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Business of the House

Volume 669: debated on Thursday 9 January 2020

May I begin by wishing everybody a very happy new year and welcoming them all back after the Christmas break?

The business for next week will be:

Monday 13 January—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on Britain in the world.

Tuesday 14 January—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on education and local government.

Wednesday 15 January—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on a green industrial revolution.

Thursday 16 January—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on health and social care.

Friday 17 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 20 January—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on the economy and jobs.

I am pleased to announce that subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the constituency recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 13 February and return on Monday 24 February. For Easter, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 31 March and return on Tuesday 21 April. For the early May bank holiday, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Wednesday 6 May and return on Monday 11 May. The House will rise for the Whitsun recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 21 May and return on Tuesday 2 June. For the summer recess, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 21 July and return on Tuesday 8 September. Finally, the conference recess will commence at the close of business on Thursday 17 September with the House returning on Tuesday 13 October—which hon. and right hon. Members will know is the anniversary of the birth of the late Baroness Thatcher.

I start by wishing everyone a happy new year—and you, Mr Speaker. I am very pleased that you now have your full cohort of deputies in place. I thank the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for his sterling work in the House at business questions and welcome the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), who has taken over his post.

I thank the Leader of the House for next week’s business; in fact, we have a week and a day. Will the Prime Minister be making a statement following his discussions with the EU President, as the previous Prime Minister always did? She always updated the House.

The Leader of the House has very helpfully set out the recess dates and sitting days right up until 13 October. It feels a bit mean to ask him for the Christmas dates as well, but it would be very helpful if he could say how long the Session will be and also give the dates of the sitting Fridays.

There are rumours about proposed machinery of government changes. They are just rumours at the minute, but I know that the business managers have been working hard to try to allocate Chairs of Committees. Will the Leader of the House make a commitment that if any changes affect the Opposition allocation, he will honour the commitment to renegotiate that? Please do not be the Leader of the House who does not commit to fairness and the convention.

One Committee that has not been set up yet is the Backbench Business Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) did a grand job as Chair, and I hope he will continue in that post. He and others are keen to get the Committee set up. In the meantime, he has helpfully given the Clerks some subjects for debate that can be rolled over. Could the Leader of the House have a discussion with him? I am sure that my hon. Friend will raise that later.

It is interesting that the Leader of the House has not announced the date of the Budget to the House, but it has been announced outside this place. That is quite concerning. He could have made a statement. He made lots of statements before the House rose, coming to the House practically twice or three times a day.

Another thing that the Government have announced outside the House but not to it is a review, to be concluded by mid-February, of the roll-out of the IR35 tax plan for the self-employed, which is due to take effect in April. May we have a statement on the exact terms of that review and the measures that will be put in place to support the self-employed? The Opposition called for a review during the general election. This is more chaos, and it is disgraceful—and so is the announcement on 23 December by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the takeover of Cobham.

“This is a deeply disappointing announcement and one cynically timed to avoid scrutiny on the weekend before Christmas. In one of its first major economic decisions, the Government is not taking back control so much as handing it away.”

They are not my words but those of Lady Nadine Cobham, the daughter-in-law of the founder of that brilliant British company. She said it would never have been done by the US, French or Japanese Governments. All Advent has to do is promise to call the Ministry of Defence if it plans to sell up. The takeover does not include a right to veto the disposal of these sensitive defence assets. This is Government asset-stripping Britain instead of protecting British interests. We need an urgent statement from the Business Secretary.

I want to mention our colleague Andrew Miller, who has sadly died. Being a new Member is quite disconcerting. Andrew was here when I was a new Member, and he was an assiduous Chair of the Science and Technology Committee. We must also mention the three British nationals who died in the Ukrainian plane crash. I am pleased that the Government have scheduled a statement on the Australian bushfires. Many people here have friends and family living there who are affected.

On a happier note, I want to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) on the birth of their babies during the election. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Wales is now a grandmother, and we welcome Jesse Thomas Francis Kearney. We wish them well for the future.

The Leader of the House will know, because he tweets, that Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe is now at school here—#pleasebringmymummyback. I hope the Leader of the House will do everything he can to do that.

Finally, I want to thank the staff of the House for staffing the super-hub. It was very effective for new Members and for old Members like me. I used it yesterday, and Members have one day left.

May I add to the right hon. Lady’s words about the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who will be very much missed from these sessions? It always amazed me how a man of such gentleness, courtesy and kindliness in private always managed to be so fiendishly angry in the Chamber. I look forward to seeing whether the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), who I know is also a model of kindliness, will be similarly angry when he gets up to speak in a moment, but I look forward to our exchanges.

The right hon. Lady asked 11 individual questions, and I will do my best to answer them all. The House will always be updated by the Government on really important issues. The Prime Minister, in the last Session of Parliament, averaged 36 minutes a day at the Dispatch Box during the time he was Prime Minister, so I think he has been ahead of almost any other previous Prime Minister in his assiduousness.

As regards the Christmas recess—absolutely. We want to ensure that there is reasonable notice for all recesses, which I think is of general help not just to Members but to the staff of the House for planning their lives. This is important for all of us, so we will try to give the longest notice we can, though I cannot yet give the length of the Session—

Rhondda always wants to chip in. We might have thought that, after a little peace and quiet over Christmas, Rhondda would have calmed down, but no such luck. Because there is so much business to be brought forward, and that will depend on the progress of business. That is a completely normal approach.

As for sitting Fridays, we have only just had the ballot, but of course we will bring those forward, and the motion, as soon as is practicable. On the machinery of Government changes, I got a little bit worried by a memo that said, “MOG changes”. I am not necessarily so keen on such changes; I am rather used to being the Mogg that I am. However, I can absolutely assure the right hon. Lady that any changes that are made will lead to consultation with the Opposition about any changes to Committees. It is hoped that the motion in relation to the sharing out of the Committees will be put on the Order Paper by the end of business today. That is not an absolute promise, but I understand that good progress has been made on coming to an agreement.

I am indeed grateful to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) for passing on a list of overhanging proposals from the Backbench Business Committee for debates. Whether there will be a lot of time for non-legislative business in the next few weeks, I am not absolutely certain, but it is useful to have that and to be aware of it.

The Budget date—giving people plenty of notice—is perfectly reasonable. I make announcements about the business for a week or possibly for two weeks; I do not intend to announce the business for March, so I think it would be unusual for me to be announcing that. I do hope that in this Session of Parliament my appearances at the Dispatch Box will be once a week to set out the business, rather than once or twice a day, which I think was beginning to pall on everybody in the House.

The IR35 review is extraordinarily important. It is a matter of concern to many of our constituents, and something that came up in the election on a number of occasions. It is important that it is done in such a way that people know what their tax affairs will be in April.

On the takeover of Cobham, the Government have to act within the legal parameters and the approach that we generally take to takeovers, and announcements must be made punctually. Sometimes when the House is in recess announcements still have to be made. Saying it was done just before Christmas is not a reasonable criticism, because business goes on.

May I share in the right hon. Lady’s condolences to Andrew Miller’s family? It is always sad when we lose a distinguished former Member of this House who has invariably been influential and important in the careers of existing Members.

There is indeed a statement coming on the Australian bushfires. I think all of us feel the deepest sympathy for the people of Australia, who for so many of us are kith and kin, and there is therefore always a particular concern with what is happening in Australia.

The Ukrainian plane crash is something that needs to be investigated thoroughly so that we find out what the cause was. Our concern is for the British citizens, but also for all the lives that were lost.

As always, I am so glad that once again the right hon. Lady reminds us about Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and of course all the other dual nationals who are held improperly, unlawfully by the Iranian regime. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Iranian Government on 6 January. The Government are doing everything that we can to secure her release and that of others, but the Government’s power, regrettably, is not unlimited in this area.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the support in all parts of the House and in the country—with campaigners such as Battersea Dogs and Cats pressing hard—for the reintroduction of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which was in the Queen’s Speech and was of course lost because of the general election. Can he pledge to introduce the Bill in the next two weeks, and if not, can he tell us what the timetable is for it?

I can reassure my right hon. and learned Friend that the animal welfare Bill is a priority of this Government. It has not ceased to be a priority of this Government; there is a busy programme of legislation, but this Bill will remain within it.

There is always a degree of excitement in starting any new job, and I feel I will have to have an ongoing challenge of curbing my enthusiasm for this one, but let me begin by paying tribute and a word of thanks to my friend and colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who preceded me in this role and who for a long shift—four and a half years—stood here every Thursday to represent my party in his own inimitable style. I intend to pick up where he left off, and while the style may be different I assure Members that the message will be the same.

Let me also say that I very much look forward to a weekly verbal joust with the Leader of the House, and I only hope that we do not have a spoilsport Prime Minister who will dash my expectations by an imminent reshuffle and changing that position.

Turning to the business statement itself, I have to observe that, given the times we are in, it does seem a little self-indulgent to be spending six days debating what is essentially a mission statement by the Government rather than any specific legislative proposals. I understand that the Queen’s Speech debate is important, but is it not time to get on to matters of substance? Even for a Government bathing in the afterglow of an election victory that does seem a little excessive.

There are many things we ought to be discussing that are not in this business statement, and let me offer three this morning. The first is the Government’s proposed departmental reorganisation. If this House is to have the role of scrutiny of the Executive, it is clearly important that we understand what the shape and structure of the Executive actually is. This House ought to be kept up to date on the proposals being made for changes in Government Departments so that we can consider what changes we might need to make to our agenda and procedures in order to adequately hold them to account. Will the Leader of the House therefore please update us on what the obstacles to the current reorganisation are, when they might be resolved and when we can expect an announcement?

Secondly, given the events of the last seven days, we can see that there is a very precarious military and political situation in the middle east. Not only that, but we can see how compromised this country is in trying to influence those events. Should not the Government be bringing forward an urgent debate on these matters so that this House can consider how better we can influence these events?

Thirdly, and finally, when are the Government going to hold a debate recognising the consequences of the 12 December general election, which for the first time has created a situation within this island where the two principal countries have a different political mandate? Are the Government going to bring forward proposals in order to acknowledge Scottish public opinion and to accommodate Scottish political representation? If they do not, and if they do not recognise that their mandate ends at the Scottish border then—

Order. Sorry, but one of us is going to have to give way. I am being very generous as it is the hon. Gentleman’s first outing, but please come to a conclusion; you are meant to take two minutes, but you are on three.

Apologies, Mr Speaker; this is my first time, but I was a sentence away from my conclusion, which is simply to say that I caution the Government: if they do not do this and do not recognise that different mandate, they are going to become a recruiting sergeant for those on these Benches who wish Scotland to have an independent, alternative future.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his first outing in holding this Government to account and bringing on the fast bowling to start with.

The Brexit Bill started us off, so even before the Queen’s Speech we passed a major piece of legislation, but that does not keep the hon. Gentleman happy; what more can we do?

As I have said, we hope to announce the reorganisation of government today: the share-out of Select Committees begins the process, the Chairmen will then be elected and Committees will be established, and they will be adjusted if there are any changes. This is all perfectly normal. There will be regular statements and oral questions continue. That is all in place; it is there, and it is for the hon. Gentleman to use it.

On the hon. Gentleman’s first go, I do not want to be unkind and point out that, as I said in my statement, we will be debating foreign affairs on Monday. That will be an opportunity to discuss all matters relating to Iran, so I am granting his wish almost immediately after standing up. We also had a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence earlier in the week.

On the consequences of the election, the hon. Gentleman says that we may become a recruiting sergeant for the SNP, which makes me wonder what he is complaining about. If that is what he thinks we are doing, I would have thought he would be quite pleased. What I would say is that he and other SNP Members must not forget that there was a rather important election in 2014, and it was won by people who wanted to remain in the United Kingdom. There is not the division that he talks of. The United Kingdom is united, and that was what the people of Scotland voted for in their wisdom and good sense.

People opening their new year calendars, and now those who heard the Leader of the House announce the recess dates, will have noticed that the early May bank holiday has moved from Monday 4 May to Friday 8th so that we can, quite rightly, mark the 75th anniversary of VE-day. However, events such as weddings, sporting fixtures and civic events will have been scheduled for Monday 4th and perhaps Sunday 3rd, and they will be adversely affected by the change. What are the Government’s plans to make sure that there is full awareness of the situation? Perhaps the Leader of the House will consider whether it would be in the spirit of a new, forward-looking global Britain that we might have another bank holiday in May and reinstate the Monday, as well as having the Friday.

Order. Can I just advise Members that business questions will finish at 12.15 pm? If we can get through questions quickly, that would be excellent.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I think that bank holidays are one of the things that come under the Lord President of the Council, so this is the first question I have ever been asked while wearing my Lord President of the Council hat. However, there is a great cost to bank holidays and I think the chances of having another one, although we all like to have a day off, is relatively slim, so I would not like to build up my right hon. Friend’s hopes.

May I join the tributes that have been paid to my predecessor Andrew Miller, who served the constituency of Ellesmere Port and Neston with distinction for 23 years? He was greatly admired and respected by his constituents. As I found when I entered this place, he was also greatly admired and respected across the House for his work during his time in Parliament. He will be greatly missed. He was a friend to many of us here and a real mentor, and my thoughts are with his family at this time. His work in the field of science and technology is well known, but he was also a patron for the charity RoadPeace. In that regard, will the Leader of the House update us on when the consultation that took place several years ago on increasing sentences for death by dangerous driving will actually result in legislation?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point. The Government take the matter extraordinarily seriously. There were plans in the previous Parliament for dealing with it, and I would be very surprised if they were not revisited soon.

The Leader of the House, like other hon. Members, will be aware of the daily work pressures on members of our ambulance services, not least in the east of England, where there were three staff suicides over 11 days in December. May we find time for a debate to highlight the extent of the problem of pressure on ambulance workers and perhaps to try to find some solutions?

May I begin by welcoming back my hon. Friend? It is a huge pleasure to see a friend back in the House and I congratulate him on his victory.

My hon. Friend raises a point of great seriousness. It would be possible to consider it during the Queen’s Speech debate next Thursday, which covers matters of health, but this is something the Government must be aware of more broadly. Issues relating to suicide have such a devastating effect on families. They tie in with the Government’s efforts on mental health and increased spending on mental health to try to help people in, or heading towards, that situation.

We have just heard that Liberty Steel is restructuring, which will inevitably lead to job losses in Rotherham and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden). While we will, of course, hold Liberty Steel to account for the long-term future, we also need the Leader of the House to find time in which we can hold the Government to account, because the underlying structural issues, for which they are responsible, have not been dealt with. Please will he find time for an hour and a half debate on this very important topic?

Obviously there are time slots available for Westminster Hall debates and Adjournment debates—they are in Mr Speaker’s hands—and I recommend that the hon. Lady applies for one of those. I also remind her that Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions are on Tuesday 21 January. This is such an important issue and it is well worth raising. If there is anything I can do to help to facilitate a debate—not, I am afraid, in Government time, but before the Backbench Business Committee is set up—I will look very sympathetically on it.

I welcome the announcement of the recess dates, which is very helpful for families and everybody else. Can we find time for a debate or a statement on why we are still allowing children aged 16 to get married in this country?

I think that it is not easy for children aged 16 to get married. As I understand it, they need the permission of either their parents or a magistrate, and the numbers are not enormous. However, it would be perfectly reasonable to ask for an Adjournment debate on the subject. I do not see an obvious opportunity to raise the matter in the Queen’s Speech debate, but the issue—the age of majority in this country—needs to be considered, as many things flow from that.

The Leader of the House was kind enough to recognise that, as the former Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, I wrote to him, but he will also have noted that a number of the main sponsors of the awaited debates are no longer with us. The debates with sponsors who are still Members of the House are on: the impact of diagnosis and treatment of parental mental illness on outcomes for children; the collapse of Thomas Cook and the future of the travel industry; and the value of the arts and creative industries, which are very close to my heart, given that the Sage Gateshead and BALTIC are in my constituency. I look forward to the re-establishment of House business Committees, including the Backbench Business Committee.

Will the Leader of the House also organise a Government statement on the failing—if not failed—Northern Rail franchise? The matter is of great importance to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of our constituents across the north of England, who are being badly let down by this failed franchise?

In response to the first half of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I was careful to say that while I was grateful for the list being sent, I was not committing to it, because the Backbench Business Committee of one Parliament ought not to bind a future Parliament for exactly the reason that he mentions: some Members who wanted a debate are no longer Members of the House. It would be wrong to have debates reflecting former Members’ interests, but when Members are still here, that is a relevant factor if any time is available.

I thought that the Prime Minister gave a very clear statement of the Government’s position on Northern Rail at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday: rail franchise companies will have to improve and deliver good services, otherwise the Government will take action.

The Government’s ambition is to improve rail services all over the country, and there is a great need for improvement on the Cotswold line in West Oxfordshire, where we require further redoubling. May we have a debate in Government time to ensure that we can make the case all over the country for where we need investment so that we can all get the services that our constituents deserve and require?

Rail is a real issue for many Members of Parliament, given the effect on people of extremely difficult journeys to work. The Government are spending £500 million on a Beeching reversal to restore some rail lines. We are willing to act to ensure that the rail services provided are those that people can have a reasonable expectation of receiving, so what my hon. Friend says is very much in line with the action that the Government plan to take.

Will the Leader of the House say when we might expect to see the return of the domestic abuse Bill, on which such great progress was made during the last Parliament, so that we can put that in our diaries?

I cannot give the hon. Lady a date for her diary, but the Government are prioritising that Bill. It is on the stocks and ready to be brought back soon—it will certainly be introduced before Easter.

Can we have a debate on rail connectivity with the north of England? My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and I have been campaigning for years for a through train from Grimsby via Market Rasen to London. This is a catchment area of up to a quarter of a million people with no through train. The Government want to introduce projects to help the north of England and they own London North Eastern Railway. Can we get the train done?

First, may I add to my answer to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns)? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has just issued a written ministerial statement on Northern Rail, which I hope will be helpful to the House.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) for his appeal for a through train and for his noting that the Government are trying to improve infrastructure in the north of England. His appeal will be heard, and I shall make sure it is passed on to the Secretary of State. What he is calling for fits in with the thrust of what the Government are trying to do, but that is not a promise.

The statement on Northern Rail should be being made to the House right now—it is that important to that many Members.

Lydiate Primary School in my constituency is in desperate need of a new building. The governors are doing all that they can to make do and mend, but it is simply not economically viable to continue. Despite what the Prime Minister said yesterday, education spending in this country has fallen since 2010, not increased, so may we have a statement on the importance of investment in new school buildings across the country, and can the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Education to arrange a meeting with me about the urgent need for a new building at Lydiate Primary School?

Education questions are a week on Monday, but an extra £14 billion is to be spent on schools over the next three years, which is an extra £150 million a week. Extra money for the physical infrastructure of our schools will be available as part of that. Money is becoming available and expenditure is increasing, which was a commitment prior to the general election and reconfirmed at the general election. I would suggest in the first instance that the hon. Gentleman raises the matter at Education questions and writes to a Minister to ask for a meeting. If he has no success with that, he can come back at business questions and I will see if I can help.

Last summer, dozens of homes and businesses in my constituency were flooded, but they could not meet the criteria for receiving Flood Re insurance or any of the funding available for flood resilience measures, despite some of them having been flooded for the second or third time. In addition, as a further blow, Stockport Council, despite some initial relief, is now charging people council tax on not only their temporary accommodation, but their main accommodation, which is still uninhabitable. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can offer more support, both nationally and locally, to flood victims?

This is a really important issue. One would hope that local authorities would have the good sense and wisdom to treat people whose homes have become uninhabitable through flooding with generosity, rather than insisting on full payment of council tax. There will be an opportunity in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech debate to discuss local government issues, and I hope my hon. Friend will raise this matter then.

Yesterday, the two lorry drivers who sadly died in a road traffic collision near Luton on Saturday morning were named as Surjit Singh and Gheorge Mihai. This followed two other accidents on Christmas eve along the same stretch of smart motorway on the M1. May we please have a debate on and a review of the roll-out of smart motorways across this country, especially in the light of these recent and tragic deaths?

I know that the way in which smart motorways have been operating is a matter of considerable concern to the House. I understand that the Secretary of State has ordered a review of them, which was meant to be taking place relatively rapidly, and that he will report back to the House. To consider and debate that in due course, after the report has happened, would be only suitable.

May we also have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport, as well as an urgent debate, on London Northwestern Railway, whose recent performance has been abysmal, as it is severely affecting the mental wellbeing of many of those who travel on it?

There is a great commonality of feeling across the House about rail services. Rail companies need to deliver, and to ensure that people have the service that they need and that trains run broadly on time.

The franchising system is being changed and the railway will be improved with an investment of £48 billion, the largest since the Victorian era, which I know many Members think is relatively recent but which was actually well over 100 years ago. There is also a £4.2 billion local public transport fund to enable city regions to upgrade their buses, trains and trams so that they are as good as those in London. This will help every part of the country, and it involves a very, very large amount of money, but I absolutely recognise the problems that are currently affecting constituents across the country.

We know that the most vulnerable people rely on prepayment energy meters, but I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware that on 1 January British Gas changed its top-up outlets from PayPoint to Payzone, which has 15,000 fewer outlets in the United Kingdom. I have an elderly constituent who, instead of having to walk around the corner to top up her meter, is now faced with a 2-mile walk. May we have a statement outlining what discussions the Government had with Ofgem and British Gas, and what impact assessments were made?

I was aware of that issue, and I know that Members throughout the House are concerned about the effect that it will have on their most vulnerable and least well-off constituents. I think that it is up to all of us to lobby British Gas to reconsider its decision. I will happily take up the matter with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and pass on the hon. Gentleman’s comments, because I know that it has attracted cross-party concern and is a matter of considerable seriousness. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, we need to look after the least well-off the most.

My constituency has one of the worst broadband networks in the country in terms of both coverage and speed—particularly the likes of Audlem, Tattenham and Bunbury, which are in the bottom 10%. May we have a debate on broadband infrastructure so that I can question a Minister on how Eddisbury residents will secure their fair share of the £5 billion manifesto commitment to roll out full fibre across the country?

I welcome back my hon. Friend, who made such a contribution to the former Government. It was a great pleasure for me to campaign for him when he stood in a by-election some years ago, and he was a great hero for winning it.

Broadband roll-out will involve a major effort by the Government and the £5 billion investment that my hon. Friend mentioned. I fear that I am slightly teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, because he knows all this perfectly well, but questions to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will take place next Thursday, and I think that they will present him with a good initial opportunity to put in his plea for Eddisbury.

Every hour someone in England has a partial foot amputation, and every two hours someone loses an entire leg. Please may we have a debate in Government time on the growing crisis of vascular disease and the urgent steps that the Government need to take to address it?

I must confess that I was unaware of those figures, which are absolutely shocking. There will be an opportunity for the hon. Lady to raise the issue during the Queen’s Speech debate on health matters, and I hope that she will do so.

Is the Leader of the House aware that 150,000 people worldwide, mainly children, died of measles last year, and that many children in this country are not protected by the MMR vaccine when they start school? May we have an urgent debate on the measles epidemic that is spreading across Europe, and also New York state, and a discussion about whether it should be mandatory for children attending pre-school and early school to have that MMR protection?

The Government are doing what they can to increase the take-up of measles vaccines to ensure that as many children as possible are covered. That is tremendously important, and parents have a great responsibility to ensure that their children are vaccinated. Let me add, without going into too much detail, that I, as a parent, have certainly taken steps to ensure that I have fulfilled my responsibility. The Government will be pushing for this, and there is next week’s Queen’s Speech debate in which to raise it, but public health depends on people’s use of the vaccines that are available to them, and that should be encouraged.

May we have a debate on championing apprenticeships and skills? Although we have over 900,000 apprentices, the highest number in our nation’s history, we need to look at how we can get more young people doing apprenticeships and more people doing degree apprenticeships. Will the Leader of the House also look to work with the Speaker on introducing an apprentice scheme in Parliament to help parliamentarians to employ apprentices?

As I understand it, apprentices have a chance at the age of 28 of earning significantly more than graduates do. I think it is 25% more. It is a really remarkable success for apprenticeships. They ought to be encouraged, and my right hon. Friend is absolutely brilliant at doing this. He was one of the most successful Ministers in advancing the cause of apprenticeships. His idea about apprenticeships within the Palace of Westminster is very well timed and, Mr Speaker, if you think it is agreeable, perhaps that is something we could discuss at the Commission on Monday.

Would the Leader of the House consider making time available to highlight the plight of residents and small businesses in Arundel and South Downs who were impacted by the recent floods just before Christmas and, in particular, to discuss what steps the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), will take to ensure that the risk of flooding is reflected when future development is contemplated?

I welcome my hon. Friend to the House. It is a great pleasure to see him in his place after all that he has done for the Conservative party in his distinguished career. The Government naturally sympathise with those people who have been affected by the recent flooding and the terrible impact that has on their lives. As we were hearing earlier, we have put in place a wide range of recovery schemes for affected homes, businesses, farmers and communities, and £2.6 billion is being spent in over 1,000 flood schemes across the country, which will protect a further 300,000 homes by 2021. I think that in this case prevention is better than cure. There will be relevant questions to the Local Government Secretary on Monday.

May we have a debate about standards in public life and the consequences when Members of either this place or the other place abuse staff or each other? Following the incident that I raised on the Floor of the House this week, I have had a number of members of staff raise concerns with me about the way they are treated. Further to that, I am sorry to say that the Member from the other place who I have complained about has now launched a homophobic attack on me in the press. This will be reported to the police, and I know that I and others consider this to be a hate crime.

I know that the Leader of the House and the Speaker take this matter very seriously. I have a position of great privilege and I am able to raise this, but we must set the best possible standards from this place for other LGBT people and, indeed, our staff, to ensure that we send a message to say that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable here or anywhere else.

I hope that I will not breach the normal order of this House if I say that the attack on the hon. Lady was utterly disgraceful and that she is clearly owed an apology by the noble Lord for what he said about her. I think that everybody who heard about that was shocked by the comments that he is reported to have made and has not denied. I think they are really appalling. I know that we are not allowed to criticise Members of the other place except on a specific motion, but I think that under these circumstances we are allowed to stretch the rules.

As regards the initial complaint, everybody should treat our members of staff politely and with normal good manners. The staff have a duty to look after us and protect us, and we must respond to them in kind. The purpose of this place is to facilitate legislation. We are here as legislators, and it is incumbent upon us to lead by example. That is why the behavioural code has been set up as it has. Everyone should be respected and valued. We should recognise that, by virtue of our office and by virtue of the 70,000 people who have sent us here, we have a status that we must not abuse through ill manners. Indeed, the greater one’s status—you are a model of this, Mr Speaker—the more important it is to show good manners to those who are working on one’s behalf. There is a helpline that people can call, and for any members of staff listening to this—I hope hon. Members will pass this on to their staff—it is 0800 028 2439. I hope that the security staff who were abused will ring the helpline so that the House of Lords authorities can look into the matter.

While I am paying tribute to the staff, I want to add one thing on a happier note. Two members of our security staff—this shows us how lucky we are—Ron Dowson and Habibi Syaaf rescued a man who had fallen into the Thames earlier this week. That is a reminder of how well we are served and, therefore, of our even greater duty of good manners.

The Government have many important priorities, but nothing can be more pressing than the safety of our children. There is clear data that children as young as eight are regularly viewing pornography online—often extreme pornography —with no legal consequences for website operators. When will the Government turn their extremely good “Online Harms” White Paper into a Bill to address the issue that can be debated in this House?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her campaigning on this matter. Any parent with children getting to the age when they start going online worries about what content may appear and how effective or ineffective filters may be to protect their children or, indeed, how clever one’s children may be at getting through the filters that one tries to put on.

The Government are committed to ensuring that children are protected from accessing harmful content online. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport outlined in her written statement to Parliament on 16 October that we want to achieve the most comprehensive and coherent approach to protecting children online. We have decided to deliver these protections through our wider online harms regulatory proposals. The Secretary of State’s statement outlined that the age verification provisions in the Digital Economy Act 2017 will not be commenced and, as a result, the British Board of Film Classification has been de-designated as the age verification regulator for online pornography, but there will be a wider strategy to protect children.

Fire service men and women take risks to save lives on a daily basis, yet there is increasing concern about their own wellbeing and the links to cancer that arise from exposure to chemicals through their uniforms. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time to discuss the matter?

That is an important point and should be a matter of concern to us all. The people who risk their lives for us ought to have equipment that protects them, rather than increases the risk to them. Housing, Communities and Local Government questions are on Monday, which would be a good initial opportunity to raise the matter. It would also be sensible to ask Mr Speaker for an Adjournment debate, which is often a good way of starting the discussion on such important matters.

The great services available at the Hospital of St Cross in Rugby are rightly cherished by local residents, but Rugby is growing fast. We are delivering houses at three times the national rate, and many people are concerned that additional services will be needed to support that growing population. Can we have a debate on how the Government health infrastructure plan will support smaller hospitals in growing towns such as Rugby?

On 29 September, the Government announced our new health infrastructure plan to ensure that our health infrastructure works for decades to come. At the centre of the plan is a new hospital building programme, and the Government announced six new hospital schemes that are receiving funding to go ahead now and to be delivered by 2025 and a further 21 schemes across 34 hospitals that will start the next stage of developing their plans between 2025 and 2030. There is a clear NHS capital funding plan to ensure that the health infrastructure is there, and I commend my hon. Friend for standing up for his hospital in Rugby. Local hospitals are cherished by residents up and down the country.

As I am the fifth Member to ask about rail, the Leader of the House can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on both sides about transport infrastructure. Can we have a Transport Minister before us so that we can question them on details of the recent announcements on the reopening of lines closed under Beeching? I am particularly keen to raise the reopening of the line to Fleetwood.

Congratulations, Dame Rosie, on your unanimous re-election yesterday as Deputy Speaker, having been elected by acclaim.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) raises an important point, as have other hon. and right hon. Members. There is a £500 million pot to reopen lines that were closed under Beeching, and there will potentially be an opportunity to discuss it on Monday 20 January in the debate on the economy and jobs. Rail is an important part of the economy, and that debate will be the first occasion to raise it.

I reassure the House that I am not the deaf adder. I have heard very clearly the widespread concern about rail, and it will have been heard by the Government and the responsible Ministers, too.

May I add my congratulations on your welcome return to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker?

The Leader of the House will be aware that Monday is the statutory deadline for getting the Stormont Executive back up and running. The talks are under way, and we all hope they are successful over the coming days. They will reach a conclusion, one way or the other, this weekend, so can he confirm that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be making a statement to this House on Monday, either to announce that the Executive is back in operation so that Northern Ireland is properly governed or else to set out what steps the Government will take to ensure that the very serious issues for the operation of Northern Ireland’s public services can be properly dealt with?

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is working extremely hard, and worked hard over the Christmas break, with all the parties in Northern Ireland to try to ensure that the Assembly is up and running on 13 January. Progress has been made, but it is not possible for me to say where that will conclude or what statements there will be on Monday. It is important that this work proceeds and that the Assembly is reassembled. [Interruption.] I see nods from Northern Ireland Members, and I think there is a widespread feeling that the lack of an Assembly has gone on for much too long.

Congratulations, Madam Deputy Speaker.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) mentioned, today Liberty Steel announced job losses in Newport, Rotherham and elsewhere. Our thoughts are with those who are affected. The Orb steelworks in Newport was mothballed before Christmas, and there were worrying signs from Tata in the press over the weekend. I reiterate the call for an urgent debate in Government time on steel so that we can ensure the Government are proactive at this time.

This is obviously a very important issue, and very important for the people whose jobs are involved, for whom it must be a very troubling time. I reiterate that there are Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions on Tuesday 21 January, and an application for an Adjournment debate may see something discussed even sooner.

The recent treatment of the 19-year-old British national in Ayia Napa and the failures of the judicial process follow on from the failure of the judicial system in Cyprus to bring to justice the killers of my constituent George Low, who was murdered in the same town in 2016. Can we please have a debate on the safety of British subjects visiting Cyprus on holiday and whether any further precautions or advice are needed?

Both cases are matters of considerable concern, and they have been of concern to the Government. I note that the lady returning from Cyprus is being helped by the police and viewed as a victim of a sexual assault. That tells us something important about how the British authorities view the case. We have to bear it in mind that standards of justice across the world are not necessarily as high as they are in the United Kingdom. It is one of the primary duties of any Government to ensure the wellbeing of their citizens when they are abroad, or that justice can be done if anything goes wrong when they are abroad. The Government take that duty extraordinarily seriously. Hon. Members of all parties may rest assured that, if they have constituents who needs assistance, the Foreign Office is there to help them.

It is very nice to see you back in your place today, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Leader of the House has been asked a number of questions about rail today. I am sure that he knows that TransPennine Express has had to offer a rebate of 3% on its fares because of its latest timetabling fiasco. That goes alongside its failure to run Hull station properly: we have a leaky roof and appalling toilets. May we have a debate about whether we should introduce management productivity clauses into the franchise so that, for example, TransPennine’s managing director, Leo Goodwin, could refund perhaps more than 3% of the £331,000 salary he receives after a recent 44% pay increase?

On my own behalf and that of the Government, I congratulate the hon. Lady on becoming a Dame and on all she has contributed to Parliament, for which it is a due and proper reward. She comes up with a novel solution—it may be rather a good one—that people should have performance-related pay and that if the performance is bad, perhaps the pay should go down. That is not something, as a capitalist, I am averse to.

I am sure that there is cross-party consensus in the House that the most beautiful constituency in the United Kingdom is West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine. That beauty was enhanced last year by the flowering of rare aspen trees on the Muir of Dinnet nature reserve. Would my right hon. Friend consider a debate in Government time on the importance of nature reserves, as a way of thanking all those who volunteer and work to protect our great flora and fauna across the United Kingdom?

If my hon. Friend wants to get a debate out of me, he will have to say that Somerset is the most beautiful county; he will not get it by saying that his own constituency is. However, he raises an important point. The work that people do to ensure that the natural beauty of our country is enhanced is important. I am not sure that I can promise him a debate, but his point is extremely well made and I thank him for all his work to ensure that our country remains the most beautiful in the world—something I think we can all agree on.

The UK Government already had a woeful record on shamefully backsliding on commitments to child refugees, but to vote to prevent unaccompanied child refugees from being reunited with their families is a new low. Will the Leader of the House make an urgent statement on exactly what assessment the Government made of the impact of their shameful decision on those most vulnerable children?

I am afraid that the hon. Lady is under a misapprehension. There is no change to Government policy. The decision to take the provision out of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill was made because it is not right to put negotiating mandates in an Act of Parliament in that way. The Government remain committed to supporting and aiding child refugees.

The Leader of the House will know that our manifesto says that we will review the Gambling Act 2005, and he will have heard, from standing at the Bar of the House during the urgent question earlier, that it is an analogue Act in a digital age. Given that the work will require a laborious Whitehall process, we in Parliament can help it along. With that in mind, will the Leader of the House give the House the opportunity to start the discussion by granting a debate in Government time on what we would like to see in the review of the legislation?

I thank my hon. Friend for her brilliant work in bringing problem gambling to the attention of the House and the country at large. Without her work, the problem would have been less noticed and more swept under the carpet. As the urgent question showed, it worries hon. Members across the Chamber, and many of us have seen in our constituencies the problems that arise from addictive gambling. The Government did indeed say in our manifesto that we will have a review, and that will be delivered.

I do not think I can promise a debate because there was such a full discussion of the subject shortly before I got to my feet that I think it has in some sense been covered, but the knowledge that the House and the Government are concerned, and the strength of the position taken by my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport in his answers, will, I think, be noticed by the gambling world. I hope the industry will put its own house in order; otherwise, it might find that its house is put in order for it.

Last month, the Prime Minister said,

"We should bring electrification of Midland Mainline back and do the whole line through to Sheffield”,

but given that the two previous Tory Prime Ministers made precisely the same promise, only to backtrack just a few weeks after the election, may we have an urgent debate so that those very busy Transport Ministers can be challenged on precisely when and how they will deliver that vital investment?

I have a certain sympathy because the great western line was also meant to be electrified, but then it was found to be too difficult to do around Bath, which is the station I use—

I am always getting heckled from Rhondda! Everyone else is so well behaved in this new Parliament. We have this new image and row upon row of people who sit there politely listening, other than the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) raises an important point. There will be oral questions to Department for Transport Ministers in due course, and I think that is the right time to raise the subject initially as it may not constitute a full debate on its own, but it will also be possible to raise the matter at various points in the debate on the Queen’s Speech.

I add my congratulations on your re-election, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Government have announced that there are to be further town deals. My constituency already benefits from the Greater Grimsby town deal. May we have in Government time a debate in which the Government set out more details of their proposals and I am able to outline the benefits that have come to Cleethorpes?

I am glad to say that Midsomer Norton and Keynsham in North East Somerset are also benefiting from a deal. Previous town deals are benefiting many of us, up and down the country. I can answer my hon. Friend’s wish because I can give slightly more detail, which may save the House the time that would be taken by a full debate.

On 27 July, the Prime Minister announced that a £3.6 billion towns fund would support an initial 100 town deals. The Government have announced 100 places that will be invited to develop proposals for deals, including some that have been the birthplaces of industry, centres of commerce for centuries, or bastions of the maritime economy along our coastline. The Government will work with local people from the 100 communities to agree proposals to spend up to £25 million in each place. The Government are committed to decentralising funding and decisions away from Whitehall. We have invested in the growth of local economies, developing powers through green, ambitious city growth deals, devolving more than £9 billion of funding to local enterprise partnerships, and introducing eight metro Mayors in England. This is all part of a general programme, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) is pleased with the success of the Greater Grimsby deal.

For a start, the name of my constituency is pronounced Rhon-tha, not Rhon-da. I hope the Leader of the House will practise in front of a mirror later today.

I am not an unreasonable man, so I am not asking when the next Prorogation of Parliament will be, but I am asking how long the Government intend to run the Session in the broadest sense. It would be perfectly legitimate to run it to next November and return to the old system of having State Opening in that month. May is a daft time to have a State Opening, because the Government are caught in purdah thanks to local elections, making it much more difficult to do it properly. Will the Leader of the House give us a clearer idea of the Government’s broad intention, not least because we would like to make sure that we get 20 Opposition days a year, and not just 20 a Session?

Patience! The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), when I was newly elected, very generously took me to the Smoking Room and gave me a couple of glasses of Scotland’s finest produce to help me to learn how to pronounce his constituency, whereas the hon. Member for Rhondda merely bellows at me across the Chamber. For that reason, I may try harder with Na h-Eileanan an Iar than I do with Rhondda.

Regarding the length of the Session, if the hon. Gentleman were to divide the number of Bills listed following the Queen’s Speech by the average number of Bills passed during the course of a year, he might get a rough idea of how long the Session is likely to last, other things being equal, but that is not a promise.