House of Commons
Thursday 25 July 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Climate Change Adaptation
The Government recognise the need for urgent action on climate change—on both mitigation and adaptation. For example, we are investing £2.6 billion over six years in flood defences. Some sectors are already adapting to the changing climate. When I visited the Fruit Focus event in Kent, I learned that the climate is now better suited for apricot production and for vineyards. The good news is that this will mean more high-quality English sparkling wine to toast the health and success of our new Prime Minister.
Do I detect an end-of-term feel about the Minister’s comments?
What analysis has the Minister undertaken of the impact on homes, infrastructure and communities as a result of climate change over the next 10 to 20 years? Will he share that analysis with the House, so that Members are able to assess the impact on our constituencies?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. The Committee on Climate Change assessed 33 sectors, and we welcome its report. We are committed to taking robust action to improve resilience to climate change. We will formally respond to the Committee’s detailed recommendations in October, in line with the timetable set out in the Climate Change Act 2008, and that will include the way climate change affects communities.
Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that tackling and adapting to climate change has the virtue not only of being the right policy—making sure that we continue to be a world leader in this regard—but of being popular?
As we switch the way we support our farmers from the basic payment system to paying public money for public goods, getting action on climate change will be just one of those public goods that we can deliver outside the European Union.
The Minister might be toasting the new Prime Minister, but I do wonder how much hot air is being generated and what contribution that will make to the net emissions target. The Scottish Government have committed to net zero by 2045, rather than the UK Government’s 2050 target. Is the UK not willing to match that level of ambition?
When it comes to hot air, pots and kettles spring to mind.
I look forward to working with the Scottish Administration to achieve the target. This is not a party political issue. Every single part of this House wants to take action on climate change, and it is vital that we do so to deliver a cleaner and greener planet in the future.
This is perfect weather for barbecues and enjoying Scottish beef. Does the Minister agree that the beef industry is doing its bit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burping cows?
Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, but it is interesting to note that, unlike carbon dioxide, which takes 100 years to dissipate, methane dissipates in about 12 years. That means that if we can reduce the current rate of methane production—never mind net zero—we will actually reduce the amount of methane in the atmosphere, which will be an important way of contributing to our net zero targets.
Forestry Investment Zones: England
We are piloting the first forestry investment zone in Cumbria to learn how best to support long-term forestry investment. I was delighted to visit Northumberland last week to discuss with my hon. Friend and others how to increase tree planting rates. We have everyone from the county council to the national park agreeing to work together to increase woodland creation in that great county.
I welcome the Minister’s visit to Northumberland last week and thank him for his kind words. Does he agree that what we need is a whole of Northumberland FIZ, which will be structured to allow long-term private investment to support local landowners to plant and, importantly, maintain extensive commercial and amenity planting projects, so that our 11 million new carbon sinks—our trees—will be a reality, not just a plan?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s further comments on the development of a FIZ in Northumberland and completely agree that we need to do more to make our long-term tree planting aspirations a reality. As we discussed last week, we need to explore further the opportunities around the potential FIZ in Northumberland, basing them around the lessons learned from the Cumbria pilot. I welcome the positive work that has already taken place. We clearly need to do a lot more to achieve our ambitious targets across the country and in Northumberland.
The Minister knows that the Tory Administration in the 18th and 19th centuries stole the public land from the people. That is the truth of the matter. The enclosure Acts were a stain on the history of this country. Is it not about time that we gave that land back and grew trees on it—and that we did so seriously, not through playing around with words?
Of course we need to do more to plant more trees, and we are taking that action. We are already committed to planting 11 million trees by 2022 and we are well on target to achieve that aim, but our aspirations are much bigger—going to 12% level of woodland cover by 2060.
Thank you. It is good to be back at this Dispatch Box.
Our priority is preventing plastic waste from entering the environment in the first instance. The resources and waste strategy sets out our plans to eliminate avoidable plastic waste, including measures to tackle certain single-use plastic items. This week we published Government responses to consultations on measures that include making recycling easier and ensuring that producers pay the full cost of managing their packaging waste responsibly.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her new role.
Pupils from Kings Road Primary School and the Bishops’ Primary School in Chelmsford want to do more to reduce single-use plastic. I have obviously given them copies of “Vicky’s Guide to Going Green”, but what top tips would my right hon. Friend like to share?
There are many top tips in our 25-year environment plan, and I commend my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), for his world-leading work on this matter. A key message to get across to all the schoolchildren around the country who want to take part in tackling plastic waste is: don’t drop litter.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment. Will she join me in congratulating the students from the National Citizen Service I met at Roots Hall in Southend on Monday, who, inspired by David Attenborough, are right at this very minute picking plastic from our beautiful coastline in Southend?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Both questions illustrate that there is a real attitude out there among the public that they want to be part of resolving this urgent problem. The Government will continue to support organisations such as the National Citizen Service to engage young people and ensure that they are playing a part in the Government’s determination to address this problem because people are concerned about it.
Nearly 40 million plastic bottles are used in the UK every day, but the Government’s bottle return scheme does not kick in for four years. Why so long?
We have gone further than any other Government in history on tackling plastic waste. I acknowledge the concern felt about the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised. We will always try to move as fast as we can to ensure that we are taking the most effective action possible, but we also need to take time to ensure that we get it right. I assure him that I will be working hard to ensure that this action is delivered as soon as possible.
I welcome the new Secretary of State to her place.
On 1 May, this House unanimously supported Labour’s declaration of an environment and climate emergency. The Center for International Environmental Law predicts that plastics will contribute to 13% of global carbon emissions by 2050 if no action is taken, yet the Government’s plans do not envisage that extended producer responsibility for packaging will come into force before 2023 or that a 75% recycling rate will be achieved before 2030. Does the Secretary of State accept that the emergency requires much faster action?
I look forward to working with the shadow Front Benchers on these issues. We have gone further and faster than the previous Labour Government with radical changes, including the plastic bag tax and our plans to ban plastic stirrers and other plastic products. We are a world-leading country on this issue, and we will continue to be so because we are determined to tackle the problem.
Air Pollution: Local Authority Funding
The Government have invested £3.5 billion in improving air quality and £495 million is specifically set aside for councils where they are in breach of nitrogen dioxide limits. We will continue to support councils in a variety of ways to improve air quality.
Residents and businesses want to play their part in Greater Manchester’s plans to reduce air pollution, but unless the Government will properly support plans for vehicle upgrades and for retrofitting, many businesses will not be able to afford to do so. When will the Government give the clarity and the assurances on funding that businesses in Greater Manchester need?
I have had to send back the plan to the Mayor of Greater Manchester because it is not ambitious enough in making changes in Manchester as quickly as possible to improve air quality for the residents there.
Local authorities will not be able to fix the massive air pollution that is caused by a third runway expansion at Heathrow. The new Secretary of State and I both voted against that plan, and of course the new Prime Minister is a long-standing opponent. But pollution goes far wider than air pollution—it is also noise pollution—and it is in conflict with our law on net zero carbon emissions by 2050 that this House passed unanimously. Will the new Secretary of State now insist that this project is put on hold and that a review of it is undertaken before any further work is done?
It is the absolute priority for the people who are developing the third runway to come forward with a plan that meets environmental targets in law. If they do not, they will not get the consent to make it happen. However, I am highly confident that the operators of Heathrow airport will be able to devise such a plan.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to talk about the importance of tackling air pollution with regard to lung health and other medical conditions. That is why we have been consistently working on this ever since I have been an Environment Minister, and air quality continues to improve. We are very conscious that the clean air strategy was welcomed by the World Health Organisation as being world-leading and something that it wanted other countries to pursue. The hon. Lady will well know that measures are being planned on air quality that will be in the forthcoming environment Bill.
Many parents, including those in Redditch, are worried about the impact of air pollution on their children’s lungs, especially when they are going to and from school. Will the new Secretary of State, who I warmly welcome to her place, ensure that local authorities’ funding under the clean air strategy is adequate to help them to tackle this problem?
I hope that my hon. Friend is aware that councils already have many powers to improve issues relating to cars and other vehicles, especially around schools. I would encourage her to work with Redditch Borough Council and Worcestershire County Council on taking advantage of those powers. She will also be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has indicated that we are going to increase the fines for idling.
To encourage more planting, we have modified our main grant schemes and announced additional funding of £10 million for urban trees and £50 million for the woodland carbon guarantee scheme. We have invested £5.7 million in the northern forest. We have also reappointed our tree champion to develop our tree strategy so that we can plan to consult on this later in the year. That demonstrates our commitment to achieving our goal of planting 11 million trees during this Parliament, and our wider aspirations.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on her welcome return to the top table. Earlier this year, her predecessor visited the wonderful Thames Chase community forest in my constituency and planted a tree to contribute to this growing woodland. With the forest likely to be impacted by the lower Thames crossing, will the Minister provide an update on the Department’s biodiversity net gain plans to ensure that major infrastructure projects have the potential to enhance, not detract from, precious green spaces?
I know how hard my hon. Friend works for her constituency. We have committed to mandating biodiversity net gain through the forthcoming environment Bill. That policy will deliver measurable improvements to biodiversity through development including housing and local infrastructure, thereby making sure that development has a positive environmental impact through habitat creation or enhancement. The Government are also exploring the best approaches to net gain for nationally significant infrastructure, including the lower Thames crossing.
Trees are a vital tool in combating carbon emissions, but in Seaford and Alfriston in my constituency, trees are having to be cut down because of elm disease. What support can the Minister give my local council to ensure not just that those trees are replaced but that even more are planted?
As my hon. Friend knows, I am very aware of Seaford and Alfriston, and while no specific grants are currently available to replace elm in urban settings, there are opportunities for funding new planting in and around our towns and cities under the recently launched £10 million urban tree challenge fund. That fund will support the planting of at least 130,000 trees across towns and cities in England and contribute towards our manifesto commitment of planting 1 million urban trees by 2022.
Hyndburn Borough Council has planted an awful lot of trees. In fact, I believe that it has planted more trees than any other borough in Lancashire. When will the Government reward Labour councils such as Hyndburn Borough Council for the work they have done to meet the Government’s targets?
I praise the work they are doing. There is a huge opportunity with the northern forest, which the Government have helped to kick-start. It will make a huge difference, working through many community forests. I was pleased to be able to plant the first Government-funded tree in Bury just a few months ago.
I thank the Minister for his response. Tree cover across the UK mainland is approximately 12%, and in Northern Ireland it is only 8%. What is the Minister doing collectively with the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to improve the lungs of the world by planting more trees?
I praise the work that is going on across the country. Clearly, there is important work going on in Scotland that we need to learn from. We are absolutely committed to taking forward this important work, as I know the hon. Gentleman is, because we need many more trees to achieve our targets in addressing and tackling climate change.
Single Use Plastics Directive
The Government strongly supported the single use plastics directive, partly because we were already undertaking several of the actions proposed. I am confident that the necessary regulations will be brought in within two years, as happens with directives, but as I say, we are already on the case.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I recently arranged for a bottle deposit scheme of the type used in Norway to come to Cheltenham high street, and I know from the reaction of my constituents that there is a huge demand to drive down the number of plastic bottles in our environment. Of course we have to get the detail right, but does the Minister agree that we should look at such a scheme very carefully, with a view to introducing it as quickly as possible?
Indeed. The Government published their response to the consultation just the other day, and we have indicated again our support for continuing with the scheme. I know that people are impatient—I am impatient. I have now been to about seven countries to look at their deposit return schemes. It is complex. We have the biggest on-the-go market of any country in Europe, and we need to ensure that we have a system that works, alongside all the other reforms we are making, such as extended producer responsibility and the plastics tax. It is important to ensure that those are co-ordinated and will have the desired effect.
Access to Food
Ministers and officials regularly discuss all aspects of food security, including accessibility. We have long-established relationships with industry and work collaboratively to ensure that the UK continues to have access to safe, nutritious and affordable food from a wide range of sources, particularly from British farmers. I plan to visit the Game Fair tomorrow, so I will make a plug for British game and the grouse that will be coming into our larders following the glorious twelfth.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, particularly because my newly appointed right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not had a chance to speak to her Cabinet colleagues. The problem with safe food is that we need to be able to read on the label that it is safe. Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died because she ate food that was contaminated with sesame seeds, but the label did not make that clear. We still have a problem in this country with honesty in labelling. Can more be done, to ensure that the label says what it is?
Clear labelling is vital, particularly when it comes to ingredients that may provoke allergic reactions. We have learned a very sad lesson from that situation, and the Government have responded.
On the subject of the Game Fair, it is very sad that Chris Packham has been banned from attending to speak out against grouse shooting. I would have thought that the Minister would welcome free speech on the subject.
On food, the Government grant for school meals has not risen in the last five years. It is £2.30 per pupil. It is really difficult to provide nutritious meals for children for that amount. Can he speak to the Secretary of State for Education about that?
I will certainly speak to the new Secretary of State for Education, a fellow Scarborian, to discuss that issue. It is very important that we have good, nutritious school meals available for children.
It is a great pleasure to see the new Secretary of State in her place. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) for all the work he did on agriculture. I want to emphasise that, as we produce food in the future, we can have a better environment, but let us use all the technologies and everything available so that we can have affordable, safe food.
Yes, absolutely. There are a number of new technologies that we can use, not least the opportunities that gene editing may offer to produce healthier, more productive crops in our fields.
I welcome the new Secretary of State to her place. Changes to the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (England) Regulations 2018, in line with changes to EU rules for ovine age identification, would go a long way to help ensure access to safe and healthy food and would help our farmers, but I am repeatedly being fobbed off with an excuse that a consultation will be coming soon. When will we see it?
Having spent a lot of my life looking into sheep’s mouths in ageing them, I know how important it is to ensure that we have a system that we can demonstrate clearly does not present any risk to health. We were keen to move away from carcase splitting. We took a precautionary approach because of the delays in delivering Brexit, but I hope we can make progress once we have left the European Union.
Access to food also requires access to labour to plant, care for and pick it. Over the last year, I have had many representations from farmers in my constituency and from the National Farmers Union. What representations is my right hon. Friend making to Cabinet colleagues advocating a points-based system to make sure that that has sufficient flex so that there is access to labour not just seasonally, but all year round?
My right hon. Friend and I are both former Immigration Ministers, so we know this issue. Indeed, one of the points made to me at the Fruit Focus event was the need to access labour to pick our fruit. The pilot scheme that my right hon. Friend brought forward during her time at the Home Office is a step in the right direction, but we do need to ensure we can have the workforce to pick the fruit, particularly given the weakness of the pound and the fact that perhaps not all European Union citizens are as attracted to come to the UK as they were.
The Government will be working through the Waste and Resources Action Programme and with industry on developing an ambitious new phase of the sustainable clothing action plan. We are planning to develop regulatory standards and labels to support durable, repairable and recyclable products; consult on an extended producer responsibility scheme; and support innovation in textile recycling. We are also increasing the transparency of reporting required on modern slavery, and continuing to prioritise the enforcement of national minimum wage legislation.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place, but the announcements she has just made will not go far enough to tackle the fast fashion epidemic, which is being promoted by shows such as “Love Island”. It may be bikini weather outside, but when bikinis are being sold for £1 on fast fashion websites, it is clear that workers are not getting what they need. When is she going to bring in extended producer responsibility and ban clothing from landfill?
First, I very much look forward to working with the hon. Lady’s Environmental Audit Committee on these and other matters. I very much hope to appear in front of the members of her Committee when there is time in their diary.
The hon. Lady raises very important points. I think there is real consensus across the House that we need action. The Government have a credible plan, which we are delivering. As I said in response to earlier questions, we need to ensure that we get this right. I can assure her that we will be moving towards solutions on these problems in response to public concern.
Does the Secretary of State agree with me that fashion provides very important livelihoods for people in low-income countries around the world? As we, rightly, address the question of sustainability, we must never throw away their livelihoods, which are so important. In fact, we must seek to ensure that those livelihoods are improved.
With all these matters, our goal should be to pursue both prosperity and environmental sustainability at the same time. My hon. Friend makes a very valid point that in taking forward our new regulatory structures to tackle this problem, we must also take into account the impact on developing countries and the interests of people on low incomes.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. As we have heard, fast fashion has a negative impact on our environment. The Secretary of State mentioned environmental sustainability, but she repeatedly voted against measures to protect the environment and tackle climate change. How can we trust her to deliver the transformative change that we need to tackle the climate and environmental emergency we all face? Will she confirm that net zero is still the Government’s target, and if so, will she commit to taking the necessary steps that she previously voted against?
I do not know whose voting record the hon. Lady has been looking at, but it does not sound like mine. The Government are doing more on climate change than ever before, and we are one of the first developed countries in the world to commit to the net zero target—not something that our Labour predecessors were prepared to do. I have backed, with enthusiasm, a succession of vital measures taken by the Government—for example, to ensure that more of our electricity is generated by renewables than ever before.
I am delighted to have been asked to take up the outstanding work previously begun by my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), and the team of dedicated public servants at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and its agencies. I look forward to working to deliver the Government’s historic commitment to hand on the natural environment in a better state than we found it, by driving up animal welfare, championing and supporting our country’s fantastic food, farming and fisheries, and ensuring that we seize the opportunities offered by Brexit.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State to her role. My constituency has some of the best vineyards in the country, and places such as Breaky Bottom, Ridgeview and Rathfinny produce award-winning English sparkling wine. What steps will the Secretary of State take to promote English sparkling wine at home and abroad, and may I invite her to visit one of those vineyards to taste that wine for herself?
I would be delighted to take up the invitation to do a little tasting of the fantastic wines to which my hon. Friend refers. The GREAT campaign has a strong focus on the brilliant high-quality food we produce in this country. In June, English sparkling wine was promoted at various events in Japan, and the campaign plans to return there in September and October. In August and September we will support Wine GB at events in the United States.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her new position. When will we welcome back the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill? It is about time we saw them. We last saw them seven months ago, and we need them back.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, such matters are in the hands of the Leader of the House and the official channels, so he might wish to raise the matter during the business question. I assure him that we wish to press ahead with these matters as soon as we are able to do so. This Government are getting on and delivering on their priorities, including the environment.
My hon. Friend is right: people expect clear, honest labelling on their food, and if marketing terms are not used consistently, the Government should act. Clear labelling is important not just for pasture-fed livestock, but for organic food, which is trusted around that world.
Discussions on the spending review are already under way, particularly with the Mayor of London, and we are considering what more we can do to boost resources. Particulate matter is one of the key things we need to tackle right across the country. That is not solely about transport; it is also about domestic burning, and I am confident that we will bring forward regulations on how to reduce that.
In July, we published the Government’s response to the consultation on consistency in household and business recycling collections in England. The response sets out plans to legislate to ensure consistency between local authorities, which is vital to ensuring that we raise recycling rates, and to people having a consistent picture and a better understanding of the most effective ways to recycle.
The hon. Gentleman has raised that issue before. It is important that people obey the law, but I encourage him and others to take evidence to the police so that the Crown Prosecution Service can take forward convictions where that is appropriate.
Our new Secretary of State’s commitment to animal welfare is very clear. The Government share my hon. Friend’s abhorrence at the thought of eating dogmeat. I recognise both the substantive and symbolic nature of the issues he raises. As he knows, I am exploring actively with colleagues what else we might be able to do to send the clearest possible signal that this behaviour should never be tolerated.
Does the Minister share my concern that the Environment Agency states that Yorkshire Water has unacceptable environmental pollution performance, and that Yorkshire Water discharged sewage into the River Wharfe on no fewer than 123 days last year?
The Government absolutely take that seriously. Investment in sewerage has seen a huge reduction in phosphorous and ammonia entering waters, and the Environment Agency is very active on the issue. It undertakes checks of the ecological health of rivers regularly and it will, as will Ofwat, take action against Yorkshire Water when it fails.
Mansfield and Warsop are full of animal lovers, as is the rest of the UK. News of tougher sentencing for animal abuse is very welcome. What steps will the Department take, perhaps working with charities such as Battersea and others, to make sure that everybody is aware of the new sentencing rules, so that animal cruelty can be prosecuted as robustly as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He makes a very good point. It is not enough just to change the law; we need to make sure there is a greater awareness of the changes that I hope are soon to be implemented. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the coalition of charities that campaigned so hard for the proposed legislation, which will shortly come back to the House, to ensure that we raise the maximum sentences for animal cruelty.
In private, the Government are apparently briefing local resilience forums about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on food supply and food prices, and are predicting mass disruption. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether that is true, and will she stop keeping people in the dark? Will she publish this information, so all of us can see whether there are adequate contingencies in place?
Of course it is right that any responsible Government should prepare for any scenario. We are working closely with all stakeholders to make sure there is a proper flow and supply of food, whatever the scenario.
On Saturday, I met impassioned climate change activists Cliff Kendall and Donna Tyrelli. Cliff Kendall is on hunger strike to protect the environment. They suggest that the average household can reduce its energy bills by more than £250 a year by switching to renewable energy suppliers. What steps is the Department taking to educate households about such green initiatives that help to cut the cost of living?
There is a range of programmes under way to encourage people to switch, both to ensure that they get value for money and to talk up the advantages of moving to a more sustainable electricity supply. I will certainly be taking a personal interest in these matters in my new role.
Improving the energy efficiency of our homes is one of the best ways to tackle climate change, yet since 2012 there has been a 95% fall in home insulation programmes. What has gone wrong?
The Government have a strong record on climate change, but I acknowledge that we need to do more to ensure that people are able to insulate their homes. We will be working on that in the months ahead.
A year ago, Lewis Pugh was completing his long swim along the length of the English channel, from Land’s End to Dover. That incredible feat highlighted the need for full protection of our seas. What plans does the Minister have to expand the number of areas of UK waters under full marine protection?
Lewis Pugh was one of our “Year of Green Action” ambassadors and I am delighted that he continues to raise awareness of this issue. My hon. Friend will be aware of the 41 new marine conservation zones that we have designated. It would really help if the Scottish Government could also start designating more marine conservation zones, so that together as a United Kingdom we would have more than 30% of our areas protected. I wish my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) well with his highly protected marine areas review.
Will the new Secretary of State apologise to Scottish farmers for Westminster’s stealing £160 million of EU convergence uplift, and will she do something to sort out that injustice?
We have regular conversations with the Scottish Administration. We have made it clear that as we fund the new schemes in the United Kingdom, they will not be Barnettised and will take account of the nature of Scottish agriculture. Scotland will get a fair settlement.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Behaviour on Social Media
The Church of England supports the Government’s aim to make this country the safest place to go online and has submitted evidence to the Government’s Online Harms White Paper. On 1 July, the Church launched its digital charter, which thousands of individuals around the globe have signed up to and which the Government have welcomed and support.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that she will share my serious concern about the level of hatred, intolerance and rage that appears online, especially on Twitter, sometimes with devastating consequences for young people who are very vulnerable. We have seen tragic examples of that. Will she take our appeal to the Church of England, asking that it does everything possible to work with other organisations to try to instil and inculcate in the next generation the importance of behaving normally and politely on social media?
As one of the largest providers of school education, the Church of England is encouraging all its schools to support the digital charter initiative. However, safe internet use applies to people who have faith or have no faith at all, and those of all ages. All Members of this House will be aware of the hate and hostility that many in this Chamber face on a daily basis. I urge all colleagues to consider joining up and supporting the digital charter so that we can foster a more positive experience for people online.
Can I urge the right hon. Lady to make sure that all the bishops—we seem to have a lot of them in the Church of England now—lead this campaign? I am sure that Rose, our wonderful chaplain, is going to be a very energetic Bishop of Dover. We all wish her well and will miss her, but let us get these bishops doing a bit of leadership on issues such as social media.
The bishops are all participating in social media and they are signed up to this charter. Let me share with colleagues some of the things that the charter advocates: that “what we post online” ought to be “fair and factual”; that we should engage constructively and think “the best of people”; that we should consider “the language we use”; and that we should
“use social media in a way that genuinely engages others.”
These are good principles.
Since the Speaker’s Chaplain has been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, I say for the record that I condemn absolutely the very unpleasant article in The Spectator about the Rev. Rose, who has served this House outstandingly; I spring to her defence.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady. I am bound to say to her that I do not read the organ in question and therefore I am not familiar with that piece. I have no idea about it and frankly have absolutely no interest in it whatsoever. I know the Rev. Rose extremely well. She has proved to be a magnificent and enormously popular servant of this House. She will be a wonderful bishop. Dover’s gain is our loss, and we should take vicarious pride in the fact that someone valued and cherished by us is valued and cherished by the Church of England. Scribblers scribble; they matter, frankly, not a jot.
Telecommunications Masts in Parishes
Following on from my right hon. Friend’s question to me last month, I raised these concerns with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and I have met with BT, EE and some of the small providers, including one from my right hon. Friend’s constituency, to discuss the challenges of providing reliable rural communications infrastructure.
Will my right hon. Friend also have a go at the Ministry of Justice and ask it to put sufficient resource into the tribunal system, so that case law can be expedited to make the new telecommunications code work?
I absolutely say yes to that. Perhaps my right hon. Friend would like to join me in going to meet the new occupants of the positions concerned. It appears clear that the new digital code tends to favour large providers, and the consequence of their preference for using existing infrastructure is a greater digital divide.
Churches, by their very nature, are historically and architecturally important, and new telecommunications masts could have an impact on buildings. What is being done to preserve these buildings and ensure that their architectural and historical value is retained?
That is a very important question, because the Church of England has put its entire infrastructure at the disposal of providers, so that we can, using towers and spires, beam a signal into notspots. Historic England is quite comfortable about listed buildings carrying small signal boosters, which are not intrusive.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Spending on Digital Campaigning
Transparency around spending on campaigning at elections helps voters to have confidence that campaigners follow the rules and limits on spending. Earlier this week, the Electoral Commission presented to Government statutory codes of practice on candidate and political party spending. If enacted, these codes will provide further clarity and consistency in reporting election spending, including on digital campaigning.
I thank the hon. Lady for that answer. That concurs with reports from the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Electoral Commission, which are clear that the law on digital political advertising badly needs updating. Some people have called for a database of online political ads, giving full information on content, target and reach, and spend. That should guarantee transparency. Is the hon. Lady aware of measures being taken to reform the law, and does she share my concern that so many people from Vote Leave who abused the system are now in the UK Government?
The social media companies’ voluntary ad libraries and reports are useful tools in monitoring who is spending money on elections and other political campaigning. In its response to the online harms consultation, the commission recommended that the new regulator ensure common standards and obligations on what social media companies publish about political adverts and that there be significant sanctions if companies do not publish meaningful information.
Following the exoneration of Darren Grimes in a recent court case, what confidence does the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission have in the commission?
In the past four years, the commission has carried out approximately 450 investigations into a variety of electoral offences. The results of five of these have been challenged in the courts, and the recent appeal is the only challenge that has been upheld. The commission will review the full written detail of the judgment once it is made public, before deciding on next steps, including any appeal.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Two of the three principal recommendations made by Dame Laura Cox have now been implemented. Implementation of the third, on the independence of the independent complaints and grievance scheme from MP involvement, is under way. The commission will be considering options in the autumn.
As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, last week we debated the Gemma White report and the real concerns of staff about the process. Does he agree that only when we have a procedure that is truly independent of Parliament, with effective, transparent sanctions, will we get the confidence of staff?
I agree with that point. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that a staff team have been set up to look at the issue of independence and are considering the options. They have an independent challenge group, which will look at, for instance, the impact on parliamentary independence, the ability of Members of Parliament to operate, and ensuring that we have a system in which staff will have confidence.
On that matter, if staff want to be treated as though this is a normal place to work, and therefore to be treated separately from the involvement of Members of Parliament, why not simply treat them as though they did work in any normal business and use the normal facilities of the law?
I think that is a good point, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to submit his idea to the working group that is looking at the issue, it might want to take it into consideration when formulating responses.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
FCO Support for Persecuted Christians
First, I would like to pay tribute to the outgoing Foreign Secretary for having the vision to commission a report on the support that the Foreign Office provides for persecuted Christians. It was warmly welcomed by both the Church of England and the Catholic Church, and I sincerely hope that the new Foreign Secretary will follow through on the its recommendations.
On 8 July, the now Prime Minister said:
“If I am fortunate enough to become PM, I will always prioritise protecting religious freedoms and stand up for those facing persecution.”
I know that it is very early days, but what plans does the right hon. Lady have to speak with the Prime Minister about exactly what he will do to support persecuted Christians around the world?
We have had quite a lot of opportunities at hustings to ask quite a few leadership contenders what they would do about the report on Foreign Office support for persecuted Christians, and I am pleased to say that the new Prime Minister did give a pledge to follow through on this. If hon. Members have time to read the report, they will find that it is very revealing, and it acknowledged that a great deal needs to be done to provide more support for persecuted Christians around the world.
One of the many important findings of the Bishop of Truro’s report is that it highlighted a lack of religious literacy at the Home Office, particularly when dealing with Christians fleeing persecution and seeking asylum. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Home Office should take heed of this recommendation, and does she believe that the Church has a role to play in improving religious literacy across Whitehall?
The report, which of course is a Foreign Office report, does reveal that lack of religious literacy, but the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster both wanted the proposal for improving religious literacy to extend to all Departments, because in a way there is hardly a Department that is not touched by the need for better religious literacy. I know that the issue of religious literacy in asylum applications has been raised in the other place and that bishops have had meetings with Ministers.
In a letter to me, the Government have indicated that they will look at sanctions against those who persecute Christians, or indeed those of other religious beliefs. Has the right hon. Lady had an opportunity to discuss with the Government what form those sanctions might take?
I have not discussed that with the new incumbent at the Foreign Office just yet, but I think that we need to go through all these serious recommendations that were made through the excellent work of the Bishop of Truro. For example, one of the recommendations, which I commend to the House, is a UN resolution to better protect Christians in the middle east and north Africa, whose population has dwindled from 20% to just 4%.
Last week, a number of MPs were the target of some really unpleasant social media attacks, simply for speaking and then voting in a conscience vote in this place according to their biblical beliefs on marriage and the sanctity of life. What is the Church of England doing to uphold freedom of speech and religion for Christians in the UK? This is a growing concern for thousands of Christians in this country today.
The hon. Lady might not have heard the answer to an earlier question, but actually the Church has seized the initiative by launching its own guidelines on safe and positive conduct on the internet. I commend that guidance to all Members present. It is certainly important that religious difference is respected. Dialogue is a two-way business, but as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, the Church needs to model disagreeing well.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Designated Smoking Areas: Health Risks
The Administration Committee considers proposals for the provision of smoking areas. I can inform the hon. Member that, for instance, on 11 March it endorsed a proposal to close the smoking area outside the Woolsack bar towards the House of Lords end of the estate, and she may want to write to the Committee if she has concerns or proposals on this issue.
Can we ensure that all designated smoking areas are risk-assessed—particularly the area between Portcullis House and Norman Shaw South, which is a major thoroughfare—not least because they are workplaces but also to ensure that we do the best for people’s health?
I can confirm that the House authorities have identified and assessed several designated smoking areas, but I will draw to their attention the smoking area that the hon. Lady has referred to, because Members will know that when crossing from Portcullis to Norman Shaw, there is a little bit of passive smoking for those of us who are not smokers.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Festivals in Cathedrals
Cathedrals all run a series of events and religious festivals throughout the year, which vary in size, and collectively they host over 11 million visitors a year. Lichfield cathedral, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, is an outstanding example of that and welcomes around 120,000 people a year to its excellent exhibitions.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for her answer. She will know that the Lichfield festival attracts over 50,000 people to the city of Lichfield and brings at least 10,000 people into the cathedral itself, so what action is her Department taking to encourage other cathedrals to do similar initiatives?
I find it an interesting idea that I have a Department, but the Church of England will seize the initiative next year; it is a great year for anniversaries in the Church of England, with the Pilgrim Fathers and Thomas à Becket, and it will be a year of cathedrals. The Association of English Cathedrals will provide a pilgrimage passport for those at home and abroad who want to visit as many cathedrals as possible.
Strategic Development Funding: Keighley
Mr Speaker, since this is the last question, I think, for me today I want to thank the parliamentary division in Church House and Simon Stanley in particular, as I do not yet know if I will be renewed in post; I sincerely hope so, but I imagine this is not high on the list of the Prime Minister’s priorities at the moment.
I am delighted to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Archbishops’ Council recently awarded funding totalling over £1 million for Leeds diocese, £490,000 of which will be awarded to the Anglican churches in Keighley.
I feel that I will speak for many in saying I hope that the right hon. Member is reappointed by the Prime Minister by lunchtime, but further to her reply, does she agree that the work of the united parishes of Keighley is perhaps one of the finest examples in the north of England of faith in action, along with the work of the Catholic Good Shepherd Centre, the Salvation Army and, indeed, Keighley’s mosques?
In the diocese of Leeds, Bowling, Idle, Great Horton and Clayton have a strong focus on deprived areas and groups that the Church of England found hard to reach, and that is why this large sum of money has been conferred by the Church Commissioners to the diocese.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
I commend the hon. Gentleman on being, I think, the sixth member of his party who in this Session has raised the issue of electronic voting; however, I am afraid that I cannot give him a different answer to the previous five responses. [Interruption.] I am afraid my response is that this is not a matter for the Commission; it would only be responsible for ensuring that, for instance, the funding that was necessary to ensure that that happened was in place.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his answer. I am sure when the Victorians built this place, the voting system we still have was state of the art, but now, for the modern age, we need to move to a current state-of-the-art system—electronic voting—and I hope he agrees that that would allow us more time to debate the substance of Bills.
Absolutely; I agree that it is time for change, although I suspect that the new Leader of the House may not be giving his entire support to such proposals as we revert to the Victorian era. I draw to the hon. Gentleman’s attention the fact that the Procedure Committee is looking at electronic voting, and he has until 27 September to submit a request to it.
I noticed that the whole House cheered when the right hon. Gentleman said he had no authority over this matter, but does he recognise the fact that many people see the current voting system as a huge advantage, because it enables us to nab Cabinet Ministers as they come out of the voting Lobby?
I would suggest to the hon. Gentleman that there are ways in which electronic voting can take place and he would still be able to nab a Cabinet Minister. I would also point out to him that Opposition Members often have difficulties in nabbing Cabinet Ministers in the Division Lobby.
Order. Just before we come to the business question, I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will join me in expressing thanks to Paul Evans CBE, currently the Clerk of Committees, who will retire at the end of August. Paul joined the House service in 1981 and has served in roles including Clerk of the Defence Committee and Head of the Table Office. In his current position, he has overseen this year’s celebrations of the 40th anniversary of departmental Select Committees. Paul is a great academic authority on Parliament and its procedures and a highly respected speaker, author and commentator. He is known as an innovator who combines a deep knowledge of procedure with an ability and willingness to challenge and change the status quo. He was one of the founding members of ParliON, the parliamentary workplace equality network, which focuses on social mobility. I have worked with him closely for a decade. I hold him in the highest esteem, and I feel sure that all in the House who know him will do so, too. Paul will be much missed, and we wish him well.
Business of the House
May I ask the new Leader of the House for the forthcoming business?
Thank you, Mr Speaker—[Hon. Members: “Resign!”] It’s a bit early!
Monday 2 September—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 3 September—Proceedings in Committee and remaining stages of the Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 4 September—Remaining stages of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill.
Thursday 5 September—Debate on a motion on the future UK shared prosperity fund, followed by debate on a motion on the British housebuilding industry leasehold. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 6 September—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. This is not exactly an energised list. I thought we were all supposed to be energising for the future, but maybe we can look forward to a further energised list. I want to start by thanking the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) for engaging in such a supportive way in the House. He really wanted to know how the House worked. I congratulate the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on her new role. I also want to thank a former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), who has stood down from his Front-Bench post after 20 years. He started as a special adviser to Douglas Hurd. I hope we see the like of those people again in the Conservative party.
I, too, want to pay tribute to Paul Evans, who has been absolutely fantastic. He has had a distinguished career in the House. He has been very supportive when I have asked him questions, and he has been really assiduous in the kind of work that he has done and in the Committees. If anyone cares to look at his “Who’s Who” entry, they will see that his recreations include the British constitution, walking, silence and empty places. Paul, how have you survived 38 years in the House of Commons? It is interesting that he likes the British constitution. I do not know why he is retiring—we need him more than ever now.
I welcome the Leader of the House; it is great to see him in that place. Perhaps I can suggest a few things to him. He does have staff, so the nanny can stand down. I know his previous job was to send googlies and a full toss to the Government, but he now has to try to get the business through. Along with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), I want to ask him whether he will get a complimentary copy of “Erskine May” for us. We should not really have to buy it. I know it is online, but it would be really helpful if the main opposition parties had a copy.
Let me talk about the way that this happens. The deal is that I ask about business and the Leader of the House is supposed to respond. We usually get two weeks’ business; I wonder whether we could go back to the discipline of two weeks. I have a few questions for him. What is going on with the conference recess? Is proroguing still on the menu? Can he rule that out? We know that the Prime Minister gave a mini manifesto on the steps of Downing Street. When will we have a new Session of Parliament? This has been the longest. The previous Leader of the House said that we had used up our allotted Opposition days; can we have some unallotted days?
What a mandate, what a ringing endorsement—less than 0.4% of an electorate. Some 46.8 million citizens can vote in a general election, but the Prime Minister was selected by 92,000 people—92,000 people, taking back control. He has not won the support of our country. The Prime Minister talked about the awesome foursome, but what about the gruesome twosome? I know that the Leader of the House respects Parliament, but given that the special adviser to the Prime Minister refused to obey an order of this House and is actually in contempt of Parliament, will the Leader of the House please say whether the special adviser can come to the Floor of the House while he is in contempt of Parliament? Will he get a pass? Perhaps we need counsel’s advice on this.
I know that the Leader of the House respects Parliament. There was a message sent from the Lords about a Joint Select Committee; will he look into that? I know that his predecessor, as we finished business questions, was on the way to the Lords. It is not difficult to set up a Joint Select Committee. There is not much work in the first week back. We know that the Exiting the European Union Committee has already produced a report on the effects on business under no deal. It cannot be difficult to set up a Select Committee, take the evidence that already exists and produce a report.
While the Tory party has been appointing its new Prime Minister, unprecedentedly, there have been 70 written statements—that is absolutely outrageous—over three days. There have been important ones, including one on the school teachers review body. What does it say in that statement? Yes, teachers can get a pay rise, but the Government are going to give only 0.4% to support them. The rest has to come from their own budget—2% from their own budget. This really is a tale of two Britains.
On the Philip Augar review, the previous Prime Minister said that she wanted to see it implemented, whereby tuition fees should be reduced from £9,250 to £7,000. However, the written statement says that the maximum tuition fee will remain at £9,250 for the 2020-21 academic year. Some parents can afford to pay the tuition fees up front. This really is a tale of two Britains, and, on the same day, the Secretary of State for Transport revealed that the cost of Crossrail has escalated.
As a keen parliamentarian, will the Leader of the House ensure, through the usual channels, that some of those written statements are debated on the Floor of the House? We can make an agreement and perhaps we can have a debate, given that the business is so light for the first week back.
The Leader of the House will know, I hope, that I have made a pledge that I will raise the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe every week until she is free. Richard Ratcliffe said that Nazanin returned to prison and that it was like proper torture. Will the Leader of the House raise this with the Prime Minister, and will the Prime Minister make amends by meeting Richard Ratcliffe as soon as possible and make that important phone call to the Iranian Government? A five-year-old girl is growing up not knowing what it feels like to hug and kiss her parents. The Leader of the House will know, as a father of six, how important that is.
I want to say thank you, Mr Speaker, to you and your staff and the Deputy Speakers for their unfailing courtesy and help to me; to the Leader of the House and all his staff; to the Clerks; to Phil and his team of doorkeepers; to the House of Commons Library; to the official reporters; to the catering and cleaning staff; to the postal workers; to security; and to our officers and Chief Whip, and his staff. I also welcome the new Government Chief Whip, who has actually shown me personally some kindness. I thank him for that.
All sorts is going on in our Whips Office: my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) has got married, Devena has got married, Millie has moved to the Department for Education, and we welcomed Keir William Stocks Sullivan on Monday 22nd—I send good wishes to Simon and his wife. Finally, I thank Sam Clark, who has been in the usual channels departments of the Opposition and the Government for six years. He is going to restoration and renewal—another big thing for the Leader of the House. I hope Sam will enjoy lots of Mars bars—that is a private joke. I obviously thank everyone in my office.
I say to each and every hon. Member: I know how hard this time has been, and I hope you all have a restful and peaceful summer recess.
I thank the shadow Leader of the House for her incisive list of questions and, indeed, for the suggestion that I replace nanny with the staff in the Leader of the House’s office. I think they might be a bit bemused if six children trotted in with me and expected to be looked after by House of Commons staff, so I will not go down that route.
“Erskine May” is available online for free. I understand that Opposition Members view themselves as modern, cutting-edge and thrusting. Therefore, going online might not be too problematic for them. Even I can do it occasionally myself. If they do not want to do that, the proper edition of “Erskine May” is available for £400 and may prove a good investment.
The business has been announced for a week, as has been standard practice for some time. I know that historically it was not, but you said yourself, Mr Speaker, that convention has to evolve, and this is one of those conventions that has evolved. Now, we merely have it for one week.
The hon. Lady asked about the conference recess. She knows that recesses are a matter for this House to determine. No doubt a proposal will be made through the usual channels, but I imagine that it would be convenient for Members to be able to attend their own party conferences. That is what has happened previously, and it tends to be to everybody’s benefit. [Interruption.] I am glad to see the Labour Chief Whip nodding, or at least appearing to nod, at that. I therefore think that something may be forthcoming in due course.
The issue of Prorogation is absolutely marvellous, because the hon. Lady asked for a new Session and asked when this Session would end, and then asked me to promise that we would not prorogue. We cannot have both, because we cannot get to a new Session without proroguing. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that he views Prorogation as an archaic mechanism and that he does not wish to see archaic mechanisms used—[Laughter.] As I am now bound by collective responsibility, that is now also my view.
The Lords message about a Joint Committee will obviously be looked into. We always wish to treat the other place with respect; that is an important way in which we operate. That will be taken care of in due course.
On the written ministerial statements, I was going to use a word beginning with “d” and ending in “n”, with an “-ed” on the end—you are if you do and the same if you don’t—but Mr Speaker might rule me out of order if I did say that, which I do not want to happen on my first appearance at this Dispatch Box. Parliament wants to know what is going on and there is limited time for debates. Earlier this week, Mr Speaker granted me an urgent question on Batten disease. We know that the system for getting statements and urgent questions answered works. Therefore, if there are issues that people wish to raise from the 70 written ministerial statements, there are mechanisms that the hon. Lady is extremely well aware of.
As to the hon. Lady’s very important point about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, absolutely I will take that up. I promise that I will take it up every week for her. We as a nation should always put the interests of our citizens first; that is fundamental to how this country should operate in its conduct with foreign nations. The treatment that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has had to undergo is shameful and must be so distressing. When the hon. Lady talks about her child—a five-year-old—being deprived of a mother, that is the most awful thing that one can imagine. I have the greatest sympathy and yes, of course I will take this matter up.
May I conclude by reiterating the thanks that the hon. Lady gave to everybody in the House? How lucky I am now to be Leader of the House—what a privilege it is and what a fine House we have. I have always found that, whenever one wants to know what is going on in the House, the Doorkeepers know first and provide us with a fabulous service.
In paying tribute to Paul Evans as he retires, I should say that the British constitution is a hobby of all sensible people. It is the most interesting matter to discuss and be informed about. It is why £400 for “Erskine May” is such a good investment: it educates one about the British constitution. I wish him well in his retirement.
Finally, I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), who was such a distinguished Leader of the House and Lord President of the Council.
There are, of course, Greek antecedents of the word “archaic”—a concept and fact with which the Leader of the House himself will be closely familiar. However, I think I can say, without fear of contradiction and for the avoidance of doubt, that the word “archaic” as it is now spelt originated in the 19th century, and in France. By the standards of the Leader of the House, it is distressingly modern and also—I say this simply as a matter of fact—of foreign origin. He will have his own views about that matter and others.
I start by welcoming my hon. Friend—I do not think he is yet “right hon.”—to his post. I think he will bring modulated and very moderate tones to these debates. One thing is for certain: having a seat in business questions will now be an absolute must. I welcome my hon. Friend in that regard.
Nothing can be done in this Session, but I want to raise a particular issue. With Lord McColl, I am a co-sponsor of a Bill to change the process relating to modern-day slavery. I ask and urge my hon. Friend to press his colleagues at the Home Office, who have to date been utterly mealy-mouthed about the changes necessary to give victims of modern-day slavery the opportunity to come forward without fearing arrest and incarceration. Will he press his colleagues at the Home Office to urgently bring forward the Bill’s provisions as soon as possible, to improve the quality of the lives of those who suffer most? [Interruption.]
As I rise, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has arrived to sit next to me. She is a very distinguished predecessor of mine, whom I congratulate on her promotion and return from the Back Benches.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) is absolutely right about modern-day slavery. It would be opportune to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), the former Prime Minister, for all the work that she did on modern-day slavery—the terrible and hidden curse that it is. I share his view that everything should be done to stop it. The Home Office should move in that direction and people should not fear criminal prosecution if they have been held as modern-day slaves. That would clearly be desperately unfair.
I join you in your warm tributes to Paul Evans, Mr Speaker. I wish him all the best in his retirement.
I thank our curious new Leader of the House for announcing the, well, meaningless stuff that we are coming back to in September. I warmly welcome him to his place. He is the fifth Leader of the House that I have had in this post, but it has to be said that he is by far the most exotic.
I did not mean to upset the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy with that remark.
It might be as well to point out that the hon. Gentleman is Leader of the House of Commons, not the House of Plantagenet or the House of Tudor. He will have, of course, a number of key responsibilities, prime among them being restoration and renewal—perhaps not a concept for which he is particularly renowned, unless it involves one of his own houses.
I join everybody in paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride). We will now never get that holiday bus from hell, and I will forever miss his terrible jokes about music at my expense. Although he knew that his post would probably only be temporary, he did take his job in his “Stride”.
I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but I went to bed last night and had this horrible nightmare that the UK Government had been taken over by rabid, right-wing Brexiteers. I am not particularly sure whether I am awake yet. May we have a debate about dystopian visions of hell, and have a look at where this Cabinet of dysfunctional Bash Street Kids fits in?
I presume that at some point when we get back after recess the Leader of the House will want to have some sort of debate about Brexit, given that it has been his life’s mission. He and his European Research Group colleagues are now the political mainstream in this House, so when will we get the chance to debate their big plans to crash out of the EU without a deal, and all the disastrous consequences that await us?
The Leader of the House is familiar with Scotland—he famously fought the Glenrothes by-election with his nanny and his Roller—so he knows there is no way on earth that Scotland is going down with his colleagues in their buffoon’s Brexit.
Lastly, Mr Speaker, I wish you and all the staff of the House a very happy recess. I wish the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), and the new Leader of the House a very warm time and hope that they enjoy themselves and have some time for relaxation. It is hot outside, but as the Government continue to open the doors of hell in their buffoon’s Brexit, it is going to get a lot hotter yet.
I may be the fifth Leader of the House since the hon. Gentleman took up his post, but from what I hear it seems that his question is the same regardless, so it does not make any difference who the Leader of the House should be. I therefore fear that the answer is going to be much the same. I would point out that the House of Commons predates the House of Tudor: it started in 1265, and the House of Tudor obviously began with Henry VII—
That’s wrong as well. It was 1341.
No, no. The hon. Gentleman is a very good parliamentary historian, but 1265 is when the burgesses came from the towns, as he knows perfectly well.
Anyway, on restoration and renewal, I had the privilege of serving on the restoration and renewal Joint Committee. It is extraordinarily important that the House of Commons is not only a beacon for democracy, as it was built to be in the 19th century, but a functioning, modern Parliament.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that he does not have to wait long: on Thursday 5 September we will be back here and we will have questions to the Department for Exiting the European Union. His wish is my command; it will be granted.
I welcome my hon. Friend to his role, to which he is very well suited. He is obviously a student of the British constitution, so may we have a debate on the importance of parliamentary democracy and Governments respecting the will of parliamentary votes on all matters, including the wish of this House not to leave the European Union with no deal?
My right hon. Friend is well aware of how to obtain debates in this place, through the Backbench Business Committee and Adjournment debates. Mr Speaker was kind enough to give me an Adjournment debate only last week and is wonderfully accommodating—if I may pay a tribute to you, Mr Speaker—in ensuring that the House gets to discuss what it wants to discuss, which is important.
In relation to leaving the European Union, this Parliament voted for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 that said we would leave. Its predecessor Parliament, which had an enormous commonality with this House, voted by an overwhelming majority for the article 50 Act, which also said we would leave. These two Acts combined provided that we would leave, under UK law, on 31 October 2019. Parliament debated, Parliament decided and parliamentary democracy requires that we deliver.
I welcome the Leader of the House to his new role. I thought I was getting somewhere with his immediate predecessor, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), on the issue of parliamentary time becoming available should Government business run short and whether the Backbench Business could be considered on those occasions and could backfill the business so that the House does not rise early and Members can vent the issues that they want to vent on the Floor of the House. I really do hope we can work together on that.
I echo the tributes to Paul Evans. We share the bus into work in the morning quite often so I know him quite well, and he has helped us on the Backbench Business Committee.
I wish you, Mr Speaker, everyone from all parties and all the staff of the House, particularly the staff and members of the Backbench Business Committee, a very happy and healthy recess. The members of the Backbench Business Committee have done a great service to the House in recent months, keeping the business of the House ticking over on many days.
May I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his fine work as Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee? I may have received a generous promotion from the Prime Minister, but I have not gone native. I do believe that the Government should be held to account, particularly by Back Benchers, and that the issues that they want to debate ought to be debated—and the Backbench Business Committee ensures that that happens. As to the question of short business, I completely understand the point the hon. Gentleman makes. The only point I would make is that there is a concern that if business is not known in advance, people cannot prepare their speeches and remarks, but I am very happy to work with him to see whether there is a solution to this.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment, thank his predecessor for today’s summer Adjournment debate, and pay tribute to the retiring Serjeant at Arms, the Speaker’s Chaplain and the retiring Clerk.
Will my hon. Friend find time for a debate today on benefits paid to people without sight? Mrs Jill Allen-King has pointed to an anomaly whereby people born before 8 April 1948, who were on the standard rate of the disability living allowance, are now not entitled to the lower rate of the attendance allowance when they retire.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He reminds me to pay tribute, too, to the retiring Serjeant at Arms, who is a very distinguished figure. He is also absolutely right to raise the matter that he does. Blind and severely visually impaired people clearly face significant challenges in living independent lives. Up until April 2011, the disability living allowance failed to reflect those challenges. The Government have put in place changes to rectify this, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can raise this particular concern directly with the appropriate Minister, but I will also pass on his concern after today’s proceedings.
I really welcome the Leader of the House to his position, because the Liberal Democrats could not want for a better recruiting sergeant than him as we set up a contest between Victorian values and Liberal Democrat values. More seriously, will the Leader of the House make time available for the House to discuss his views on Northern Ireland and the checks on the Irish border—as we had during the troubles—how the Government can keep an eye on the border and be able to have people inspected and the impact that that would have on the Good Friday agreement?
I may be a better recruiting sergeant for the Liberal Democrats than the right hon. Gentleman, but I fear that that may not be a very difficult task. With regard to Northern Ireland and the border with the Republic of Ireland, the Prime Minister has made it clear that there will not be a border imposed by the British Government. The right hon. Gentleman is another fortunate man as there will be Northern Ireland questions on 11 September, and he can raise these matters directly with the relevant Minister.
I, too, warmly welcome the new Leader of the House. I was delighted that, on the steps of Downing Street, our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made social care a priority. Does my hon. Friend back that, and will he use his efforts to bring forward this important legislation which affects so many carers and dementia sufferers up and down the country?
I am very grateful for that question, because before I was bound by collective responsibility, I wrote the foreword to a paper encouraging the Government to do exactly what the Prime Minister suggested yesterday. Therefore, before I was bound to say things that I am now not allowed to say, I was saying broadly what my hon. Friend would like me to say, if that is not unduly complex. There will be an Adjournment debate on social care on 4 September.
May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place following last night’s brutal events in Downing Street? He will know, more than most on the Government Benches, that the job of the Leader of the House is to be the voice of Parliament in the Cabinet, rather than just the voice of the Cabinet in this place. We are in a very volatile situation, with the threatened Prorogation of this place as a tactic to drive us out of the EU without a deal, when he and I both know that there is no majority for that in this House. Will he give me a pledge that he will take his duties to this House seriously and warn the new Prime Minister that that way will cause chaos?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. She was herself a very distinguished shadow Leader of the House and she is somebody I have great admiration for in her appreciation for the Commons as an institution. I absolutely assure her that I take that part of my role extraordinarily seriously. I have perhaps a somewhat romantic view of the House of Commons—one I think I share with you, Mr Speaker—in that I believe it is our job to hold the Government to account, not simply to facilitate whatever the Government want to do. However, this House passed into law the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the article 50 Act, and we only speak our view by legislation. We do not speak our view by mere motion, and mere motion cannot and must not overturn statute law. If that were to happen, we would not have a proper functioning representative democracy; we would have an erratic, changeable and irregular system of government.
What a pleasure it is to welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box: a fellow Ultramontane Catholic. I am not sure that many people here know what that means, but my hon. Friend knows—perhaps luckily.
My hon. Friend has a firm grasp of history; perhaps some would say he is living history. Does he agree that so much of the work we do here depends on our being here in the Palace of Westminster? I do not want to pin him down because I do not want him to rule anything in or out at this very early stage, but is he aware that many of us believe that if we do have to leave this Palace, it should be for as short a time as possible; that when we return, it should be exactly as it is now; that our priority should be the safety of the building; and that we should care about heritage, particularly the heritage of Richmond House?
I share my right hon. Friend’s admiration for the late Pope Pius IX. In terms of this House, what it represents and the symbolism of this building, what our Victorian predecessors did was to show, through their architecture, their belief in their democratic system and their confidence in our great nation. We should never do anything that undermines that. The idea that we should be in some modern office block in the middle of nowhere, or that we should fail to have the understanding and the glory of our democracy that this House, through its building, shows is one I utterly reject.
May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new job? We will watch his performance with great interest.
Can we rely on the hon. Gentleman to be a champion for justice for everyone, regardless of their background, wealth or connections? On 10 January 2018, Katelyn Dawson was killed and two other women were very badly injured when a white BMW crashed into a queue of people as Katelyn was going to school. She was 15 and an only child. Could we have an early debate on what is going on in the Crown Prosecution Service? It has been many months and now the Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to bring any charge against the driver, Mr Richard Brooke. He got off because the CPS thought he was going to argue insane automatism, which is increasingly being used by wealthy and well-connected people to get off charges when they kill people.
This is an issue of the greatest importance. These terrible events move anybody who hears about them. The death of a 15-year-old through a criminal act is invariably tragic. I absolutely believe that one of the founding principles of our nation is that justice is blind and there is equal justice for everybody, and that is something that all Members of Parliament should commit to. As regards a debate, the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s appeal, which I am sure that many other Members of the House may want to support.
It is an absolute joy to see my imminently right hon. Friend in his proper place at the Dispatch Box, and of course I congratulate him. I know he will want to join me in congratulating our right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) on her return to Government. Can he give the House any indication of when we can look forward to the eagerly awaited and anticipated, I am sure, election of the new Chair of the Treasury Committee?
That is a very important question. I threw my hat into the ring last time and it was thrown back at me very firmly. It is really important that our Select Committees have Chairmen in place. The matter will be dealt with in the normal way, but I would hope that it is dealt with urgently.
This week, lots of children break for the summer holidays. For many, that is a joy and a pleasure. However, many parents will now have to pay for an extra 10 meals per week, per child that were provided through free school meals, and 20% of parents will go without a meal this week in order to do so. The Government have invested in a pilot scheme. May we have a statement in the first week back on how the pilots ran?
The hon. Lady is indeed right. This year, about 50,000 disadvantaged children in 11 local authority areas will be offered free meals and activities over the summer holidays, funded by £9 million from the Department for Education, following a successful £2 million scheme last year. She knows that there are means of obtaining statements or urgent questions to see that an answer is given, and no doubt you will reflect upon it, Mr Speaker, if such a request is made.
May I welcome the new Leader of the House? He will know that his role, as has been said already, is to represent Parliament to Government and to say things that Parliament wants said and not necessarily what the Government want to hear. We have had an extraordinarily long Session. We need to end the Session, to have a new Queen’s Speech, to have new Opposition days, and, importantly, to have private Members’ Bills days. Will the Leader of the House consider arranging a Queen’s Speech in, say, November?
My hon. Friend may want to raise that question with the Prime Minister, who is making a statement later and who is the person who will advise Her Majesty on when the next Session of Parliament should begin. But obviously there will have to be a new Queen’s Speech at some point. I believe that this is the longest Session since the Long Parliament of the 1640s.
My constituent Jackie Wileman was killed by a stolen lorry. The four men responsible had 100 convictions between them, yet will only serve between five and seven years. It is now nearly two years since the Government committed to raising the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving, so will the new Administration make this a priority, and when exactly will the new Leader of the House make parliamentary time available for this?
These cases are absolutely terrible. I think I mentioned earlier an application to the Backbench Business Committee on this matter. The hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) are coming together in feeling that such a debate is necessary and important, and I feel that that is absolutely the right way to go. I have every sympathy for families in this terrible, terrible situation who feel that the law is not helping them.
In welcoming my hon. Friend to his place, may I say how welcome it is for this House to have a Ministry committed to leaving the European Union in all circumstances? On that point, can we have a debate on preparedness for all outcomes, including a no-deal Brexit?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I share his view that it is jolly good news that we have an Administration who are committed to leaving the European Union, which is exactly what the British people voted for in 2016 and, indeed, what Parliament legislated for. Preparedness is of great importance. He may find that there are some encouraging words from the Prime Minister a little later, which may pre-empt an immediate debate.
Fourteen weeks today, we are due to leave the European Union, but with five weeks of recess and three weeks of anticipated conference recess, more of that time will be spent away from this place than here. The new Leader of the House told us that he believes in our parliamentary democracy. What plans does he have to recall Parliament, so that we can deal with the greatest issue to face our nation since the second world war?
Any visitor to the Chamber over the last few years would have heard hours of debate in this place on leaving the European Union. If they troubled to wander to the other place, they would have heard even longer hours of debate on leaving the European Union. This is the most discussed subject that Parliament has managed in decades, and Parliament came to a decision when it legislated. I am sorry to repeat the answer, but I will have to carry on doing so. Parliament voted for the article 50 Act and the withdrawal Act. That set by law the timetable for leaving. That is the democratic decision of Parliament.
As the self-appointed shop steward of the regular attenders of business questions club, I welcome our many guests and, in particular, the Leader of the House, of whom I have always been inordinately fond, not least because I know that not everyone enjoys the benefit I do of a working-class upbringing.
The Leader of the House will know that taxi and private hire vehicle licensing has been a matter of profound concern, so much so that an enlightened former Transport Minister commissioned a report on that subject, which was published in September last year, with the Government response published in February this year. We have heard nothing since. It is vital that we reform taxi and private hire vehicle licensing, so that the concerns of those who drive taxis can be taken into account and the welfare and wellbeing of those who travel in them can be protected.
Was it not Disraeli who said that London taxis were the “gondolas of London”? I share that view. We are very lucky to have the taxi drivers that we have. I think that the shop steward of these sessions will find that—[Interruption.] Well, are most shop stewards not self-elected? I thought that that was how those things worked. My right hon. Friend will be able to raise that with the new Secretary of State for Transport.
With more people self-employed than on the minimum wage, and more people self-employed than in the public sector by 2020, any Government worth their salt, and a Government who say they are the party for the people and working people, should know that putting the self-employed at the top of their agenda is vital. Can we have a debate in Government time on self-employed workers’ rights, and particularly maternity and paternity rights?
The great thing to remember is that the self-employed are the entrepreneurs of the future. They are the ones who create the new businesses and new jobs. It is a fantastically dynamic part of our economy. The hon. Lady’s question is well timed, because I am sitting next to the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who will have heard her plea and will no doubt take it into consideration.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his wonderful new role. I know that, as well as liking the British constitution, he likes cutting taxes, so can we have a debate on axing the reading tax? It is incredibly unfair that people who buy books or magazines online have to pay 20% more than those who do not.
My right hon. Friend is a genius at getting debates in this place, so he hardly needs advice from me. He already has an Adjournment debate coming on 4 September, which I expect will be even better attended than this morning’s session. I feel that I am inadequate to advise him on how to achieve more debates, but his subject is indeed a worthy one, and I hope that his plea has been widely heard.
The Leader of the House is known for his courtesy, so I am sure he will agree that language describing Travellers as an invasion or a disease, contrasting them with decent people or talking of them as a problem—all of which have been heard in this House in recent months—is deplorable. Will he arrange a debate, perhaps in Hate Crime Awareness Week after the recess, on how we can use language respectfully towards everybody in this country?
I thank the hon. Lady for her generous compliment. It really is important that we use language properly, that language is effective and that language is powerful. You, Mr Speaker, control how it is used in this House to ensure that it is orderly, but the general tone should be one of generosity and kindliness, and I would always encourage that. I do not think a debate on language in Government time is likely, but as I have said, there are Adjournment debates, Backbench Business debates and Westminster Hall debates. It is a really important issue, and I would encourage and share the hon. Lady’s view that good manners go a long way.
May I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on his new appointment? He is already looking like an old pro in the position. May we have an urgent debate on serious deficiencies in the enforcement of minimum wage legislation? A carer in my constituency is owed £63,000 in unpaid minimum wage, despite the Care Act 2014 requiring Luton Borough Council to have an effective monitoring process of the personal budget payments involved. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, as the enforcement agency, can take no action against the person cared for because she has no assets. How can my constituent get her unpaid minimum wage?
That is a very serious issue. Regrettably, I cannot comment on individual cases, but I am clear that careworkers provide essential support to some of the most vulnerable members of society, and it is essential that they are paid in accordance with the law, including the national minimum wage, for the work they do. This is a responsibility of local authorities, which should ensure that personal budgets are sufficient to deliver a person’s care needs, including making sure that they cover the cost of wages, and local authorities have a duty to monitor how personal budgets are spent. However, the Department of Health and Social Care will take this up with the local authority and ask it to investigate what sounds like a very serious and concerning case.