The business for the week commencing 24 February will include:
Monday 24 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.
Tuesday 25 February—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by Opposition day (4th allotted day). There will be a debate on tax avoidance and evasion followed by a debate on social care. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. That will be followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Wednesday 26 February—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments; followed by Second Reading of the Environment Bill; followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments; followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.
Thursday 27 February—General debate on Welsh Affairs.
Friday 28 February—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 2 March will include:
Monday 2 March—Second Reading of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill following which the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business for the last week of February. I cannot believe time has flown so quickly! It is nine weeks since the last election, and already it seems that the few are abdicating their responsibilities for the many. Nothing has been said about the deaths resulting from smart motorways. The Minister who signed them off, the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), has called for a halt and accused Highways England of “casually ignoring commitments” on safety systems. At the same time, the bosses at Highways England have received a pay rise, with the number who have salaries over £100,000 rising from six to 63 since 2013. Why is this happening when the staff at the bottom have received a pay rise of 0% or 1%? Who are those bosses accountable to? This is exactly what contributes to the democratic deficit. May we have a statement on why they were able to award themselves that pay rise, and on when smart motorways will end?
It is nine weeks since the last election, and now it has all been revealed: border checks are inevitable. We did not hear that phrase during the Brexit debate. The smart border will apparently not be in place until 2025. The British Retail Consortium says an increase in border checks will affect fresh food supplies unless there is a massive upgrade in border facilities. Importers and exporters are going face huge costs. Could we have a statement on the readiness of smart borders or at least on what they are going to look like?
It has been nine weeks since the last election, and already the Government have run out of files, or did they intend to publish their process and procedure on their position on financial negotiations? We now know that the financial sector will get its permanent equivalence for decades, while the fishing industry may be under threat, from Grimsby to Brixham. We know that the EU wants existing reciprocal arrangements to be maintained. Could the Leader of the House say whether the fishing industry is going to be sold down the river—or the ocean—from Grimsby to Brixham?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) was right when he asked his urgent question and asked for a review. The review will look into the apparent injustices in the deportation process. The Government have to stop these deportations. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have constituents involved. My hon. Friends the Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) all had constituents on the flight concerned. It is right that those people had to be prevented from being deported. The courts have said, “We want due process.” These are British citizens; they deserve fairness, and they need to know their rights. I do not understand what the reason for the secrecy is—this is very simple. Can the Leader of the House guarantee that there will be no further deportations until that review has been published?
One review that has been published is the National Audit Office report into the death by suicide of benefit claimants. It said that an internal review of the cases was not properly implemented. Coroners are sending in reports of avoidable deaths. The Government’s policy is seriously affecting people’s lives. When will we have a statement from a Minister, as asked for by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), on these avoidable deaths?
Nazanin, Anoosheh, Kylie and others do not deserve to be in prison, as the Leader of the House has mentioned so many times. It is half-term for Gabriella. There has been no update from the Prime Minister for the last three weeks.
I want to ask the Leader of the House what it feels like to be replaced by three cartoon characters. “It’s classic Dom”, as John Crace—one of the journalists banned from a No. 10 briefing—said. We want Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb. At least there are more of them—and that is classic BBC.
May I begin by saying what a real pleasure it was yesterday to be at the Privy Council, where the right hon. Lady was sworn as a member? I congratulate her on that. To my mind, it was a very special occasion, and certainly one I will remember.
The right hon. Lady raises some very important questions relating to the pay rises at Highways England when the smart motorways programme is under such question. I think we all have the deepest sympathy for those who have been affected by the failures on smart motorways, and these concerns have registered very clearly with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who has said in unequivocal terms:
“Smart motorways must be as safe or safer than regular motorways, or we shouldn’t have them at all.”
However, there is a review going on, and it would be wrong of me to try to pre-empt it.
As regards leaving the European Union and border checks, there will be an opportunity at Cabinet Office questions on Thursday the 27th to question the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on the work that he has been doing. However, we are leaving the European Union, and therefore things will change. We will be negotiating with it as an independent sovereign state on an equal basis, not as a supplicant, and that is quite right. That will apply to all the negotiations that we have. I am absolutely confident that the interests of our fishing industry will be protected.
I am deeply puzzled by the Labour party’s opposition to the deportation of criminals, particularly as it is done under a 2007 Act of Parliament that was passed when the Labour party was in office. It is absolutely wrong and really surprising that the Labour party wishes to conflate criminals with people affected by the Windrush scandal. The Windrush scandal affected innocent people who were British citizens and had an absolute right to be here. They should not be confused with people who have broken the law, who have committed either many offences or offences leading to more than one year in prison, and who do not have a right to be in this country. Their deportation is right, and the clarification and compensation provided by the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill, on which we voted earlier this week, for those sadly affected by the Windrush scandal is a completely different and separate issue—it is of top priority and importance to emphasise that. The Government must keep the country safe, and deporting foreign criminals is part of that.
As always, the right hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The Government continue to be in touch, but we must always remember that the Iranian Government are the Government who are at fault and who are behaving in a way that is not in accordance with international norms. That is where our criticism should be focused.
I have six children and, as could be imagined, I watch a lot of cartoons—I am quite an expert. I feel I have much in common with Daddy Pig. Certainly any DIY I ever try goes very badly wrong, so it is best left to others, and my children have me wrapped around their little finger. Alfred would not forgive me if I did not put in a word for “Thomas & Friends.” The good news there is for Gordon, who will be thundering down a new High Speed 2 line in the not-too-distant future.
The Leader of the House will no doubt know the importance of 23 June, which is, of course, Public Service Day. Would it not be right to have a bank holiday to celebrate that, and maybe also to celebrate the wonderful referendum on the same date, to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday and to celebrate the Union? Let us call it United Nations Day. Can we have a statement to that effect next week?
Given the events of today, I suppose we should congratulate the Leader of the House on surviving, at least thus far, the Cabinet cull that is currently under way. We should be grateful that our business is led by someone who has proven his indispensability to the Prime Minister.
I want to make a general comment on the business because, not for the first time, it appears to be somewhat lacklustre and thin. We now seem to be moving to having Opposition day debates on an almost weekly basis because of the Government’s inability to fill their timetable. Some of the matters in this statement are relatively minor, or there is no great disagreement on the direction of travel, merely, as in the case of the environment, on the speed with which we should be progressing.
Given the Prime Minister’s bravado in the aftermath of the election, when can we expect to see, in legislative proposals, the Johnsonian vision for the future of Britain? When can we expect something rather more meaty than the proposals before us today? Or is it the case that, in fact, the Government do not have the ideas to which they alluded during the election campaign?
Finally, I return to the question I have now asked several times simply because I have not yet had an adequate answer. When will this Government bring forward proposals to recognise the fact that they do not have a mandate for their programme in the nation of Scotland? The result on 12 December made it clear that people in Scotland wish to choose an alternative direction to the one proposed by the Government, and the Government should not continue to ignore public opinion in Scotland in this way.
When I have previously asked the Leader of the House about this, his response has been, “Oh, there was a referendum six years ago that settled the matter.” Well, I ask him again. Does he accept the notion of the claim of right for Scotland and that the people who live in that country have the right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs? Does that right exist today, or is it just a matter of history?
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his gracious welcome of my continuing presence. I am sure that if I am suddenly called away, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), will be more than able to take over for the rest of the session.
The Government are bubbling over with brilliant ideas; I have never known a Government with more ideas coming through. Chairing the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee, I see these fantastic ideas. Parliamentary draftsmen are drafting away at the speed of light to prepare an exciting outpouring of Bills, which were announced in the Queen’s Speech and which will be coming through. To say that what we are offering up after the recess is “thin” is absurd. We are having a fundamental Environment Bill, which will legislate for the future of our environment and be a world-leading Bill. We also have the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, which will ensure that we are at the forefront of medical technology. Those are two fundamentally important Bills. If necessary, we will also be dealing with the remaining parts relating to a terrorism Bill safeguarding the nation. Some Members really are hard to please! We then put in an Opposition day, and for the Opposition to complain about Opposition days is like turkeys complaining that Christmas has been cancelled—it seems to me to be an eccentricity. As regards the claim of right, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I have given several times before.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on pension funds, particularly those in the local government sector? Evidence has emerged this week that in London there is a £17.98 billion deficit between the assets and the liabilities. Clearly the concern is that this is unsustainable, right across the piece. This ranges from Bromley Council having a £59.1 million deficit to Brent Council having an eye-watering £925.7 million deficit. Clearly there is a problem, and we should have a debate in Government time to expose this scandal and make sure that our hard-working public sector employees have their pensions protected.
Obviously, this is a very important point, affecting pension funds across the country, not just public sector ones. Fortunately, there is an opportunity to debate it, because we have a local government finance debate on 24 February. I advise my hon. Friend to take the matter up then. I will be more than happy to take it up with Ministers in advance of the debate, so that they are briefed and ready for his comments. The Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee is sitting poised, ready to ask me a question, and may no doubt have heard my hon. Friend’s request for a debate.
The Leader of the House has pre-empted me, because when Members from across the House request time for debates on subjects of interest to them, he will no doubt be tempted in this session, on more than one occasion, to refer Members to the Backbench Business Committee. May I suggest that just for today he wipes all such suggestions from his mind, because the Backbench Business Committee has not yet been established? Along with the Chairs of all the other Committees, I remain a Chair without a Committee. I cannot determine anything. My Committee cannot determine anything. My Committee does not exist. I do not know what the delay is on the Government side, but it is preventing the Committees of this House from getting about their business.
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important and valid point. The Government are keen that Committees should be set up as soon as is reasonably practicable, and we are, in the meantime, ensuring that the very popular debates that have been asked for historically and were given by the Government before the Backbench Business Committee existed are happening; so we will have the St David’s Day debate, as I announced.
Valuing Everyone training was made available to combat bullying and harassment, and all Members were encouraged to take part in that. Will my right hon. Friend confirm whether it is still available and that it is open to all parliamentary passholders?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I hope that Valuing Everyone training will improve the culture within this House, and it is available for all passholders. I know that that will be of particular interest to the Lobby, because a number of the complaints that came were from journalists who had been affected by these issues. It is not just about telling people to behave better; it is also about telling people that there is a system that will listen to them, where they can seek advice and consultations, and about how to make complaints. I encourage everybody to take this training, including the doyens of sketch-writers, who seem to find our proceedings so fascinating.
Yesterday, the Equality and Human Rights Commission announced that it is progressing legal action against the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care over the failure to move people with learning disabilities and autism into appropriate accommodation. The action is unprecedented, but the issues that have led to it have been known and documented at least since the Winterbourne View scandal eight years ago. Those issues have been raised in the Chamber on countless occasions in relation to individual cases, such as that of Bethany and of my constituent Matthew Garnett, yet the Government have failed to act. That failure affects more than 2,000 families throughout the country whose loved ones are still trapped in inappropriate accommodation, and countless more who have battled over months and years to get them out. Their stories are heartbreaking and their experiences unjustifiable and unacceptable.
May we have an urgent debate, as soon as possible after the recess, on the accommodation for people with learning disabilities and autistic people, and can it be held in Government time, so that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care can acknowledge the gravity of the situation, apologise to the families affected and set out the urgent action he will now take to right this wrong?
This is obviously an extraordinarily serious matter that the whole House takes seriously and that the Government take seriously and want to see put right. An investigation is about to take place and the Government must obviously wait for the outcome. Expenditure on special educational needs is increasing by £700 million, but that is not a complete answer to what the hon. Lady asked for and I will take up the issue with the relevant Ministers immediately after this session.
The Prime Minister said in his Christmas message:
“We stand with Christians everywhere, in solidarity, and will defend your right to practise your faith.”
Plainly, that was meant to include the UK, so may we have a statement on whether we can really call ourselves a tolerant, inclusive and diverse society that respects freedom of speech, whatever one’s religion or beliefs, if we deny the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association a platform in this country?
No-platforming is a particularly disagreeable modern trend. Although venues are allowed to take their own decisions about whether or not to host Franklin Graham during his upcoming visit, they must, like all service providers, be careful not to discriminate unlawfully on grounds of religion and belief. The UK has robust protections for freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and the price of living in a free, plural society is tolerating views and beliefs that we disagree with or are even offended by. That is fundamentally important. It is a sad truth that many people who tout themselves as being liberal are liberal only about what they like and are very intolerant of the views with which they disagree.
My constituent’s elderly parents are due to return to China this Wednesday in order to meet their visa requirements. Given the coronavirus epidemic, they obviously want to delay their return without jeopardising future visas. In response to an urgent inquiry from my office, UK Visas and Immigration advised that it is “currently seeking guidance” on the issue. My constituent could contact an adviser, but that is not good enough, so can I get a Government statement confirming that my constituent’s parents can get an extended stay and that the Government will issue general guidance on the matter?
This is exactly the sort of matter on which the Government should be clear. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue on behalf of his constituent. I cannot tell him the precise answer—I believe the Prime Minister was asked a similar question yesterday—but I will take up the issue after this session. That is absolutely what we ought to do for our constituents to try to get them clarity in such situations.
I had a busy night out on Friday last week with the Gloucestershire police special constabulary. As we all know, the specials are trusted volunteers who work with the police and keep us safe. I really welcome the focus on the 20,000 new police officers, but it would be appropriate for there to be a statement in the House about the recruitment and equipment needs of the special police constabulary, together with an opportunity for the Government to show the specials just how valued their voluntary work in our communities is.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the work done by special constables is admirable. It is worth noting that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), used to be a special constable and made an enormous contribution in that role. We are getting 20,000 extra police, but the special constables add to that. There will be a chance to raise the issue and to praise them and encourage more special constables to come forward in the debate on the police grant on Monday 24 February.
Yesterday, in Westminster Hall, more than 30 Members of Parliament raised concerns about our constituents who are living in properties with unsafe cladding. Many of them are mortgage prisoners. They are facing life-changing bills and are having to put their lives on hold. Is it not about time that the Government had a longer debate in this Chamber about the real, serious concerns, as the Government, hopefully, come up with a swift solution to deal with this problem?
I can assure the hon. Lady that the Government are absolutely doing that and that the Department is pushing ahead with ensuring that unsafe cladding is removed as a priority. It has clear targets to do that. The debate has just taken place in Westminster Hall and, therefore, that is something that has been taken note of by the Government. So we have had the debate, but I can assure her that the Government take this matter properly seriously.
Earlier this week, we had the welcome announcement from the Prime Minister about additional funding for bus services. That will be particularly welcomed by my constituents in the rural part of the Cleethorpes constituency. May we have a debate in Government time to hear more details about this support and to give Members an opportunity to outline the needs in their own constituencies?
Every day in this House is Cleethorpes Day. We had a fantastic answer from the Prime Minister yesterday on ensuring that every possible service, junction and railway crossing was improved in Cleethorpes. Today, we are talking about the buses. This is a great priority, but I think it may be a subject for an Adjournment debate.
The charity Independent Age estimates that 2,754 pensioner households in my constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran are missing out on a combined £7.4 million every year in unclaimed pension credit. Worryingly, there have been no initiatives from the UK Government to improve pension credit take-up in recent years. Will the Leader of the House make a statement explaining why that is and what he personally will do to address the situation?
Members of Parliament can help with this in encouraging people to take up benefits to which they are entitled. I am sure that the hon. Lady does that in her constituency and I commend her for doing so. But the issues around pensioners have been tackled by this Government. More than £120 billion will be spent on benefits for pensioners, £99 billion of which will be on the state pension in 2019-20. The triple lock is being maintained and the warm home discount scheme is being introduced and extended. So every effort is being made to help pensioners and I encourage hon. Members to persuade pensioners in their constituencies to claim what is their due.
The constituents of Aylesbury are extremely disappointed by the decision to proceed with HS2 not only because of the financial and environmental costs of the project, but because of the appalling way in which HS2 Ltd has treated residents and businesses during its enabling works. Will my right hon. Friend arrange to provide a statement to the House on the need for the company to make immediate amends and, crucially, to pay people the money it owes and to comply with all the legal requirements that have been placed on it?
First, I commend my hon. Friend for his rightful championing of his constituents’ interests. In all circumstances, Government and Government bodies must pay fair compensation justly and quickly to people. We are a society that believes in the rights of property. As Conservatives, we particularly think that that is important. It is one of the bases of our constitution that rights of property are there and can be taken away from people only with just compensation. Therefore, what he says is of great importance and I know that the Prime Minister is concerned about the way that the HS2 board has behaved in this regard.
The Leader of the House knows, obviously, that HS2 will mean that the time taken to get to Manchester will go down from two hours 10 minutes to one hour 10 minutes, but, at the same time, the time to get to Swansea will remain three hours. When will we have a proper debate to question why Wales gets only 1.5% of the rail money for 5% of the population? We must invest in a high-speed connection between Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea.
That matter was raised at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. The line is being electrified down to Cardiff. It happens to be the line that I use when I take the train, because very often the route is through Bath and Bristol. The improvements in that line benefit people as they go on into Wales, which I think is very important.
Inspired by Keats’ view that
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty”,
the commission established by the Government to advise on the built environment recently published its report, “Living with beauty”. It sets out eight priorities for reform and makes a series of recommendations, which the Leader of the House will know were welcomed by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government—he also took the opportunity to apologise for the sacking last year of Sir Roger Scruton, the commission’s original chairman; the sacking was rescinded. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the relevant Minister to make a statement to the House on what the Government will do with the recommendations? It is only right that future generations can be proud of what we build and the places we make.
If I may, I will pay tribute to Sir Roger Scruton, who was one of the great conservative thinkers of recent decades. His point that beauty should be a fundamental part of our planning system is an essential one. It occurs to me that something as beautiful as the royal crescent at Bath would not be built under current regulations, and we need a system that would allow that. With regard to a statement, the Secretary of State will be here to answer questions on Monday 24 February and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will raise his point then.
The baseline public health funding for Enfield Council was set in 2013 and takes no account of the growth in population, in need and in poverty, which all affect the funding that Enfield actually needs. May we therefore have a debate on fair public health funding for local authorities?
I am very glad to be helpful on this occasion by immediately granting what the hon. Lady has asked for, because on the first day back after the recess we will have a debate on local government funding, and I am sure that she will be able to raise her points then.
My right hon. Friend might be aware that on Boxing day 2015 the town of Padiham in my constituency suffered significant flooding, which caused serious damage to residents and businesses. Having been promised flood defences, and the funding having been put in place, residents were rightly concerned and angry last week when storm Ciara hit, as work on the defences has still not commenced. May we have a debate in Government time so that we can see whether we can speed up the delivery of those defences?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a statement to the House on Monday on the significant flooding caused by the heavy rain and the severe gale-force winds brought by the recent storm. We will be spending £4 billion on flood defences to protect homes and businesses better across the country from the devastating effects of flooding. Some £2.6 billion is being spent to protect the country from flooding more broadly, and 300,000 homes will have improved protection by 2020. But we also know that more needs to be done to ensure that households and businesses are more resilient to flooding, and the Government are implementing that.
Last month, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) raised the issue of Robert Skillen’s company, HELMS—Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd—which defrauded hundreds of households across Scotland through the Government’s green deal scheme. I had constructive and positive engagement on the matter with the previous Minister, Claire O’Neill, but the promised improvements and the speed of decisions on complaints simply have not materialised. If the Leader of the House will not give us a debate, can he help to facilitate a meeting with the new Secretary of State, whoever that is—perhaps the departing Chancellor?
Just before Christmas, the Post Office made a settlement with 550 post office workers, including my constituent Tracy Felstead, who was imprisoned at age 19 in Holloway prison after her till did not balance due to a technical glitch. May we have a debate in Government time to consider what is fast becoming a national scandal?
I share my hon. Friend’s concern that innocent people seem to have suffered because of IT flaws within the Post Office systems. That is entirely wrong and improper, and they ought to be compensated fairly. I think an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate would be very suitable.
Judging from media coverage this morning, it seems that the Government are planning to cut the payments to the Commonwealth secretariat due to the apparent scandal that is engulfing the secretary-general. I am not commenting on the rights and wrongs of that situation, but the Commonwealth is a very important institution to many of our constituents and is likely to be more important in the next few years—at least, I hope so. Could we have a statement on the situation?
The hon. Gentleman raises a point of great significance. The Commonwealth is of fundamental importance. It is a powerful organisation, and it is a matter of concern that a number of countries, including New Zealand and Australia, have cut their funding because of concerns over the auditing of the headquarters of the Commonwealth. We must ensure that the auditing is put right and that people can have confidence in the way in which such a valued organisation is run.
Since July 2018, junctions 8 to 10 of the M23 have been reconstructed into a so-called smart motorway. The closures continue. Both north and south sections will be completely closed every weekend next month while the work is taking place. The absurdity of this situation is that smart motorways are now under review, so it could be that one is built at great inconvenience to travellers and will then need to be undone, probably causing more years of work. Can we please have a statement from the Transport Secretary?
I completely share and sympathise with my hon. Friend’s concern because I travel down to Somerset almost every weekend on the M4, which is going through exactly the same pain. There are random closures without any proper warning and the gantries display messages saying that it will take a few minutes to get to an exit beyond the one that is closed. Highways England does not seem to give one proper information. It is a matter of great significance on which we should have debates, but I think it is more a subject for an Adjournment debate than a debate in Government time.
Following on from the question asked by the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), I wish to draw attention to the hundreds of sub-postmasters across the country, including constituents of mine, who have lost their businesses and homes after paying out of their own pockets to make up for the failure of the Post Office’s Horizon IT system. May I also ask for a debate on how we can help them to get recompense and justice?
The Mottram bypass has been promised by politicians of all parties for well over 50 years. I am pleased that this Government have committed the money to build the bypass, and have confirmed that a planning application will be made soon. My constituents are understandably still very sceptical. May we have a debate on the timely delivery of transport infrastructure projects so that we can finally get the Mottram bypass built as soon as possible?
The changes planned for the IR35 regime raise major issues of uncertainty for contractors in the construction, IT and training sectors, and many others, in my constituency of Angus and, I am certain, right across the United Kingdom. May we have a statement on what steps the Government will take to protect the economy and industry from the very real threat of offshoring as a result of these changes, and on what support the Treasury will provide to contractors who face being driven out of business?
We will have the Budget on 11 March, but as I have said in answers to previous questions, it is of great importance that people know what tax they are expected to pay before the tax year in which they are expected to pay it. The Government are very conscious of that. A review of IR35 is under way, but I think we need answers relatively quickly.
Councillor Christine Wild, who has served the people of Bolton for many years, sadly died last week, having served the people of Westhoughton, Hunger Hill and Chew Moor doing often thankless work. Can we have a debate in Government time on the importance of the work that councillors do right across the country?
That is a very good point. The selfless work done by councillors is of great importance. Although they get some expenses, it is basically voluntary work. We, of all parties, are lucky up and down this country to have people who are willing to give so much time to help their local communities. My hon. Friend might want to raise this in the coming debate on the forthcoming Adjournment.
Last Friday, the National Audit Office published a report on information held by the Department for Work and Pensions on suicides related to social security. The report revealed that there had been 69 suicides. Given the seriousness of this and the lack of a statement from the Department for Work and Pensions, can we now have a debate in Government time so that Members across this House can hold the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to account for this failure?
I understand that the National Audit Office is continuing a review of this. It is deeply troubling when suicides take place in any circumstances. Anything that can be done by the Government to reduce the number of suicides is something that the Government ought to be doing.
Post offices are very important in my constituency, particularly for the elderly and the vulnerable. Last year, South Kensington post office closed. Can we have a debate about the importance of post office provision in inner cities?
The number of post office closures has declined very significantly from an earlier peak, so post offices are now surviving in a way that they were not. I accept that they are very important community hubs, but I think that the specifics relating to an individual post office are best suited to an Adjournment debate.
There is a growing problem of unscrupulous solicitors who seek out tenants taking out housing disrepair claims against housing associations and public bodies but do not warn their clients that they will be liable for costs when they lose. A constituent of mine was landed with a £12,000 bill having taken out a no win, no fee claim. May we have a debate on how we can protect tenants like my constituent against these unscrupulous solicitors?
That is an important point. There will be questions to Housing, Communities and Local Government Ministers on our first day back on 24 February. People should not be subject to unfair and unexpected fees; the fees should be set out clearly. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will raise this on the 24th.
Grove station in my constituency was one of those closed in the Beeching cuts, and for over 40 years now my constituents have campaigned to have it reopened because it would connect them better, get people off congested and often unsafe roads and support our efforts to tackle climate change. May we have a debate on the importance of reopening stations such as Grove to our local economy, community and environment?
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the campaign that he is waging on behalf of his constituents? I believe that his constituency is the birthplace of King Alfred, and he is dealing with this in a way that King Alfred would, I think, be proud of. The Government agree with the value of reopening stations and lines closed following the Beeching report and will spend £500 million to start reconnecting smaller towns. The Government will listen carefully to proposals, prioritising projects of the greatest potential, viability and economic benefit. As we assess and develop schemes, there is an ambition to expand the funding available. I therefore encourage my hon. Friend to keep making his case, and avoid burning cakes.
Last month, FaithAction was informed that its funding under the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s integrated communities English language programme would not be renewed next year. It is having to make staff redundant, and this will also leave a gap in vital ESOL provision. May we have a statement on what new funding will replace this, and when?
People cannot assume that funding will continue indefinitely and must always plan accordingly in an ordinary business way. There will be questions to that Department on the Monday that we come back, and I think that is the right time to raise this matter.
Green-belt development is often on the edges of urban conurbations, meaning that while the proposed building site may be in a rural planning authority, the communities most directly affected may be in a neighbouring urban authority. May we have a debate on how we can make sure that the communities directly affected by proposed green-belt development can have their views and concerns properly considered in the planning process?
This is an issue for many Members of Parliament—indeed, including for me in North East Somerset. In our manifesto, we were clear that we would protect and enhance the green belt, improve poor-quality land, increase biodiversity, and make our beautiful countryside more usable by local communities. To safeguard green spaces we will prioritise brownfield development for regeneration of our cities and towns. The national planning policy framework makes it clear that only in exceptional circumstances may a green-belt boundary be altered using the development plan process of consultation with local people. In answer to my hon. Friend’s question, given that there is consultation, I am not sure that we need an immediate debate.
I would like to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 141, signed by 56 colleagues across five political parties.
[That this House acknowledges that the Department for Work and Pensions commissioned an evidence review on the drivers of food bank use in 2018; notes the Government’s commitment to this House to publish the findings of the review; further notes the Government’s failure to date to publish those findings; and urges the Government to provide a clear deadline as a matter of urgency for the publication of the review to inform a public debate on the reasons for growing demand for food aid provision in the UK.]
The EDM concerns a Department for Work and Pensions review of food bank use that should have been published six months ago. May we have a statement from the Government on when this review will be published so that we can have an informed debate on food aid provision and the increasing demand for it across these islands?
The issues surrounding food banks are various and complicated, but it is worth bearing it in mind that there are 400,000 fewer people in absolute poverty than there were in 2010, and income inequality is down, so great strides are being made in ensuring that there is less poverty in this country. The publication date of reports is a matter to take up directly with the relevant Department.
My right hon. Friend is a keen historian and he will know that in Kidsgrove and Talke in my constituency we have the amazing Chatterley Whitfield colliery, which is sadly at risk of falling down and has been listed as such by the Victorian Society. Is he prepared to give parliamentary time to enable us to have a debate about the importance of protecting and preserving our industrial and cultural heritage?
As it was once suggested that I should myself be listed, I have a great affection for listed buildings and their protection. I think it would be right to seek an Adjournment debate on the colliery that my hon. Friend refers to because, in my view, it is exactly the type of constituency issue that is very well highlighted in Adjournment debates.
Before the EU referendum, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that
“the one thing that will not change will be our ability to trade freely with Europe”.
But he now says that it is likely that there will be physical checks, as well as, almost certainly, safety and security certificates, and that almost everybody exporting will need to complete customs declarations. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on whether he still thinks that concerns about broken promises on frictionless trade are, as he described them, Project Fear?
Project Fear was one of the reasons the Conservatives did so enormously well in the last election. People were fed up to the back teeth with Project Fear. I am glad to say that we are leaving the European Union. The consequence of that is that we will be dealing with the European Union as an independent, sovereign equal, and that will mean changes.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on how Government and local authorities can support taxi drivers? Taxi drivers are the largest self-employed sector in my constituency. We must work to ensure that they are able to earn a sustainable living and are not weighed down by disproportionate costs and heavy-handed regulation.
I have the greatest admiration for taxi drivers. Disraeli called the London cab “the gondola of London”, and we should think of our taxi drivers as the gondoliers of London—not that they usually sing to us, but they send us merrily along our way with their incisive and well-informed conversation. [Laughter.] Well, I often find that I am in agreement with them—that is why I think their conversation is so well-informed and incisive. We should of course not bear down on them unduly with regulation—although I believe that the regulation that London taxis have to keep hay in their boot is no longer applicable.
I thank the Leader of the House for last week’s debate on the persecution of Christians. As a follow-up to one of the issues raised in that debate, can we have a ministerial statement on the recommendations to the British Government outlined in the report on the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan by the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief?
May I begin by commending the hon. Gentleman for the excellent and consistent work he does to raise the issue of persecuted Christians and ensure that they have a voice in this House? I also commend him for securing the debate last week, which came about not at my whim but because so many Members wanted it. The Government are genuinely concerned about continuing reports of abuses against members of religious minorities in Pakistan and condemn in the strongest terms the persecution of all minorities, including the targeting of innocent people because of their beliefs. We urge the Government of Pakistan to guarantee the fundamental rights of all their citizens, and we regularly raise concerns about the protection of minority communities, including religious minorities and Christian minorities, with the Pakistani Government at senior level.
As today is World Radio Day, will the Leader of the House join me in recognising the contribution that local radio stations make to people’s lives in communities up and down the country, in particular through huge charity campaigns? There has been a recent focus on mental health, with 500 commercial radio stations coming together with the BBC to broadcast a simultaneous campaign.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on becoming the chairman of the APPG on commercial radio. It is marvellous that today is World Radio Day, although “World Wireless Day” is more alliterative, so let us rename it that. Community radio is so important. It not only brings local news to people but encourages and helps them, builds a sense of community and gives training to future journalists. We must cherish it, along with other radio, and if I may put in a word for the continuation for ever of “Test Match Special”, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will do so.
Figures published in The Herald this week show that free cash machines are disappearing at an alarming rate from communities across Scotland, with more than £10 million spent on cash machine charges last year. Can we have a debate in Government time on the growing number of people paying for the privilege of accessing their own money?
That issue comes up in terms of both cash machines and bank branches. I see the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), who may want to ask a question on a similar subject which he has raised with me before. I have arranged for meetings to take place with Ministers, and I am happy to continue to do so. It is ultimately a commercial decision for the banks, but customers should encourage them to provide a basic level of service.
The Leader of the House anticipates my question. I thank him for enabling a constructive meeting with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury about bank closures, and my researcher, Emma Camp, wants to express her thanks too. Is it not time we had a debate in this place about bank closures?
I know that the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee does not want me to say this, but I am afraid I will say it anyway. I think there is such demand for such a debate that, when the Backbench Business Committee is set up, there will be an application from Members across the House for one. If I were still on the Back Benches, it would have my support.
Medicines and Medical Devices Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Matt Hancock, supported by the Prime Minister, Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Andrea Leadsom, Secretary Theresa Villiers and Jo Churchill, presented a Bill to confer power to amend or supplement the law relating to human medicines, veterinary medicines and medical devices; make provision about the enforcement of regulations, and the protection of health and safety, in relation to medical devices; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time Monday 24 February, and to be printed (Bill 90) with explanatory notes (Bill 90-EN).