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House of Commons Hansard
27 October 2016
Volume 616

  • Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?

  • The business for next week will be as follows:

    Monday 31 October—Second Reading of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [Lords].

    Tuesday 1 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Investigatory Powers Bill.

    Wednesday 2 November—Opposition day (11th allotted day). There will be debates on Opposition motions, including one relating to community pharmacies.

    Thursday 3 November—General debate on the effect of the UK leaving the European Union on financial and other professional services, followed by debate on a motion on living wage week and the implementation of the national living wage, these subjects having been determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

    Friday 4 November—Private Members’ Bills.

    The provisional business for the following week will include:

    Monday 7 November—General debate on exiting the EU and workers’ rights.

    Tuesday 8 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business.

    I am sure that the Leader of the House, and you, Mr Speaker, will join me in paying tribute to Jimmy Perry, who sadly died last week. He is one of the great Britons who brought fun into our lives. He was the writer and creator of “Dad’s Army”, and he also won an award for the theme song. I am sure, Mr Speaker, that we are a similar sort of age; I grew up watching this brilliantly written and acted series. The BBC, when left alone to be creative, fulfils its Reithian mandate to educate, entertain and inform.

    You will recall, Mr Speaker, that the programme had some memorable catchphrases, and it struck me that we could hear those catchphrases ringing around No. 10. We could hear the cry of, “Don’t panic, don’t panic!” or, as the Prime Minister slaps down her recalcitrant and wayward colleagues, we could hear her muttering, “Stupid boys”. When we ask the Government’s position on Brexit, we hear the infamous, “Don’t tell them, Pike”.

    May we have a debate on the great repeal Bill? Will it have just one clause or a series of clauses? Will it enact the whole of EU law into UK law? Will there be no enactment of EU law, with each item brought in through secondary legislation? The Prime Minister says that she wants us to be a fully independent sovereign nation. I thought that we were, because we passed the bedroom tax, reorganised the national health service and gave taxpayers’ money to free schools—all that was done over here, not in Europe, in the past six years.

    Labour Members respect the result of the referendum, but we want to do what is in the best interests of the British people, including keeping them safe, because organised crime and terrorism know no boundaries. The Prime Minister said on Monday that she wants co-operation on our shared security interests with Europe. May we therefore have a debate in Government time—the European Scrutiny Committee has also asked for this—on whether we opt into or out of the new Europol regulations? The Government will need to make a decision shortly, so we need to debate this before they do so.

    I want to raise a fairly parochial matter: the closure of the New Art Gallery and libraries in Walsall. I invite the Leader of the House to visit the gallery—and you, Mr Speaker: perhaps on one of your outreach visits you can see what an incredible space it is, with art and culture free for everybody, of all nationalities. I plead with the Leader of the House to make representations to the Chancellor, who has recently signalled a change in his austerity policies, on providing a proper settlement for local authorities so that Walsall and others can fulfil their statutory duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. Sixteen thousand children in Walsall live in poverty, and many of them cannot afford books or the internet. We want to give them opportunities and aspiration.

    Next week could see a strike at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, under a female Prime Minister and against the background of a report from the World Economic Forum that puts the UK in 20th position on the gender equality gap. Bizarrely, the commission has created 22 posts at deputy director level or above, and two additional executive directors have been appointed at a cost of £250,000 or more. Consultants who were brought in to implement the restructure cost the commission £240,000 last year alone, yet lower-paid staff face compulsory redundancies, and a 25% cut is planned to the commission’s budget. We need an urgent debate on why that body, which looks at discrimination and is so vital at this time, is cutting staff when, according to the World Economic Forum report, it will take 170 years to close the gender pay gap if we carry on at the current rate.

    The Prime Minister says that she wants to remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book, but I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could tell her that she cannot do that—all that she can do is repeal it. In any event, the Act is printed on vellum, so it will last 5,000 years. On that issue, will the Leader of the House meet me to discuss how a vote won in the House in 1999 and earlier this year can be overturned by a Committee of the House? This is not a Wallonian moment; it is about respecting the democracy and sovereignty of this House.

  • I will try to touch on the subjects that the hon. Lady has raised. As she knows, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has operated, under Governments of all parties, at arm’s length from direct control by Ministers, for good reasons. However, I will certainly ensure that her comments are drawn to the attention of the relevant Minister, and I am sure that they will have been noted by the chief executive and the directors of the commission.

    I thought that in the hon. Lady’s comments about poverty and the gender pay gap, she might at least have acknowledged that it is this Conservative Government who are insisting that large employers publish details of the gender pay gap. We had 13 years of a Labour Government in which that issue was not tackled at all. I was disappointed, too, that in her comments about poverty, whether in Walsall or elsewhere, she omitted to mention that yesterday’s figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, last year, the pay increase for people on the lowest wages in our society was, thanks to the national living wage, significantly greater than that for any other group, and well over twice the rate of the pay increase for the wealthiest in society. I hope that Walsall Council can preserve its museum and arts centre, and I hope to have the pleasure of visiting one day. Local authorities, just like central Government Departments, have to take rigorous decisions about priorities when setting their budgets for any particular year.

    I note what the hon. Lady says about the Europol regulation. As the Prime Minister has said repeatedly, and as she demonstrated throughout her six years as Home Secretary, she and the entire Government are committed to continuing very close working relationships between the United Kingdom and other members of the European Union—and, indeed, European countries outside the EU—on police and justice matters. It is in our common interest to maintain those relationships as we prepare to leave the European Union. The hon. Lady will have to wait until the Queen’s Speech to see details of the EU exit Bill, and I doubt that she would have expected to hear anything different at this stage.

    I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady about vellum, although it has come to a pretty pass when the chief subject chosen by the Opposition Front-Bench team for their attack on the Government is the use of calf or goatskin for the enrolment of the official copies of parliamentary statutes.

    I am happy to join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the late Jimmy Perry. It was a wonderful gesture when, during the changing of the guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace earlier this week, the military band played the theme tune to “Dad’s Army” as a tribute to Mr Perry. When I look at the faces of Labour Members, especially during Prime Minister’s questions, the phrase that comes to my mind is, “They don’t like it up ’em!”

  • Will the Leader of the House allow us time to talk about the value of allotments? Healthy fruit and veg are important, but in areas that are not protected by a town council, or by neighbourhood or local plans, people are building on allotments, and we do not want to see any more of that.

  • I think that the principle of support for and recognition of the value of allotments is shared by many Members on both sides of the House. I endorse what my hon. Friend says. The commitment is such that the majority of Labour Members keep urging their party leader to spend many more hours on his allotment.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. May I also pay tribute to Jimmy Perry? I would hate to say, “We’re all doomed!”, but perhaps we are under this Government.

    We are always looking for things to commemorate at business questions, and they do not come any bigger than congratulating Candice on winning “The Great British Bake Off”. May I also congratulate the first hon. Member who will table an early-day motion on that subject?

    Last week I suggested a couple of definitions of Brexit. I thought that the words “soggy” and “crispy” might be useful; of course, there has been no end of other suggestions. The shadow Chancellor has referred to a bankers’ Brexit, but I like the idea of a flexible Brexit, as announced by the First Minister of Scotland—a flex-Brex, if you like—where the nations of the UK take their own distinct approach. We are starting to see some useful debates about Brexit, so how about a debate that allows the nations of the UK to determine what we require from leaving the European Union?

    It has come to my attention that a petition is kicking around to ask the House to hold a debate on, and organise a process for, kicking Scotland out of the Union. What could possibly go wrong with such a petition? Imagine the prospect of it getting into the hands of somebody who wanted to make mischief. What would happen if it got 100,000 signatures and one of my hon. Friends managed to secure a debate on it? Will the Leader of the House join me in appealing to the good people of this nation, “Do not sign this petition!” to ensure that that disaster does not come to pass?

    We have been waiting a long time for the Government to introduce a Green Paper or Bill on their work and health programme. That important proposal will plug the gap in disability, so is the Leader of the House in a position to tell us whether we will see it soon?

  • On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions regards that Green Paper as a very high priority. It will bring together a number of approaches proposed by the Government which, I hope and believe, will command a lot of cross-party support. We certainly hope that it will be published in the near future.

    On our departure from the European Union, as the plenary session of the Joint Ministerial Committee demonstrated earlier this week, the Prime Minister and the Government remain committed to the full involvement of the three devolved Administrations in the preparation of our negotiating position, and we want to maintain that engagement in the months ahead. There will be opportunities in the debate that I have announced today, and in subsequent general debates about various aspects of our EU membership, for Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to make all the points that they wish to make about the interests of the nations that they represent and particularly of their constituents.

  • May we have a debate on making better use of natural resources? Is the Leader of the House aware that, in the next few days, we will go through the ridiculous ritual of putting our clocks back, thereby plunging the nation into darkness and misery by mid-afternoon? Can we look again at the benefits of using summer time in winter, which would reduce road accidents and boost tourism?

  • For many years, my right hon. Friend has been a strong advocate of changes to the arrangements for summer time. As he knows, there was no agreement between different parts of the UK on the way forward. On such a subject, the unity of the UK, and respecting the interests of all parts of the UK, are important. The Government have no plans at the moment to bring forward changes in legislation.

  • Last week, I met primary headteachers and parents in my constituency who were very concerned about the fiasco over the content and administration of SATs last year. May we have a full debate on the whole issue to avoid such chaos and upset in future years?

  • Last year, some quite far-reaching changes to SATs were introduced. The Government’s belief is that the changes will drive an improvement in overall standards among our school children, which we very much need. However, in recognition of the disruption that was caused to the lives of teachers and headteachers, the Government have agreed that any further changes should be paused. That explains why, for example, we have decided not to proceed with the proposal that children should be retested at the end of their time at primary school.

  • May we have a debate on the importance of protecting our green belt and on the requirement for local authorities to maintain an adequate brownfield register to prioritise development? In my region recently, the Greater Manchester spatial framework has called for the development of large swathes of the green belt, with my constituency of Cheadle set to lose much of its natural landscape.

  • My hon. Friend is a formidable champion of the green belt and of the interests of her constituents in particular. I am sure that she will be ensuring that their voice is heard loudly at all stages of the consultation on and public examination of the proposals that she describes.

  • As someone who resides in and represents a constituency 55° north of the equator, I can say that British summer time works for us, so I hope that there is no plan to change that.

    I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business. May I point out that we have an application on the stocks—he will have heard the exchanges during Women and Equalities questions—for a debate on Thursday 17 November on International Men’s Day? If that could be accommodated, the Backbench Business Committee would be grateful.

    Could we have a debate in Government time—this issue affects many of my constituents—on the way in which the Department for Work and Pensions is administering universal credit and the claims from our constituents? There are catch 22-style hoops to jump through and almost Kafkaesque rules that are designed to disallow and to delay legitimate claims from constituents. May we have a debate in Government time about that? The number of people who are going many weeks without any means of supporting themselves is a scandal.

  • I will do my best to accommodate the hon. Gentleman’s Committee in respect of the business on 17 November, although he will appreciate that I cannot give a firm promise today.

    On the hon. Gentleman’s point about universal credit, it is being phased in precisely to try to identify any potential flaws and to minimise the risk of teething troubles. I will report his concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, but we have to remember that universal credit not only is a much simpler method of administering a complex and old system of welfare support for people in need, but has so far demonstrated that it is pretty effective in helping to get people who are able to work back to work, and in providing support for people who need it.

  • May we have a debate on the use to which these premises are put, following reports that, outrageously, a Member of the House of Lords presided over an event at which Israel was compared to the Islamic State and the Jews were even blamed for their own genocide? May we discuss that and whether we should issue an apology for these outrageous comments to the Israeli Government and the Jewish people?

  • I read the newspaper reports of the event in question, and I confess that I was genuinely horrified by the speech that was reported. I do not want to treat every newspaper article as gospel, but I think we should all be very concerned about what happened. Since this event appears to have been organised by a leading member of the Liberal Democrats, I hope that the leader of the party launches an immediate and thorough investigation, so that we can get to the truth and any appropriate disciplinary action can be taken.

  • Does the Leader of the House recognise that the acute financial crisis in Walsall, which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), cries out for ministerial action? This crisis has arisen because, for the past six years, the amount of central Government money going to the borough has been reduced by over 60%. Libraries, essential services and the New Art Gallery, which was opened by the Queen at the beginning of the century, are now all in danger of being closed or slashed to the bone. It is totally unacceptable. What are the Government going to do to save the situation, given that the crisis now occurring is entirely due to the way in which they have treated this borough during the past six years?

  • I will certainly draw the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about his borough to the attention of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, but I must put it to him that very difficult decisions about spending have to be addressed by both central and local government as a consequence of the irresponsible borrowing policies pursued by the Government whom he supported for 13 wasted years.

  • Mr McGonagle from my constituency has contacted me about being issued with a parking ticket by UK Car Park Management, despite the fact that the car was not his. I have attempted to contact the company five times to resolve the matter, but I have not even received the courtesy of an acknowledgment. Will the Leader of the House allow us to debate the regulation of private parking companies?

  • I note what my hon. Friend has said. He has obviously put this case on the record today. He may want to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate on it.

  • May we have a debate entitled “Project Fear” so that the Leader of the House, and the former Chancellor in particular, can reflect on the wisdom of presenting the case against leaving the European Union as a short-term apocalyptic, emergency-budgeted disaster, as opposed to concentrating on the medium-term damage that will certainly be done to this country through withdrawal from the European single marketplace? Given that the Leader of the House was up to his neck in “Project Fear”, will he give the House an assurance that never again will there be such a blatant abuse of Treasury statistics and forecasts in any future referendum that may come along?

  • I must say to the right hon. Gentleman—this probably embarrasses him now—that he and I were on the same side in the referendum campaign. To be honest, there is little point in our conducting post mortems on the referendum campaign. Whatever the reasons that led people to vote the way they did, the turnout was at or above general election levels and the outcome, although the margin was narrow, was decisive and clear, and is respected not just by parties in this House, but by the other 27 Governments in the European Union. We now have to get on with the task of negotiating the best possible deal for British citizens and for British business in these new circumstances.

  • At this time of year postal volume starts to increase. It is therefore high time we had a debate on the future of the sorting office in Bacup. If that were to close at Christmas, my constituents would have a 15-mile round trip to collect parcels, which is completely unacceptable.

  • I know that my hon. Friend will be vigilant in defending services available to his constituents. On Tuesday 8 November we have oral questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He may be able to pursue the matter further then.

  • The crisis in adult social care continues to grow, as highlighted by the Care Quality Commission a couple of weeks ago. May I again ask the Leader of the House whether we can have an urgent debate or a statement from the Government, so that they can outline their plans to address that crisis, in particular with regard to local government funding?

  • It is certainly a priority of my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary to ensure that we plan a future in which health and social care are closely integrated, to ensure the best possible service to all our constituents. Average lengths of stay in hospital have fallen since this Government first came to office. Although there are difficulties and challenges—I do not pretend otherwise—that suggests that the local health and social services managers are responding to the challenge well. Since the hon. Gentleman mentioned the CQC, I note that it has said that more than 70% of adult social services should be rated as good or outstanding.

  • Will the Leader of the House provide me with some guidance as to the best way that my constituents can get value for money from their local council? It was reported this week that that council had spent £750 million on traffic consultants in four months; on top of that, it has wasted a lot of money on a very expensive bus lane that lasted for only 21 days, painted double yellow lines across the middle of a road and spelled “school” incorrectly on a sign. Will he let me know what I can do about this dysfunctional council?

  • My hon. Friend is doing a service to her constituents in highlighting those examples of wasteful expenditure. They demonstrate the fact that this is a question not just of central Government grants to local authorities but of local authorities’ getting things right and not making mistakes or getting their priorities wrong in the way that she has described. In the medium term, the answer to her constituents is to secure change by voting for a Conservative-majority council.

  • Order. We have had an enjoyable Cook’s tour of South East Cornwall, but I am not quite sure it constituted a business question. Nevertheless, it is permanently on the record, and colleagues can study it in the long winter evenings that lie ahead.

  • Earlier this year, Greenwich clinical commissioning group awarded a contract for the provision of musculoskeletal services to CircleHealth without adequate public consultation and seemingly without an impact assessment by either the CCG or NHS England. May we have a debate about the adequacy of the procedures that Greenwich CCG followed in awarding that contract and about patient involvement in the commissioning process more generally?

  • If the hon. Gentleman has evidence that the proper procedures were not followed in this case, and would like to send me that information, I will be happy to pass it on to Health Ministers. My general point would be that although it is of course important that there is adequate public consultation and all proper process is followed, it is right that clinical commissioning groups should be free to decide whether they go to voluntary sector providers, charitable sector providers or, in some cases, private sector providers, on the basis of what will give the best quality free treatment to the patients they serve.

  • Two years ago, there was a tragic accident at a fireworks depot in Stafford in which people lost their lives. Surrounding businesses were greatly disturbed and had to close for some time. I understand, however, that even now it is not a requirement for anyone who is applying for a licence to hold fireworks to show that they have business insurance policies that protect against these sorts of occurrences. May we have a debate on that, and on what kind of support is given to both people and businesses affected by such tragic events?

  • In view of the fact that we are approaching 5 November, my hon. Friend might want to seek an Adjournment debate on this subject. I will draw his concerns to the attention of the appropriate Ministers. I think we are all aware, from our constituency experience, of cases where people have suffered the most horrific injuries as a result of either abuse of fireworks by hooligans or a ghastly accident. All sensible safety precautions ought to be taken so that people can avoid such a risk.

  • Mr Speaker, you talked of the long winter evenings that lie ahead. Long winter days also lie ahead. May we have a debate on how we ensure protection for our security, police and doorkeeper staff as they stand, looking after us and protecting us, in the many draughty places in this building in the freezing cold? I am particularly concerned about the police officer who has to stand at the entrance to the underground station, the exit from the colonnade and the exit from Portcullis House. This is a particularly cold and draughty place, and standing stationary for a few hours is pretty cold. Can we look at that?

  • The hon. Lady’s question reminds us all of the debt we owe to all staff, including contracted staff, in the House of Commons, especially those responsible for our safety and security. I am sure you, as Chair of the House of Commons Commission, Mr Speaker, will take a look at the particular problem identified by the hon. Lady.

  • Yesterday, our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of building local consensus around local government reorganisation. May we have an early debate on this matter, so the Government can indicate how they will facilitate this process, for example by insisting that any consultation should be honest, open and transparent, which is certainly not what the consultation in Dorset has been so far?

  • I heard my hon. Friend’s question to the Prime Minister yesterday, and her answer. He spoke fiercely in support of his own local authorities and I am sure he will persist in that campaign. I think that an Adjournment debate, either in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall, might be the right way in which to pursue that particular course.

  • I am not so sure about “Dad’s Army”, but one of the other shows was “Hi-de-Hi!”. I am not quite sure who to cast the Leader of the House as, whether Gladys Pugh or Peggy Ollerenshaw—or maybe just the camp host.

    I want to ask the Leader of the House about the proceedings in the House of Lords last night. As he will know, the Government’s answer to everything at the moment, in relation to last Friday and to Leveson part 2, is to put it in the Bill in the House of Lords. The Minister in the House of Lords last night was unable to say whether we are going to have Leveson part 2, which has been guaranteed many times in this House. Will the Leader of the House make sure that this does now happen?

  • The key point about Leveson 2 is that the Government have been consistent in saying that we would not announce a decision on that until the completion of all criminal proceedings arising out of the phone tapping allegations. We have not yet come to the end of those proceedings, so it would not be right at the moment for the Government to come forward with the decision.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • A further 25 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I am keen to try to conclude proceedings on this statement by 11.30 am, so there is a premium on brevity from both Back Benchers and Front Benchers.

  • Yesterday we celebrated the accession of Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, to India. On the subject of light, over this weekend we celebrate Diwali. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing Hindus, Sikhs and Jains everywhere a very happy Deepavali and a happy, peaceful and prosperous, but above all else healthy, new year?

  • I wholeheartedly endorse my hon. Friend’s call for Diwali greetings to go to all people in this country of Indian heritage who will be celebrating that great feast. As he mentioned Kashmir, I think there would perhaps be no better way to mark the festival of Diwali than to see progress towards the much yearned for settlement in Kashmir that would finally bring about peace and an end to the tension and conflict that has beset that beautiful part of the world for far too long.

  • May we have a great debate on how this Government seem to enjoy spending lots of money in the south of England and to dislike spending any money in the north of England? This is holding back infrastructure projects that would boost the northern economy, such as the M65 link between east Lancashire and the north-east and Scotch Corner, which would transform parts of the northern economy. When are we going to have a serious debate about this?

  • The hon. Gentleman ought to go and talk to some of the Labour council leaders in the north of England who have worked closely with the Government to champion the northern powerhouse project, which includes many important infrastructure projects. I note, too, that leaders in the north of this country have broadly speaking welcomed warmly the Government’s announcement about airports this week.

  • Last Thursday I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Corby sports awards, an annual event when we all come together and celebrate sporting achievement in our town. May we have a debate next week on grassroots sport and the vital role that volunteering plays in it, not just in my constituency but across the country?

  • Especially the hon. Gentleman, who is grassroots sports parliamentarian of the year, which he is too modest to mention, although I can do so on his behalf.

  • My hon. Friend is renowned for his modesty on these matters. I am happy to add my congratulations to yours, Mr Speaker, and I suspect that most of us are somewhat in awe of the YouTube video of the Sports Minister demonstrating her footballing skills, which appeared online in the past 24 hours. There will be an opportunity on Thursday 3 November for questions to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That will give my hon. Friend the opportunity he seeks.

  • May we have a debate on the Government’s policy on light rail schemes? We do not know what the policy is. In Leeds, we have a crazy situation whereby the Government made the brave decision to say that Leeds could keep £173.5 million and not waste it on the trolley bus scheme, but now seem to be allowing Leeds to fritter the money away in another way, when what we really need is light rail, so may we have a debate on this important issue?

  • I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman a debate in Government time in the near future. He may have other opportunities through the Adjournment debate procedure, but I will ask the relevant Minister to write to him about the Leeds scheme.

  • May we have a debate on school crossing patrols, and will the Leader of the House join me in praising the wonderful road safety role that lollipop ladies, and indeed lollipop men, play in our communities come rain or shine?

  • While I cannot offer a debate, I am happy to endorse my hon. Friend’s tribute to lollipop men and ladies. Many of us over the years have had children of our own who have benefited from the additional safety that they provide to children in going to school and crossing busy roads.

  • May I join others in impressing on the Leader of the House that we should have a debate or statement in Government time on the cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission? Given that the industrial action involves the lowest-paid staff under threat of compulsory redundancy, surely it is time to have a debate.

  • I direct the hon. Gentleman to the possibility of an Adjournment debate or perhaps, if there is sufficient support in the House, to a Backbench Business Committee debate on the subject. As I said in reply to the shadow Leader of the House, the commission is rightly at arm’s length from Government decisions—we do not as Ministers interfere in its day-to-day operations—but I hope the commission will always have regard to the need to provide value for money for the taxpayer and to work to try to improve morale among its own staff.

  • May we have a debate on the ability of local authorities to introduce blanket traffic regulation orders to stop the problems that often occur in many residential and urban areas of parking on grass verges and other examples of inconsiderate parking?

  • I will draw that issue to the attention of Transport Ministers. Part of the problem is that, as suggested by our own constituency experience, different constituents who argue on opposite sides about any particular location. I shall ask the Minister with responsibility for parking to write to my hon. Friend.

  • One disturbing aspect of the Panama papers revelations was that more than half of the companies for whom Mossack Fonseca acted were in British-linked tax havens. HMRC has commenced negotiations on new treaties with Crown dependencies, but no provision has yet been made for this House to consider the outcome. In the interests of transparency, can we have a debate here to ensure that these tax treaties are properly scrutinised and thoroughly understood before they are ratified?

  • There are opportunities, particularly through the Select Committee system, to pursue those issues in much greater detail and to question Ministers about arrangements with all the relevant British overseas territories. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would, however, acknowledge that this Government have taken more determined and effective action than any of their predecessors to improve the standards of transparency and reporting on behalf of our overseas territories, and to pioneer international agreements to try to stamp out tax evasion and limit tax avoidance.

  • May we have a debate—it may need to be a long one—on how out of touch the BBC is with the general public in the United Kingdom? A freedom of information request that I have just had returned confirms once again that over the last year the BBC bought more copies of The Guardian than any other national newspaper, despite it being only the eighth most popular daily with the British public. In fact, the BBC bought 75,000 copies of The Guardian last year—it seems to be single-handedly keeping that newspaper afloat. Does this not show how out of touch the BBC is with the general public across the country? Should we not expect the national state broadcaster in this country to be more in tune with, and to represent, the people it is supposed to represent?

  • There will be a chance at next Thursday’s Culture, Media and Sport questions to pursue concerns about the BBC. It is for the BBC itself to answer questions about its newspaper subscriptions. I do think, however, that evidence suggests that most people in this country value the programmes that the BBC produces on both television and radio, and that although we should certainly be on the lookout for any examples of wasteful spending or abuse of the sort my hon. Friend has described, we should not neglect the reality that the BBC is a formidable soft power asset for the influence of the United Kingdom globally.

  • I am amazed that the Government have not so far produced a statement on the British Steel pension scheme. It would be warmly welcomed if that could be rectified. This week, we saw the deficit written down from £700 million to £50 million. This scheme is an integral part of the British steel industry for the future. What are Ministers doing about arranging talks, and what support will they give to the BSPS in the future?

  • The future for the British Steel pension scheme is linked to decisions that Tata Steel needs to take about the future of its steel-making operations in the United Kingdom. Last May, the Government consulted on options to make changes to the pension scheme. We got more than 4,500 responses, and we continue not only to consider those, but to speak to all interested parties about the sale of the steel business, the implications for the pension scheme and the wider implications for the pension industry. These are delicate and sensitive talks. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the fate of many jobs hinges on them. We will respond in due course, but we think that it would premature to make such a statement now. Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions are coming up, so the hon. Gentleman might be able to raise the point again then.

  • In the light of the proposed restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, may we have a full debate on the need to optimise the commercial and operational benefits of a “decant”? I have some 20 years’ commercial experience in this sector. May I ask what we are doing to harness sector skills, including specialist apprenticeships—I see that the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills is present—given the scale of the project and given the availability?

  • My hon. Friend has made a very good point. We will certainly have a debate, and, if a Division is called, a vote, to decide whether we wish to approve the approach set out in the Joint Committee’s report. It will take place as soon as possible, but I am not in a position to announce a date today.

    My hon. Friend also made a good point in drawing attention to the fact that the Committee’s report itself said that the project would, if approved, provide huge opportunities for British industry—both manufacturing and service industries—as well as an opportunity to develop specialist skills and involve apprentices in the way that she has described.

  • Royal Bank of Scotland allowed someone to withdraw £500 from the account of my constituent Calum Cheshire, at a branch which he had never visited and which was far from his home, because that person was able to reproduce his signature from a long-lost driving licence, and apparently their eyes looked similar. No bank card or PIN was required, and the bank will not give Calum his money back. May we have a debate on the duty of banks to refund customers’ money that they give away in error, and the lack of protection offered to customers by the financial ombudsman?

  • Obviously it is difficult for me to respond in detail without knowing the specifics of the case, but if the hon. Lady would care to write to me, I will pass the correspondence to the responsible Minister and ask for a reply to be sent directly to her.

  • May we please have a debate on the operation of the Child Maintenance Service? Notwithstanding the change of name, the problems that beset the Child Support Agency have been replaced with a new set of genuine complaints. For instance, fathers are being assessed on the basis of their gross earnings of two and three years ago, although they have provided the CMS with evidence that they are now on a lower wage.

  • I will flag my hon. Friend’s concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. It is in all our interests for the Child Maintenance Service to work efficiently and fairly in ensuring that children receive the support to which they are entitled. Let us never forget that the children should be at the heart of child maintenance policy. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that it is also important for the CMS to get its calculations right so that people do not end up being saddled with bills that they are not actually supposed to be paying.

  • The chairman of Network Rail has said that there is a funding gap which could mean that the Swansea to London electrification project will not be completed. May we have a statement on the delivery of this important large-scale project? So far, we have had four years of probably expensive procrastination on the Swansea to Cardiff section. Wales deserves better, and the impasse needs to be resolved.

  • My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is currently considering the priorities that he wants to set for transport infrastructure in the years to come. Meanwhile, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is preparing his autumn statement, which will address some infrastructure issues. I hope that we shall be able to provide greater clarity, not just for the hon. Gentleman but for the whole House, before very much longer.

  • Following the results of a BBC Radio 5 Live survey in which 8% of football fans said that they would stop following their teams if they signed a gay player, and the unfortunate comments of the chairman of the Football Association, who has advised people against coming out as gay at the moment, may we have a debate on homophobia in football and in male team sports more generally?

  • I think that if the hon. Gentleman has an opportunity to raise his concern during the forthcoming session of questions to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, he will find that Ministers wholeheartedly endorse his call for homophobia, and, in particular, the expression of some pretty vile homophobic sentiments and slogans, to be driven out of sport altogether. It has no place in sport.

  • In many parts of the country the number of women accepting invitations for cervical and breast-screening tests is at the lowest level for 18 years, and the all-party group on women’s health heard there are significant barriers to accessing these tests, particularly for black, Asian and minority ethnic women, women with mental health problems and learning difficulties and working women. May we have a debate in Government time to understand how Parliament can ensure women are given every opportunity to attend these life-saving tests?

  • I will certainly draw the Health Secretary’s attention to the hon. Lady’s concern. As her question suggests, for some of those hard-to-reach groups it is not simply a matter of having screening services available; it is also about making sure the women know about, and feel confident enough to use them, and sometimes there are cultural or other reasons why people may feel unwilling to do so. So I agree we need to work through all the relevant agencies to give women that confidence to come forward.

  • When we come back from a recess on a day that is not a Monday we sit on Monday hours, from 2.30 pm to 10.30 pm. Should a similar principle not apply when we rise for a recess, and may we on Tuesday 8 November sit on Thursday hours, from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm?

  • I will give some rapid thought to that question, but at the moment the plan is to continue with the hours we normally sit that day.

  • Did the Leader of the House hear a senior American military commentator this morning say President Putin is delighted about the British Brexit decision and likes to see Europe feckless and weak? If that is the case may we have an early debate on the growing aggression from Russia and the fact that Russia is clearly trying to intervene in American politics at present, and did the Russians intervene in the Brexit vote in June?

  • I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman about the aggressive approach taken by the Russian Government at present, which we have seen demonstrated both in the cyber-attacks he describes and on the ground in Ukraine and through the stationing of missiles in the Kaliningrad Oblast. I hope it will be some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman to know that yesterday NATO announced details of the rapid deployment forces to be stationed in the Baltic states and Poland, and that the UK will be the lead nation in Estonia and a supporting nation in the Polish contingent. That demonstrates this country’s continuing commitment to European defence and security, which will continue even as we prepare to leave the EU and afterwards.

  • My constituent Kerrie Hamilton told me how she suffered a traumatic experience at the hands of her Atlantis Group landlord, with men barging into her Stockton home and bullying her, while Mrs Olwyn Murdoch, in her 70s, told me how Atlantis staff are hounding her for money even though she no longer lives in their property. Both have long tales of woe including welcome local council interventions and a recorded conversation in which the wife of the owner, John Sykes, tells Mrs Hamilton no one could prove bullying because he is so powerful and runs a charity. May we have a debate on rogue landlords and how we can better protect tenants from such behaviour?

  • There are various legal rules that landlords have to follow if they are seeking lawfully to evict a tenant, and in my experience the courts do test the arguments landlords put forward. In this case it may be that the tenant felt so intimidated that they were unable to avail themselves of those remedies. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about his constituency case, I will draw it to the attention of the housing Minister.

  • It was Mother Teresa who said:

    “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

    In northern Iraq, Yazidis are living in tents rather than in the trailer units that are provided for others. They are not receiving rations of basic food or support. There are many Yazidis and Christians living in extremely poor conditions outside of the UNHCR camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Will the Leader of the House arrange a statement or a debate on this important issue?

  • The Government are giving assistance to people in need in northern Iraq through our international development and aid programme. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the reason that those people are in such dire circumstances is that they have fled the terrorist genocidal regime of Daesh in parts of the north of that country. The sooner the Iraqi and peshmerga forces are able to re-establish control over Iraqi territory, the sooner we will be able to bring hope and the restoration of normal life to those people.

  • London has HS1, HS2, Crossrail 1, Crossrail 2 and a new runway at Heathrow, and of course the £30 million of Government money that is being wasted on a garden bridge. Meanwhile, the M56 is jammed every day and we have had no commitment on an HS2 hub at Chester. May I add my calls to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) for a proper debate about why the Government’s priorities seem to be focused on the south-east while we in the north and the north-west lose out?

  • I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for wanting to get more spending for his own constituency. That is a perfectly proper thing for him to seek here. However, he needs to acknowledge the Government’s commitment to the northern powerhouse, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) initiated and which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has recently confirmed. I hope that, when the autumn statement is made, the hon. Gentleman will find ample demonstration in it of our continuing commitment to the prosperity and growth of our great northern cities.

  • The Government are proposing to close down the Dungavel immigration and removal centre, not to improve immigration policy but as part of a flawed value-for-money exercise. Half the workforce live in my constituency, and they feel that they have been left high and dry. May we have a debate in Government time on how the Government have conducted this matter, on their wider estate rationalisation and on how they engage—or do not engage—with the workforce and the unions?

  • The hon. Gentleman might wish to seek an Adjournment debate on the constituency implications of that decision, but as I think he knows, the Government’s intention is that Dungavel will be replaced by a new centre located close to Glasgow airport, which will be much more convenient for ensuring that those people who are in this country illegally and who have been properly served with deportation or removal notices can be removed to their country of origin.

  • I attended the launch of the Thin Red Line appeal on Monday. It is an initiative to raise funds for the refurbishment of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regimental museum at Stirling Castle. What opportunities exist to debate and draw attention to this fine cause, which seeks to properly honour and commemorate that renowned Scottish regiment?

  • I should like to salute the proud record of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s tribute will receive unanimous support from Members representing all political parties in the House. He has seized this opportunity today, and there might be another opportunity to discuss the matter, either in a forthcoming Adjournment debate, at Culture, Media and Sport questions or perhaps in questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland.