The business for the week commencing 21 October is as follows:
Monday 21 October—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, on the NHS.
Tuesday 22 October—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, on the economy.
Wednesday 23 October—Second reading of the Environment Bill.
Thursday 24 October —General debate on spending on children’s services.
Friday 25 October—The House will not be sitting.
Right hon. and hon. Members will have seen the motion on today’s Order Paper which, if approved, will allow the House to sit on Saturday. Subject to that approval and to the progress of the negotiations, the necessary motions for the House to consider on Saturday will be tabled before the rising of the House today.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business for next week. There will be a debate on the business motion in any event, I am sure he will agree.
We are in a new parliamentary Session. It was helpful that in the Official Report on 14 October there was a chronology of parliamentary debates, a list of Her Majesty’s Government and all the people who are in the House. It is helpful for Members to look at that. There is a recently updated list of ministerial responsibilities.
Unlawful, breaking conventions, misleading—all these words apply to this minority Government. Our gracious sovereign was forced to read out a programme that should have started with, “My Government apologises for dragging me into controversy.” Where are the state visits? It seems that no one wants to come here. Eleven out of the 28 Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech began in the previous parliamentary Session. Of the seven Brexit Bills, five are Bills that the Government failed to get through the last Parliament—nothing new in the Queen’s Speech.
This minority Government set out their plans to recruit more police officers, but they imposed, as we found out in the west midlands, a five-year recruitment freeze. That was the last Conservative Government—hopefully, it will be the last Conservative Government. The total of 20,000 police officers is just replacing those that were cut in 2011. Building 40 new hospitals quickly unravelled as spin. It is not 40 new hospitals; it is a reconfiguration of six. Perhaps the Leader of the House can update us on the news about Canterbury hospital? I am not sure if the Prime Minister was right. Is Canterbury hospital on or off?
On financial services after Brexit, there was nothing in our sovereign’s Gracious Speech on ending tax avoidance or tax evasion. The Government pulled the Financial Services Bill at the last minute in March. Will the Leader of the House please confirm that the Government will not pull this very important Bill? Where is the registration of overseas entities Bill to address money laundering? The chairman of the Joint Committee on the draft Bill, Lord Faulks, said in May:
“Time is of the essence: the Government must get on with improving this Bill and making it law.”
There are no policies for the people, so the Government want to rig the next general election. Requiring voter ID will disproportionately affect people from ethnic minority backgrounds and working-class voters of all ethnicities. The Government only want votes for the few. In the last general election, there was only one instance of voter personation. Will the Leader think again and pull that Bill, or may we have a debate on early-day motion 30 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid)?
[That this House expresses deep concern at the Government’s announced plans to prevent people from voting unless they can provide photographic identification at the next election; notes that of the 44.6 million votes cast in the 2017 general election, there were just 28 allegations of in-person voter fraud and one conviction; recognises that some 11 million citizens do not possess a passport or driving licence and that people aged between 17 and 30 and black and minority groups are 15 per cent less likely to own driving licences; expresses concern that this policy will introduce widespread voter dropout among vulnerable and disadvantaged groups if rolled out; and calls on the Government to urgently review its proposals.]
We have the Environment Bill next week. We have had earthquakes, and Cuadrilla has begun removing equipment from its site. Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be an end to fracking?
Misleading statements: saying Brexit can get done by 31 October, when the Leader of the House and this minority Government know it will take years to unravel 40 years of partnership and agreeing new trade deals. The Leader of the House admitted on Sunday that he might have to eat his words. I have two for him: terminological inexactitude.
What about a debate on an alternative Queen’s Speech, with a Bill to establish a national education service that values all children and lifelong learning, and abolish tuition fees; a Bill for an NHS that remains free at the point of need, with safe staffing levels and over £30 billion of extra investment; a Bill to establish a Ministry for employment rights, delivering the biggest extension of rights for people in the workplace; a Bill to build 1 million affordable homes to rent and buy over 10 years; a Bill to invest an extra £8 billion to tackle the crisis in social care; a national investment bank; regional development banks; a national transformation fund; a green new deal; and the closure of loopholes so there is no outflow of capital, with equality, social and economic justice and opportunity as our watchwords? When can we have a debate on that?
When can we have a debate on harnessing the energy of our natural resources in a way that respects planet Earth, on harnessing the energy and talent of all our citizens in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and on an ethical foreign policy that does not allow the incarceration and separation of Nazanin and Gabriella when they go on holiday, or the detention of other UK nationals detained in Iran—Morad Tahbaz, Kamal Foroughi, Aras Amiri and Anousheh Ashouri? Will the Leader of the House please arrange for the Prime Minister to meet with the Families Alliance Against State Hostage Taking? Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a case against Nazanin based on the Prime Minister’s words to a Select Committee?
I thank the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) for moving the address on the Queen’s Speech. He failed to address one question: in whose interests do we make evidence-based policy decisions—the many or the few? Moreover, we must always make them in the public interest. I say to the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) that it is great to think that a former party vice-chair is either Demelza or Ross. She may like to know that Ross was a socialist. However, both hon. Members gave entertaining speeches.
I thank Ruth Evans, who has resigned as chair of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, finishing in that post yesterday. I know that we value her insights into IPSA, and I hope that her great contribution to public service will continue.
We wish England, Cymru and Ireland all the best in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup.
Finally, I welcome the new Serjeant at Arms, Ugbana Oyet. Mr Oyet is currently Parliament’s principal electrical engineer and programme director for the estate-wide engineering infrastructure and resilience programme. Mr Speaker, you know what they say—bigger job, smaller title. We wish him well.
There was an enormous amount in that, but I think the key point on the Queen’s Speech is that we have had six days of debate and all those issues could have been raised then; that is the opportunity to discuss them. This Queen’s Speech is not very popular with the Opposition, which I confess is not a great surprise—why would it be? They are, after all, the Opposition. The basic point is that they should have voted for the motion allowing for an early general election, and then they could have had their own Queen’s Speech. The right hon. Lady kept asking when we were going to have a new Session of Parliament, so it really is absolutely extraordinary that as soon as we oblige her—as soon as we do what she has asked for—she says that that is not right, either. There is, it has to be said, no pleasing some people.
I shall address some of the specific points the right hon. Lady raised. The Government will be spending an extra £33.9 billion on the health service—a really important and significant amount of money—including £1.8 billion going to 20 specific hospitals. I am glad to say that the Royal United Hospitals Bath, which serve my constituency, will be receiving some of that additional money. I think that right hon. and hon. Members across the House should welcome the commitment that the Government are making to the health service. Perhaps that is the nub of the matter: a really exciting domestic programme has been announced in the Queen’s Speech—it will tackle knife crime, it will ensure that prisoners serve proper sentences, it will deal with the national health service and improve it, and it will improve people’s standards of living—and it is absolutely fascinating that the Opposition are clearly not in favour of reducing knife crime, do not care much about the NHS and do not want to improve standards of living for people across the United Kingdom. That is the oddity of opposition.
Is it not wonderful, Mr Speaker: there is objection to ID being presented before people go and vote, whereas there are reports that somebody has gone to work for the Leader of the Opposition who had been found guilty of fraud—over 100 individual cases of people faking electoral identification? One begins to understand why the Opposition are not so keen on identification—because it makes it harder for them to scurry for votes around and about.
The right hon. Lady, as always, mentions Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and is quite right to do so. This is a matter of the highest priority for the Government, although there is a recognition of the limits of what Her Majesty’s Government can do in influencing regimes that behave unlawfully. She mentions the Families Alliance Against State Hostage Taking. I am sure that a Minister will be available to see them and talk to them; I think that would be an important and right thing to do.
The right hon. Lady ended by saying that the Government should act for the many and not the few. Well, this Government, being a Conservative Government and not factional, believe in operating for everybody and looking at a united and single country, where we offer services, good will and an improved standard of living to all.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the amendment that stands in my name, which will fall to be discussed after the business question. Would he consider, even in the short period available, the Government’s actually accepting that minor, technical amendment, which would provide for amendments to be made on Saturday, so that we do not have to have a vote on it today?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is one of the most thoughtful Members of this House; the things that he brings forward have always been carefully considered. I would say to him that the motions that the Government are tabling are in relation to Acts of Parliament, and when we have amendments of many kinds to motions that follow an Act of Parliament, it is more likely to cause confusion than elucidation of the point.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing—well, something, anyway, that it looks as though we will be doing next week.
I, too, welcome the new Serjeant at Arms, Ugbana Oyet. I think that all of us on these Benches are looking forward very much to meeting him and working with him in the future.
It was uncharacteristic of the Leader of the House not to announce today that he had secured his deal—and well done to him and his Government for eventually getting something after all this time. The only problem is that it is a worse deal than that of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). It takes Scotland out of the European Union against its national collective will, it deprives us of customs union and single market membership, and it will stop the freedom of movement on which our economy and so many vital sectors depend.
They are all still on the Hillary Step. The dark clouds are still there, and the mist is still in the air in the shape of the Democratic Unionist party. Sherpa Foster has unshackled herself from the Prime Minister, and is busily descending the mountain as we speak.
May we have a debate on culinary delicacies? The plat du jour for the Leader of the House is his own words: a delicious Northern Irish Brexit jambalaya of choice vocabulary including “impractical”, “bureaucratic” and “betrayal of common sense”, all washed down with the finest Château Cretinous. Churchill may indeed have found his own words very nutritious, but I suspect that the Leader of the House will only get indigestion.
We will deal with the issue of the Saturday sitting when we debate the motion, but we will complete our debates on the Queen’s Speech in the next few days, and it looks very likely that a Queen’s Speech will be voted down for the first time since 1924, when Stanley Baldwin was in power. May I ask the Leader of the House what happens in such circumstances? He will obviously tell me that he thinks and hopes that the Queen’s Speech will get through, but what will happen if it does not? We have heard from the Government that they intend to introduce the measures in the Queen’s Speech Bill by Bill. If that is indeed their intention, I should like the Leader of the House to confirm it to the House. I know that he likes to give his views on such issues, so let us see whether he can be straightforward with the House today.
The Leader of the House will have noted from what was said at the Scottish National party conference that we intend to hold an independence referendum next year. We as a nation must unshackle ourselves from this whole ugly, disastrous Brexit business, an issue that we wanted absolutely nothing to do with. Is it not interesting that under the deal that has been announced today, Northern Ireland will be given a differential deal on single market membership, Wales will get what it wants, and the rest of the UK will get what it wants as well? The only nation that does not get what it wanted in relation to Europe is Scotland, and that is not good enough.
It’s being so cheerful as keeps the hon. Gentleman going. It is always a pleasure to listen to him. He mentioned the deal. I am pleased to say that it is a really fantastic and exciting deal, and I am very glad that he has given me the opportunity to speak about it. When I was speaking on behalf of the Government on Sunday, I was doing so because I trusted the Prime Minister and knew that he would get a good deal. I was supporting the deal on the basis of trust, and now that I know what is in it, my trust has been completely justified. It is a really exciting and positive deal. It removes the undemocratic backstop, and it is a huge advance for the whole United Kingdom. It will ensure that we are one single customs territory.
I am aware of the details of the deal. I actually have the text of it here. I am glad to say that, unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have had a chance to peruse it in detail. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, from a sedentary position, that I have not read it. How do you peruse something without reading it? Does the hon. Gentleman think that I have understood it through extrasensory perception? I tell him he is wrong. It has not come to me through the ether. I have looked at the words on the page, of which the normal definition is reading. Perhaps, after this session, people should be given remedial education so that they can understand the normal use of words in English.
We have a really good, exciting deal that takes out the undemocratic backstop and delivers on what the Prime Minister promised he would do. In 85 days, he has achieved something that could not be achieved in three years—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me credit for it, but the credit belongs to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has achieved this remarkable success in a deal that all of us can support. Every single Member who stood on a manifesto saying that they would respect the will of the people in the referendum can support the deal with confidence. All our socialist friends can support it with confidence because it delivers on the referendum result. Today is a really exciting day in British politics. All Eurosceptics—all my friends who sit where I used to sit—can rally around this great deal, and I hope that my friends in the DUP will also find that what it does for the whole of the United Kingdom is something in which they can have comfort and that they can support. I understand that our separatist friends do not want anything for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom; they are always trying to pick things apart, but they will be shown to be wrong.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asked if I would at any point have to eat my words. I must say that this deal is the tournedos Rossini of a deal—it is a deal that one can eat with joy and pleasure, and it is the finest culinary delight for me to have.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I did not pay unduly close attention to the SNP conference, having other things to do of slightly more interest, although it has to be said that almost anything would have been of slightly more interest—I noticed that the hon. Gentleman was very pleased to be here in the House of Commons earlier in the week to avoid his leader’s speech. The difference between Scotland and Northern Ireland is absolutely clear, and that is the Belfast agreement—the Good Friday agreement—and the fact that there is a land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and that is a land border with the European Union. Northern Ireland is therefore unquestionably in a unique position, hence its difference.
We have our own environmental emergency in Buckinghamshire at the moment at Great Missenden. Despite Buckinghamshire County Council, Chiltern District Council, myself and the local councillors all asking the Department for Transport to halt the enabling works at Great Missenden for HS2 until the Oakervee report has come in, they have gone ahead. We have traffic chaos on the A413. I have been sent pictures of an ambulance and a fire engine being held up. Eight trees are going to be felled and people are demonstrating outside Great Missenden. May we have a debate on HS2 before the Oakervee report comes in so that we can give the Secretary of State for Transport courage to cancel this terrible project—phase one at least—and spend the money better on other parts of the United Kingdom whose transport infrastructure desperately needs improving?
My right hon. Friend makes a very fair point on behalf of her constituents and the people who live in Great Missenden, and I will certainly take what she says to the Transport Secretary to try to ensure that she gets a prompt response to the letter that she sent to him. When these sorts of projects are under review, I would encourage people to proceed in a thoughtful and careful way, and to consider the interests of communities affected by the works, particularly due to the inconvenience that may be caused. Perhaps there is a special feeling of the inconvenience that may be caused in this context, because I understand that the road to Chequers passes through Great Missenden, so this might be of immediate interest to the Prime Minister and I am sure that he will want to know about it.
When the Leader of the House had another role somewhere on the Back Benches, he described the kind of deal that it appears has been done by the Prime Minister as “cretinous”. Can he tell me what on earth has happened in the last few months to change his view of the deal from “cretinous” to one of the best things that has ever happened? Is it his sudden appearance at the Dispatch Box that has changed his mind?
The hon. Lady is unduly cynical. This is a fundamentally different deal because the undemocratic backstop has gone. Why is that so important? The backstop meant that the whole United Kingdom could be kept in the customs union and the single market in perpetuity and could leave only with the permission of the European Union. It was harder to leave the backstop than to leave the European Union; there was no article 50 provision to get out of the European Union’s backstop. Under article 4 of the withdrawal agreement, this was made superior law for the United Kingdom.
That undemocratic backstop having gone, the operation of article 4 therefore means that as a nation, including Northern Ireland, we will not be tied into the control by the European Union that there would have been under the previous deal. We will be free. We will be out of the European Union. We will control our own tariff regimes and our own regulatory regimes. We will be a free country, and Northern Ireland will be free to follow the same route by a democratic vote of the people of Northern Ireland. I am proud to stand at this Dispatch Box, not for jobbery but because the Prime Minister has done such a fine job in freeing this country.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue every week for the Government to consider. The Government’s careers strategy was published in December 2017. It contains a number of proposals to improve careers advice for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, including funding for the Education and Training Foundation to provide professional development for practitioners working with these young people; funding for training and materials for post-16 providers to help them to design and tailor study programmes that offer a pathway to employment for these learners; and training for enterprise advisers so that they are confident in helping people with special educational needs and disabilities. I believe that what my hon. Friend asks for is being provided and will continue to be provided—and it is important that it is provided.
Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government’s own economic assessment of a free trade agreement with the European Union shows that it would lead to the second-worst outcome for the economy after no deal and would, as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs reported recently, result in British businesses spending £15 billion a year on filling in forms that they do not have to fill in today? Since he has just extolled the virtues of allowing the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide whether it wants to change its mind about the deal that has been agreed, why is he so opposed to the British people deciding whether they want to change their mind on the deal whose virtues he has just extolled before the House? I have to say that this is not a culinary delight; it is really bad for the future of our country.
If the House does indeed sit on Saturday, and if it does indeed approve the deal that the Prime Minister has secured, does it remain the Government’s intention to bring forward the legislation necessary to implement that deal so that we can leave by 31 October? Will the Leader of the House therefore be returning to the House on Monday to make a further business statement?
The Leader of the House’s answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) smacks of sheer and utter arrogance. Can we have an urgent statement from the Government, or an urgent debate, on how bad this new deal is for workers and for the jobs of people in this country?
The hon. Gentleman objects to how I responded to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), but the point is that this is business questions, not a general debate—that is another occasion in this House. Given all the hon. and right hon. Members who wish to involve themselves in these proceedings, we will never get on to the Queen’s Speech if this is turned into a free-for-all. It is very important to remain orderly. The hon. Gentleman asks for a statement on the deal. There will be a debate on the deal tomorrow, so what he is asking for will be given.
Order. For the avoidance of doubt—I know that the Leader of the House will readily accept this, and I say it for the benefit of those observing our proceedings—the arbiter of order is the Chair. The arbiter of order is not the Leader of the House. Proceedings were entirely orderly; otherwise, I would have indicated to the contrary. It is the prerogative of the Leader of the House to respond as he thinks fit to each question put. I will just very gently make the point that if there is a desire in responding to questions to develop an argument more fully and with justified—in his mind—pride to celebrate a particular policy, and in the process going somewhat beyond merely treating of the schedule of business for next week, it is perhaps not altogether generous-spirited to excoriate a colleague who does not operate in quite the way that the Leader of the House would like. But as I say, I will judge order, and I do not require any help from the Treasury Bench.
From personal or familial experience, and because of all the work we do here, we know of the fragility of good health, and 100,000 sufferers from multiple sclerosis know that, too. This week, I, along with colleagues, learned more about that condition in a presentation that was given in the House. Its causes are complex and its symptoms are initially very subtle, so raising awareness is critical, and a statement or motion before the House would allow that to happen. Ruskin said:
“Government and co-operation are in all things the laws of life”
Co-operation across this House can help to counter this dreadful condition.
I can come to the aid of my right hon. Friend straight away because on Monday 21 October the continuation of debate on the Queen’s Speech will be dedicated to the national health service, and that would be the opportunity on which to raise this point. The point is an important one, and bringing it forward in debate is absolutely the right thing to do.
Could the Leader of the House please let us have an urgent debate on the serious issues facing shellfisheries? They are highly dependent on EU markets, and I am afraid that no-deal planning has been woefully inadequate. Mussel fishermen in my constituency still do not have guidance on how to export in the event of no deal after 31 October. Likewise, many crab fisheries have many—in some cases, all—of their pots in EU waters. Could we hear when we can debate this?
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 2769, which points out a major flaw in the Sexual Offences Act 2003?
[That this House notes the ease with which registered sex offenders and criminals are able to change their name via deed poll, for as little as £15 online, as an automatic right; further notes that, under Section 84 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the onus is placed on the sex offender to notify the police of any such name change; understands that this loophole in the law has the potential to allow many convicted sex offenders to go under the radar of authorities; acknowledges that the safer recruitment process and DBS checks are being undermined by the lack of regulation and robust due diligence provided for by the existing legislation in this area; further acknowledges that this is potentially placing society’s most vulnerable people at risk of harm; and therefore urges the Government to reform legislation to remove the automatic right of sex offenders to change their name online by deed poll, to set up a regulatory system to create a more joined-up approach between the relevant bodies and to introduce interim measures to protect the safety and security of children and vulnerable people presently at risk.]
My Harlow constituent and founder of the Safeguarding Alliance, Emily Konstantas, has conducted research showing that convicted criminals are able to change their name by deed poll for as little as £15 online and evade vetting processes and DBS checks under a new name, allowing them to work in an environment around vulnerable people. May we have an urgent debate on the state of safeguarding legislation?
My hon. Friend, as always, raises a point that is important and needs to be answered. He will be reassured to know that the United Kingdom has some of the toughest powers in the world to deal with sex offenders, and we are committed to ensuring that the system is as robust as it can be. Public protection is inevitably and rightly a priority, and the notification requirements for registered sex offenders are vital to managing them in the community. Crucially, the failure of a sex offender to tell the police of a name change within three days is a criminal offence with a maximum prison sentence of five years, so although it may be easy for people to change their name, it is illegal and the penalty is quite severe.
This week, the Government announced an arms embargo as far as Turkey is concerned after its incursions into northern Syria, but all is not quite what it seems. My understanding is that there is an embargo only on new licences where it is believed that the equipment may be used in northern Syria. Given the confusion and lack of detail, will the Leader of the House organise a statement from the Department for International Trade?
What is happening in Syria troubles Her Majesty’s Government and is being taken seriously, and what is going on in terms of arms and Turkey is being reviewed. This is an important and sensitive matter, because Turkey is, of course, a NATO partner and, therefore, there is no simple solution. However, the Government are treating the matter with the utmost seriousness and concern and have tried to discourage the Turkish Government from proceeding in the way that they have been proceeding.
Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), if we are able to sit this Saturday and pass the deal—heal with a deal—is it possible that we may also want to sit next weekend in order to expedite all the legislation needed to leave by 31 October?
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on her zeal for Parliament? I think there is only one other person in this House who has such zeal, Mr Speaker, and that is probably you. We will need to use time very efficiently in order to legislate by 31 October. I think it is safe to say that I do not expect us to have to sit next Saturday and that we should be able to do things in an orderly way before then, but I will obviously keep the House updated.
I make no argument against us sitting on Saturday, but it is inconvenient for many people who have families. Unfortunately, the nursery is not able to be open to ensure that childcare is provided for hon. Members. Would it not be incumbent upon the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to make financial provision so that the costs of childcare can at least be met for Members?
I recognise that it will be difficult for some right hon. and hon. Members with responsibilities. The matter can certainly be raised with IPSA to see whether it feels any special arrangements can be made. As a general principle, though, I would say that to sit on three Saturdays in 70 years is not an insuperable burden.
Does the Leader of the House agree that, once we have Brexit done, there is the perfect opportunity to debate the stronger towns fund money that the Government have awarded to Redditch, unlocking up to £25 million of funding to regenerate our fantastic town? Will he find time for such a debate?
My hon. Friend tempts me, because the fund that she refers to will benefit two towns in North East Somerset: Keynsham and Midsomer Norton. The idea that we should have a debate is one that appeals to me greatly, but it may be more suitable for an Adjournment debate or even for the Backbench Business Committee.
Last week, more than 600 MPs from around the world were in London for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s annual session, and I thank the House staff who worked diligently over the weekend to support and greet members. They were exemplary and left everyone with an image of our hospitality and professionalism. We held a session with more than 120 schoolchildren from around London, who were invited to talk to me and my vice-presidents from the UK, Portugal and Canada about defence and security issues. There was huge excitement about the debate and the questions were superb. I have asked the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence whether that is something that we could also take forward, as there is a clear appetite for it. Will the Leader of the House look at the potential for Select Committees to do outreach work in schools, so that we can engage young people in Parliament and its processes?
First, may I thank the hon. Lady for the tribute she has paid to the House staff? We are extraordinarily lucky in the way we are looked after in this House and with the commitment they have to Parliament. This gives me the opportunity to say that every member of my private office volunteered to come in to work on Saturday. That gives me great pride in the team I am supported by, and I know this applies across the House. This House is incredibly good at education and bringing young people in, and it is one of the things you have focused on, Mr Speaker. The team in the education department are stunningly good, and I am certainly in favour of encouraging this, if Select Committees can do it.
I warmly appreciate what the Leader of the House has said about the staff of the House. I think it will be warmly appreciated by Members throughout the House and, above all, by those staff, who have been very properly acknowledged and congratulated. I thank him for that.
May I take this opportunity to thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the NATO Parliamentary Assembly to use the House? The House did itself proud, and many of the delegates, from all around the world, including partner nations, were very impressed by what we are able to do here.
Thousands of women in the UK suffer from the debilitating, chronic disease of endometriosis. Despite employment law requiring employers to support employees with medical conditions, many women find themselves forced out of work, with little redress, especially because, on average, diagnosis can take seven to 12 years. May we have a debate on workplace practices for women who are suffering with this terrible disease, so that they do not have the trauma and stress of losing their jobs, on top of having to deal with a debilitating condition that destroys their work lives, as well as their personal lives?
The Government recognise that there is more work to do on raising awareness of conditions such as endometriosis, and ensuring that clinical guidance is being followed and that therefore diagnosis is earlier. It is essential that all of us—Government, Parliament, employers, the NHS and wider society—do what we can to improve the diagnosis, and more generally get rid of old-fashioned taboos relating to women’s health to ensure that people are treated fairly in the workplace and have their rights in law upheld and enforced. A debate on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall would be a good way of giving this important issue further attention.
It was really discourteous of the Leader of the House to wave around his own private copy of whatever has been agreed in Brussels, start the debate off and then try to stop everybody else asking him about it. Will he do something to remedy that discourtesy? I have two particular points to make about this Saturday sitting. First, he is not planning for it to be a 90-minute debate, is he? That would be totally ridiculous. Secondly, will he ensure that the Government publish a full economic impact assessment of what has been agreed, so that we can have it to inform Saturday’s debate?
I am slightly puzzled that the hon. Gentleman thinks it is odd that members of the Cabinet receive Government documents; this is the normal process of government in this country. I can give him the assurance that all the documents will be published as required by the Act. [Hon. Members: “ When?”] They will be available online as soon as practicable. They will be in the Vote Office in draft shortly and they will be available as finalised documents once they have been agreed—assuming they are agreed—by the European Council. The surrender Act requires them to be laid on the day of the debate, and that will be done, but because the Government want to facilitate this House’s ability to study the papers, they will be made available earlier than is formally required under the Act.
I am pleased to see the Environment Bill coming before us again next week. However, Homes England is proposing that 13,000 homes be built just outside my constituency on greenfield sites to the west of Ifield. My constituents, through their local authority, will not get a say in the planning process. May we have a statement from the Communities Secretary as to how my constituents can have a say on the impact of 13,000 housing units, the loss of green space and the pressure on infrastructure that that would represent?
My hon. Friend lives in such a beautiful part of the country that many more people want to live there. That is a difficulty for many people with attractive constituencies. It is a natural desire of people to live in the most outstanding areas of our countryside. There is inevitably a tension, because the Government have a mission to build more high-quality, well-designed and affordable houses, and there is a balance to be struck between building them and protecting greenfield areas. However, I understand the issue that my hon. Friend raises—people in a nearby area but not the same administrative area can feel that they are not sufficiently represented—so I shall pass on his request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
As the Leader of the House says, when the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) brings things to the House, they are carefully considered. The Leader of the House has undertaken to put the documents in the Vote Office if they are agreed with the European Union. When will that be? Will the documents include the political declaration? Will the documents highlight the changes made from the previous agreement, so that each Member does not have to go through and make their own comparison?
As I said, the documents will be made available as soon as they can be. The European Council meets today and tomorrow and will have an opportunity to approve or not approve the agreement. It is a decision made by the 27 members, as the hon. Lady will know, and that decision will be made. The papers will be deposited once they are agreed. This is how things happen—it is a normal process—but I can be absolutely certain that the papers will be laid, in accordance with the Act, before the debate takes place.
A few months ago, Barclays bank closed its Cleethorpes branch. At the time, the bank wrote to me to say it had identified 106 vulnerable customers whom it would be contacting directly so that they could do their banking through the Post Office. Barclays has now withdrawn some of its Post Office arrangements, so may we have a debate to discuss how the people of Cleethorpes can be supported against Barclays bank?
I have just been given wonderful news and the House will rejoice: the documents are now available on the gov.uk website, so I imagine that people will now flee the Chamber so that they can read them earnestly before bringing forward further points.
To answer my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), access to banking is a really serious issue for people. The Government are committed to supporting digital payments and safeguarding access to cash for those who need it, and we are pleased to see banks signing up to the banking framework agreement with the Post Office. It is saddening that Barclays has not been able to reach an agreement with the Post Office. I hope that efforts like that of my hon. Friend will put pressure on the banks to behave in the best interests of their customers and to ensure that service continues.
The Government talk about putting billions of additional money into our NHS, yet in York the whole primary care mental health service is not being cut—it is being shut down because of lack of funds. May we have an urgent debate on where all these billions of pounds are meant to be going?
Some £33.9 billion is going into the NHS, and considerable extra funding, which has cross-party support, is going into mental healthcare facilities. I suggest the hon. Lady asks for an Adjournment debate on this matter, because that would be the ideal opportunity. I am sorry, Mr Speaker, I am giving you lots of Adjournment debates today, but they are such a good mechanism, using the Chamber of this House to highlight issues with Ministers, with the Box full of their officials, to make sure that things get done. The money is there and the hon. Lady is absolutely right to campaign for it for her area. If I were in her position, I would be doing the same.
I was pleased that the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill was reintroduced after the Queen’s Speech. I supported the Bill before Prorogation as it is another example of the Government’s excellent record on animal welfare. Will the Leader of the House provide an update on when the Bill will have its Second Reading?
My hon. Friend tempts me to stray into matters that are not quite right for today. There is so much business to be done and so many future business statements. This issue is a priority for the Government—he is right to say that the Government have a good record on animal welfare. This is an important Bill that commands a lot of support across the House and I hope it comes forward in the not-too-distant future.
People were obviously delighted to see Baby’s law come before Parliament, and if Parliament had not been illegally prorogued, it would have passed through this place by now. I am glad to hear that it is a priority for the Government, but I would urge the Leader of the House to introduce it as soon as possible. It is a small Bill and could actually be fitted in in the next few days. Please will he give us some commitment that it is top of his list?
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on transport infrastructure provision across south Gloucestershire, especially in relation to the campaign for a new junction 18A on the M4, which is ably supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore)? The new junction would unlock great potential for many more much-needed homes and more jobs.
My hon. Friend, who represents a south Gloucestershire constituency, is a near neighbour of mine, and I must confess I have a prejudice in favour of very good transport around Somerset and Gloucestershire, which is in all our interests. He can raise this at Transport questions on Thursday, but I would also encourage him to continue campaigning for it. I understand the beneficial economic consequence that road infrastructure can have.
Fortunately, the legal texts were available from the EU before the Government made them available. Does the Leader of the House, like me, welcome the fact that, under article 12 of the protocol, the courts in the United Kingdom will continue to be able to obtain preliminary rulings from the European Court of Justice and be subject to EU law? Can we have a debate about the benefits that the supremacy of EU law has brought to the UK?
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House might not be aware of the bridge crisis in my constituency, with first Abbeyton bridge and then Park bridge declared unsafe and closed, owing in part to swingeing budget cuts to Aberdeenshire Council from the SNP-run Scottish Government. Can we have a debate about how we can get direct UK Government funding for crucial infrastructure projects that are made impossible by budget cuts to local authorities by the Scottish Government?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. It is sad to see how wasteful the SNP is of taxpayers’ money and how badly it manages to administer Scotland. The Union is good for everybody and works for the whole of the United Kingdom. He makes a good point about whether there are ways of directing money, but the devolution settlement is very important and needs to be respected.
The decision has been taken to franchise two post offices in my constituency, which will lead to a reduction in postal services and is a stepping stone to closure and ending the livelihoods of postal workers and their families. Can we have an urgent debate on the future of our postal services, after a decade of privatisation and neglect?
Obviously the provision of postal services, and the ability to access them conveniently and to get to post offices, is of great importance to people. I recognise that, because it is important in my constituency of North East Somerset. There are many opportunities to raise these subjects. It might be a suitable subject for the Queen’s Speech debate on Monday, which is on economic matters—I think that post offices play an important part in the economy.
This Government, like the previous Government, have made a welcome commitment to oppose the persecution of Christians globally and to support freedom of everybody in religion and belief, including those of no religion or belief. In the light of increasing problems, the latest being the closure of churches in Algeria, could we have a regular statement in Government time on the work the Government are doing in this area? I know they are committed to it, but we need to hear about it in Government time in the House.
I have huge sympathy with what my hon. Friend is asking for. It might be possible to do that at business questions, in the way that the shadow Leader of the House raises the issue of people held illegally by foreign Governments. If Members were to raise this issue at business questions every week, that would be extraordinarily welcome. I think it is important, even though I am now sitting on the Treasury Bench—[Hon. Members: “Lying on it!”]—sometimes, indeed—to keep pressure on the Government to act in favour of good and important activities so that they do not get forgotten. I am very grateful to him for raising this.
After nine years of austerity, there is a huge funding gap in the early years sector, so I was shocked to hear not a single mention of the sector in the Queen’s Speech. Will the Leader of the House therefore commit to having a specific debate on the closure of Sure Start centres and nurseries across the country?
In Harrow, we are blessed with three NHS walk-in centres, but the problem is that anyone from anywhere can just walk in and queue to see a doctor. To make the service more efficient and effective, the clinical commissioning group recently decided to move to an appointments system— 12 hours a day, seven days a week—so that people can see a GP by appointment and not have to wait extraordinary lengths of time. That is a service improvement. May we therefore have a debate, in Government time, on how we can improve our NHS and ensure that our money is spent in the best way possible?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is necessary to ensure that everyone has access to GP services. With extended access, evening and weekend appointments are now available across the country. The independent contractor model of general practice means that practices have a large degree of autonomy in deciding how to manage and run their practice to best suit the needs of their patient population. I am encouraged that he has noticed improvements. If he wishes to raise the matter at greater length—I hope that he will do so—the NHS debate is scheduled for Monday.
Further to the important question from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), will we, in advance of the debate on Saturday, be privy to the full economic analyses of the declarations and the deal that has been secured today?
I thank the Government for putting the deal online and the Doorkeepers for putting a printed copy in my hands. I am delighted to see that co-operation on science and research remains a top priority. May we have a debate on delivering infrastructure, which is such a top priority in the Queen’s Speech, because I want to ensure that critical projects in my constituency, such as securing a second railway station and mending our broken flyover, are delivered?
A broken flyover does sound extremely inconvenient. There will be any number of debates—as my hon. Friend knows, the Queen’s Speech debate covers many of these issues. Transport questions will be on Thursday, so they can be raised again then. The Government are absolutely committed to an infrastructure programme that ensures that this country has workable infrastructure, with the beneficial economic effects that will follow.
May I give the Leader of the House a little advice? All Leaders of the House have to get the House on their side. I thought that his disrespectful and rather patronising response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), the Chair of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, won him no friends. As a result of urgent business—this is not his fault, or your fault, Mr Speaker; it is no one’s fault—today’s Queen’s Speech debate on the climate emergency will be truncated, so is there any way he can compensate for that?
May we have a debate on the policing of the Extinction Rebellion protests? That would give Members an opportunity to praise the Metropolitan police and other forces that lent their help, such as Kent police. We would also have an opportunity to rebut the shameful criticisms levelled against the police by the Mayor of London.
I must confess that I agree with my hon. Friend; it is really shameful that somebody who has a role with the police should criticise them when they have done everything possible to ensure that law and order is maintained, despite coming under enormous pressure. I spoke to some of the police officers who were around during the Extinction Rebellion protests. Some of them were getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning and then being on duty for 12 or 14-hour shifts, to ensure that we were kept safe. We should be enormously grateful to the police service of this country.
Mr Speaker, I note that you did your bit for British-Irish relations at the weekend by appearing on “The Late Late Show” on RTÉ—it is good viewing, if anyone wants to watch it. This Sunday, as Vice-Chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, I shall be meeting friends and colleagues from Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and the Channel Islands as part of the Assembly’s meeting. Will the right hon. Gentleman, as the Leader of this great House, join me in recognising that, at this critical and really difficult time in our relations across these islands, the gathering together of politicians of different views and from different parts of these islands is more crucial than ever, and will give an assurance that the full support of this House will be forthcoming in future years to ensure that the Assembly flourishes and that our conversations flourish, so that we can get through this particularly difficult time in our history?
Yes, I will absolutely do that. May I also hold up the hon. Lady as an example? She is a neighbour of mine, and despite our strongly different views of the world, we have always been able to have, whether on television or in hustings debates, very civilised conversations. I think that is a model for how debate should be carried out.
Many parents in Rugby have expressed concern about a sex and relationships education programme for primary schools, provided by Warwickshire County Council—it is called “All About Me”—that goes well beyond statutory guidance and involves sex education for children as young as nine years old, and potentially younger. It is important that parents are reassured that what their children are being taught in school is age-appropriate, so may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Education on the appropriateness of that programme?
I have read about this, and it is quite rightly a cause of controversy if schools give children messages that their parents are not happy with. I fully sympathise with my hon. Friend’s concerns. Schools do have to make the choice themselves, but parents do have a choice about schools, and that is important. Parents and schools need to be happy that what is being taught is suitable and that both sides are content with it. Schools should not go off and do things that leave parents concerned about what their children are being taught, and I am glad to say that we do not have that sort of approach in this country. I share his concerns and will ensure that they are brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Week after week, I have constituents coming to my surgery whose only crime is poverty. That does not just happen; it is a consequence of one of the Government’s flagship policies: universal credit. They sometimes have to wait for weeks before receiving any money, which cannot be right. May we have yet another debate on the operation of universal credit, so that those of our constituents who are suffering poverty as a direct consequence of something the Government are implementing have a voice that can be heard in Parliament and so that we recognise the reality of what they are dealing with in their lives?
All of us are there in our constituency surgeries to be the advocate and champion of our constituents, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on doing so, because that is the ancient role of MPs: to seek redress of grievance. I appreciate that in difficult individual cases the generality of statistics is not the greatest comfort to the individual who is suffering, but the overall picture is one of considerable improvement: 400,000 fewer people are now in absolute poverty than were in 2010, and—this is crucial—730,000 fewer children are living in workless households. Work is the route out of poverty. The reduction in withdrawal rates from the switch to universal credit, bringing it down to 62p in the pound from the 90p-plus rate, has been fundamental in helping to reduce poverty, and the number of people in employment is at a record high. I absolutely accept that that is not much comfort to an individual who is in difficult circumstances, but the generality for the country is considerably improved.
May we have a debate on the new Business Banking Resolution Service, which is a method of compensation for small and medium-sized enterprises that have suffered historical mistreatment by their banks? The Chancellor stated in his letter of 19 January that the system should carefully consider all cases brought before it, yet research by the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking has identified that 85% of cases are excluded from the scheme by the eligibility criteria.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has done on this issue. There is clear evidence that some businesses were treated extraordinarily badly. Some of us, including me, have had constituency cases where the bank in question seems to have behaved quite unfairly towards its business customers. It is important that the resolution system works effectively. I suggest that he takes this matter up again with the Chancellor, and he may also want to raise it during the economy debate on Tuesday. He makes a very powerful point, which I hope will be heard.
My constituent Kirstie is a single mum of five, following the sad death of her partner. Owing to an erroneous data entry at the Department for Work and Pensions—through no fault of her own—her tax credits were stopped. They were reinstated after intervention by my office, but instead of paying Kirstie what she was due in one lump sum, payments were spread throughout the remainder of the year, causing her serious financial hardship. May we have a statement from the Work and Pensions Secretary on this issue, so we can discuss how to right these wrongs?
I see the hon. Lady is shaking her head, and I encourage her to go back to the DWP. If there is anything that I or the Secretary of State can do to support her, I am sure that that will happen. This is one of our proper and right roles; we should always put pressure on the bureaucracy when it makes an error with constituents to ensure that that error is put right. If there is anything I can do to help, I absolutely assure her that I will do so.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am used to waiting, but unfortunately so are my constituents—when it comes to the A14 in South Suffolk. The prospect of an independent trade policy is a great step forward for our economy, but we will only be able to take advantage of it if we support the infrastructure that our crucial ports rely on, including Felixstowe. All Felixstowe’s freight comes out on the A14 so the Copdock interchange is crucial, but it is completely substandard. When does my right hon. Friend expect the Transport Secretary to announce the road investment strategy 2 funding allocations? Let me tell him that it will go down very well if includes funding for the Copdock interchange.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend has been kept waiting—both for the A14 and to ask his very important question. Transport questions are on Thursday, so that will be another opportunity for him to raise this point. Road funding of this kind is also another opportunity for an Adjournment debate. That will get the relevant Minister here, who will have to respond. Frankly, if one makes enough of a nuisance of oneself, sometimes things happen, so I urge my hon. Friend to make a nuisance of himself.
When can we have an urgent debate on steel? There are very pressing issues—not least the plan to save Tata’s Orb works in Newport—to pursue with the new steel Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who I am pleased to see in his place, but time is of the essence.
It is fortuitous that the Minister is sitting next to me, so the hon. Lady’s point has been made. [Interruption.] He chunters at me that he is working hard on this. It is a very serious matter that is important to our whole economy. I reiterate that there will be an opportunity to debate the economy in the Queen’s Speech early next week, which may be another good opportunity to raise this matter.
Has the confidence and supply arrangement that the Government reached with the Democratic Unionist party in 2017 expired? Has a new one been agreed? And when does the Leader of the House expect the next Queen’s Speech to take place?
Every day, thousands of my constituents, many of whom are low paid, hard working and on zero-hours contracts— carers, cleaners, office workers—travel into London on the Jubilee line. This morning, many of them were disrupted and their lives very badly affected by a handful of extremist Extinction Rebellion idiots. This House has made it clear that there is a climate emergency, but can we have an early debate on the legitimate and illegitimate tactics to be pursued by peaceful protesters?
Second Reading of the Environment Bill will take place on Wednesday, which shows how seriously the House is taking these matters. I absolutely share the hon. Gentleman’s worry about this issue. It is quite wrong that people who will not put themselves up for election, and who do not have the gumption to try to get into this House to change the law properly, think they can do so by bullying us. I am glad to say that our police force is operating so effectively that they will not succeed, but I am desperately sorry for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. Some of us in the place, when such protests inconvenience us, think, “Well, we’re politicians and that’s what we have to live with.” I think there is a very good case for that. As politicians, there are things that we have to accept that people in private life should not be expected to accept, and the hon. Gentleman’s constituents are in that category. They should not be disturbed on their way into work by hoodlums.
May I press the Leader of the House a little further on the Barclays decision regarding the withdrawal of cash from post offices? I have co-ordinated a letter that has been signed by 124 colleagues from right across the House, asking Barclays representatives to meet me and a delegation so that we can ask them to reverse the decision. Would the Leader of the House ask a Treasury Minister to attend the House to update us on what the Government are doing to ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities—including the elderly and pensioners, especially in some of our more isolated communities—have access to cash?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting 124 MPs from across the House to sign such a letter. It shows the importance of the issue and the concern that there is. I will raise it with my friends in the Treasury. I do not know whether they will take any notice of me, but I will certainly encourage a Minister to attend the House.
Yesterday many 1950s-born women, including Angie and Rosie from Scunthorpe, came here to speak to MPs about the pension injustice that they have been experiencing and the impact on their lives. Can we have an urgent debate on how to deliver better pension justice and pension fairness for these 1950s-born women?
The hon. Gentleman is a doughty campaigner, and raises an issue that is of concern to many of our constituents, but I do not believe that the Government policy is unfair. Some £1.1 billion has been committed to helping those affected, and no one will see her pension age change by more than 18 months relative to the 1995 timetable. The good news is that over 3 million women will gain an average of £550 by 2030 because of the pension reforms. With an ageing population, the reality is that the pension age simply has to rise.
A young unemployed person living at home with parents and with no outgoings will collect £251 a month under universal credit. A young constituent of mine of the same age who has lost her job through ill health and has a small mortgage on a very modest flat —with council tax, gas and electricity bills, grocery costs and so on—will receive exactly the same amount of £251 a month. Can we have a debate on making universal credit fair and more appropriate to individual circumstances?
It is very difficult for me to comment on the individual circumstances of a person I do not know and when I have not been privy to that information. I will go back to what I said earlier: universal credit has been an enormous contribution, helping people to get into work and ensuring that the rate of benefit withdrawal is significantly lower than it was under the old system. If the hon. Gentleman believes that there is any error in the calculation, he must take it up with Ministers.
My constituent Sarah Kamara has just been saved from eviction. Her landlord, Hyde Housing Association, took her to court because of arrears built up largely as a result of universal credit. Can we have an urgent debate in this place to discuss the continued problems that universal credit is causing up and down the country, with debt, arrears, evictions and even homelessness?
If the Leader of the House is so confident that the revised text on Brexit that he referred to earlier is such a good deal, why does he not bring forward measures to make sure that we can have a confirmatory referendum so that the public can decide whether they think it is a good deal or they are better off remaining in the European Union?
Oh, it was yesterday—I am so sorry. Nevertheless, I hope that it will be officially noted in Hansard that there were great celebrations yesterday—and, belatedly, many happy returns.
The issue with a second referendum is that we had the 2015 general election that promised a referendum, we had the referendum, which was won by Vote Leave, and then we had a general election when Labour and Conservative MPs alike stood on manifestos saying that they would implement the result. What the hon. Gentleman really wants is to have enough referendums until eventually he wins one. That is not really the purpose of democracy.
Bonfire night is almost upon us again, and my constituents in Pollokshields are already under firework bombardment. The Scottish Government have carried out a consultation which received over 16,000 responses, 94% of which wanted more control over sales. There is no evidence of action from the Leader of the House’s colleagues in Government, so will he give me a statement on what his Government are going to do to protect my constituents?
“Remember, remember, the Fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”
There is always a balance in these things. People derive a great deal of pleasure from bonfire night, but there are some risks to fireworks, and it is a question of getting that balance right. But I do not want to deprive people of the pleasure and enjoyment they get, sadly, from celebrating the death of a papist, which always distresses me.
A number of my constituents in Steinbeck Grange, a development in Chapelford in Warrington South, have been mis-sold leasehold properties by David Wilson Holmes and face rip-off ground rents, punitive management fees and unclear contract conditions. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on compensation for existing leaseholders trapped in these contracts?
Let me bring the Leader of the House back to the question by my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald). Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House, because he will know of the cross-party and cross-House concern on Syria, that the Government will make regular statements on what international interventions they are making to try to fix this humanitarian catastrophe?
The Foreign Secretary is making all the representations he can. He is gravely concerned about this. It is really troubling that a NATO ally is behaving in this way. Every possible pressure is being brought to bear, but it is unquestionably complicated by the fact that Turkey is a NATO ally.
In the light of the growth in food banks, discretionary housing payments and reliance on high-rate payday lenders, does the Leader of the House agree that this House should debate the importance of continuing council tax support payments for those with disabilities or on low incomes with children under five?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. Everyone in this House wants the welfare system to work and to support people in the correct way. Everyone in this House also recognises that no human system is perfect. Therefore, having debates that raise problems and help to perfect what is fundamentally a good system is something that I, as Leader of the House, would encourage. What form that debate would take, I cannot promise her—whether it would be in Government time, which is probably unlikely considering the pressure of business. However, I think we are all keen to make the system work, and I therefore hope that the points she raises will be taken on board by the relevant Department.
Back in March, when the Leader of the House was reclining on the Back Benches, he gave as a reason for not supporting the previous withdrawal agreement that it did not have the support of the DUP, so could he make a statement today as to why that criterion no longer applies?
I am more than happy to say that this deal is worth wholehearted and full-throated support from across the United Kingdom. It is a deal that delivers for the whole United Kingdom. It ensures that we will leave the European Union lock, stock and barrel. It makes special arrangements for Northern Ireland in relation to the Good Friday/Belfast agreement and the fact that there is a land border there between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Those special arrangements support and help the United Kingdom, and the opportunities for the United Kingdom outside the European Union are extraordinarily exciting. This is well worth supporting, and I would encourage the DUP to support it too.
This week, the Communication Workers Union made history when it voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action against Royal Mail: 97% voted in favour of strike action on a turnout of 76%, defying the undemocratic Trade Union Act 2016. Will the Leader of the House stand with those postal workers as they fight for their jobs and terms and conditions, and against a proposed sale of Parcelforce? Can we have a debate on scrapping the Trade Union Act, which seems to undermine the right to strike in the UK?
May I begin by paying tribute to people who work for Royal Mail? We are enormously well served by the service we have in this country. Actually, particularly in this House we are very well served by the postmen and postwomen who look after us. The issue of strike action is one where the Government expect both parties to engage in mediation and proper discussions. It is ultimately a matter between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union. However, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working with Royal Mail to understand its plans and to provide advice where appropriate. The Government are doing what they can, but it is essentially a matter between the two parties. I hope that it will be settled because we all want to get our Christmas cards.
It is an almost universally observed convention of this House that there is a two-week period between the first laying of a Bill and its Second Reading, yet on Wednesday we have the Environment Bill, which is absolutely massive—it has 122 clauses and 20 schedules. In two of the Committees I sit on, we did pre-legislative scrutiny of the first bit, but there is a whole load of other stuff that we have not seen before. Does it really have to be brought back so quickly? Can we not give environmental groups and MPs the chance to scrutinise it before we get to Second Reading?
I think there is a general feeling that it is really important to proceed with this Bill. I have a great desire to uphold the conventions of this House. I note, though, that a lot of Opposition Members voted for the Cooper-Boles Bill and for the surrender Bill, both of which were pushed through very rapidly, so this does happen. When we have major items of legislation that have widespread support, it is important that, as you might say, Mr Speaker, we do not allow convention to stand in the way of what is in the national interest.
Some 13 years after believing that he had paid all his contributions to the Child Support Agency, my constituent Ian Gemmell from Auchinleck was shocked to get a bill from the Child Maintenance Service demanding £3,500. While people should pay their way in terms of their children, this debatable £3,500 is not going to find its way to his now adult daughter. Can we have a Government statement so we get a case review for my constituent and an overall review of how the CMS is handling these historical cases?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that. As a constituency MP, taking off my Government hat, there is no organisation that I find it harder to deal with on behalf of my constituents or one that is less sympathetic to my constituents. I am glad that he has raised that point, because I think all of us in the House have the same interest which is that that organisation should provide a better and a fairer service, and I am sure that this will be noted by the relevant Minister.
Campaigners fighting to save Pontllanfraith leisure centre were heartened by news this week that Caerphilly County Borough Council cabinet will pause the closure. However, that is not an isolated case. Other campaign groups have contacted me who are fighting to save their leisure services. With an obesity crisis in this country and participation in sport down, can we have an urgent debate in this House on access to sport and leisure?
I think there is a general feeling that more exercise is a good thing, as long as I do not personally have to involve myself; I have never been the most energetic of individuals. The hon. Gentleman raises a serious point, and it is a good idea to secure a debate on that issue. The most exercise I used to take was bobbing to try to get called when I wanted to involve myself in a statement, and now that I am on the Front Bench, I do not even have to do that. He could request an Adjournment debate, but I think the best route to go down would be a Backbench Business debate, because he may want a longer debate, and the issue has a wider application than purely his own constituency.
It is four months since the Government announced a consultation on the introduction of mandatory accessible housing standards in building regulations. Will the Leader of the House urge the Housing Minister to begin the consultation without any further delay?
In March 2013, Mr Anthony O’Sullivan, the chief executive of Caerphilly County Borough Council, was suspended by the council and put on special leave. At long last, Mr O’Sullivan has now been dismissed by the council for gross misconduct, but for over six years he has been on full pay and has received over £800,000 from the council, even though he has done no work. The council has had no alternative but to abide by the law, but if Mr O’Sullivan had any sense of morality and decency, he would repay the salary he received for doing absolutely nothing. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate to take place on how a situation like that could have arisen, to ensure that it never happens again?
I read about that case in the newspapers and am as shocked by it as the hon. Gentleman. It is not how taxpayers’ money ought to be used. It has now been raised in the House. It has a political profile. Our job in this House is to seek redress of grievance. This is a serious grievance for the ratepayers of Caerphilly, who will want to understand why money has been spent so poorly. We in this House make the laws that lead to these types of payment being made, so we must look at the laws that we make.
My constituent Shelley Kenny’s late father had an arrangement with the green deal, which he was dealing with prior to passing away. She now has to deal with the case. I have written to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy a number of times, and it is asking for information that has already been provided. Given that I have had a lack of success with correspondence, and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is sitting right next to the Leader of the House, would he be kind enough to use his good offices to organise a meeting between me and the Secretary of State, to try to sort this case for someone whose father has passed away?
I am always happy to try to facilitate meetings where I can. I am willing to see all Members of this House about any issues they seek to raise. Secretaries of State and Ministers have a duty, in my view, to see Back-Bench Members when the issues are sufficiently serious.