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Business of the House

Volume 664: debated on Thursday 5 September 2019

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week. I shall begin by apologising to the shadow Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that this statement is later than it would normally have been, which is to ensure that the information before the House is as full as possible. I understand that that has caused some travel arrangement difficulties, which is a matter of regret.

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 9 September—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by debate to approve a motion relating to section 7 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 (historical institutional abuse), followed by debate to approve a motion relating to section 6 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 (victims’ payment), followed by debate to approve a motion relating to section 5 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 (human trafficking), followed by debate to approve a motion relating to section 4 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 (gambling), followed by general debate on a motion relating to section 3(2) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by motion relating to an early parliamentary general election.

The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received to all Acts. A message may be received from the Lords Commissioners.

I will return to the House on Monday with further information if necessary.

I thank the Leader of the House. I was going to say that it is the usual custom and convention to thank him, but I appreciate that he has apologised—at least I abide by custom and convention. I also thank him for being vertical when he gave his statement.

The Opposition will co-operate with the Government on the Northern Ireland legislation to ensure that it goes through, and we are obviously keen for Lords amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.6) Bill, if there are any, to come back to the House to be debated. Will the Leader of the House say exactly what the motion relating to an early parliamentary election will be and whether it will be similar to that under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011? When is he likely to table it?

As I said I would do every week, I raise the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Will the Leader of the House update the House on her case, given that things have taken a different turn, and on the cases of the other UK nationals who are in prison? Kamal Foroughi was detained in May 2011, Anousheh Ashouri was detained in August 2017, and British Council employee Aras Amiri was detained in March 2018 and has now been given a 10-year sentence for visiting her grandmother.

I asked the previous Leader of the House about the Queen’s Speech and I know that that has been thrown back at me a number of times. We have had the longest continuous parliamentary Session since the Acts of Union 1800. Hardly any business was legislated for while the Government were going through a leadership election. The Government chose to have a long Session and no legislation was progressed, despite my asking for that, as well as for Opposition day debates, which I have not been given. We should have realised that something was going to happen when someone asked when the Trade Bill would come back and the Leader of the House responded, “Why would we want to do that?” That should have given us a clue. A number of Bills—the Immigration Bill, the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill and the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill—are stuck. We know that they fall when Parliament is prorogued, but not statutory instruments—they are still live. Will the Leader of the House say what the Government plan to do with those Bills?

I asked the previous leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), whether we could sit during the conference recess. We on this side of the House were ready to do that. There is nothing conventional about the Government’s plans for Prorogation. Most Prorogations last a few days and take place just before the Queen’s Speech, but this one is five weeks, which will be the longest in more than 40 years.

Will the Leader of the House clarify what he said during the debate yesterday? When asked, he did not say whether he knew on 16 August that the House was going to be prorogued. In fact, he said he was at Lord’s. I will ask him again: on 16 August, when he was at Lord’s, did he know whether the House was going to be prorogued? Had he seen that email? Two weeks later, he was on a plane to Aberdeen airport. When was he told that he was going to Balmoral and when did he know what was in the proclamation?

We do not trust this Government—they take their lead from the Prime Minister, who says one thing and does something else. When he wanted to be Prime Minister, he wrote in a letter to all his colleagues that he was

“not attracted to arcane procedures such as the prorogation of Parliament”.

He said he was a one nation Conservative, yet he has prorogued Parliament and withdrawn the Whip—possibly sacked, possibly expelled—from some of the most honourable right hon. and hon. Members, who have given great service to their party and country. Now we face the fact that the right hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) has resigned and no longer wants to stand—the Prime Minister’s own brother cannot take it anymore. That is why we do not trust the Government and the Prime Minister. He secretly agreed to suspend Parliament two weeks before denying it would happen. He is treating Parliament, democracy and the people with contempt.

Twenty-two law professors have written an open letter to say that the Prorogation is clearly designed to evade scrutiny, including of legislation, and to prevent MPs from asking key questions on EU negotiations and no-deal planning. So what were the reasons for the Prorogation at that time, without recourse to coming to the Chamber and explaining it?

An important Bill to stop a no-deal exit was passed yesterday and is making its way through the Lords. Here are the reasons why it is important. The director of the CBI has said:

“No deal is a tripwire into economic chaos that could harm our country…for years to come.”

Is that scaremongering? The General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress said that no deal would be a “disaster for working families”. Is that scaremongering? The President of the National Farmers’ Union said that

“you will have many farmers going out of business”

and the Food and Drink Federation has warned that it would

“inflict serious—and in some cases mortal—damage on UK food and drink.”

Is that scaremongering?

The British Medical Association said in its report that the dangers of no deal could lead to the disintegration of the NHS. The fashion industry, worth £32 billion, says no deal should be avoided. The Incorporated Society of Musicians said a no-deal Brexit will incur major disruption to the music industry worth £4.5 billion. Are they scaremongering?

Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit co-ordinator for the EU, said that the only people who will prosper are the wealthy bankers and hedge fund managers who have bet on chaos.

I think the Leader of the House also owes an apology to Dr David Nicoll, who was part of Operation Yellowhammer. When will the Leader of the House publish Operation Yellowhammer, or does he think the Government are scaremongering?

Mr Speaker, they are like the wolves of Whitehall. They are marauding over our customs and our conventions. It is absolutely outrageous, the way they are destroying them. The Prime Minister only governs by custom and convention.

I think the Leader of the House also owes an apology to Mr Speaker. I think he was heard on air to say that Mr Speaker was wrong, but I want to remind him of his bedtime reading, “Erskine May”, and of the dedication compiled by officials, both past and present. It says this:

“To the…Speaker of the House of Commons and to the Lord Speaker, Speakers…of the Commonwealth Parliaments on whom fall the great responsibilities of guardianship of the parliamentary system.”

We saw that this week and we thank you, Mr Speaker.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me deal with the last point first. I would not have dreamed of saying that you were wrong. I made the point, the classic point, that you have not eyes to see with nor lips to speak except as directed by this House. I believe, Mr Speaker, that that is what you do, properly. You have consistently taken the view that the House should be able to debate what it wishes to debate, although I will confess that sometimes if I were in your position I might come to a different decision. That is not in any sense disrespectful to Mr Speaker.

Let me come to this panoply of questions that we have had. First, I thank the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) for supporting us on Northern Ireland legislation and looking forward to the Lords amendments. The early parliamentary motion will be put down tonight, as it needs to be, before the close of business.

On the very important issue that hon. Lady raises on every occasion, relating to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Foreign Office is doing what it can. It is a very difficult situation. It is so important that the Foreign Office, in all these consular cases—the hon. Lady mentioned a number of them—is as vigorous as it can be. In my view, the statement made by a former Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston in the Don Pacifico affair, is the right approach for Governments to take in defending the interests of British citizens abroad. We should be incredibly robust about it. I believe the Foreign Office is doing as much as it possibly can, but sadly we cannot tell other countries what to do.

We then come on to the Queen’s Speech and what will happen to the Bills that are stuck. The Bills that are stuck will become unstuck because they will fall on prorogation. That is the sort of de-supergluing process that we are able to use. I am glad to tell the House that all the Bills that are needed for leaving the European Union on 31 October are in place.

We then come to the diary questions. What was I doing? [Interruption.] On the ability to leave on 31 October, all the legislation that is needed is in place. We have 580 statutory instruments to make sure it will all happen smoothly. That is all done. It is ready. It is prepared. Her Majesty’s Government have been a model of efficiency and efficacy in preparing this. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is perhaps one of the most impressive administrative Ministers this country has ever seen.

I was asked questions about my knowledge of the next Queen’s Speech. The hon. Lady is aware that one of the main duties of the Leader of the House is to prepare for the next Queen’s Speech. That is what one does. That is what one is briefed on from the very beginning. Bids for items in the next Queen’s Speech come to the Leader of the House, so that has been part of my briefing from the point at which I was appointed and that is the reason why this Session is coming to an end. It has gone on for far too long, as the hon. Lady rightly pointed out—as indeed did the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who seems to be fidgeting at the moment in an uncharacteristically fidgety way.

Mr Speaker, your knowledge of being able to fidget is so extensive that I am sure you will be able to tell the House or make it a chapter in your memoirs on un-fidgety fidgeting.

That is the straightforward reason for the Prorogation. The Prorogation is taking place to have a new Queen’s Speech to set out the really exciting one nation policies that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wishes to set out. [Interruption.] Mr Speaker, I know and we all know, because we have heard you say it many times, that however much chuntering there is from the other side you will make time for me to answer all their questions, which I am looking forward to with eager anticipation. I will be better able to answer them if they wait their turn, rather than making noises imitating a farmyard that I cannot translate because I am not Dr Doolittle. If only I were Dr Doolittle, life might be easier. So that is the routine part of my responsibility and that is why Parliament will be prorogued.

On the conference recess, on the last occasion I appeared at the Dispatch Box to answer these questions I raised the issue of the conference recess. Sitting opposite me was none other than that really distinguished figure, the Opposition Chief Whip. [Interruption.] It was not the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) who is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench now, but the Opposition Chief Whip. When I said that we would have the conference recess, the Opposition Chief Whip nodded. As we all know, a nod from the Opposition Chief Whip is like the nod of Zeus: what it nods at is done and is viewed as authoritative, so let us have no questions about that.

The hon. Lady came on to scaremongering. She seems to wish to compete to become the scaremonger-in-chief. The preparations have been made. They are in place and they have been done with remarkable efficiency. But yes, a lot of remainers wish to make our skins crawl. I am afraid it seems to me that Dr David Nicholl is as irresponsible as Dr Wakefield. [Interruption.] I will repeat: as irresponsible as Dr Wakefield, in threatening that people will die because we leave the European Union. What level of irresponsibility was that?

In conclusion, I say to the hon. Lady and the House that this Government have offered them the opportunity, if they do not like what we are doing, to seek an election and put themselves to the voters, but they dare not do that. They are frightened of the voters and all they wish to do is obstruct democracy.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future staging of party conferences? It seems to me that these conferences have changed out of all recognition and in future could easily be held over a long weekend.

What a very sound question. I am even more delighted than usual to have called the hon. Gentleman so early. These are meetings of voluntary organisations which could perfectly well take place over a weekend. The idea that we should be away from our main place of work for this sort of indulgence will strike very large numbers of people across the country as bizarre.

Mr Speaker, I wondered if you were going to suggest a job share. Perhaps I should sit in as Speaker on occasion and you should answer questions as Leader of the House. I am sorry to say that I have a slightly different answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess). Party conferences are an important part of the political process. I am really glad to say that this year’s Conservative party conference is going to be primarily an occasion for members. We are going to get back to putting members front and central, because they are the people who select us and for whom we work, and who campaign for us. Party conferences are important and it is a reasonable time to have. This House has not been that busy, it has to be said, earlier in the Session. Therefore, having a party conference is perfectly reasonable.

I thank the Leader of the House, esquire, for announcing whatever this is supposed to be for next week and say to him that if he is starting to feel a bit tired, he should just feel free to have a little lie down. But perhaps if he is going to do that, he should mention it to his hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) next to him.

According to the statement, there will be another attempt at a general election on Monday—perhaps the Leader of the House can just confirm that. It looks almost certain that straight after that, the Government’s intention is to suspend democracy—contemptuously—for five weeks, much against the desires and wishes of this House and the people we are elected here to serve.

But I congratulate the Leader of the House on an incredible week—not on becoming an internet sensation with his “Victorian dad lying down” stuff, but on his shrewd, stellar and steady management of the House business. He has managed to lose every single vote for this Prime Minister. No Prime Minister has ever got off to such a terrible start. He has managed to lose his Government majority by deselecting decent and honourable members of his party who have served their country and party with such distinction. He has lost control of the business of the House, and last night his unelected lords in the other place put up the white flag to what they call the surrender Bill. In the last few hours, we have had the resignation of the right hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) in his desire to spend less time with his family.

There is only one piece of business that the Leader of the House craves: to secure his general election while still being able to get the no deal that the Government crave. To his great frustration and that of the Brexit cult that occupy the Government Benches, they have been unable to get away with it. His general election is coming, but everybody has to be certain that their no deal is dead and buried.

The funniest thing about the general election motion last night was the sight of Scottish Conservatives trooping through the Lobby in favour of an immediate general election on the day that an opinion poll showed that they would be decimated in Scotland. If we want to see a demonstration of slavish loyalty to the no-deal Brexit cult cause, we need look no further than these hon. Gentlemen. This is not just turkeys voting for Christmas; it is turkeys lathering themselves in cranberry sauce and shoving the stuffing up their own posteriors.

I have a feeling, though, that this will probably be the last opportunity to see the right hon. Gentleman in his place. He wanted a legacy—how about: the least successful Leader of the House that we have ever had?

I am grateful as always to the hon. Gentleman for his characteristic charm. What we have seen today is, I think in history, unprecedented, unknown and unseen. We have seen a frightened Scotsman. They are people who are known for their courage, their forthrightness and their sturdiness, and they are scared of going in front of their voters. They have run away from an election. They are—what is it?—“tim’rous beasties”, I think they must be called, who dare not face their voters. I just wonder whether that is because of the narrow majority that the hon. Gentleman has. He parades it as concern for Conservative Members, and he is worried that they may be in danger, but surely if that is what he really thinks, he should be embracing the opportunity for an election and pushing forward for it.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned, as did the hon. Member for Walsall South, my right hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), who has decided to leave Her Majesty’s Government. This is something that we know about across the country: families disagree on Brexit. My enormously distinguished, wise and good sister, Annunziata, has gone and joined the Brexit party—and not only joined it, but got elected to the European Parliament. We all have, within our families, these disagreements over an issue that is of fundamental importance to us—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is of fundamental importance to us all, and that is why it is right to put this back to the British people in a general election, so that they can decide and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) can restore the honour of the people of Scotland by showing he is not afraid.

These are richly enjoyable exchanges. That would ordinarily be the case in the presence of the Leader of the House in any circumstance, but I believe that it is more so because, unless I am much mistaken, the right hon. Gentleman is not the only Rees-Mogg present and observing our proceedings today. It is a great pleasure and privilege to welcome little Moggs in particular, of whom there are several, and other members of the Rees-Mogg dynasty.

Notwithstanding that joy, one of the responsibilities of the Speaker is to safeguard the rights of Members in respect of business to follow. I make that point simply to underline the imperative of brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike in observing that, exceptionally today, it may not be possible for everybody to be called on the business statement. We will do our best, and the quest for brevity can be led—I think with distinction—by Dr Julian Lewis.

May we have a statement or debate on the circumstances of the seizure of a British-flagged tanker by Iran in the Gulf? If there is not enough time for that, will the Leader of the House have a word with the Secretary of State for Defence, because the Defence Committee on Monday has a session planned, but the former Secretary of State—my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt)—has so far not yet received the information that she requires from the Ministry of Defence to enable her to give testimony to us?

That is a matter of the utmost importance and I shall certainly ask my office to contact the Ministry of Defence. It is only right that Select Committees should get the information that they require.

I thank the Leader of the House for the statement and for his apology. When I was considering the delay in the normal timing of the business statement this morning, I was wondering whether he was carrying on his normal practice of having a lie-in.

The Leader of the House will be aware that if Prorogation happens, the Backbench Business Committee ceases to exist and has to be re-elected. I will therefore be writing to him with a list of as yet unheard debates, should any time become available after Prorogation or possibly after a general election. They include debates on women’s mental health, which is vital; the role and sufficiency of youth work, which we have heard so much about recently; diabetes services with targeted prevention strategies; the 50th anniversary of the Open University; and parental mental illness with its impact on children’s outcomes. It is a list of things that are important and still need to be aired. By the way, if Prorogation does happen, there is also an application in for a debate about Baby Loss Awareness Week, which happens from 9 to 15 October every year.

I take this opportunity to thank the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the whole House, for the wonderful work he does on the Backbench Business Committee and in ensuring that the House gets to debate the issues at the forefront of its mind and that Parliament functions effectively. I take very seriously what he said about the debates that may come up after an election or a Queen’s Speech and that require attention before the Backbench Business Committee has been reformed.

As to my recumbent position, I assure the hon. Gentleman that my office is drawing up a position paper for me and is coming up with a recline to take.

We have indeed had a panoply of questions, apart from the obvious one: when the motion on the early general election is considered at the end of Monday, will the Bill that the House of Commons passed yesterday on ruling out no deal have received Royal Assent? The reason I ask is that I distinctly heard the Leader of the Opposition say yesterday that once the Bill became law, he would vote for an early general election. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be quite extraordinary, after this long Session of Parliament, which is clearly deadlocked, if every Member of Parliament—or at least two thirds—did not vote for an immediate general election to put this to the people?

It is indeed an addled Parliament that is not able to get things done, and the conclusion that my right hon. Friend draws is correct. Royal Assent will be given speedily once the Bill has completed its passage through the House of Lords and come back to us, if necessary, with any amendments. I obviously cannot predict what their lordships will do, but if it completes those stages, it will receive Royal Assent, and speedily.

With the Government’s disgraceful proroguing of Parliament, not only will hon. Members be unable to scrutinise Ministers on Brexit, but I will be robbed of the opportunity to press Ministers following Tata’s announcement that it proposes to close all steelworks in Newport, so what will the Leader of the House do to facilitate a debate so that we can all fight to save our steel industry?

There simply would not have been time for such a debate anyway, because we were about to go into the conference recess. We are losing four or five days of parliamentary time. There will then be a fresh new Session full of interest and excitement, with opportunities for debates on a range of issues.

MPs across Staffordshire are very concerned about news that school transport provision will not now be available to those who have to pay for their school transport, due to a ruling about disability regulations. I will not go into the technical details now, and I appreciate that time is short, but would the Leader of the House find time for a debate on this important matter?

That is an important issue, and I have a nasty feeling that it is the result of some tiresome EU regulation, so after 31 October we may be free to deal with it ourselves.

City airport consultation plans have proposed an additional 110 flights a day, many of which would fly over my constituency. Given that we already face noise and air pollution from the aircraft, and given that we are in a climate change emergency, may we have an urgent debate in Government time on airport expansions?

City airport is a fantastic airport—convenient to use and very well run—but I understand the concerns about the increasing number of flights from airports. The hon. Lady knows that there will be many opportunities to secure debates—Adjournment debates and Backbench Business debates—when Parliament returns in October.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need an urgent debate on planning? We have recently seen delays in various planning authorities—particularly the Planning Inspectorate—reviewing planning applications, which has led to the five-year lag in planning. That means that groups of applications that are not part of the planning process from the borough council are being put in, which particularly affects areas such as the monastery and the nunnery in West Malling.

I am always concerned about anything that might affect a monastery. If we have a Queen’s Speech, obviously we will have the normal days of debate that follow, during which I am sure it will be possible to raise the important issue of planning.

Jess, my constituent, was heavily pregnant when her husband was stealing from her bank account. She went to her bank but was told that, because she had given him her PIN, that was acceptable, and the police had no legislation to support her. Kirsty Ferguson was married and had homes, but when she and her husband divorced, he refused to sell them, against court orders. She was pushed into penury and emotional distress. What can we do after Prorogation, now that the Domestic Abuse Bill will fall, to support these women, not only in Batley and Spen but across the country?

The issues that the hon. Lady raises are of fundamental importance. We will all have had similar cases brought to us in our constituencies. The Prime Minister is fully behind the Domestic Abuse Bill. I cannot tell the hon. Lady what precisely will be in the Queen’s Speech, but I think that I can give a steer that it would be a great surprise to all of us if the Bill were not revived very quickly, because her concern is shared across the House.

May we have a statement from the Health Secretary on when NHS England’s new genomic medicine service will be fully operational?

All summer, the hunger in communities such as mine across the country was tangible. Voluntary sector organisations are stepping in to feed our children. Why are the Government not doing more? May we have a debate on feeding our children in the holidays?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. The Government carried out a pilot scheme that fed 50,000 children over the summer. The scheme is being evaluated to consider whether it should be rolled out more widely.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury previously made a statement from the Treasury Bench that a debt is owed to Equitable Life victims. When can we debate the matter further and ensure that the debt is repaid?

The Equitable Life issue really ought to have been finished by now, but of course it concerns many Members and many of our constituents. I was a member of the all-party parliamentary group for justice for Equitable Life policyholders, so I share my hon. Friend’s concerns.

What is happening in Kashmir is an outrage. The UK Government must do everything they can to bring about lasting peace and stability and to restore human rights to the region. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the crisis in Kashmir?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I understand that the matter was covered very fully in Foreign Office questions, and the Foreign Office is taking it with the utmost seriousness. An opportunity to debate it will of course follow the Queen’s Speech.

Will my right hon. Friend ask a Transport Minister to make a statement on the future of the Southeastern train contract? Under the franchise arrangements, the competition has been cancelled. My constituents are keen to see the benefits of the new trains that the new contract would deliver.

I will pass on what my right hon. Friend has said to the relevant Secretary of State. Problems with trains always beset the House, and I fear that if we debated them all we would never have time for anything else.

I was alarmed to hear reports that the Leader of the House has previously suggested that all council workers should wear bowler hats, that Somerset should have its own time zone, that he has apparently met a group that favours the voluntary repatriation of black immigrants and that he has disputed climate change. Does he still believe these things, or has he finally decided to live on planet Earth?

Hospital Radio Medway has raised a real concern about hospital radio stations being able to get appropriate licensing from Ofcom, which is preventing patients from accessing radio in hospital. That cannot be right. May we have an urgent statement or debate on that?

Hospital radio is very important for cheering people up when they are in hospital, and actually it is a very good training ground for people starting a career in radio. I think that it is a more suitable topic for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate, rather than taking time in the Chamber.

The Leader of the House has been extremely coy about when Prorogation will actually happen. He has not announced that it will be Tuesday or Thursday. If the general election motion falls again, will Prorogation we delayed so that he can have a third go?

The Privy Council determined that a Commission should be established under the Lord High Chancellor, and that under the Great Seal, Parliament could be prorogued on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Parliament will be prorogued according to a decision made by that Commission. That Commission has not yet made its decision.

On Indian independence day, families were attacked outside the Indian high commission by thugs, and on Tuesday more thugs stoned and pelted the high commission. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary or another Minister on what actions can be taken to protect those diplomatic areas of our society for our allies and friends?

I was unaware of that, but it is deeply shocking that the representative office of so close an ally should be attacked in the United Kingdom. We should take every measure, as part of our diplomatic obligations, to protect the offices of all embassies in this country, but particularly those of friends. It is a matter that I am sure the Foreign Secretary will take most seriously.

Is next Monday’s fixed-term Parliaments motion under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 or another mechanism?

Later this month, the world’s third largest sporting event will take place in Japan: the rugby world cup. It would not be taking place without the exploits of a certain William Webb Ellis in my constituency back in 1823. The town will be celebrating, so may we take the opportunity to have a debate on the economic benefits of sporting events?

My general view of the world is that everything good that has ever happened started in Somerset, although I must confess that rugby did start in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which I cannot claim to be part of Somerset—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) says from a sedentary position that she is sure that I will try, but I think that would be too great a stretch, geographically. It is a fantastic sporting event, and I know that many people will enjoy watching it, and we should absolutely encourage people to participate. I think, Mr Speaker, that your predilection is for tennis, and mine is for cricket, so there are many sports that people will be interested in.

The post office network is in crisis. A Government contract allowing asylum seekers to access cash at post offices is due to expire in November. May we have a debate in Government time on the number of Government contracts that could be used to increase revenue for postmasters?

A postmaster came to see me in my constituency surgery recently to discuss that issue. I know that it concerns many Members because of the wonderful work that is done by post offices as part of their communities. However, the hon. Lady knows how to ask for debates and knows about the many mechanisms that are available.

My right hon. Friend has a great deal of personal experience of paternity, as we see in the Gallery today. Does he agree that we must have an urgent debate on the return of maternity services to the Alex hospital in Redditch, as demanded by my constituents?

I do indeed attach great importance to paternity and, indeed, to maternity services. I think that this would be an entirely suitable subject for an Adjournment debate, Mr Speaker, although, of course, at your discretion.

In January 2019, the High Court ruled that it was illegal for the Department for Work and Pensions to deduct universal credit payments when people had received two payments within the assessment period. When will the Government make changes to comply with the law?

Her Majesty’s Government always comply with the rule of law. It is a fundamental principle of our constitution.

The Charity Commission has asked abortion provider Marie Stopes, a charity funded largely by public money, why it paid its head £434,000 last year. May we have a debate on the high levels of executive pay in the charitable sector, which its regulator has described as an issue of public interest?

It is indeed a matter of public interest. It is quite extraordinary that a charity should be paying someone so much more than the Prime Minister earns, or, even more shockingly, than Mr Speaker is paid. He stays in his seat for hour after hour in a very diligent way, and I think that if he were paid an hourly rate, he would find that he received less than if he worked at McDonald’s. It is very impressive. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) will have to catch your eye in due course, Mr Speaker, before we run out of time.

I share my hon. Friend’s concern. It is a matter for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but charities must report on the number of staff who are paid more than £60,000 a year in income bands in their annual report and accounts, and the Charity Commission has asked Marie Stopes International to provide an explanation of its chief executive officer’s quite extraordinary salary.

I am afraid that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) is no longer in the Chamber, but when he was in the Government, he promised that the next comprehensive spending review would provide £90 million for refuge funding. I note that not a single penny piece has been provided in this week’s review, and I now find it difficult to know what to believe when things are said from the Dispatch Box, but will the Leader of the House give me a commitment that that money, which was promised and planned for—and the Domestic Abuse Bill—will appear in the Queen’s Speech?

The general principle is that if commitments have been made from the Dispatch Box to spend money, those commitments are incumbent on the Government. They were made, and they continue. I cannot guarantee spending commitments—I am not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in case the hon. Lady had not noticed—but I share her concern about this important issue, and, if it will satisfy her, I will write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to clarify the position.

My constituents in North Hykeham suffer from dreadful levels of travel congestion. Indeed, several hundred of them responded to a recent survey on the subject that was carried out in my area. The North Hykeham relief road is a key part of solving the problem. May we have a debate on it, please?

I know that my hon. Friend has been an amazingly effective campaigner for better transport in her constituency and is tireless in it. She probably does not want a debate so much as the money, although a debate may be easier to find than the money.

The Leader of the House has a big family, as I have. There is a woman in Tehran who cannot see her husband and cannot see her little daughter. While the House is not sitting, will the Leader of the House lead an all-party delegation to Iran—I would be with him—to see whether we can get that woman released?

This is a matter for the Foreign Secretary. I cannot constitutionally interfere in the Foreign Secretary’s business. However, I completely share the concern. If you were to lead a delegation Mr Speaker, I think that that would be very powerful, but I do hope you will make sure that you get back.

On the principle that Members always speak the truth in the Chamber, I have to assume that the right hon. Gentleman was sincere in what he just said.

On the Chancellor’s desk since last July has been a shortlist of candidates to succeed Mark Carney as Governor of the Bank of England. Is the Leader of the House aware of the Chancellor’s plans to make a statement on who he has recommended be appointed, so that the Treasury Committee may scrutinise that appointment?

I am not aware of the Chancellor’s decision, or the timing of the Chancellor’s decision. However, as a former member of the Treasury Committee, I think it is of the utmost importance that the Committee carries out proper due diligence and scrutiny of appointments, which is hugely beneficial to the good running of the country.

The Leader of the House clearly thinks that we were all born yesterday, but we are not going to fall for trickery over a dissolution motion that has already been sought and that, would allow him to crash us out with a no-deal Brexit before 31 October. Why does he not publish the motion now, so that we can see it? Will he state whether it is amendable and when he plans to table it?

I am very grateful for that question. The hon. Gentleman has just said that he expects his party to lose the election. Not only has the Labour party passed a surrender Bill, but it has now decided to surrender as a political force. What we have just heard is that Labour Members do not think that they can have an election on 15 October. Why? Because they would lose. If they are so confident that they would win, they can win and cancel Brexit, which is their real purpose, but they do not trust the people.

Barely a life in this place, or beyond in our constituencies—perhaps through family or friends—has not been touched by cancer and its treatment. You, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the House will know of the critical relationship between detection, diagnosis and definitive treatment. Will the Leader of the House therefore arrange either a statement or a debate on early diagnosis? It would assuage fear, prevent pain and, hopefully, stop people dying.

This is a matter of great importance, and one on which debates can be very useful, because they help to raise awareness. I am sure that the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee has heard that request.

May I also point out that £34 billion more is to be provided for the national health service? I am sure that some of that will be used to improve cancer treatment services.

The Government now think that they may need to invoke the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 after 31 October if we leave without a deal. That Act presumes that Parliament is sitting. Is it not therefore vital that we sit through 31 October, and will the Leader of the House ensure that the motion is published as soon as possible—before 2 o’clock—so that we can all decide what we are going to do on Monday?

Will the Government back and give time to cross-party calls for the financial services industry to provide, or maintain, at least one free-to-use, 24/7 cashpoint machine for every high street that supports 5,000 residents?

My hon. Friend has presented a ten-minute rule Bill on that subject, and he may want to introduce a similar Bill in the new Session. Alternatively, he could enter the lottery for a private Member’s Bill, which could give him a great deal of time in which to discuss the issue. However, I share his concern about the need to ensure that people have access to cash.

The closure of the bank branch in Brora means that there will shortly be only one branch for the whole vast county of Sutherland. May I humbly request a debate, in Government time, about the continuing closure of rural bank branches? I have asked for one before, but, in the lingua franca, omnia tempus habent, sed dum spiro, spero.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is breathing and hoping. That is always extremely beneficial for all hon. Gentlemen and, indeed, all hon. Members—and right hon. ones, too. [Interruption.] I said “hon. Members”. I thought that the word “Members” included everyone, but I apologise if that is not the case.

The hon. Gentleman’s point is important, but I do not think that Government time is likely to be the right arena. Furthermore, I may be, to some extent, partial, as I represent a rural constituency, and I do not think that I should advocate debates in my own cause.

During the summer recess, I met the wonderful international volunteers at Simeon Care in my constituency. May we have a debate that would celebrate and recognise the important role of international volunteers in our communities, so that charities such as Simeon can flourish?

May I first congratulate my hon. Friend on the amazing charitable work he does, because I know he has great personal concern and is very supportive of his local charities? Again, I think that is suitable for a Backbench Business debate and my hon. Friend knows the form for making applications for them.

Does the Leader of the House agree that it is about time we had a further debate or a statement from the Government regarding the women who have been affected by the state pension age increase? It is okay for the Leader of the House to lie down on the job, but many 1950s-born women are being forced back into work by his Government or face poverty.

May I begin by thanking the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for their kind words last week when a protest was proposed outside my house? I was very grateful for that and for their bipartisan approach; I think we all have a concern that Members’ houses should not be affected, and I am genuinely grateful.

The issue the hon. Lady raises is very serious, and I have great sympathy for the WASPI women—it is difficult for them—but the situation we inherited in 2010 in terms of the public finances necessitated it, and although I am not unsympathetic to a debate, I very much doubt the decision is going to be changed.

I very much endorse what the Leader of the House said about the hon. Members for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). I have made that point myself before, but I take the opportunity to do so again: people who have political disagreements with public figures should not demonstrate in a way that causes real anxiety and fear either to that Member—that public servant—or to members of his or her family; that is intolerable.

May we have an urgent statement on UK Government support for the people and Government of the Bahamas given their very difficult situation?

The Department for International Development has sent a team of experts to help to deal with the devastation and destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. The team is working with the Bahamian Government to assess the situation and provide support. The Department for International Trade, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence are monitoring the situation and getting support to those who need it. The Government are doing whatever they can, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue.

Constituents have contacted me regarding proposals for a breeding kennel in Blaenau Gwent. Many residents have emphasised the importance of good animal welfare, so may we have a statement from the Government explaining what action is being taken right now so that dogs get the best possible protection in the future?

I know that this issue concerns many people, and the Government have a particular concern for animal welfare. In the new Session of Parliament there may well be time to have a debate on it.

Royal Mail Group is trying to sell off Parcelforce as a separate business. Communication workers will be ready to strike and take action. With an election possibly coming up, will there be a statement from the Government?

I am sure that no responsible person would go on strike to interrupt the democratic process of a general election.

The Plaid Cymru group will probably vote against the Government on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but would it not be reasonable for the official Opposition to have the courage of their convictions and do likewise?

What has happened to the men of Harlech? I thought they were meant to stand steady. Instead, they are running away from an election, which is very disappointing.

A small family-run restaurant in my constituency was hit with an eye-watering Home Office fine for a minor administrative error in its staffing. I do not want a debate or a statement, but will the Leader of the House please get me a meeting with the Home Secretary so I may ask her directly to resolve this issue and why she has not responded to my letters?

I am sorry to say that arranging meetings is not the job of the Leader the House. I am here to organise debates and to point people in the right direction for getting parliamentary responses—not, I am sorry to say, to be a diary secretary.

Will the Leader of the House assure me that during Prorogation the Home Secretary will not lay a statutory instrument to make it illegal to enter Kurdish Syria and that we will continue to be able to support our allies in Kurdistan?

The rules relating to the laying of statutory instruments when the House is sitting are complicated and detailed, and without knowing the precise form of the statutory instrument I will not be able to give any guarantee.

We have recently learned that free movement as we know it is to end on 31 October. During the referendum campaign the current Prime Minister made a great deal of decisions not being made without the democratic agreement of this Parliament. May we be assured that, in the current circumstances, the biggest change to immigration in this country in a decade will not be made without the approval of Parliament?

Well, Mr Speaker, let us have an election; let’s let the British people decide. Stop running away from it—not you, Mr Speaker, but others in this House. It is so ridiculous to say that the Government are outrageous, undemocratic, shocking and terrible because they are offering an election. An election gives the choice to the British people and validates whatever we do.

The Leader of the House is very knowledgeable about procedural issues. If the House agrees to an election date of 15 October on Monday, is there any device the Prime Minister could use to move that date to beyond 31 October while the House is dissolved, to take the country out with no deal?

The date of the election flows from the date of Dissolution. [Interruption.] No, it is not: the election follows 25 working days from the date of Dissolution, so if we are dissolved on Monday—[Interruption.] But the process for that—[Interruption.] No, that is a mistake: it is not a minimum once the Dissolution day is set; it is 25 working days from Dissolution.

No, what the hon. Gentleman is confusing is when the day of Dissolution is set, and that is done by Royal Proclamation.

I can assure the House that the date will be set and the date will be stuck to. I think everybody in this House wants to see this issue settled; it is the one thing we have agreement about. The best way to settle it is through a general election—and a general election before 31 October.

Does the Leader of the House not understand that such is the lack of trust in this Government because of their behaviour that we simply will not vote for a general election unless and until an extension of article 50 has been secured, guaranteeing that this country cannot be dragged out with no deal? That is the condition.

And enacted; given Royal Assent. [Interruption.] Royal Assent is the point at which it is enacted—it is when it becomes an Act. If that is the law of the land, that will be the law of the land, and if Members think it through they will realise that the Government would not want an election after that law had taken effect and we had had to ask for an extension. The last thing this Government want to do is ask for an extension.

Then win an election. That is the easy part of it; if Labour Members really have confidence in what they say, go for an election. That is the obvious point. The weasel wording to try to pretend they want an election, but they do not want an election, and they are not going to vote for one because we might leave is all about stopping Brexit by people who do not trust their own voters.

In July of this year, there were a number of attacks on Christian villages in Plateau state, Nigeria, with some 75 houses burned and three Christians killed—a father and his seven-year-old son and the elder of a church were brutally beheaded. We had a debate in the Chamber some six weeks ago in which we discussed the persecution of Christians and the Truro report. May we have an update on where we are, because the murder of Christians is continuing across the world?

This is a very serious issue, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern regarding the persecution of Christians across the world. We should do whatever we can—indeed, the Government are doing what they can—to help them. I believe the hon. Gentleman met my predecessor quite recently to discuss freedom of religion and belief, and I know he is in regular communication with the Prime Minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion or belief at the Foreign Office. These incidents are dreadful and we must do everything we can to stop them. I am happy to take this matter up further if the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me.

There were 1,187 drug-related deaths in Scotland last year, but the Home Office has yet to dispatch a Minister to the drugs summit that the Scottish Government wish to hold. Why?

There is an issue about exactly where power and authority lie and what parts are devolved and what parts are not devolved. I will happily take the matter up with the Home Office for the hon. Lady, and I will send a reply when I get a response.

Putting aside the vested interests of so many of the Government’s Members, relatives and chums in the other place, and in the light of the work of the noble Lords last night, may we have a debate in Government time on the role of the upper Chamber?

The hon. Lady may recall that not so many years ago we had a Second Reading debate for a couple of days on the role of the upper Chamber in an attempt to reform it, but it did not get very far. The problem with those debates is that so many people have so many different ideas that nobody can come to a conclusion about what ought to be done, so I would suggest that if people want such a debate, they have a word with the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns).

Last week, 50 new towns were added to the future high streets fund. Ellesmere Port was not one of them, which was hugely disappointing, but then I saw that the majority of successful bids were from Conservative constituencies. May we have a statement, please, from the relevant Minister to assure us that this is not a political fix ahead of a snap general election?

On Tuesday this week, the Office for National Statistics produced the suicide data for 2018, which showed an increase of 686 suicides over the previous year’s figure. Suicide is preventable, not inevitable, so may we have a debate in Government time as soon as possible on the figures and what we can do to reduce deaths by suicide?

This is obviously an important and worrying issue, and one where any policy initiatives that can be made to help to reduce the suicide rate ought to be made, but I think it is a suitable matter for the Backbench Business Committee.

My constituent Erin Campbell, who is our member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, runs the Keep in Mind mental health campaign to reduce the stigma of young people’s mental health and ask them to talk about it. If there is space next week, may we have a debate on the role of young people helping their own mental health through discussion and conversation?

Will the Leader of the House please apologise to the doctor whom he compared an hour ago to another now disgraced former doctor whose actions and misinformation led to the loss of this country’s herd immunity to measles earlier this year?

No, I will reiterate it because I think this doctor’s behaviour was disgraceful. To scaremonger and say that people are going to die because of Brexit is thoroughly irresponsible and unbefitting to his role.

The Leader of the House is a stickler for good manners, except when it comes to members of the medical profession. I wonder whether he can help me. I wrote to the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) 76 days ago about the contaminated blood scandal. The fact is that 19 people have died in those 76 days without receiving any compensation. Can the Leader of the House assist me in getting a response from the right hon. Gentleman, which I can then pass on to everyone who has been affected by the scandal?

If the hon. Lady sends me a copy of her letter, I will of course chase it up, but 76 days ago my right hon. Friend was not yet Prime Minister. However, if she sends it to me, I absolutely promise I will take it up and try to get an answer as soon as possible.

Will the Leader of the House confirm whether it is a Government tactic to cause reputational damage to experts such as Dr David Nicholl, who dared to challenge the Government and raise legitimate concerns about the impact of no deal?

Frankly, I think when people start saying that people are going to die because of Brexit, their reputations are destroyed by themselves.