappointing. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise his particular concerns directly with Ministers.
My riparian constituents living on Clink Street and all along the Thames are very concerned about a new pier being constructed on the north side of the river, mostly to serve as a new 1,500-person party boat. Will the Government provide time to debate how to transform tick-box consultation exercises for planning purposes into more meaningful engagement to ensure that everyone affected by developments has the right to have their concerns both heard and addressed?
I can well understand the concerns of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents who would be adversely affected by such a development. He will be aware that there are strict planning rules that enable all those affected to have their say. Nevertheless, if he has particular concerns about how that works, he might want to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss it directly.
The housing crisis is hitting Battersea hard, and those most affected are the homeless families who have been placed by Wandsworth Council in temporary accommodation outside the borough. That means that they must make regular trips back to Battersea to carry out the school run twice a day, to attend GP appointments and for various other reasons, and yet the council expects those families to cover those additional costs. That is causing severe, deep financial hardship, so may we have a debate on the issue in Government time?
I am genuinely sorry to hear about the problems those constituents who are being placed outside the borough are having. Obviously the key point is that we do not want to see anybody homeless, so it is vital that people are enabled to have a roof over the head. The Government are putting billions more into affordable housing and allowing councils to borrow to build more homes, deliberately to try to address the problem of getting the right number of homes in the right places. The hon. Lady talks about a specific constituency issue, and I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise it directly with Ministers.
I have been applying for some time, without success, for a debate on transport issues in Cheshire as we urgently need to discuss some of the things that are occurring. If my constituents want to cross the River Mersey, they get ripped off whichever way they go. If they go to the Mersey Gateway, they have to pay an exorbitant fee, whereas use is free for residents of Halton. If they go through the Mersey tunnels, they find that fees have increased by 50% while people who live in Merseyside are getting a discount. This is a postcode lottery; it is completely unfair and we need to discuss it urgently.
May we have a statement from a Treasury Minister about how the Financial Conduct Authority is dragging its feet over contingent charging by independent financial advisers? We need urgent action to protect pension scheme members and clamp down on these pension sharks.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have sought, through various measures, to clamp down on pension sharks so that it is much easier for those seeking a new pension provider to get the advice that they need. We have Treasury questions on Tuesday 21 May, when I encourage him to raise his issue directly.
The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has written to me to raise her deep concern about the impact of the Government’s changes to pension credit and housing benefit in respect of the eligibility of mixed-age couples, with the worry being that they will have to claim universal credit until both of them reach pension age. On her estimates, that could lead to some households being at least £600 a month worse off. May we therefore find time for a debate and to review the eligibility of mixed-age couples so that they are not left worse off because of Government changes?
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue of which I am not personally aware. He will appreciate that the Government have sought to learn from every issue raised in this Chamber in order to improve universal credit, so that a new system that replaces something that used to trap people on benefits and leave some people facing an effective tax rate of 90% now works better for people, be they in work or pensioners. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate on this specific issue so that he can raise it directly with Ministers.
Officials of the unrecognised Luhansk people’s republic in eastern Ukraine have ordered Baptist Union churches to halt their public worship or risk punishment. Last year, LPR authorities drafted a law requiring all churches to re-register and then they rejected all the registration applications from Protestant communities. Therefore, officials now regard all Protestant churches as illegal and have cracked down on meetings of these groups. Will the Leader of the House agree to arrange a statement or debate on this issue?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this worrying situation. He is a strong voice for the freedom of religious belief, and he will be aware that the Government strongly promote the right to religious freedom around the world. I encourage him to raise this issue directly with Foreign Office Ministers.