Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will include:
Monday 27 January—Second Reading of the NHS Funding Bill.
Tuesday 28 January—Committee and remaining stages of the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill followed by, motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion Of Sentence) Order 2019 followed by, motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (Consequential Amendment) Regulations 2019.
Wednesday 29 January—Opposition day (1st allotted day). There will be a debate on home affairs followed by a debate on homelessness. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.
Thursday 30 January—General debate on global Britain.
Friday 31 January—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
Monday 3 February—Second reading of the Agriculture Bill.
Tuesday 4 February—Committee and remaining stages of the NHS Funding Bill followed by, motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (Non-Domestic Rating Multipliers) (England) Order 2019.
Wednesday 5 February—Opposition day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.
Thursday 6 February—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 7 February—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving the business for the coming two weeks and for the second Opposition day.
I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber when the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), mentioned that the Government might be acting illegally by including Western Sahara in their agreement with Morocco. Under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, that agreement will be ratified automatically in 21 days’ time, giving a time limit of 11 February. Could the Leader of the House find Government time—not on an Opposition day—to debate the treaty?
Will the Leader of the House update the House on possible machinery of government changes? We have heard that some Departments may be merged with or immersed in others. I do not know whether it is just another missive from the self-defined “weirdos and misfits” at No. 10, but could he give us some clarity? I assume that Select Committees will continue to parallel Government Departments, but we need some clarity, especially regarding 31 January.
Just as the other place started to debate the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, the Government threatened to send it to York—I think they might actually have meant Coventry, but that would have been too obvious—but the Opposition accepted the Lords amendments. The noble Lord Dubs of Battersea, who came here on a Kindertransport and who grew up and made an important contribution, wants to secure the same future for vulnerable children today. Like him, we know that children who have family here can make that contribution, so will the Leader of the House explain why, despite important Government initiatives that protect vulnerable children, such as those on human trafficking, they are leaving those children exposed to violence, overcrowding and danger in camps? The Government are facing two ways: laying a policy before Parliament is not the same as an automatic right. I ask the Government to think again. We are a compassionate country.
Yesterday the Prime Minister said that the Oakervee report will be published in due course. HS2 is about capacity, connectivity and therefore productivity. The Oakervee report has already been leaked, so when will the Government have a debate in their time? Could it be sooner rather than later? Hon. Members want to table amendments and express their views about which part of HS2 needs to be done first.
The Prime Minister banned everyone bar the Chancellor from going to Davos, but even the Chancellor is not clear about Government policy. He said that the Government’s first priority was to get a trade deal with the EU, despite already having started work on an agreement with the United States—so which is it? The Chancellor also said that
“Britain is better off in”,
and that the single market is a
“a great invention, one that even Lady Thatcher campaigned enthusiastically to create…with no barriers, no tariffs and no local legislation to worry about.”
Now he has said that there will be no alignment. The Food and Drink Federation has said that this sounds like the “death knell” for frictionless trade and that the industry’s margins are very tight, so which is it—frictionless or not?
The Government have signed up to the Paris agreement, so perhaps we could have a debate on how to negotiate with the Government of the United States, who have not signed up to it. Would the Leader of the House schedule a debate or a statement so that we can get some clarity on that?
We have heard that the Prime Minister will be meeting Richard Ratcliffe and other families. The Leader of the House will be aware that the British-Australian hostage Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been asked to be a spy by the Iranian Government in return for her release. She is in the same prison as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri, among others. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will be meeting those families, and that he will be leaving the negotiations to the diplomatic service? We want these innocent people released as soon as possible.
On a happier note, 20 January was the 755th anniversary of the de Montfort Parliament, where representatives of towns and shires got together here to discuss matters of national importance. We first sat in 1265, and hopefully will continue to sit and will not be abolished.
Sadly, we lost Terry Jones. For some of us, he provided the soundtrack to our lives in those wonderful “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” sketches, some of which I used to repeat in the playground. It was one of those great programmes that the BBC does so well, and we hope it will have the freedom to produce such programmes again. Terry Jones may have had a message for both sides of this House. For the Government, “He’s not the messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!” And for the Opposition, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.
He’s not a naughty boy now—Leader of the House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the right hon. Lady for that last point; I think we should all look on the bright side of life. It is a positive thing to do and good for British politics.
The right hon. Lady mentions having a debate under CRAG on the Western Sahara. The Government will always listen to representations in relation to CRAG. The question is whether it is a suitable use of time. If the Opposition want to make a more formal representation, it will be listened to. However, Opposition days are coming thick and fast, and any such issues could be brought forward under those circumstances.
On machinery of government changes, the tradition of this House is that Select Committees follow what ministries there are, and I imagine that the House would want to follow that precedent, but it is ultimately a matter for the House. The right hon. Lady also mentioned the stories about their lordships going to York and what fun that might be for them. It occurs to me that when Royal Ascot moved to York, their lordships found it great fun to go up to York. If they could do it for pleasure, I am sure they might have a jolly time going there for business as well.
More seriously, the right hon. Lady mentions the amendment of the noble Lord Dubs. Lord Dubs is one of the most respected figures in British politics, and the campaign that he has continued to wage for vulnerable children is admired across the House and the country. I would just point out that the reason for not accepting the amendment is that it is not the right place for it. Government policy to look after vulnerable children from overseas remains absolutely in place. Some 41,000 children have come into this country since 2010, and 18,000 Syrian refugees—not necessarily children—have already come here, of the 20,000 that the Government promised. The Government are committed to protecting vulnerable children. This is really important. There is no change in policy; it is simply that the Bill was not the right place for it.
The right hon. Lady asks for a debate on HS2. I think we have to wait for the report to come out. I know we are getting leaks and titbits and excitement in the newspapers, but the House of Commons needs to debate once the facts and the papers are brought together rather than doing so prematurely.
On Davos, I am not sure whether the right hon. Lady wished to be there rather than here, if it is still continuing, but the Chancellor was indeed there. British people voted to leave the European Union. My right hon Friend the Chancellor the Exchequer is a democrat; he recognises the result. To hold people to lines they used when supporting remaining in the European Union before the referendum fails to recognise that democratic politicians tend to accept the results of referendums—certainly on the Government Benches. Our relationship with the US is one of our most important relationships, and therefore what agreements the US has signed up to, or not, does not change the importance of that relationship.
I can confirm that there is a plan for the Prime Minister to meet Mr Ratcliffe. I reiterate that I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising this every week. The behaviour of the Iranian Government is unforgivable, and we need to keep on pressing them to release people who are improperly held.
I am absolutely delighted that the right hon. Lady referred to the anniversary of 1265. It was, of course, a continuation of, not the creation of, Parliament. Prior to those times, the representatives of the shires came—people like me representing their counties—and from 1265, in our generosity, we allowed people from the boroughs to come in too, and so borough Members came in and the towns received their proper representation.
While we continue to look on the bright side of life, I think that answers all the questions for the time being.
The Government are keen to move public sector jobs out of London and the south-east, and northern Lincolnshire is ideal. May I suggest that the public sector workers connected with, say, the renewable energy sector would be ideally located in the Humber region; and that since Grimsby has labelled itself as Europe’s food town for many years, perhaps the Food Standards Agency ought to pay a visit?
My hon. Friend, who represents Cleethorpes with such panache, is quite right to advocate for his part of the country. I am sure that what he says will have been heard and that the Food Standards Agency could probably think of nothing nicer than moving to Grimsby, but that will probably be a matter for it rather than for me.
Can I start by asking when Heather Anderson will be appointed to the European Parliament in order to fill the position left vacant by the election of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) to this House? We regard it as being of the utmost importance that our country is fully represented, albeit in its dying days of representation in the European Parliament, in order to oppose the direction that the Government have taken in that body. It would be wrong if either through administrative oversight or a lack of political enthusiasm we were not to be fully represented. Yesterday in the House, the Minister for the Cabinet Office gave a rather lacklustre response to my colleague on this matter. I hope that the Leader of the House can do better today.
Secondly, I note that the Labour Opposition are to have two full Opposition days two weeks in a row. Will the Leader of the House confirm when the third party will be given an Opposition day?
Finally, I want to return to the matter I raised last week—the claim of right for Scotland. Despite a rather awkward moment when the Leader of the House compared the constitutional aspirations of the nation of Scotland to those of the county of Somerset—a move I thought was rather foolish—he did acknowledge last week that the claim of Scotland is something he agrees with. He seemed to indicate that it was in some way discharged at the Scottish referendum in 2014. Will he confirm whether he believes that the claim of right existed on 19 September 2014 and every day thereafter, or is it the case that a right can be invalidated and extinguished by its exercise?
The hon. Gentleman forgot, absent-mindedly, to ask for a debate on the claim of right, but I am the servant of this House, because there is a claim of right debate on Monday 27 January in Westminster Hall. I am even able to deliver on that which has not been asked for, which is the type of superior service that those on the Government Benches like to offer. The best I can do is to quote his esteemed leader in this House, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who said, “Scotland said no”. Scotland did indeed say no—it said no to separation in 2014. It decided in its claim of right to claim the right to be a part of the United Kingdom, and thank heavens for that.
With regard to an Opposition day debate, I am doing my best to ensure that some time will be made available to the SNP prior to the February recess. It is not an absolute promise, but that is what I hope we will be able to do. As regards the European Parliament, I cannot think why anyone would want to go there for eight days.
The Conservative party, I have absolutely no doubt, is the party of jobs, employment and opportunities. But it is the high street that provides hundreds of thousands of jobs, and it is under enormous challenge from the internet. I worked in business in North Norfolk. Will the Leader of the House grant time for a debate, so that we can level up the competitiveness of traditional bricks-and-mortar stores against this ongoing challenge? Those hundreds of thousands of jobs that are dependent on the high street’s success up and down the land are incredibly important to all of us.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a champion for the high streets of North Norfolk and ensuring that they are well represented in the House. The Government take that issue very seriously. The £3.6 billion towns fund will support towns to build prosperous futures. There will be a £280 million tax cut for small businesses, because our manifesto commits us to cut taxes for small retailers and ensure that business rates are manageable. The Government are doing everything they can, but the Government cannot stop the natural evolution of the economy, so it is a question of ensuring that there are advantages for high streets.
I noted with interest the Leader of the House’s announcement that there will, provisionally, be business determined by the Backbench Business Committee in a fortnight. As he knows, I am not the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, as it does not exist at the moment, but I would be interested to know how the logistics of such a debate would be sorted out. The Chair will not be elected until next Wednesday, then we must wait for Committee membership nominations from the various parties, and that needs to be sorted out in time for a debate to be granted and for Members to prepare for it. I am wondering about the logistics of that.
Could we have a debate or statement in Government time about the conditions in which refugees and asylum seekers are meant to sustain themselves while waiting for determinations by the Home Office? I am afraid to say that my case load in Gateshead is very heavy, with a huge backlog of cases that are taking many months to sort out—well beyond the six-month and 10-month targets that the Home Office set itself, which have since been abandoned.
It is just possible that the logistics for the Backbench Business Committee may be 24 hours better than the hon. Gentleman suggests. It depends whether this hotly contested post is as hotly contested as it was last time. If it is unopposed, the announcement will be on Tuesday, as I understand it, rather than Wednesday, and then it is a matter for the parties to get their nominations in. I think it is manageable. I can assure him that we have discussed it. The point he makes about determinations from the Home Office for refugees and asylum seekers is one that the new Backbench Business Committee, under whoever’s leadership, may want to consider seriously.
There are 35 Members wishing to speak. I want to get everybody in, but some may miss out if we do not shorten the questions. Let’s help each other.
Rutland and Melton is home to not one, not two, but three geographically protected foods. Indeed, Somerset boasts its own Somerset cider brandy. Will my right hon. Friend be so kind as to agree to holding a debate in Government time on how the UK Government can best protect geographically protected foods post Brexit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention anything from Somerset, because she knows that that wins me over to the side of the questioner straightaway. This important issue will be considered in negotiations with the European Union, and I am sure that it will come to the House at some time.
My constituent, Allan Russell, applied for a three-year renewal to his Access to Work support in October, but despite having chased it up several times himself, it took my office getting involved for his case to be allocated. He is still waiting without funding for transport to work and without Access to Work support. There are many other issues with Access to Work, so may we have a debate in Government time to allow Members to discuss them more widely?
This is a very important issue. Access to Work is there to help people. If the system is not providing speedy answers, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it here and with Ministers. If he wishes me to ensure that any follow-up answers are received from Ministers, I will be more than happy to do what I can.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend values the work of local charities in his constituency, as I do in mine, but they often struggle to succeed, which is why I have organised a training session with the Charities Aid Foundation for those local charities next week. Can the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on the role of local charities in all our constituencies?
I commend my right hon Friend for her work. This is absolutely the sort of thing that we need to do to help local charities to understand how other charities make a success of things. I cannot promise her Government time for a debate, but I think that the matter is ideally suited for a Backbench Business Committee debate, perhaps in Westminster Hall, after that Committee is re-established.
Later today, the Prime Minister will meet my constituent, Richard Ratcliffe. At the same time, representatives from the Iranian authorities are in London to observe the International Military Services Ltd court case in the Court of Appeal. That case relates to the £400 million that we as a country owe Iran, and anyone with a passing interest in my constituent’s case will know that the debt is linked to her imprisonment. The Leader of the House said that the behaviour of the Iranian Government is unforgivable. I agree, but the behaviour of our Government is also unforgivable because we have not paid the money that we owe. I make this plea: please may we have a debate in Government time to discuss how we pay this money back to Iran so that my constituent, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, can be returned safely to West Hampstead, where she belongs, after four long years?
I thank the hon. Lady for standing up for her constituent, which she is obviously right to be doing. She has the support of both sides of the House in doing so. However, the issue that she raises is extraordinarily difficult. The British Government cannot and must not pay, or appear to pay, either in fact or in reality, money to allow people who have been illegally detained to be released. The risk that would cause to other Britons travelling abroad would be very considerable. The law must take its course in relation to the money that was deposited here, but it would be absolutely wrong to connect the two issues.
Following the reformation of the all-party group on Iran, and in the light of recent events in the middle east—and domestically, as we have just heard—will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on relations between the United Kingdom and the Islamic Republic of Iran?
This is obviously a matter of interest to many Members, as it is raised every week. The Government hear that, and I am sure the Backbench Business Committee hears it, too. As an immediate stopgap, I would point my hon. Friend to Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday 4 February.
P&O Ferries in Hull is continuing to exploit foreign seafarers, which is risking lives and costing British jobs. It proposes to replace all crews with Filipinos. A British rating works two weeks on, two weeks off and is paid fairly; a Filipino will be required to work six months on, doing 12-hour shifts and being paid £60 per day. May we have Government time to debate this really important issue? People might die.
I accept the importance of the issue and its importance for British seafarers employed by P&O. I actually think that the matter is more suitable for an Adjournment debate in the first instance, and I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to get in touch with your good offices, Mr Speaker, to see if one is available.
Will the Leader of the House kindly find time for a debate on the Wylfa Newydd nuclear project on Ynys Môn? The project is important for our balanced energy policy and approach to climate change, and for jobs, skilled employment and investment in Anglesey.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of investing in technologies that will allow us to meet our obligations on reducing emissions, and I understand her and her constituents’ disappointment that the project is not going ahead at the moment. However, the Government cannot support something that is not right for UK consumers and taxpayers. There has to be a value for money consideration as well, and suspending the project was a commercial decision for Hitachi. I think that this issue is, again, suitable for an Adjournment debate, because it is very much a constituency-level issue that has broader implications. I commend my hon. Friend for what she is doing to champion her constituents.
In view of yesterday’s shocking news that Jaguar Land Rover is to shed 500 jobs at its Halewood manufacturing plant in my constituency, may we have an early debate in Government time about what the Government are doing to support the automotive sector in the north-west and what they will do to assist my constituents who are set to lose their jobs?
Many issues are facing the car industry. Demand issues—because of changes with decarbonisation, issues involving diesel and so on—are affecting the car industry globally. This is an issue of great importance, and I think the Backbench Business Committee, when reformed, would be the ideal place to apply for a debate.
The loss of a child, as you know, Mr Speaker, brings untold pain of a kind that inspired the work that I did, led by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), on the children’s funeral fund. Last week she raised the issue of stillborn children and their fate. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to make a statement so that we can know that the parents of stillborn babies will understand what happens to those babies once they have died?
I will end with this, if you will allow me, Mr Speaker. Speaking of death, C.S. Lewis said:
“No one told me that grief felt so like fear.”
Our job is to bring hope and love, for hope and love can trump fear.
May I commend both my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for their campaign on children’s funerals, which received such widespread support across the House and was successful? The issue he raises, as I said last week, is one of importance, and historical issues need to be looked at. I will take it up with my ministerial colleagues and see whether there is any appetite or ability to provide a statement that would be helpful and bring people new information. If there is, I would encourage that to happen.
In the last Parliament, I approached the Backbench Business Committee to request a debate on the persecution of Christians to tie in with a date in November. Of course, that did not happen. May I ask the Leader of the House whether it is possible to have that debate brought forward? Some 260 million people across the world are suffering persecution, which is an important issue for many Members of the House.
I know that a couple of Members in the last Parliament were keen to ensure that the plight of persecuted Christians was raised at this slot every week, so that it was not simply forgotten about. I am well aware that the hon. Gentleman had secured a debate through the Backbench Business Committee in the last Parliament, and I encourage him to take that up with the new Backbench Business Committee, perhaps even prior to its reformation.
I congratulate the Government on an excellent start—it is great to see the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip. The reason I am trying to sound ingratiating is that I have a question of caution about 5G, and on Chinese hi-tech involvement in our critical national infrastructure and Huawei. Despite very considerable public debate outside the House, there has been almost no parliamentary debate in Government time on one of the most critical issues that will define the coming decades. How does the Leader of the House feel about this issue?
It is a matter, as my hon. Friend says, of the greatest importance to our national infrastructure and national security. The Government are deliberating extremely carefully. I suggest to my hon. Friend that next Thursday’s debate on global Britain would be an ideal time to raise the issue, as it clearly affects our place in the world. There should be some time to discuss it then.
When will the Government bring back the domestic abuse Bill? Further to questions raised in the previous Parliament by the then Member for Ashfield, will they make provision for banning people convicted of the attempted murder of their spouses from recovering any joint assets in probate and family court hearings?
The point about family assets and people who have been convicted of crimes in relation to them is very important. I hope that I can give a helpful answer on the domestic abuse Bill: I would be surprised if it were not brought back before Easter. That is not an absolute guarantee, as the hon. Lady will understand, but the Bill is very much at the forefront of the Government’s thinking and something to which they attach great importance.
May we have a debate on the role of the Council of Europe, a body that becomes much more important now that we are leaving the EU? My right hon. Friend’s predecessor as Leader of the House was very kind in saying that she would arrange a debate, but I have not yet seen one.
The Council of Europe is indeed important in its relationship to this country. May I again suggest that next week’s debate on global Britain would be a very good opportunity to raise issues relating to the Council of Europe?
One of my constituents is a childhood sexual abuse survivor. She suffers mental health problems, including agoraphobia. She was awarded the higher rate mobility component for PIP—personal independence payment—and a paper-based assessment due to the issues she has with face-to-face assessments. Her car is a lifeline that allows her to see a counsellor to help her. Since then, however, the Department for Work and Pensions tried to force a face-to-face assessment. She could not undergo that and so lost her award and her car. Can the Leader of the House advise what I can do to help her to get her a paper-based assessment and give her a wee bit of stability in life?
I think that all right hon. and hon. Members will feel that some of the issues relating to PIP that we hear about in our constituency surgeries are the hardest we have to deal with. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman—if he has not already—writes to DWP Ministers to get an answer and to see if there is any help and guidance that can come from there. If he finds that the answer is not forthcoming, I will do whatever I can to facilitate an answer. I commend him for the fight that he is putting up for his constituent, which is really the lifeblood of what all of us do as MPs.
When residents first moved into their homes in the newly built housing estate of Gamesley, they were told, “Yes, the transport links are poor, but don’t worry, a new train station will be built shortly so that you can easily get into Manchester.” Over 50 years later, Gamesley still does not have its train station. May we have a debate about improving transport links for new-build estates in rural communities so that we can finally get a train station for Gamesley?
Fifty years really is a long time, and the case that my hon. Friend brings forward should be seen as hopeless in terms of administrative efficiency. I congratulate him on leading this campaign and putting it at the forefront of what he is doing. I am not sure that, after 50 years, this will be a great comfort to him, but I understand that Transport for Greater Manchester is undertaking a further study of the feasibility of opening new stations in the Greater Manchester area. The Department for Transport is ready to discuss the business case with Transport for Greater Manchester, should it wish to seek Government funding for those projects. I have a nasty feeling that that answer was written by Sir Humphrey Appleby, so I encourage my hon. Friend to continue campaigning in the hope that in the next few years something will happen.
The Leader of the House will be more aware than most that the situation on the perimeter of the Estate becomes extremely threatening at times, with abuse and threats to Members, and particularly women Members in my experience. Has he given any thought to the reintroduction of Sessional Orders?
They don’t work.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—it is such a pleasure to be heckled from the Chair. I thought that that had stopped with the last Parliament, but never mind.
I completely understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I happen to think that the situation is much, much better in this new Parliament than it was in the last. I have noticed that coming and going is much less shouty, which is a very good thing. I have an historic affection for Sessional Orders, but noises off are right that their legal enforceability is, regrettably, questionable. We have to think about whether that could be given a legislative basis, but possibly Government time does not allow for that.
Redditch stands ready to benefit from the 5G revolution, and Amazon is poised to bring highly skilled digital and tech jobs to our fantastic town. Unfortunately, the 5G roll-out seems to have hit an “administrative inefficiency”, as the Leader of the House said, so can we please have a debate about 5G roll-out so that it can benefit towns such as Redditch?
We have one piece of very good news: our current Prime Minister is a great cutter of Gordian knots, and where there is administrative inefficiency, the Alexander the Great of our time will be cutting these Gordian knots to ensure that 5G roll-out, which is a high priority of Government policy, will in fact happen. I hope that it will happen in Redditch within 50 years, unlike the railway station.
Can we have a debate on my early-day motion 87, which pays tribute to my late constituent, the author, artist and prophet, Alasdair Gray, who passed away on 29 December and who will be very sorely missed by the artistic community across Scotland and around the world?
[That this House is deeply saddened at the passing of Glasgow-born artist, author and creative genius, Alasdair Gray, who died on 29 December 2019 aged 85, and sends its condolences and best wishes to all knew him; notes that Alasdair studied at the Glasgow School of Art, and became famous for his murals across the city, including Arcadia Theme, the stairwell mural in the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant on Ashton Lane, the ceiling of the Oran Mor auditorium, considered to be the largest public work of art in Scotland, and his most recent, the 40 foot mural for the entrance hall of Hillhead subway station in the West End of Glasgow, which includes local landmarks and, in Alasdair’s own words, a section devoted to “all kinds of folk” and “folk of all kinds”; further notes that his body of work included the novels Lanark, and 1982, Janine, plays including The Fall of Kelvin Walker, and many works of poetry, short stories and polemic including Why Scots Should Rule Scotland, first published in 1992; believes that Alasdair’s works have influenced, engaged, inspired and entertained many generations of artists and society at large, and that these works will continue to do so, representing a fitting legacy for a cultural giant.]
Will the Government pay tribute to this genius of a man whose work enhanced so many public spaces in Glasgow and whose plea,
“Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”
has inspired so many around the world?
I cannot promise a debate on Mr Gray, but I will pray for his soul.
Given the discussions on the whereabouts of the House of Lords, can we have a possible statement about moving the House of Lords to Harlow in Essex? We have strong transport links to the north; we are a sculpture town; we invented fibre optics; we have an enterprise zone; we have Public Health England moving to Harlow; and we have a new hospital being built soon, in case their lordships feel poorly.
What an excellent idea. Right hon. and hon. Members will know that Parliament does not have to be in Westminster and that in the middle ages, Parliament darted around all over the country—it met in Leicester and Shrewsbury, and the last Parliament to meet outside London met in Oxford. Therefore, if we were to become a peripatetic Parliament, we would be able to meet in Harlow and all sorts of exciting places. My hon. Friend’s pitch for Harlow has fallen on ripe soil and will be very well received, particularly in the other place—I think they could think of nothing finer.
Luton station in my constituency is falling apart, the roof has leaked for years and it is not fit for purpose. Many Members have raised their unhappiness with poor rail services, but I would like to ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the level of investment in railway stations in large towns such as Luton.
That is a very important point. I have noticed that many questions are raised on the general railway provision in this country. In relation to specific constituency issues, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), is holding meetings with all Members—any Members who want to go—and I suggest to the hon. Lady that it would be a good idea to seek one of those meetings to persuade him of the necessity of what she is recommending.
The House, and indeed the nation, was misled about the true cost of HS2, so perhaps the Leader of the House could tell us when the Government actually intend to publish the full costs, when there will be a debate on them, whether that debate will be in Government time, whether there will be a vote at the end of it and what the purpose of such a vote will be.
I think “misled” is a harsh word. The costs have risen, but I do not think there was any deliberate intention to hide the rise in the costs. Inevitably, these issues will come back to the House. A review is going on at the moment, and once that is completed, I am sure the Secretary of State for Transport will want to come to the House and explain what has happened.
With a majority Tory Government now in place, it seems highly likely that most over-75s will lose their free TV licences come June. Could we have a debate or a statement to highlight what discussions have been held with the BBC, what the current position is and whether there is any glimmer of hope that this popular policy might be protected?
It is indeed a popular policy, and the BBC should think carefully about whether it really wants to penalise some of its most loyal supporters and place this extra burden on them from later in the year. I seem to remember that the BBC agreed to take it on, and it has now decided that it is not going to continue with that. That is a great shame.
It has come to light in recent weeks that the new hon. Member for Bridgend (Dr Wallis) has a back story that is not necessarily fitting for an elected representative. Where checks and other measures in the Tory party have proven wilfully inadequate, especially in Wales, who is responsible? The chair of the UK Conservatives washed his hands of the matter on Sky last Sunday. Can we have a statement from the Government to clarify to the electorate where the buck stops? Is it with the chair of the Welsh Conservatives or the Prime Minister?
We may debate the conduct of Members only on a specific motion.
The Leader of the House will appreciate that our prison officers work in dangerous conditions, dealing with some of the most violent offenders in our society. However, prison officers are now expected to work until they are approaching the age of 70, despite the serious health and safety implications. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement setting out why the Government believe that prison officers should not be afforded the same consideration as uniformed emergency workers such as police officers and firefighters, who can retire at 60?
The work of prison officers deserves particular commendation, in that it must be some of the hardest public service work to carry out. The question of retirement needs to be looked into carefully, depending on the work that people do, but with an increase in life expectancy, it has been completely reasonable to raise the retirement age generally.
Is the Leader of the House aware of just how many people around the world cannot fulfil their potential because they have no access to education? Could we have an early debate on women’s right to education worldwide, and could we, as legislators, use our parliamentary groups worldwide to work together to secure that right?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, because it is important. It is an important part of Government policy and, indeed, of the work being done by the Department for International Development to ensure that a basic standard of education is available for all girls, and taxpayers’ money is being used to promote that. His suggestion that all parties in this House get together to contribute energy to ensure that that happens is absolutely right. If there is anything I can do to facilitate that, I hope he will let me know.
Over here on the SNP Benches, we are oxter-deep in Burns season. Will the Leader of the House congratulate the Bridgeton Burns Club on its 150th anniversary and the work it does with young people, particularly in its schools competition, which inspires a love of Burns in children from the age of five right up to the end of secondary school, and can we have a debate on the contribution of Robert Burns to society?
Let me indeed congratulate the society on its 150th anniversary, and what a fantastic opportunity to celebrate it is. I wish all Scottish Members of the House, and other Members who participate, a very jolly Burns night—or a succession of jolly Burns nights, because it seems to be more than one particular night. I commend that vast quantities of haggis be eaten, because—you may be surprised to hear this, Mr Speaker—I have always thought it rather delicious.
I think so as well.
I recently had occasion to try to navigate the procedures of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the House’s Human Resources Department to establish what should be done when a member of staff in a constituency office is unwell. It was very difficult and very complicated. That was not the fault of any one individual, but systems do not talk to each other and this system does not work very well. Apparently, there is no HR function relating to staff who work in constituencies, and there is a huge gap where they are not getting the support that they need.
Will the Leader of the House do all that he can to ensure that a good HR system is set up for members of staff who work in constituencies? There are several thousand of them. Will he also do all that he can, when looking into the cost of IPSA and what we spend our money on, to ensure that we have enough resources to protect people who are unwell and need our support?
Let me make two points. First, will any Member who is experiencing such issues please get in touch with the House authorities to see whether we are able to help? Whether the relevant authority is my office, Mr Speaker’s office or the office of the Clerk of the House, everyone will try to help if there are disconnects between the various bodies that serve us as Members. Secondly, I hope that I am not giving too much away by saying that the issue of the HR service is being considered by the Commission, and it is on our schedule of work at the moment.
One of the major issues in my constituency, which particularly affects residents of Blantyre, is the alleged mis-selling of energy efficiency products by the now defunct company HELMS— Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd—which was approved under the Government’s green deal scheme. May we have a statement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on how it intends to accelerate its complaints process to ensure that affected customers can secure a fair and speedy resolution?
Obviously, mis-selling scandals are extremely serious. I suggest that in the first instance the hon. Lady should raise the matter at the next BEIS questions session to get an answer out of Ministers, or should table a series of written questions. That is a more suitable way of dealing with it than a debate at this stage.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) rightly raised the issue of job losses in Halewood, the Leader of the House suggested that a Westminster Hall debate might be a good thing. Two years ago I held such a debate, raising the issue of those fears and threats. May I suggest that we should have a debate in the Chamber, recognising the threats posed by future trade deals and the comments made by the Chancellor at the weekend and again yesterday?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to what I said earlier. This is a really important issue, and one that is part of an international change in economics and demand. The Backbench Business Committee is given time in the Chamber, and I think that if the hon. Gentleman feels that a debate in the Chamber would be more suitable, that is a route worth considering.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) raised the issue of the scandal of mis-selling of green deal products by companies approved by the UK Government. I have been working on this for the last three and a half years. There has been question after question in this place, there has been a Westminster Hall debate, there is an all-party parliamentary group on green deal mis-selling, and numerous formal complaints have been sent to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but there is no consistency in the responses. I think it is time for a proper debate in Government time—or a statement, as my hon. Friend suggested—because we really need to find a solution that works for everyone.
The hon. Lady has made a valid point, but all of us, as right hon. and hon. Members, recognise that using the procedures of the House is something that one has to keep on doing to hold the Government to account, and it is my job to facilitate the use of those procedures.
My question relates to that very point about holding the Government to account. As the Leader of the House will know, the public inquiry relating to infected blood is likely to report in 2022, but in the light of continuing concerns about the financial support that is offered and the disparity between the nations in that regard, the fact that on average one person is dying every 96 hours and the lack of compensation, may we please have a statement from a Minister to update us on progress on those specific issues, and also on the inquiry and the emotional counselling support that should be made available to those affected?
The hon. Lady cleverly ensured that she was called when the Health Secretary was sitting next to me. The message has therefore been heard by an authority that is greater than mine when it comes to dealing with this issue, and health questions will take place next Tuesday. Let me add, however, that the inquiry is an absolute priority for the Government, recognising the dreadful, desperate scandal of infected blood, and also recognising the hon. Lady’s formidable and right campaign to make sure that people are aware of it. The Department of Health and Social Care has increased financial support to beneficiaries of the infected blood support scheme in England, and it is looking as a matter of urgency at the issue that she mentioned in relation to the differences between the schemes in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The Secretary of State is here and has heard her point.
Constituents of mine who are leaseholders recently received a letter from a firm of solicitors called JB Leitch about some outstanding ground rent. What was particularly outrageous about the letter was that it included additional fees for late payment equivalent to 222% of the original ground rent charge, despite this being the first correspondence that my constituents had received on the matter. That is typical of the way in which leaseholders are being exploited in this country. May we please have a debate on how we can stamp out these terrible practices?
The Government are well aware of that issue, and I think that it might well be covered by legislation that is in the pipeline. I think that that would be the occasion on which to debate it.
Two weeks ago at business questions, the Leader of the House told me that I was under “a misapprehension” when I said that his Government were
“shamefully backsliding on commitments to child refugees”.—[Official Report, 9 January 2020; Vol. 669, c. 632.]
They are the most vulnerable children. However, it has become plain this week that the Government are backsliding, so will he give me a statement explaining—which he failed to do when I asked him previously—what assessment his Government have made of the impact of their turning their back on the wellbeing of these children?
The hon. Lady is under a misapprehension—first of all that it is my Government. It is Her Majesty’s Government, and it is worth remembering that. I have not risen to such giddy heights. The fundamental point is that Government policy has not changed. Government policy is determined to look after child refugees. The point of not having this in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is that the Bill is about leaving the European Union, not about child refugees. We are going to continue with the policy, and as I have said, 40,000 child refugees have come to this country since 2010. This is a matter of high priority for the Government, and the commitment is absolutely there, so I am sorry to say that the misapprehension remains.
Last but certainly never least, Judith Cummins.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Leader of the House, and indeed the whole House, join me in paying tribute to the rugby league legend Rob Burrow, who was recently diagnosed with motor neurone disease? The moving testimonial at Headingley showed the true spirit of the sport. Continuing on the rugby league theme, and following on from the prestigious award to our very own Mr Speaker by the all-party parliamentary rugby league group for his outstanding service to the game, may we have a debate in Government time on the opportunities that the 2021 world cup being held in England will bring?
May I join the hon. Lady in her tribute? Motor neurone disease is a terrible and frightening disease, and coping with it, and coping with it in public, must be a great burden. The debate that she has suggested would, to my mind, be a wise suggestion for the Backbench Business Committee.
I am absolutely with Rob Burrow, and I am sure that the whole House would like to send him their best wishes and support.