Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next 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 a motion to approve a statutory instrument, 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 local government finance followed by a debate on transport. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.
Thursday 6 February—General debate on historical stillbirth burials and cremations followed by a general debate on the persecution of Christians.
Friday 7 February—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
Monday 10 February—Second Reading of the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill followed by, motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2020 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2020.
Tuesday 11 February—Second Reading of the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill, followed by Opposition half day (3rd allotted day—first part). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National Party.
Wednesday 12 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.
Thursday 13 February—General debate: subject to be confirmed.
Friday 14 February—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. May I start by asking him to clarify the new system that UK Visas and Immigration has put in place? There is a central system, and I was told yesterday that, if I was to write a letter and then ring, I would not get a written response. It is right that if Members write to UKVI, they should get that written response. I would be grateful if he could clarify that.
There is clearly time in the business to update the House on any ongoing negotiations. I am referring, albeit subtly, to negotiations to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anousheh, Kylie and other British hostages. Given that we have a debate on global Britain, I wondered whether anyone would update the House on that. It was raised last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq).
The Leader of the House has very kindly given us the dates of sitting Fridays up to January 2021. Can he confirm that this Session will end in May, and that there will be a new Queen’s Speech? Everybody is working to that timetable, so it would be helpful to have that confirmation.
I want to congratulate all the new Select Committee Chairs, but we wait for the machinery of Government to announce some changes, and we hope that that will happen inside this House, not outside it. Clearly, the Department for Exiting the European Union is no more as of 11 pm tomorrow. With parliamentary sovereignty in place, is the Leader of the House able to say which Ministers will be answering questions and appearing before the Exiting the European Union Committee, which still exists? No. 10 has said this:
“The negotiations on the future relationship with the EU will be led from a Taskforce Europe team within Number 10…reporting directly to the Prime Minister.”
How will this taskforce be subject to any parliamentary scrutiny?
There is more taking back control to No. 10, rather than parliamentary scrutiny—which is why we are all here. The Government removed clause 31 from what became the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. We would have had a vote on trade negotiating objectives, regular reporting during negotiations and a final vote on a final UK-EU trade deal. I thought that people voted in the referendum to take back sovereignty, so can the Leader of the House say why MEPs in Brussels have more say over the UK-EU future relationship than this House? Can we have a debate on parliamentary sovereignty generally and scrutiny of these negotiations specifically?
The Leader of the House will recall these words on Huawei’s involvement in our telecommunications network. It is a “bad policy decision” that risks
“alienating our closest defence allies, and potentially putting at risk our communication system.”
As someone said, was the Education Secretary stitched up for being right? Can the Leader of the House answer his own question? Will he also find time for a further statement on this decision, as, I think, negotiations are still ongoing? Discussions are still going on with No. 10. This affects our national security, and the Government appear not to have made the case—not even on their own side.
We seem now to have policy by press release. The Prime Minister announced a new talent visa, but no immigration Bill. He says that he wants to attract people of talent. We do, too—this country is brimming with talent that austerity has not allowed to flourish. It is a two-way system. We want the exchange that enables our talented people to work and live abroad. That is why Erasmus was so important. More than 17,000 students at UK universities study or work abroad. Earlier this month, the Government voted down the amendment on Erasmus, and yesterday the Prime Minister said that a statement was due, so can we have that sooner rather than later? It is sad that the Government do not want to be patriotic and invest in our own talent.
Finally, as we leave the EU, let us remember the following: the more than 3 million UK jobs linked to our trade with the EU, which the CBI has estimated to be worth 4% to 5% of GDP, or £62 billion to £72 billion a year; the right to paid holiday leave; maximum working hours; equal treatment for men and women; health and safety standards; and EU investment in climate finance for emerging countries. Let me say something about parliamentary sovereignty, for the record. It was set out by John Laws, in the case of the metric martyrs, which many people will know—he happens to be the uncle of someone who works in No. 10. He said that rights created by the EU must be incorporated into UK law and take precedence, but the legal basis of that supremacy rests with Parliament. Parliament delegated that power to the EU and could take it away at any time—Parliament was always sovereign. Just as the EU evolved, so it will again.
I hope that the Leader of the House will join me in thanking all the public servants who have worked in the EU, our elected representatives, commissioners and civil servants—those who have served their country and put the UK at the heart of Europe. We hope that peace, the security of our citizens and the co-operation of nearly 50 years will live on. Auld acquaintance will never be forgot.
If I may, I will begin with the specific question on UK Visas and Immigration. It is extremely important that Members get proper responses from all Government Departments, and Departments have strict guidelines on responding to Members that they must follow. I understand that there were issues when Members wrote as candidates during the election and did not receive full responses. It seems to me completely obvious that Members who have been returned should receive responses as Members, regardless of whether or not the House was dissolved at the point at which they wrote. I think that it would be bureaucratic folderol to say that they were not Members on the date the letter was sent, even though they are Members now. I will certainly ensure that the relevant Home Office Minister is aware of that.
The right hon. Lady, as always, quite rightly raised the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Since our last business questions, the Prime Minister has met Mr Ratcliffe. The British Government remain extremely concerned about the welfare of British-Iranian dual nationals. The treatment of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been appalling. It is something that should not be done by civilised nations that are part of the international community. The Government are in regular contact with her family and with the Iranian authorities, and we continue to push for a proper outcome and for her release, but this has taken much longer than anyone would have hoped.
As for the length of the Session, we have given dates up until Christmas, so we have been quite generous, really. We in Her Majesty’s Government are doing our best to keep people fully informed, and I am sure that we will continue to do so.
I add my congratulations to those that the right hon. Lady offered to Members who have been elected to chair Select Committees. The elections were a very successful enterprise. I am pleased that the House has managed to get proper scrutiny up and running reasonably quickly and in accordance with our Standing Orders. We now wait to hear from the respective parties on their nominees for the membership of Select Committees. Everything is going ahead in a pretty timely manner.
As for the machinery of government changes, DExEU will indeed cease to exist on 31 January, and the schedule of questions will be announced in due course. The right hon. Lady must be pleased that these matters are going to Downing Street, because the Prime Minister is regularly accountable. It is not quite on the hour every hour, but every Wednesday at 12.30 pm the Prime Minister is here to answer questions.
Prime Minister’s questions are at 12 o’clock.
Yes, that is right. We all know when he is here: 12 o’clock on Wednesdays for half an hour, to 12.30 pm—you keep it running to time punctiliously, Mr Speaker. It means that anything that is going to No. 10 will have proper scrutiny weekly.
I am absolutely delighted that the right hon. Lady has been imbued with the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) over the decades about the importance of parliamentary sovereignty—dare I say that there is more joy in heaven over the one sinner who repenteth than the 99 who are not in need of repentance? I am glad that parliamentary sovereignty is now being taken seriously across the House, rather than being focused in that fantastic corner over there on the Government Back Benches, where I used to sit in happy times.
Or recline, indeed.
The right hon. Lady referred to talent. I am glad to say that this is a country full of talent and a Government led by very talented people, who are making great successes of the nation. She also mentioned the Erasmus programme. It is worth bearing in mind that the Erasmus programme includes countries such as Canada and Israel, and therefore is not an exclusively EU activity, so it is perfectly possible for us to be involved with Erasmus outside the European Union; statements will be made in due time.
Order. Mr Speaker has indicated that he wishes business questions to run for approximately 45 minutes. Obviously not everybody will get in, so I encourage short questions and short responses.
The health service is confronted with another baby deaths controversy in Kent, and a whistleblowing scandal in West Suffolk at the Health Secretary’s own local hospital. When are the Government going to reintroduce the health service safety investigations Bill, which had its Second Reading in the other place before the election, had its pre-legislative scrutiny under my chairmanship in the last Parliament and is ready to go? One might say that it is oven-ready, so when does my right hon. Friend think it will be reintroduced?
It is a Bill to which the Government attach considerable importance, as it would be a transformation in the way in which patient safety incidents in the NHS are investigated, and would be a world first. The date for its return has not been set, but it will be brought forward in this Session.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) is attending the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe today—I am sure the Leader of the House will accept that, because of the importance of maintaining cordial relations with our friends and neighbours in Europe in the months and years to come.
I join the congratulations to all Members elected as Chairs of Select Committees, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart)—who should be right honourable by now—and my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil).
We are grateful for the time provided to the Scottish National party on 11 February. I hope that that time will be protected, as it is only a half day. There are still several Opposition days lying around from previous terms that I hope will be honoured in due course over this Session.
We are looking forward to the convening of the English Parliament next week, when the House resolves itself into the Legislative Grand Committee for England to discuss the NHS Funding Bill. The Leader of the House will see that SNP Members have tabled amendments to that Bill, because we deem some of its contents to be of interest to our constituents. I would therefore be grateful if he could explain what opportunity there will be for Members from Scotland to have their say on this important piece of legislation, which will have funding consequentials for the Scottish budget.
Communities across Scotland will gather tomorrow to say au revoir but not adieu to our fellow members of the European Union. I just want to caution the Government about any kind of triumphalism about all this. Tomorrow is not the end of Brexit. It is only the beginning. As encouraged by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) when he was in the European Parliament, many in the European Union will be leaving a light on for Scotland, so that in the fullness of time we can use those lights to find our way back to Europe, as an independent member state.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I am very keen that we should maintain cordial relations with our friends in the European Union, but without being governed by them. That seems to me an extremely satisfactory way to be proceeding from now on. We do not want to be triumphalist about it, but I think that in a spirit of sympathy to Europe, it would be allowable for some of us at 11 o’clock on Friday to drink some French sparkling wine; I do not think that would be unduly unreasonable.
The Legislative Grand Committee will meet to consider the NHS Funding Bill, because it is a matter that relates exclusively to England and has been so certified, but amendments may be tabled in Committee and on Report, and, as SNP Members know because they used this unusual mechanism recently, even on Third Reading—although they cannot actually change the text on Third Reading, as that has to be done on Report. There are opportunities for amendment, and in the end all Acts of this Parliament require the consent of the whole House by majority.
I will just say one thing about leaving the lights on: I thought the SNP was very environmentally friendly, so I hope it is carefully investigating the carbon cost of this.
I am very concerned about the drop in bus usage in my constituency. A lack of bus shelters too often puts people off using buses. What opportunities might there be to debate what can be done to level up some parts of Stoke-on-Trent with parts of London that have state-of-the-art, solar-powered and vandal-proof bus shelters that provide up-to-the-minute travel information?
This Government are taking the matter of bus transport extremely seriously and are going to devote some hundreds of millions of pounds to improving bus services across the country. My hon. Friend is right that that includes providing good shelters and up-to-date information, which encourages people to use the buses more often.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. Will he urge his right hon. and hon. Friends in his business unit to get the appointments to the Backbench Business Committee done as soon as possible, as I also urge my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House to do? I understand that the Scottish National party has already made its nominations. We would love to get the Committee up and running as soon as possible so that it can help out the Leader of the House in determining business.
I entirely agree with that. We will work on this as fast as possible. We took up suggestions from the Backbench Business Committee for next Thursday, which would ideally be the Backbench Business day.
May I urge my right hon. Friend to recall the cross-party concern about the misbehaviour of many online betting companies and the growing drive towards addiction as a result of that misbehaviour? Given that, will he encourage the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to call in the Gambling Commission, which now refuses to release the name of the individual who owns Betway? Nobody knows where its money comes from, and it seems absurd that in this circumstance we cannot now find out. It is time we got to the bottom of this.
My right hon. Friend has been a formidable champion on this and played a crucial role in reducing the maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals, which was of great importance to many people. I know that the issues he raises are of concern across the House. I have heard what he has said, and I will make sure that the relevant Department knows too.
Recently British Gas changed from the PayPoint system to Payzone. Despite assurances from British Gas that post offices in South Shields would be equipped to accept these payments, they were not. This left many vulnerable people across my constituency without heating or hot water. Will the Leader of the House seek some clarification from his Government colleagues on how they can help my constituents to get some recompense?
This is an important issue that affects many of us. I have indeed written on behalf of my own constituents about this matter, because the number of places to pay has been reduced significantly in North East Somerset as well. The issue the hon. Lady raises is one the Government need to look into to see how it is being dealt with. We must keep on raising it until it is made possible for people to pay their bills easily and in a way that ensures that they can keep their heating running.
Given the spiralling cost of repair work to the Elizabeth Tower, can we have a debate in Government time about the wider R and R programme so that the huge budget that has already been allocated to it does not spiral out of control as well?
Indeed. Restoration and renewal is a House responsibility rather than a Government one, and therefore it is only right that, with a new House of Commons, new Members should be able to express their views and to have a full understanding of what is happening with the project. It may well be that the Backbench Business Committee will consider a debate, but I have certainly heard the request for a debate in Government time.
Wonga mis-sold millions- worth of debt to lots of very poor people up and down the country. It was forced to pay compensation to those people, but now, because the company has gone bust, the average amount of money that people are going to get is just 4.2% of that compensation. In other words, if they were meant to get £1,800, they are going to get £72. Surely that is unfair. Should not the Government set up a compensation scheme to meet the full figures now?
With all these matters relating to Government expenditure, there is limited taxpayers’ money—the Government cannot pay for everything, and it will be a question of priorities as to whether this compensation is paid or whether money goes to other deserving and important causes. There is not unlimited money available.
Can we have a statement on Nigeria before Thursday’s debate, so that we can understand whether the exponential increase in Christian persecution there is a consequence of the country’s Government losing control or, more sinisterly, being in control?
There is no satisfying some people, including my right hon. Friend. We have the debate on Thursday, but in saying that, I do not want to underemphasise the importance of the issue, which is a very troubling one. It is one that the Government take very seriously, and the scale and severity of violations of freedom of religious belief in not only Nigeria but many parts of the world is something that the Government are taking up. The debate will be an opportunity for everybody to raise their concerns and for the Government to make a proper response.
I recently asked a written question about the Government’s LGBT action plan in 2018, and specifically the promise to bring forward legislation to make gay conversion therapy illegal in this country. I have not had a firm answer yet. I am sure the Leader of the House appreciates that this issue is personally offensive to many of us in this place. Can he give me some assurance on when this will come before the House and when we will know what the Government intend to do?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that, because I very much see it as part of my role to be a facilitator for Members across the House when replies are not received both in a timely manner and in a way that answers the question that has been raised. I cannot answer her question personally—it is not within my orbit of responsibility—but I will ensure that the relevant Minister is aware of the need for a prompt and full answer.
Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on football governance and the way that footballing authorities represent the interests of fans? The expulsion from the Football League of Bury football club in my constituency has been disastrous for my town both economically and socially, and it is not fair that the footballing authorities have done nothing to protect the interests of lifelong Bury fans, who are distraught at the loss of their football club. I would not wish to see supporters of other clubs treated in the same way as Bury fans.
I thank my hon. Friend for the enormous amount of work he has done on that. Even those of us who do not know much about football, which is a class I fall into, know that football clubs are at the heart of their local communities and play an important role in social cohesion. He is absolutely right to champion his local football club. In this instance, I encourage him to seek a debate in Westminster Hall, which is the best place to start this discussion.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House knows anything about rugby, because the Six Nations starts this weekend, with the defending grand slam champions, Wales, kicking off against Italy. The television rights for this 120-year-old tournament are up for renegotiation soon, and the Government are refusing to put the Six Nations on the A-list of listed events. Can we have a debate about listed events and the importance of protecting our sporting heritage?
To be honest, cricket is about the only sport I know much about, though it has faced the same issue regarding rights, which is an important one. There is a balance for the sports to decide as to whether they want the extra revenue they get from being entirely commercial, or whether they want the extra exposure they get from being on terrestrial television. While we are on cricket, may I congratulate the England cricket team on their fantastic performance in South Africa, which was a joy for all to behold?
Next week, I intend to introduce a private Member’s Bill to create a bank holiday on the Friday closest to 23 June every year, to be called “United Kingdom day”, so that the country can celebrate sovereignty and the Union of our four great nations. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week saying whether the Government will support that proposal, be neutral or oppose it?
Oddly, that falls under my responsibility as Lord President of the Council because bank holidays come from royal proclamations. I wonder, however, if I might steer my hon. Friend. Would it not be nicer, if we are going to ask for a new holiday in June, to have, as some other countries have, a Queen’s birthday holiday? That is rather more in keeping with our traditions than the slightly—I do not know—republican sounding “UK day”.
People in the communities of Blaydon, Winlaton, Greenside and Ryton in my constituency continue to have their lives made a misery by litter escapes and bad smells from Blaydon Quarry landfill site. It is plain unacceptable. Can we have a debate in Government time on the adverse impact of landfill sites on local communities?
I do accept that litter in all its forms is a great blight on communities and that landfill sites that overspill can be particularly problematic. Because it is such a constituency-specific issue, this is a matter to raise in the first instance in an Adjournment debate.
Whether it is the new Siemens train factory in Goole, the rail we make at the steelworks in Scunthorpe or the increased capacity on our railways—or, indeed, the new HS2 college in Donny—a positive decision for HS2 will bring huge benefits to my region. Can the Leader of the House please tell us when we are going to get the statement outlining the decision in favour, I hope, of HS2?
The Prime Minister, who is a high authority on this matter, said in Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday that a statement would be coming out shortly.
The House of Lords is populated by retired or rejected MPs, as well as being the only legislature in the world in which clerics sit—aside, of course, from that other beacon of democracy, Iran. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out why he thinks an unelected, unaccountable Chamber is appropriate in a democracy?
I can think of another country where clerics have considerable sway, and that is of course the Vatican, which is ruled by the Holy Father, with considerable authority. The House of Lords is a revising Chamber, and as a revising Chamber it plays an important role in our constitution, but it is absolutely right that, under the two Parliament Acts, this House has seniority and has the ability to insist on its will, if necessary.
Two years ago, the conventional armed forces narrowly escaped devastating and irreversible cuts because they had been trapped in a combined intelligence, security and defence review within a limited financial envelope. To avoid this happening again, will the Leader of the House obtain a statement from the Government that the next defence and security combined review will take place before, and not after, the comprehensive spending review?
My right hon. Friend is one of the most well-informed and distinguished figures in this House on matters of defence, and he served with considerable distinction as Chairman of the Defence Committee. I think his direct application to Ministers will probably have the effect he desires.
I was recently contacted by my constituent Yuko Moore, who has lived and worked in the United Kingdom for 13 years and was granted indefinite leave to remain. She is hard-working and is a valued worker in the care sector. Yuko has been told that she will need to purchase a biometric residency permit, and that she will need to do so every five years at a cost of £248 every time. This charge needs to be dropped for people who have lived and worked in this country for many years. May we have a debate on this Government’s hostile attitude to incomers and the fact that we will continue to live with its impact for many years to come?
The hon. Lady raises a matter that is no doubt of concern to many MPs when these charges come through. There are Home Office questions on Monday 10 February, and I would encourage her to raise it at that point. There has to be a balance and a fairness between the charges that are made to fund the immigration system and ensuring that people who have a right to remain—an indefinite right to remain—are not unfairly charged.
Is it not about time that we had a debate on the Church of England and sex? No sooner had my Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 become effective, and many happy couples have got hitched since new year’s eve, than the Church of England issued an edict to say that it does not approve of sex within civil partnerships—same-sex or opposite-sex. Not only is that wholly unrealistic, but it is deeply offensive in relation to the status of children born to civil partners. I know my right hon. Friend takes his inspiration from the Church of Rome, rather than from the established Church, but does he not agree, dispassionately, that the Church of England has lost the plot?
I never criticise the Church of England as I am not a member of it. In the Catholic Church these subjects are not a matter for debate—we merely get told by the hierarchy, which does simplify matters to some extent. Given that my hon. Friend wants to ask questions, there are questions to the Church Commissioners next week, and I am sure that the person who responds will be delighted to hear them.
A report this week shows that bus journeys in the north-east have fallen by 17% since 2009. That is not because of improvements to our rail infrastructure; it is because of excessive prices and slashed services. For £1.50 I can get across the whole of London—30 miles—but only four stops up the road in Newcastle. May we have a debate about improving bus services in the north-east? The Leader of the House says that bus services are important to the Government, but we see no way of taking back control so that we can improve and properly fund them.
I reiterate the point I made earlier: there is a £220 million fund to transform our bus services through the national bus strategy, which is a significant amount of money, but the hon. Lady’s point is well made and does not fall on stony ground. There is a widespread feeling that bus services have been the poor relation in the transport system, particularly outside London, and people expect a better service. The Government are providing funding to help with that.
Residents in Pilsley in my constituency are indebted to Sheila Baldwin, and others, for collecting 600 signatures to oppose the closure of the local health centre by Staffa Health. A lot of the consultation process was done online, and Sheila does not have access to the internet. May we have a debate about online consultations, and about how to ensure that residents in villages, particularly rural villages, are able to take part in consultations on closures?
My hon. Friend makes a good point that not everybody is online, and I commend him for the campaign with which he has been so closely involved. That is a model for how MPs ought to stick up for their constituents. Trying to ensure that those who are not part of the online world are able to make representations as easily and as well as those who are is important. Manuscript petitions can be presented to the House of Commons every evening, and I have often found that a worthwhile thing to do.
Will the Leader of the House schedule time for an emergency debate on late-cancelled operations? Chris Gibbons is a constituent of mine. He lives with severe pain and is scheduled to have a knee replacement operation, but it has just been cancelled for the seventh time. Some of those cancellations have happened when he has been in hospital getting ready for the operation. When the Leader of the House gets to his feet, will he start by apologising to Mr Gibbons? When Mr Gibbons goes in for his eighth scheduled operation, will the Leader of the House say that it will happen?
The hon. Gentleman raises a concerning issue, and all constituency MPs worry on behalf of their constituents when operations are cancelled. That cancellation has happened seven times, and of course I apologise to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. That is the least I can do, although I am not sure that my apology will be a great comfort to him.
Can you guarantee the next one?
I cannot guarantee the next one as I do not have that authority. That is a matter for NHS England, rather than for the Secretary of State, and it is certainly not a responsibility of mine personally. The NHS has a constant battle to improve on this issue. The percentage of cancelled operations is low, but knowing that is not a great deal of comfort to the person whose operation has been cancelled.
The market town of Knaresborough in my constituency is a strong community of 15,000 people. This week, the last bank in the town announced that it will close in a few weeks, and the nearest bank will be a few miles away. That is a troubling development, so may we have a debate to discuss the impact of bank branch closures and how people can access financial services, whether for business or personal use?
That issue is raised regularly at these sessions, and my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury is meeting a number of Members of Parliament to discuss it. The closure of banks is a commercial decision, but it is important that people, especially those in rural communities, have access to financial services.
Now that the Government have decided they are going to invest in the north, may I ask the Leader of the House to make a statement on how English MPs from the regions can go about scrutinising the Government’s plans? In light of the fact that Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs have that function through their Select Committees, is it not time to bring back Committees with a regional focus?
There is regular opportunity to question Ministers at departmental question times and in a succession of debates. There were indeed regional Select Committees, but as far as I am aware they were not very successful.
May we have a debate about ophthalmology and the contribution made by opticians to public health? My local opticians tell me that the fees they receive from the NHS have not risen, even by inflation, for nearly 20 years. Programmes such as diabetic eye screening have in my area been awarded exclusively to a single private provider. It is making their lives hard and, in some cases, threatening the viability of these valued local businesses.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important and interesting point. Opticians can, through eye tests, find out important things about people’s more general health. That is part of the very valued role they carry out. I am bound to point the hon. Gentleman in the direction of the Backbench Business Committee, because I think a debate on this issue may well have widespread support.
May I add my voice to calls for a debate on bank branch closures? Lloyds Banking Group announced dozens of branch closures yesterday, including one in Holmfirth in my constituency. At a time when the Government are investing in rejuvenating our high streets, we need to debate Lloyds Banking Group, which is making £2.2 billion in statutory profit and can afford a remuneration package of £6.3 million for its boss. Surely, it should be investing in community banking?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his important question. As I said, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury is meeting MPs to discuss that matter. It is important that people have access to banking services, but it is ultimately a commercial decision for the banks.
On behalf of constituents who are contractors, may I ask the Leader of the House again for a debate on the IR35 change, which is fast coming upon us in April? There is much concern out there about the scope of the review. It needs to be paused and looked at again.
I cannot really add much to what I said to the hon. Lady the last time. A review is being carried out. This is a matter of great concern to constituents across the country, and the hon. Lady is absolutely right that people need to know what tax they will be expected to pay before the beginning of the tax year in which they will be expected to pay it.
Many Carshalton and Wallington residents are angry that the Liberal Democrat council is planning to introduce controlled parking zones across large parts of the constituency. Some are appropriate and needed, but many are not and many people cannot afford the permits. May we have a debate on the implementation of controlled parking zones, in particular the cost of permits, so that residents cannot get ripped off by incompetent councils?
It seems to me that my hon. Friend raises a very important issue. There is nothing more annoying, nor does it bear down on people in a more irritating way, than pettifogging rules being introduced by incompetent councils in search of moneygrubbing schemes to get money out of hardworking taxpayers.
This week the Greater Manchester Co-operative Commission delivered its report, which was accepted in its entirety, to Mayor Andy Burnham. May we have a debate in Government time on the value of the co-operative sector to the UK economy?
One of the issues about things being devolved is that the authority then rests there rather than necessarily coming immediately back to the House for debate, but it may well be suitable for an Adjournment debate.
Many people want convenient local access to high quality end-of-life care. May we have a debate in Government time on social care reform and how it might help to provide localised end-of-life care?
My hon. Friend will know that the Conservative manifesto committed to trying to set up a cross-party commission with the aim of establishing proposals for social care, and end-of-life care is an important part of that. I hope that when that commission is established, he will make representations to it to ensure that his concerns are fully reflected.
In yesterday’s debate on homelessness, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government appeared to dismiss the statistics that I gave him, which were that the number of universal credit claimants in council properties who have fallen into rent arrears was 67.4%, and that universal credit claimants are more likely to be evicted by a ratio of 2.9:1. May we have a debate in Government time about the impact of universal credit on the number of evictions and how we can encourage Secretaries of State to stick to the facts?
I was not present for that exchange. We are lucky that in this House, we have a first-class Library service, which is phenomenally good at checking statistics. It may well be worth while asking the Library experts to dig into these statistics to see what the accurate figures are.
One of the more popular measures in our manifesto was the abolition of some hospital car parking charges. It therefore came as a great shock to me to hear that APCOA, which runs the parking control at Northwick Park Hospital, is without notice or consultation dramatically increasing the parking charges, especially for staff, and taking away many of the staff permits that are available to them. May we have a debate in Government time about abolishing car parking charges? That would be popular across the country.
That is a manifesto commitment, and it will be introduced. I am afraid APCOA will get its come-uppance when that happens.
The Financial Times fears that there will be another pensions scandal, potentially affecting 160,000 people with defined benefit pension schemes. The Financial Conduct Authority thinks that there could be problems with the transfer advice given by 76% of firms. This is an £80 billion market, so can we have a statement from the Treasury to try to get to the bottom of this scandal?
Anything relating to pensions is extremely important. A pensions Bill will be introduced in the House of Lords fairly soon, so these matters will be discussed on the Floor of the House in due course.
Rugby Gymnastics Club has produced gymnasts who have gone on to compete at national level; and it has 1,000 youngsters attending classes and 300 on a waiting list. It has been operating for decades in an old industrial building that is, frankly, not fit for purpose, but it has an ambitious scheme to develop a new purpose-built gym. At the eleventh hour, it has been told that it has to make a significant financial contribution to biodiversity offsetting. The Government are about to conduct a review of the planning system. In it, will they distinguish between commercial value and development with a social value, such as that of our highly valued gym club?
My hon. Friend is brilliantly championing an excellent initiative in his constituency that maintains social value for the people of Rugby. I think the council ought to be referred to the national planning policy framework, which makes it clear that local planning authorities are expected to balance social, economic and environmental considerations in a way that is appropriate to their area. That is already in planning guidelines, and I therefore encourage him to keep on reminding the council of its obligations.
Last summer, the Government announced a £3.6 billion town fund and identified 100 towns that were to benefit from it. I was disappointed that Ellesmere Port and Neston—
And Little Neston.
I was disappointed that those towns, and Little Neston, were not on the list, so I began tabling written questions about the basis on which successful towns were selected. I got a list of criteria, and I asked for the data that underpinned it, only to be told this week that that information was not available because the policy was still being developed. That prompts the question: how could towns have been selected for a fund if the policy was still being developed? We need a clear and unambiguous statement from the relevant Minister about that.
Policies are in development the whole time, and if we always waited for the complete development of every policy, nothing would ever happen.
As we leave the EU, may we have a debate on products made in the UK that up to now have had restrictions on them? I am proud that the village of Stilton is in my constituency, but despite a local historian finding evidence that Stilton cheese was originally made in the village, EU rules and bureaucracy have prevented the cheese from being made locally.
Geographical indicators are a matter of considerable controversy, with some people arguing very strongly for Yorkshire rhubarb, and others concerned about Stilton cheese. My hon. Friend makes a great campaign for a village in his constituency. It always seems difficult if you cannot use your own name for something.
A constituent of mine has been through hell and back with her abhorrent ex-partner, who is father to her four children. He has delayed and obfuscated dealings with the Child Support Agency and now the Child Maintenance Service with appeal after appeal, made outrageous and false allegations that simply do not bear repeating in this House, and self-published a book on their divorce, full of slurs. She was horrified to learn recently that the CMS was going to write off more than £40,000 of historical debt. Could we please have a debate on the CMS and how absent parents can still dodge financial responsibility?
If I did agree to a debate I would probably upset the various forces that exist, but I will say, as I have said before in this House, that the CSA and its successor body have, in my experience as a constituency MP, been one of the least satisfactory bodies that I have dealt with.
The Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee is nodding, and I think his Committee would be a very good starting point.
The Oarsome Foursome is a team of three women from my constituency and one from Devon who are on the final leg of their transatlantic row to raise money for and awareness of local charities. They set out on the day of the general election and they will conclude their row tomorrow, on Brexit day—I am sure those dates are purely coincidental. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating them and wishing them well on their final leg, and may we have a debate on the important role that those raising money for charity play in our national life?
I can give satisfaction to half of my hon. Friend’s question, but not to the full part. I am delighted to congratulate the Oarsome Foursome on their fantastic achievement and charity-raising objectives. I do not think I can promise a debate in Government time, but I think an Adjournment debate to celebrate their achievements would be a jolly good idea.
Barnsley Council has suffered the worst cuts in the country, yet research this week by the Local Government Association suggests that a review of the local funding formula could take another £4.5 million from Barnsley council by 2021. Can we have a debate in Government time on how we can have a fair funding deal for all local councils, not just those in the leafy Tory shires?
I am not sure that I accept the entire premise of that question, but next Wednesday there will be a debate in Opposition time on local government finance, and on Wednesday 12 February there will be motions relating to local government finance reports, at which these issues can be aired.
What timescale does my right hon. Friend have in mind for the re-establishment of the Liaison Committee, and does the Chairman of that Committee have to be selected from the current Select Committee Chairs?
Committees are in the process of being set up, and the Government and House authorities have done well in doing that pretty swiftly. The Liaison Committee will follow in accordance with that process. My hon. Friend raises an interesting point about the Chairman. In the last Parliament, the Chairman was from the Committee, but that is not a requirement of Standing Orders. It could be somebody else.
In the past few months, many of us have seen a wave of knife crime sweeping across our constituencies, particularly London, east London and my constituency. The issue has been raised by Members on both sides of the House and from all parties. Although we have had relevant debates, surely we should have regular statements by the Home Secretary, because this problem is not going away. If anything, it is getting worse.
The hon. Gentleman is a doughty champion for his constituents and he is right to raise the issue of knife crime, which is troubling, particularly in London, as he rightly says. There will be Home Office questions on 10 February. The Government are going to take on 20,000 extra police and are encouraging more stop and search, which does seem to be very effective in reducing knife crime.
We all in this House like to think that all Members are equal, but it would seem that some Members are more equal than others. I declare an interest. In 2017, more Government than Opposition Members lost our seats—there were 33 of us—and we received one week’s salary for each year of service. Mysteriously, just before the 2019 general election—at which more Opposition Members lost their seats—it was decided that each departing MP would receive two months’ salary. Does the Leader of the House believe in fairness?
That is not a decision made by the Government. The House of Commons decided to allow an independent body—the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority—to make the decision. My hon. Friend has made his representations. The House of Commons Commission has regular meetings with IPSA, and his point will be raised with it on his behalf.