House of Commons
Thursday 20 June 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Account of the Contingencies Fund 2018-19
That there be laid before this House an Account of the Contingencies Fund 2018-19, showing—
(1) A statement of Financial Position;
(2) A statement of Cash Flows, and
(3) Notes of the Accounts; together with the Certificate and Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon.—(Iain Stewart.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Government Contracts: Climate Emergency
How grateful I am, Mr Speaker, to hear you say that there can indeed be no opposition.
Tackling the climate change and environment emergency is a cross-Government priority and an issue that I discuss regularly with Cabinet colleagues. The greening government commitments include specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving sustainable procurement. Those commitments demonstrate the Government’s leadership in improving the environmental sustainability of their own estate, and the 2018 revisions to the Green Book have also improved the evaluation of the natural capital impacts of Government decision making.
Tomorrow, young people in Nottingham will demonstrate because we are not moving quickly enough on our climate emergency. This House declared such an emergency on 1 May, saying that the Government should
“set ambitious, short-term targets for… low carbon energy and transport”.
When we will see those targets?
It is already the case that we are the first Government of a developed nation to embrace the ambition of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. I congratulate the Members across the House who have campaigned to ensure that that commitment is at the heart of this Government’s proposals—indeed, it is a vision—to ensure that we leave a cleaner, greener planet for the next generation.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office team on their amazing diplomatic success in the negotiations with Italy, which mean that next year’s global climate change conference is almost certain to come to London?
The Foreign Secretary has done an outstanding job on the diplomatic stage and will continue to do so. Co-operating with our partners across western Europe, including Italy, will ensure that the 2020 conference of the parties brings nations together to deal with this global challenge. The Secretary of State for International Development has also played a distinguished role alongside the Foreign Secretary in using our global footprint to ensure that our planet is in a more sustainable state.
I congratulate the students in his constituency and so many other students across the country on helping to ensure that our climate and environment emergency is at the heart of our decision making. We will put greening government and greening the whole country at the heart of our decision making in the forthcoming spending review.
Food Producers: Overseas Marketing
I met with the Secretary of State for International Trade yesterday, and he told me that he had just come back from Turkey, where he had been exploring opportunities for British trade, including in food and drink. On Monday, I signed an agreement with China which means that British beef could be back on Chinese dinner plates by the end of the year, which could be worth £230 million over five years to our world-class beef producers. Those are just two examples of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for International Trade working closely to raise the international profile and reputation of the UK’s high-quality food and drink products, to open new markets, and to boost our exports.
It has been great, as it says on the can. DEFRA’s “Food is GREAT” campaign supports DIT’s trade promotion activity, including at trade shows and meet-the-buyer events. It helps businesses to succeed in overseas markets by ensuring global recognition of UK excellence in food and drink, while encouraging our food and drink companies to export more.
This just shows what a barmy army we have on the Government Front Bench. To want more beef to be produced and shipped thousands of miles to China shows that they have not learned the lessons of sustainability or climate change danger. They had better learn those lessons quickly and do something to save our planet.
British breakfast cereals are among the best in the world and none is finer than Weetabix, which is based in the Kettering constituency and which sources its wheat from farms within a 50-mile radius of the factory. Will my right hon. Friend be the great British breakfast champion?
At the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that the EU would continue to protect UK protected geographical indications because they are European law. That seems to be incorrect. Was he mistaken, or did someone mislead him? Will he now put the record straight?
Geographical indications are important not only for producers but so that consumers know they are getting the real thing. It is important that we get that protection in our negotiations with the EU through the implementation period while, at the same time, talking to other trading partners around the world who may have different systems. We need to ensure that those systems dovetail closely with ours.
We are keen to export seafood around the world. Brown crab from my constituency is exported to China, whelks are exported to South Korea, and I hope that the Americans will enjoy even more of our seafood and other products when we leave the EU and can negotiate trade agreements around the world.
I want to press the Minister on geographical indications, which are vital in our marketing of goods and products made across the country. In the event of a no deal, about which the frontrunner in the Tory leadership contest seems quite keen, protections for Cornish pasties, Buxton blue cheese, traditional Welsh perry, Cornish clotted cream and Whitstable oysters, to name but a few, will be at risk. What steps is DEFRA taking to ensure that those vital goods produced by our farmers and growers are protected come Halloween this year?
In a no-deal situation, we would wish to set up our own scheme and to negotiate with our friends across the channel to ensure some degree of co-operation, but I stress that no deal is not an option I would want to support. We need to get a deal, and we need to get it over the line. If, like me, Opposition Members had voted for the deal on the three occasions it came before the House, we would have left the European Union on 29 March and we would be in a much better situation for UK producers.
To increase tree planting rates, we have changed how our main grant schemes work. The woodland carbon fund now supports infrastructure such as roads and is available for smaller projects. The countryside stewardship woodland creation grant is now open for applications all year, rather than in short windows, which demonstrates the Government’s commitment to planting 11 million trees during this Parliament.
I thank my hon. Friend for his response. However, his passion for planting trees seems to be in conflict with the practice of both Network Rail and Highways England, which have decimated thousands of mature trees that lined the railway and motorway embankments through Long Eaton, Sawley and Breaston in my constituency and that acted as a vital natural sound and visual barrier. May I urge him and his counterparts in the Department for Transport to intervene to ensure that mature trees are reinstated on those embankments as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend is, and continues to be, a strong champion for Erewash in all ways. I recognise that removing trees can be concerning, which is why DEFRA is working closely with the DFT to deliver a new policy for Network Rail, with the aim of improving its current approach to managing vegetation so that it enhances biodiversity on our rail network. That is in line with the recommendations of John Varley’s review of Network Rail’s vegetation management.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his efforts in helping to achieve our wider target. As I have explained, we are working hard to make our current schemes much more flexible. We will also be introducing the woodland carbon guarantee—£50 million in the Budget—and we launched the £10 million urban tree challenge fund just a few weeks ago.
Will the Minister join me in celebrating the 9 million trees planted over the past 30 years to create the new national forest? My constituency, at the centre of it, has seen a massive improvement in not only the environment but the quality of life, for visitors and residents alike.
I have had the chance to go to the national forest in my hon. Friend’s constituency on two occasions, and he is a fantastic champion and ambassador for the national forest. We need to take lessons from that and apply them in the northern forest as well, to see what the exciting opportunities can be.
The role of tree planting in tackling climate change is well documented. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) promised during his leadership bid to plant 100 million trees. The Minister has been mentioning targets, so it is disappointing to read this week that the Government are falling woefully short—by 71%—of their targets. Can the Minister explain why that is? What is he doing about it? How long will it be before we see the Secretary of State’s targets actually met?
We have set out a clear target of planting 11 million trees in this Parliament. We are at 3.6 million now and on the trajectory to achieve that target of 11 million, so I assure the hon. Lady that we are working in that direction. We have also set out strong aspirations to increase our woodland cover from 10% to 12% within the 25-year environment plan. We have stretching targets and we will move further forward.
Leaving the EU: Food Shortages
The Government have been undertaking extensive work to prepare for a no-deal scenario for the past two years, to ensure that trade continues to operate smoothly from the day we leave. We have long-established relationships with industry, and we are working closely with key stakeholders to prepare for all scenarios. The UK has a high level of food security, built on diverse sources, and this will continue to be the case when we leave the EU.
In reality, only just over half of the food we eat is made in Britain, with more than a third coming from the EU. Given that the Food and Drink Federation is predicting that after a no-deal Brexit fresh fruit and veg would run out after two weeks, why are the remaining contenders in the Tory leadership battle continuing to entertain this damaging prospect? Does he not agree that scurvy back on our streets is more important than the whims of fundamentalist party members’ wishes?
The hon. Lady has ruined a perfectly reasonable question by exaggerating. Of course we are preparing for every eventuality. As we have said already in these questions, a deal is the best outcome, and we all have a responsibility to help deliver that. We are preparing for all outcomes.
Can the Secretary of State reassure my local businesses, which supply millions of people across the UK with high-quality food products, that enough refrigeration units will be in place to cope with the predicted delays at UK ports after our exit from the EU?
The hon. Gentleman can be assured that I have regular meetings—each week—with the main stakeholders in the food industry to prepare for no deal. We are looking at all eventualities. Primarily, we are looking at how we can ensure the flow of trade; that is our vital priority.
Yesterday, the Rural Payments Agency announced that it will make payments next month to all those who have been waiting on the historical revenue payments, and therefore every farmer who has been taking part in environmental and countryside stewardship schemes, which deliver important benefits for our environment, will receive the money that they deserve.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, because many farmers in my constituency have regularly complained to me about the delays in countryside stewardship scheme payments. Will he expand on that answer for those who, in some instances, have had to wait more than 600 days for payments?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for Hertfordshire farmers and indeed for workers across the English countryside. He is absolutely right: past performance has not been good enough. That is why I am so pleased that the RPA’s chief executive, Paul Caldwell, will make sure that all back payments are cleared next month.
Last Thursday, the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman), and I visited Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services. We met farmers who had not been paid for 18 months, so payments in July would be welcome. Will they get interest on the late payments?
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami), as we leave the European Union we will build up more and more environmentally friendly agricultural policy, so stewardship schemes will be more important than ever. There has been a loss of faith in them, and I am worried about the future programme, because farmers really do not like the complexity and have waited far too long for their payments.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point; the schemes have been bedevilled by unnecessary complexity in the past. It is critical that as we leave the European Union and have new environmental land management schemes, they are both simpler and more effective in supporting farmers in the wonderful work that they do.
I know that, as always, you are my biggest fan, Mr Speaker.
I hear what the Secretary of State says, but one reason for the current collapse in the take-up of environmental agri-ecology schemes is the slowness and lateness of payments, which is bedevilling the pilots for the environmental land management schemes. Will the Secretary of State assure me that those pilots will now get under way?
We have strengthened the national planning policy framework to make it clear that all development within its scope should achieve net gains for biodiversity. We have consulted on proposals to mandate biodiversity net gain for development, and will use the forthcoming environment Bill to legislate for a net gain system.
Large infrastructure projects may require an environmental impact assessment of the likely effects. In the case of nationally significant infrastructure projects, the EIA forms a part of the planning process and the development consent order. I assure my hon. Friend that each consenting regime has appropriate enforcement mechanisms.
West Oxfordshire wants the design of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds garden village to enhance, not harm, the environment. What guidance have Ministers given to developers on how garden villages can enhance things such as wildlife corridors and biodiversity in new developments?
Well-planned, locally led garden communities can play a vital role, not only in meeting the country’s housing needs and providing a stable pipeline of high-quality homes but by providing such opportunities as my hon. Friend referred to. In fact, they will be mandated to do so, to improve wildlife corridors and promote health and wellbeing and quality of life. That could be a win-win for my hon. Friend’s constituents.
We have updated the planning guidance for the planning policy. As we set out in the consultation, we intend to develop in the environment Bill an update of metrics for biodiversity and wider environmental net gains. We will provide practical tools to support developers and, critically, local planning authorities to achieve better environmental outcomes for every development.
A 38 Degrees petition started by Norman Pasley from Bristol is calling for legislation on the installation of swift boxes in all new housing developments, and it has more than 130,000 signatures. As parliamentary species champion for the swift, I urge Ministers to support the campaign. Perhaps the Secretary of State in particular would like to make it his legacy from his time at the Department.
Hopefully, the hon. Lady will be swift in her praise for the work we are doing with the forthcoming environment Bill. As the species champion for bitterns, which are literally booming as we speak, I know that this issue matters. We want to take more proactive approaches to how we protect species. I am not sure whether a swift box in every single house is the right thing, as opposed to all sorts of other things such as beetle hotels—there is a wide variety—but we need to make sure that we encourage a wide range of biodiversity for birds, for wildlife and for the protection of nature for future generations.
The crowing from the Department about their bird policy this morning is rather touching. The Minister will be aware that changes by the water undertakers to discharge water regulations are causing concern for the Bathroom Manufacturers Association and house builders. Will she meet me and a small delegation to discuss how future developments can better look after our waste water?
The RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts, which both have fantastic reserves in my constituency in the Newport wetlands and the Magor marsh, are strongly supportive of establishing a nature recovery network to restore and repair habitats. Will the Government commit to putting that on a statutory footing?
That is absolutely the case. My right hon. Friend spoke to me this morning about this issue. I will follow up on it, because when major infrastructure projects go ahead, it is important that people should have confidence, and while some vegetation might need to be removed, HS2 is supposed to be planting at least 5 million trees. We will make sure that it does so.
Seasonal Agricultural Workers Pilot Scheme
The Government have introduced a new immigration pilot scheme for 2019 and 2020 to enable up to 2,500 non-European economic area migrant workers to come to the UK to undertake seasonal employment in the edible horticultural sector. DEFRA and the Home Office will evaluate the outcome before taking any decisions on future arrangements.
Government Members seem to be obsessed with 31 October. That is a pity, because harvest is coming rather sooner, and I wish they would show a similar interest in that. The National Farmers Union has made it absolutely clear that we need a permanent, fully functioning system and that at least 10,000 new workers are required in this area. Why will the Government not act, and why will the Home Office not take proper action?
It is important that we evaluate the pilot before moving further. From my point of view, we are meeting the requirements. We had 700 workers here already by the end of May and we expect to reach the peak in the middle of the summer picking season, although the Home Office might look at how many of those workers go back to the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Moldova at the end. We will need to evaluate that after the pilot before going further.
Absolutely. We understand how big an issue this is. Some 28% of those working in food and drink manufacturing, including fish processing, are from the European Union. That is 106,000 people. It is important that they understand that, whichever way we leave the European Union, including no deal, they will still be able to come here to work and participate in these important industries.
In November 2018 we announced that we will consult on a new English tree strategy, setting out how we will accelerate woodland creation to reach our aspiration of increasing woodland cover in England from 10% to 12% by 2060. The consultation on the English tree strategy will be launched later this year, and our recently reappointed tree champion is leading our engagement on this.
But clearly the strategy is not working when councils such as City of York Council fail to sign up to the White Rose Forest project. As we have heard, the Government have failed to reach their target by 71%, so there is no chance that we will see a growth in the number of trees across our country. Will the Minister look at mandating local authorities to sign up to the Government’s initiative?
We will do all we can to encourage local authorities to get involved. It is good to hear that Yorkshire Water is planting 1 million trees in Yorkshire. We need to do more, particularly in the hon. Lady’s area, with natural flood management techniques upstream. There is lots we can do.
Rare and Native Breeds
Our rare and native breeds are an important genetic resource. There are several purposes under clauses 1 and 2 of the Agriculture Bill for which financial assistance could be provided to support our genetic heritage.
I declare my interest in that my family are long-standing breeders of both the British Lop pig and pedigree South Devon cattle, but genetic diversity is critical to maintaining resilience in our livestock sectors, and protecting genetic resources is a primary responsibility DEFRA. Will the Minister therefore agree to convene a meeting at DEFRA of representatives of our native and rare breeds to discuss what support would be appropriate for them under future policy?
I was already aware of my hon. Friend’s considerable interest in this policy area. I am pleased to tell him that a workshop with breed societies will be taking place in London on 12 September to look at the issues that he has in mind. Later today I will be visiting the Lincolnshire show, where I hope to see some of the rare breeds that are bound to be there.
This is all very encouraging, but I must say that as we are discussing rare breeds, I feel a great sense of personal sadness that we are not joined this morning by the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who knows a thing or two about these matters.
As does my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis).
I probably should also declare an interest in South Devon cattle, as my family have bred them for generations as well. However, I wanted to ask the Minister about rare wildlife, if I might segue into the matter. Given all his work on general licences recently, what communications has he had with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about sites of special scientific interest and the work it does culling birds in those areas?
It is important, particularly for ground-nesting birds, that other bird species that can predate on them and damage their nests are controlled. The RSPB carries out that work on land that it controls, and I hope that it will continue doing so to protect those particular rare species.
Badger Culling Programme
During 2018, badger control operations in 32 areas of England were all successful in meeting their targets. According to Natural England’s chief scientist, the results show that
“industry-led badger control continues to deliver the level of effectiveness required by the policy to be confident of achieving disease control benefits”.
Assessments of the effectiveness of badger control are published annually on gov.uk.
Given the extended roll-out, it is estimated that about 150,000 badgers will have been culled by the end of 2020. This animal, which has been around since the ice age, faces extinction in various parts of the country. What would the Secretary of State say about investing the money in a national badger vaccination programme? To quote the Wildlife Trusts, should not the Government be investing in “medicine, not marksmen”?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. When it comes to dealing with bovine TB—a terrible disease that damages the lives of cattle and the livelihoods of farmers—we need to consider all steps that are appropriate. Culling and vaccination are both tools in our armoury.
Clean Air Strategy
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has regular discussions with his counterpart at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Discussions are also held at an official level about delivering the clean air strategy and relevant provisions that we hope to bring forward in the forthcoming environment Bill. Local authorities will continue to play a vital role in delivering improvements to the air that we all breathe.
The Minister knows that Bath has a considerable air pollution problem. Idling cars make a measurable contribution to inner-city pollution. I recently tabled a private Member’s Bill to give local authorities greater enforcement powers to stop idling cars. Will the Minister consider my proposal to strengthen anti-idling legislation?
One local council that could do a much better job on air quality is Labour-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham, by reopening Hammersmith bridge. The diversion of traffic through Fulham and Chelsea is horrendous. Will the Minister join me in calling on the council and the Mayor of London to introduce proper air quality monitoring, particularly on Fulham High Street, to properly assess the catastrophic impact of the council’s decision?
Leaving the EU: Fisheries Policy
The Government’s vision for future fisheries policy as we leave the European Union is set out in the fisheries White Paper “Sustainable fisheries for future generations”, which was published in July 2018.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm his commitment to boosting investment in the fisheries sector to help with expansion outside the common fisheries policy but also to promote export opportunities and the UK domestic market for Scottish seafood after Brexit?
Absolutely I will. The UK Government will work with the Scottish Government to make sure that we have investment in port facilities in Peterhead and Fraserburgh, and that we have the marketing budget necessary to ensure that the power of our United Kingdom is harnessed to help Scots fishermen and, indeed, Scottish fish processors.
The Secretary of State has already promised Danish and Iberian fishing fleets that their access to UK waters will continue unhindered after Brexit. How many promises has he made to other foreign countries, and what percentage of the quotas is going to be reserved for UK fishing?
I have promised no such thing. What I have promised is to ensure that we are out of the European Union and out of the common fisheries policy, in stark contrast to the Scottish National party, which wants to keep us in the European Union and in the common fisheries policy. The Scottish National party and the Scottish Government claim to stand up for Scotland, but at every turn they prefer the politics of grievance and the ideology of separation to the interests of Scotland’s fishermen and Scotland’s citizens.
I am delighted to announce that Tamara Finkelstein OBE has been appointed as the new permanent secretary at DEFRA. She is the fourth woman in succession to be permanent secretary at this Department. With respect to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), I do think it is a very, very good thing if important institutions in this country are, wherever possible, led by women.
I congratulate the new permanent secretary at the Secretary of State’s Department. It is always good to see senior women in leadership roles.
The Government have set out a new net zero emissions target. Putting our country on track to meet that in order to tackle the climate emergency is going to take urgent and bold action, so will the Secretary of State commit to bringing forward the date to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030, allow onshore wind facilities to be built again, and re-establish the Department of Energy and Climate Change?
Those are important points, well made. Bringing forward the target by which we get rid of petrol and diesel cars is always kept under review. At the moment, we believe that the target is achievable and stretching, but we will of course keep it under review as more progress is made. On renewable energy, we lead the world in offshore wind, and we have also done a huge amount on solar energy, in particular—99% of the solar power generated in this country has been generated since 2010. I pay tribute to Ministers who served in the coalition Government between 2010 and 2015 for their work in this area.
The environmental impact of bags, including bags for life, can be reduced simply through reusing them. We will be publishing our response on extending the carrier bag charge to all retailers very soon, so we are not currently considering stopping the use of plastic bags altogether. In our bio-economy strategy, we have committed to issuing a call for evidence, because it is important to note that these biodegradable bags need careful treatment when they come to the end of their life.
Following the recent Scottish deposit return scheme proposals and the conclusion of the Government’s consultation on a DRS, can the Secretary of State tell us how the Government intend to learn from best practice? Does he hope to emulate the 98.5% recycling rate achieved by Germany for plastic and glass bottles and metal drink cans? Will he commit to a deposit return scheme that matches the ambition of other Governments in Europe, to achieve a UK-wide standard, as suggested in “Our Waste, Our Resources”?
This is something that the Government have worked on extensively. I have visited several countries, including Germany, and it is fair to say that not all deposit return schemes take glass. As I have said to the House before, the front end of these schemes is very simple, but how we make the back end work is complex. That is why it is taking some time. We are considering carefully with the devolved Administrations how we can make progress, and I hope we will be able to announce more soon.
I agree. The Smithills estate was where the first tree of the northern forest was planted, which is a very important step forward. It is a great site, overshadowed by the wonderful Winter Hill TV mast. I love it, and I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for it.
The River Mersey, which originates in Stockport and flows through my constituency on its journey to Liverpool, has been named and shamed by Greenpeace as proportionately more polluted than the great Pacific garbage patch. That follows a University of Manchester study showing that microplastics in the river bed sediment were higher than in any other environment. What work is the Department doing to address the issue of microplastics entering the waterways, and what pressure is being put on the industry to address it?
I grew up in Liverpool, and it is sad to hear that terrible statistic revealed by Greenpeace. I think it is fair to say that the Government have already taken action by reducing microplastics from certain cosmetic products and rinse-off products. We will do more by taking forward the ban on plastic straws and other single-use plastic items. We will continue to work with the water industry on what more we can do about filtration, so that we keep plastics out of the rivers.
Given the extraordinarily high contribution of cars on our roads to poor air quality, will the Secretary of State lobby the Department for Transport to review all major road schemes to see whether they will contribute to poor air quality, and look at modal shift, to get people off our roads and out of their cars?
The hon. Gentleman knows of what he speaks, as a distinguished former taxi driver, as well as a very effective spokesman for the people of Eltham in the borough of Greenwich. We absolutely do need to take account in all new road building schemes of the impact of pollution.
Yesterday I was able to sponsor National Refill Day with Water UK. Reusing our water bottles means that we could get rid of millions of plastic bottles that we do not need. It is about not only recycling plastic, but using a lot less. Does the Secretary of State welcome that?
The Heathrow masterplan released this week promises 40,000 more vehicles on our roads, 6 million more tonnes of CO2 released per annum and new noise for hundreds of thousands of households. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Transport about the environmental consequences of Heathrow expansion?
Increasingly enviously, and I think it is the case that other European Union countries, many of which I love, are looking enviously at the gallimaufry of talent that exists on the Government Benches at this time. I suspect that those other European Union countries appreciate the festival of democracy in which we are currently engaged.
Order. Before we turn to the next session of oral questions, I must advise the House that the urgent question I had granted to the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has now been withdrawn by the hon. Gentleman, so we will proceed from Question Time to the business question, and then to the two ministerial statements that are scheduled to follow it. That is really for the benefit of Members’ timekeeping, so that they know when the sessions they may wish to attend will be.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Serious Youth Violence
The Church was represented at the knife crime summit organised by the Prime Minister at No. 10 earlier this year, and the General Synod will be debating this subject at its session next month. There is no question but that this issue is of the utmost seriousness, as too many young lives are being lost.
I think it is very well known that the Church provides role models for young people, such as youth workers. In the community, we work alongside young people in schools, youth groups and congregations. Our clergy, teachers and members of our congregations are supporting young people who are at risk of getting caught up in violence and their families, and young people in pupil referral units.
My constituent Ben Lindsay recently set up Power the Fight, a charity that enables churches to become part of the solution to tackling youth violence. The period after school is one of the most dangerous times for violence among young people. Churches have resources, buildings and volunteers that Power the Fight believes could be used to disrupt violence and keep young people safe. Will the right hon. Lady meet me and my constituent to talk about this valuable work?
I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady, who will know that the Church uses its community halls and facilities in particular to reach out to young people. There are a number of examples of that, but may I especially cite the work of Premier Christian Radio, which broadcasts from London? It has raised awareness of youth violence and what the Church can do to help. We are certainly active in this area, and I would be happy to meet her.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to the work of street pastors. In Birmingham, the nearest city to my constituency, I have gone out with street pastors at night and seen them minister to very vulnerable young people, making sure they are safe on their streets. The street pastors do amazing work.
I think I have been outlining that. The Church actually provides youth workers in our communities where many have fallen away, and it continues to support the presence of such role models in our society, as is recognised by the Government. I could give the hon. Gentleman a whole series of examples of how the Government’s community fund is being used, through churches, to deliver knife crime awareness training and to help to tackle this problem. Indeed, many churches provide amnesty boxes for weapons that may otherwise cause people to lose their lives.
Clergy Recruitment: London
London presents a very positive picture in the life of the Church for the recruitment of clergy. The Church set itself a target to increase the number of vocations in all dioceses by 50% by next year. Most dioceses are well on track, and London expects to reach that target this year.
I welcome that great news on recruitment in London. A year ago three of our major parishes in Fulham had vacancies, but in April I was delighted to attend the induction of Rev. Ross Gunderson at St Etheldreda. Next Wednesday will be the induction of Rev. Penny Seabrook at All Saints, and we hope soon to fill the vacancy at St John Walham Green. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating and welcoming our new clergy in Fulham?
With pleasure—I wish all those incumbents great success in their new parishes. That demonstrates that the commitment to more training for vocations is really working, and I should share with the House the fact that there is now a 50:50 ratio of men and women in training.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
The Commission has heard various oral representations. At its meeting on 14 May 2018, it considered a statement of accommodation requirements for the House of Commons decant. Most recently, on 20 May, the Commission considered the northern estate programme, which includes the temporary Chamber for the House of Commons, and endorsed the scheme’s proposals. Those proposals are currently out to a public consultation that closes on 28 June, and all comments and observations will be welcomed.
The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised if I ask whether there is the intention to ensure that any temporary Chamber is equipped with facilities for electronic voting so that we can at least experiment with a bit of modernisation. However, when MPs and the public make submissions to the consultation, will they have the opportunity to suggest even more radical proposals, such as desks that we might lean on or facilities for plugging in electronic devices, as are seen in other Parliaments around the world?
It was no surprise that the hon. Gentleman made his point about electronic voting, which is something that I would like to see tested in the temporary Chamber—that is a personal opinion. I will monitor the responses to the consultation that are received by 28 June, and I will be astonished and extremely disappointed if the hon. Gentleman does not submit a response setting out exactly how he would like the temporary Chamber to operate.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Cathedrals: Contribution to Local Economies
It is estimated that in 2017 there were more than 10 million tourist and leisure visitors to our cathedrals, including Westminster Abbey, generating some £125 million for their local economies. That is a 37% increase from 2004, the last time that that was measured.
That is encouraging news; I know how Lichfield Cathedral benefits the local community.
Mr Speaker, you may be interested to learn that next year will be the 900th anniversary of the birth of Thomas à Becket and the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the American colony of the Pilgrim Fathers. To mark that, I believe there will be an initiative: the year of the cathedrals. Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about how that will stimulate local economies?
We had a meeting of the deans of cathedrals in Parliament this week, and the Dean of Lichfield, who is a fantastic champion for that cathedral, came up with an interesting proposal, through the Association of English Cathedrals, to introduce a pilgrimage passport. That would encourage people—not just from this country, but from abroad—to visit more of our cathedrals, obtaining a stamp at every one, and would indeed assist the overall economy.
Having a cathedral city is a very fine thing, but will the right hon. Lady explain the arcane procedures through which a town can get a cathedral? Many places that I would call diddly-squat little places have a cathedral, whereas Huddersfield, a bursting, successful major university town, does not have the status of a cathedral city.
The hon. Gentleman is right: the process is arcane and complicated. My nearest city of Birmingham has what is known as a parish church cathedral, whereas Coventry, the city across the other side of my constituency, had an ancient cathedral which was bombed and then renewed. I think the best thing I can do for the hon. Gentleman is to write to him about how this is arrived at.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Provision for Cyclists
Like many colleagues, I cycle to the parliamentary estate and I have to say that the parking facilities are woeful. If we are going to achieve a modal shift to encourage more employees of the House, as well as Members of Parliament, to cycle to this place, it is absolutely vital that we have adequate parking facilities. Will the right hon. Gentleman meet me and others to explore how that can be achieved?
I am very happy to do so. I am a cyclist myself, and I must say that the facilities within Parliament are perhaps not quite what they should be, certainly given the lack of covered parking provision for cycles, so I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady. I should point out that access to the parliamentary estate for cyclists has been improved, but I agree that there is a need to look at not just current provision, but provision under the northern estate programme and, at a future date, the restoration and renewal of the Palace.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Employee Pay Gap
The national Church institutions have a unified pay policy that operates across all the institutions. There is an eight-band pay structure that is designed to ensure that staff in posts of equal value are paid the same. If we were to exclude staff in the Church Commissioners investment division, the ratio between the highest and lowest paid would be 7.3:1.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that answer. The Archbishop of Canterbury has talked extensively about the need for economic justice, so I was shocked to read in Personnel Today that the Church Commissioners have a 23:1 pay ratio between the highest and lowest paid in the organisation. The highest paid person receives £256,000 and one staff member was given a bonus of £250,000. For charities, the ratio is 10:1 and for local government the ratio is 15:1, so what does she think about what is going on in the Church Commissioners?
As I explained, the ratio, if we exclude the highest paid investment division, is 7.3:1. The investment division includes asset managers, who have to manage assets of over £8 billion. They are paid at the market rate for asset management, but they are nowhere near the top of the range. External advice is taken by the Church Commissioners on what and how we should pay, but those are the going rates for top asset managers in this country, and the assets of the Church of England have to be well managed.
Global Businesses’ Working Practices
This question relates to the previous one in an interesting way.
This month, the Church of England was ranked second globally in an industry survey of responsible investors. One of our most recent engagements has been holding to account the mining company, Vale, as responsible for the collapse of the dam in Brumadinho, Brazil. That underlines the point that really good, responsible asset management is something that one has to pay for.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that answer. The dam collapse claimed the lives of 246 people. Vale is a British company and it is totally unacceptable to have lower standards of health and safety abroad than at home. What is the Church of England’s strategy, as an investor, for tackling that?
The Church Commissioners hosted a roundtable meeting with other investors and senior management from a number of the largest mining companies in the world, which exposed the fact that this is a widespread problem. To date, 29 of the top 50 mining companies have made disclosures about tailings dams. This is how investors can have an influence in an ethical way over their policy.
Mobile Phone Masts
The Church of England signed an accord with the Government in 2017 that signalled its intent to support national targets on mobile and broadband connectivity, particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas. At previous Question Times, I have encouraged Members of the House by saying that if they have notspots for broadband and mobile provision, all the towers, spires, buildings and land of the Church of England are at their disposal to address that.
There is evidence that changes by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to the electronic communications code are making it more complicated, although not impossible, for churches and other community buildings to be used to address shortcomings in the roll-out of digital infrastructure. We should work together and go and lobby DCMS to tackle the unintended consequences of the changes in that communications code.
The right hon. Lady will be aware of the growing controversy over 5G and of those who worry about its installation. It would be quite wrong if the Church was brought into those arguments in such a way that an unfair burden was put on it.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to join the lobbying party, because this is one more aspect that needs to be seriously looked into. There are gaps in provision under 4G, and the worst possible thing would be for the digital divide to continue or get worse as we move to 5G technology, so I think we should seek an early meeting.
Persecution of Christians: Bishop of Truro’s Inquiry
The Church welcomed the decision by the Foreign Secretary to invite the Bishop of Truro to chair an independent review of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That is not a Church of England inquiry, but a Foreign Office inquiry. However, the Church is actively encouraging its agencies and charities to feed in their experiences.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I wholeheartedly support her in congratulating the Foreign Secretary and the Bishop of Truro on producing the report, which highlights the persecution of Christians not only on a large scale, as we saw in places such as Sri Lanka, but on a small scale in everyday life. Is not promoting the good work of Christians and Christianity in our society one of the best things that we can do? May I draw her attention to the Renew church in Uttoxeter, which has its mission week this week involving digging gardens, helping schools, washing cars and showing the best of Christianity?
It is just the interim report that has been published, and the important thing was that it mapped where the persecution takes place around the world. We await phase 2 with great interest, when we expect to hear more about what we can actually get done. I agree with my hon. Friend about the kind of approach that could be taken.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Relocation of Parliament
An option to move Parliament out of the Palace of Westminster to a new purpose-built building was included in the restoration and renewal pre-feasibility study of 2012. The House of Commons Commission reviewed that study in October that year and decided to rule the option out, agreeing that no further analysis would be undertaken on it. The House of Lords Commission took a similar view, and that commitment was reaffirmed by the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster in 2016, and more recently, in resolutions of both Houses in 2018.
I note the right hon. Gentleman’s answer, but when we rebuilt this Chamber, Churchill said:
“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”—[Official Report, 28 October 1943; Vol. 393, c. 403.]
Given just how broken our political culture has now been demonstrated to be, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is time to take a bold approach and move into a modern Parliament in one of the great cities of the UK?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his supplementary question; I might have expected him to call for Parliament to be moved to Luton, but he did not. Clearly a decision has been taken. Some of the things that he would like might be possible for the temporary Chamber—that matter that was raised earlier—and I hope that he will want to make a written submission pressing for that Chamber to be used to trial and test some of the things that would improve our democracy.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 24 June will include the following:
Monday 24 June—Second reading of the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No.3) Bill [Lords], followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019.
Tuesday 25 June—Second reading of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill.
Wednesday 26 June—Opposition day (un-allotted half day). There will be a debate on a motion on immigration in the name of the Scottish National party, followed by a general debate on Armed Forces Day.
Thursday 27 June—Debate on a motion relating to the contribution of co-operatives and mutuals to the economy, followed by a general debate on the children’s future food report. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 28 June—The House will not be sitting.
Colleagues will also wish to know that subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the summer recess at the close of business on Thursday 25 July, and will return on Tuesday 3 September.
That is very helpful to all Members.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) for suggesting the business. I am pleased that we now have a recess date, but can the Leader of the House tell us who will be at the Dispatch Box on Wednesday 24 July?
Well, that is what I am asking him. I am asking him when the identity of the new Prime Minister will be confirmed. I understand that all the results will be out on 22 July; perhaps he could let us know. I am pleased to learn that the House will sit in September, and I am sure that the Leader of the House will announce the conference recess dates as well. I think it is only fair to the outgoing Prime Minister that she knows when her last Question Time will be, and, more important, only fair to us—to Parliament.
The Leader of the House will know that we have had a busy week. He will also know that on Tuesday we had a Back-Bench debate about the Cox report. When is he likely to table a motion for a debate in Government time? It may be necessary to change a Standing Order, so will he find a date as a matter of urgency, before the House rises on 25 July?
I know that Back-Bench debates are important, but there is a backlog of very important legislation. The Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill, the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill need Report stages, and the Trade Bill is again stuck in the other place. When are we likely to debate those Bills?
Ministers are so occupied with their bids to become the next Prime Minister. Only after dropping out of the Conservative leadership race did the Health Secretary order a root-and-branch review of NHS food. Parts of the country have been unsettled by torrential rain, homes have been left without power and roads have been flooded in Lincolnshire—people in Wainfleet are in tears—but there has been no statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I know that there have been questions to him, but there has been no specific statement about the people in Wainfleet. The Home Secretary has said that he will put 20,000 more police officers on the beat if he is elected leader, but the Government have cut the number already. He is merely repeating a commitment made by Her Majesty’s Opposition.
As for the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), he has been careless with his words. He has said that his comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had made “no difference”, but they were used at her trial. He has put a woman’s life at risk and separated a family. For the record, Nazanin was on holiday visiting her parents. She has been in jail for three years. I met Richard Ratcliffe yesterday, and other Members have visited him too. Will the Leader of the House raise Nazanin’s case with both the former and the current Foreign Secretary, and send the Iranian Government the message that they should show the international community their seriousness, and free Nazanin and reunite the family now?
A motion scheduled for next Tuesday is to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019. The motion is a step in the right direction, but why are we waiting until 2050? Heathrow is already the largest single source of carbon emissions in the UK. Plans published on Tuesday revealed that Heathrow airport will construct a third runway by 2026 and complete its 50% expansion by 2050. This includes diverting rivers, moving roads and rerouting the M25 through a tunnel under the new runway. The Government’s own figures show that nearly 1 million households are to face increased daytime noise from allowing a further 700 flights a day. May we have a statement on the new plans for the expansion of Heathrow airport, including the environmental impacts?
It is Children’s Hospice Week this week. Hospices across the country are under threat, including one in my constituency, Acorns. It employs 70 people to care for 233 Black Country children and their families. It is facing closure due to lack of Government funding. I met my constituent Mark Lyttle, a bereaved parent, who spoke about his daughter Isabella, who was cared for by Acorns. Mark said Acorns Walsall extended and improved her quality of life and provides the family with ongoing bereavement help, because, sadly, Isabella passed away earlier this year at the age of 11. Black Country MPs across parties are working to save this hospice, and it is the only one of the three in the area to close.
I know that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care should be accountable. We have heard the phrase “A bedpan dropping and we hear it Whitehall,” but so much for accountability: at this stage we have to write to the Health Secretary and the head of NHS England, and the Prime Minister said yesterday that they would match-fund what the clinical commissioning groups put forward. May we use the good offices of the Leader of the House to raise this with the Health Secretary? We need the Health Secretary to make the decision so that children’s hospices, particularly Acorns, have their long-term funding. We cannot crowdfund and fundraise to save a children’s hospice.
The third anniversary of Jo Cox’s murder was on 16 June. The hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) is working very hard on one of Kim Leadbeater’s key asks for all of us: to focus on the humanitarian emergency in Syria, one of the issues that mattered most to Jo, by highlighting the plight of civilians trapped under the merciless bombing in Idlib.
It has been a busy week for me and the Leader of the House. Yesterday we agreed that we would save the education centre. It is also Refugee Week, and the education and engagement service will be providing a workshop to the refugee and migrant centre in Walsall, “An introduction to your UK Parliament”. I am pleased that that is going ahead and that education is also to be part of any restoration and renewal.
Finally, I offer my commiserations to the Scottish football team but wish the Lionesses well in the next stage of the World cup.
I thank the hon. Lady for her various questions, which I will go through in some detail in a moment. I also thank her for welcoming the recess dates, which I think we are all relieved have now finally been announced.
Having just announced the summer recess dates, an idea has occurred to me. We meet as a merry band on Thursdays—we are like a tightly knit club—and I wonder if this recess we might perhaps keep the camaraderie going, and all go off on holiday together. I would be happy to hire a bus or a charabanc, Mr Speaker, and as the new Leader who, as you know, has brought such a powerful sense of direction and renewed purpose to this House, I would be happy to drive it. Nothing would give me more pleasure than for my new-found friend, the shadow Leader of the House, to join me. She would be serenaded of course by the ever-cheerful hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on the pipes, or maybe the banjo, and accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) displaying his musical prowess on the spoons while spouting Wordsworth and Keats and John Clare and regaling us with cheery tales of those halcyon Victorian times when small boys cheerfully shinned up chimneys and widespread malnutrition and rickets were a mere footnote to a far happier age. And as the sun slips below the horizon we will hear the extraordinary tales of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) explaining how he quietly took over the entire business of government with his Backbench Business Committee. Or perhaps we should stick to our original plans.
The hon. Lady raised several important points. First, she asks who will be at the Dispatch Box when Parliament goes into recess. Of course, that is unknown; I have no crystal ball. There are four finalists, all extremely strong candidates, and we will have to wait and see. I can offer her a membership form for the Conservative party so that next time she can participate in the excitement and fun. I was grateful to receive her satisfaction, however, at our having set out the situation for September and at the fact that we will be sitting from early that month.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Cox report. Her request for a debate would need to be taken up through the usual channels, but I have taken her request on board—it is the second time she has raised it with me—and undertake to come back to her later today at least with something by way of a response, even if it is to say that I have asked the usual channels at my end of the usual channel to consider it seriously. She also asked about various pieces of future legislation and when they will be coming forward. They will come forward in due course. On flood defences, which she mentioned, we have of course just had Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, which was an opportunity for Members to address that issue.
The hon. Lady made various important points about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has now spent three years in jail in Iran. I can assure her that, whatever may or may not have been said by others in the past, the Government are working extremely hard to do whatever they can to ensure her imminent release. She also raised carbon emissions, which she will know the Government have reduced by 25% in terms of greenhouse gases since 2010. We have now had over 1,700 hours of producing power in our country without the use of coal, which is the longest stretch in the history of power production in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Lady made some very important points about hospices, particularly relating to the care of children, on which subject there will be an Adjournment debate on 1 July in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson). The hon. Lady may wish to attend and urge others to do likewise. I would certainly be prepared to facilitate the approaches she requested to the Secretary of State for Health in terms of funding.
The hon. Lady made some very important points about Jo Cox and the excellent work of Kim Leadbeater and her concerns about humanitarian aid in Syria. In that regard, we have a proud record in this country and have allocated some billions of pounds of assistance. Given that she also referred to Refugee Week, I should remind the House that we have agreed to take 20,000 refugees and 3,000 children from Syria.
Like the hon. Lady, I was pleased that during the remaining stages of the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill yesterday we underscored our commitment to education in this place, and, like her also, I commiserate with our Scottish colleagues on the football result yesterday while also cheering on the England team.
I think that the Backbench Business Committee is universally regarded in this House as a complete success. One of the great policies of David Cameron and Nick Clegg was to bring in a business of the House commission within two years of the coalition Government coming to power. The chaos in this place over the last few months caused by people trying to suspend Standing Orders was the result of our not having a business of the House committee. Can we have a debate on this matter? If we are to have a new Prime Minister, it would be a very good thing if all the parties could agree to have a business of the House committee so that we do not repeat the farce of the last few months.
The Government’s position on a House business committee remains unchanged: we will not be bringing forward proposals to establish such a committee. There was an absence of consensus on the issue at the end of the previous Parliament, and we believe that that remains the case today.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the purgatory for next week. As for his recess plans, they sound like some kind of holiday from hell, and I think I will resist the temptation to join him in that particular venture. I also thank him for his kind regards about the Scotland football team. I think we are recovering from the heartbreak of last night, and we all wish the Lionesses the very best in the remaining stages of the contest.
This business statement is unbelievable. Other than half a day for the Scottish National party, it is another week of absolutely nothing. This House should now be done under the Vagrancy Act. Never before in the history of Parliament has so little been done by so many on behalf of so few, as Churchill would never have said. But small mercies—at last this is the final day of the contest to see who will be gubbed by the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). It has become a kind of grotesque “Love Island”, without the love, the entertainment or the island. Maybe it is just Boris island. And I seriously do not get all this fuss about the issue of the racist rantings of the right hon. Gentleman being raised. If people say racist and unacceptable things, they have to expect to be held to account for them. I represent the most marginal SNP/Tory seat in the country. My leaflet is set to go, and it is simply a picture of the right hon. Gentleman and all his choice comments, with added quotes from Ruth Davidson. Scotland just will not take to his appalling “Etonic” buffoonery, and reasonable soft Tory voters in Scotland will be deserting the Tories in droves.
May we have a debate about Brexit? Remember that? They gave us extra time to try to resolve it, but they also told us to use that time wisely. We have not debated it in weeks, and there is no plan to debate it in the coming weeks. It is four weeks until the summer recess, and no progress has been made. Can the Leader of the House confirm that we will not be seeing the withdrawal agreement again? It must be dead and buried now. There is a new word that I want to introduce to the parliamentary lexicon, and that word is “unicornism”. That now seems to be the central policy of this Government in their approach to Brexit. They are doing nothing other than waste time and run down the clock. Halloween will soon be upon us, and the nightmare on Brexit Street will be set to haunt us all.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his weekly contribution. I have to say that it had a familiar ring to it, although I have to disagree with him about the summer recess. How could it possibly be a holiday from hell with him there? It would be nothing other than a great pleasure. He did give us the same old tunes, though. Last week I said he was using the Abba playbook, but this week I am going to elevate him to the Beatles. His meandering litany of woe was “The Long and Winding Road” that we had to endure, but as we know, it will all end up in the same place for the “Nowhere Man”. Anyway. They don’t get any better, do they?
The hon. Gentleman asks for a Brexit debate. The House has certainly debated Brexit at significant length over a very significant period—the best part of three years now. He could have chosen this very week to debate it in the half day allotted to the Scottish National party, although I have no doubt that, in the immigration debate that the SNP has chosen, he will be able to weave the European Union in somewhere.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future of the BBC? There have already been concerns about taking away free TV licences from the over-75s, but frankly, after that dreadful debate on Monday between my parliamentary colleagues, the quality of public broadcasting needs to be looked at, and presumably, during the course of our debate, we could find out who the idiot was in central office who agreed to the format of that programme in the first place.
My hon. Friend tempts me. On the specific issue of the free TV licence, we are urging the BBC to rethink its position. I have to say that I agree with my hon. Friend’s observation on the televised hustings, which made the candidates look like some kind of boy band perched on their stools. The BBC should always be an institution that is debated, including in further debates in this House.
I was sad to see the demise of the Scottish ladies’ football team last night, when they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory late in the game after taking a 3-0 lead. I was reminded that it has been only 41 years since Ally MacLeod and his tartan army ventured forth to Buenos Aires and sadly came back undone.
The Backbench Business Committee had a dozen applications for estimates day debates, and the business for those days has now been determined as relating to the spending of the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for International Development and the Department for Education. Will the Leader of the House confirm the dates for those debates? We had been led to believe that they would occur on 2 and 3 July, but I understand that there is now some doubt about that.
Despite the fact that the Backbench Business Committee has been getting an awful lot of business, I remind the Leader of the House that we still have unmet demand. He should also take note that, on Monday, the House went on to the Adjournment debate at 7.08 pm and adjourned at 7.47 pm. If the Leader of the House and the business team think that there is likely to be a shortfall in business—this was despite four urgent questions on Monday—could he think about making the Backbench Business Committee aware so that we could put something on at short notice?
The dates for the estimates days are not currently available, but I will ensure that we get them to the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible. I take note of his rather interesting observation about the possibility of a Backbench Business debate coming to the Floor of the House when other business is running short. There may be all sorts of technical issues around that, but I am happy to take his suggestion away and give it some thought.
A civilised society is defined by the way that it copes with and counters disadvantage. I was therefore alarmed to discover yesterday that 79% of assistance dog owners had been made to feel unwelcome or had received second-class service because they had their assistance dog with them, and in particular that 73% of those with guide dogs or assistance dogs had been turned away by a minicab or taxi driver. The Government commissioned a report on taxi licensing, and one of its recommendations was that we deal with this prejudice against people with guide dogs and other assistance dogs. It is time that the Government acted and joined you, Mr Speaker, and I, whose mission has always been to redistribute advantage.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, and I agree with him that access for assistance dogs and their owners, especially in taxis and other modes of transport, is extremely important. I would be happy to facilitate on his behalf an appropriate meeting with a Minister in the Department for Transport.
I know that my right hon. Friend is rather fond of poetry and, having been forewarned of his question, I found a poem by Julian Stearns Cutler that I think is quite appropriate to him as well as to dogs:
“You’re only a dog, old fellow;
a dog, and you’ve had your day;
But never a friend of all my friends
has been truer than you alway”.
Well, what a beautiful reply from the Treasury Bench. I must say to the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) that I have just received his most gracious, handwritten, borderline poetic letter in his illustrious capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Lebanon, and I intend to reply by hand—although probably not, as he would prefer, by the use of the quill pen—similarly graciously and within a very short timeframe. My response to his request will be in the affirmative, and I expect that he will wish to dance round a red telephone box, if he can find one, in appreciation of my reply.
The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) recently joined me as a trustee of the John Clare Trust.
I welcome the Leader of the House’s comments on Jo Cox. She was a Labour family friend, and her constituency was close to mine. I know we do not talk about these things, but I still worry about the safety and security of Members, particularly female Members, of this House, and I do not think we have yet come to terms with some of the vulnerabilities involved. That is not for major debate.
In most of our towns and cities, we are poisoning many women—pregnant women and older women—and men, too, with the dirty air they breathe every day. Can we have an urgent debate on a fast programme of activity, not the Government’s 2040 deadline, to cut down the poisonous air our people are breathing in every day?
I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Jo Cox and, more generally, about security. It would not be appropriate for me to discuss it on the Floor of the House, but I assure him that I have already met the Chairman of Ways and Means and others to discuss matters of security across the parliamentary estate, which I take extremely seriously.
We have a clean air strategy, of course, and the Government have done a great deal to cut many emissions substantially over the past several years. Given that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), is still looking for opportunities for yet further debates, clean air might be a good subject. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) might like to approach him on that basis.
In eight recent Department for Work and Pensions appeal cases in my constituency the DWP has not submitted information to the court in time. That has led to the hearings being postponed, which is obviously distressing for the appellants. Will the Government make a statement on what they will do to make sure that the DWP adheres to proper timescales? Will the Leader of the House confirm that this is sheer incompetence from the DWP, and not a deliberate Government strategy?
I have two answers for the hon. Gentleman. First, when it comes to specific DWP cases—he cited some cases in his question—I am happy to facilitate an approach to the relevant Minister to make sure those cases are specifically looked at. On his more general point about how these cases are handled, DWP questions on 1 July will be a good opportunity to raise the matter.
It has been revealed today that Warrington Hospital has published a list of charges for operations that used to be free on the NHS. These are not cosmetic procedures but things like hip and knee operations and cataract removals. Can we have a debate on the creeping privatisation of the NHS under this Government and the denial of essential treatment to people who cannot afford to pay?
As a party and as a Government, we are entirely committed to healthcare being free at the point of delivery and on a universal basis. The Opposition often assert that wholesale privatisation of the NHS is occurring, which is simply not the case. The private sector has been involved in the NHS ever since its inception. Most of the drugs used by the NHS come from private companies, and general practitioners are effectively employed on a similar basis. As to the record of this Government, we have made the largest cash injection into the NHS in its history.
The Leader of the House is well aware of the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has already been mentioned in the House this morning. Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, is now on hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy here in London to show solidarity with his wife and to highlight the appalling conditions in which she is being held.
Mr Ratcliffe’s sister lives in my Newport West constituency, and she is extremely concerned about the physical and mental health of both Richard and Nazanin. Given that the previous Foreign Secretary made a bad situation worse with his comments on her detention, will the current Foreign Secretary come to the House to update us on the efforts being made to get Nazanin back home as quickly as possible to be reunited with her daughter and husband?
I have already touched on the issue of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and repeat that it is totally unacceptable that she should be held. We are engaged with the Iranian Government. I also respect the fact that her husband has entered into a hunger strike, as she has at the same time. For that reason, and all the others of her detainment, we wish to see her released as quickly as possible. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has raised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case with President Rouhani, and we will continue to push diplomatically on this matter.