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House of Commons Hansard
03 November 2016
Volume 616

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

  • The business for next week will be as follows:

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

    Tuesday 8 November—A debate on a motion on the role of grammar and faith schools, followed by a general debate on raising awareness of a new generation of veterans and service personnel. The subjects for both these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

    The provisional business for the week commencing 14 November will include:

    Monday 14 November—Second Reading of the Technical and Further Education Bill.

    Tuesday 15 November—Consideration of a Lords message relating to the Investigatory Powers Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Small Charitable Donations and Childcare Payments Bill.

    Wednesday 16 November—Opposition day (12th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

    Thursday 17 November—A debate on a motion on reductions to employment and support allowance and universal credit, followed by a general debate on International Men’s Day. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

    Friday 18 November—Private Members’ Bills.

    I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 14 and 17 November will be:

    Monday 14 November—Debate on an e-petition relating to the status of police dogs and horses.

    Thursday 17 November—General debate on the future of the Post Office.

    It may be for the convenience of the House if I make a few comments following this morning’s High Court judgment. It is a lengthy and complex judgment, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General is currently studying. I can confirm to the House that it is the Government’s intention to appeal against today’s High Court judgment. As the House is aware, we are now in a situation in which we have this judgment today and, from a little while ago, a judgment from the High Court of Northern Ireland, which came to a completely different decision on the same subject. We now have the High Courts in two different parts of the United Kingdom coming to opposite conclusions about the same constitutional legal question. This will now need to go to a higher court. In the light of the two judgments, the Government intend to offer an oral statement next Monday so that, subject to the usual requirements on sub judice, Ministers can be questioned by Members from all parts of the House.

  • May I just say that it was the Master of the Rolls and the Lord Chief Justice who handed down that judgment?

    Business questions are proving to be very successful in many areas. Not only was Marmite returned to the shelves on the same day that it was raised here, but now Bob Dylan has contacted the Nobel Committee.

    We still do not have a negotiating position on exiting the European Union. We had a glimpse of it—not in Parliament, but on the “The Andrew Marr Show”—the day before a statement to the House. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy admitted that he had given assurances to a company that there will be continued access to markets in Europe, and vice versa. So, not a complete hard exit then, which reflects the Prime Minister’s comments to City bankers that she is worried about the effect of Brexit on the British economy.

    A recent report by Professor Menon of King’s College said that cuts to personnel over the past few years have left the civil service depleted and with little expertise. Where do we get the expertise from? It is Europe, which is why we need a debate on the Government’s negotiating position. If the Government are going to provide letters of comfort, as the Secretary of State said, sector by sector, the British people would also like a letter of comfort. Sadly for us and for you, Mr Speaker, if the British people want to know what is going on and what the Government are thinking, they have to watch “The Andrew Marr Show”.

    Mr Speaker, you will recall the words:

    “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning”,

    but this Government seem to be turning again. In a written statement, the Education Secretary said last week that there will be no changes to education legislation in this parliamentary Session, which will run until next summer. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that is correct? Does that mean no forced academies, no education Bill and parents back on governing bodies? Will he please be explicit? If that is not enough, the legacy of the beleaguered Education Secretary at the Department for International Development has been trashed by her successor, who says that there will be a greater focus on trade and that she will “call out” foreign aid organisations using British money. The Government are in disarray and speak with forked tongues.

    I recall the former International Development Secretary telling the House that she had undertaken an audit of all aid donations, and that the Department’s website clearly states where the money has gone. You know, Mr Speaker, because you sat on the International Development Committee, that aid is about supporting fledgling democracies. It is about what we saw in Burma—children going to school, fighting disease, and supporting the rule of law so that people will want to stay in their country. Our own Clerks, Library staff and others, under your leadership, Mr Speaker, go to places such as Burma as they enter into peace. They help to build capacity, expertise and confidence, and out of that comes growth. May we have a debate on the Government’s policy on aid and whether the 0.7% of GDP for aid, which was voted for by this House, is protected?

    This week, all of us will take part in Remembrance Day services. We will hear the Kohima epitaph:

    “When you go home,

    tell them of us and say,

    for their tomorrow,

    we gave our today.”

    That is why we remember them. The Royal British Legion wants us to rethink Remembrance to include today’s generation who have died serving their country. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) has secured a debate next week to draw attention to that call. May I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that, across the parliamentary Estate, we take up the call to rethink Remembrance?

    Those who served fought for future generations, and future generations will be here next week when we welcome the Youth Parliament on 11 November. Its sitting will involve more than 300 young people between the ages of 12 and 18 from throughout our United Kingdom. We can learn from them how to focus on debates.

    Will the Leader of the House join me in sending a message to Bob: “If you don’t want the Nobel peace prize money, could you donate it to the White Helmets of Syria?”? That charity did not win the Nobel peace prize and was the beloved charity of our beloved colleague Jo Cox, who would have been delighted by the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) yesterday.

    Finally, we look forward to the result of the United States presidential election. Faced with a scary clown and the possibility of the first woman President of the United States, I think I know who I would vote for. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing President Obama and his family all the best for the future.

  • I straightaway join the shadow Leader of the House in expressing best wishes to President Obama, who has shown himself to be a firm friend of the United Kingdom, and of efforts to bring about peace and stability in conflict-torn parts of the world. We wish him and his family well.

    I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) on her maiden speech and welcome her from the Dispatch Box. We look forward to her playing an active part in our proceedings in the months and years to come.

    Like the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), I am looking forward very much to the Youth Parliament coming here on 11 November. As you and I discussed earlier this week, Mr Speaker, we are both going to play a small role in the opening of those proceedings. It is really good to see young men and women who are enthusiastic about and committed to the democratic parliamentary process. I hope they will go away from their experience on 11 November wanting to be ambassadors for the strengths of parliamentary debate and parliamentary democracy in their communities around the country.

    I am certainly aware of the wish of the Royal British Legion and other armed forces charities to ensure that, while we rightly continue to honour the sacrifice of those who served in the world wars, without whom we would not have the freedoms that we can so easily take for granted today, we should also have in mind those who have served in more recent conflicts, and the work that the charities do to provide help and support to servicemen and women who suffer mental and physical injury as a consequence of that service, and their families. All of us should be working with local branches of the Royal British Legion, other service charities and the services themselves to ensure that this message, as well as the sacrifice and the continuing service of our armed forces, is understood by the wider community and across the generations. We should be as proud of those who have served more recently in Northern Ireland, the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan as we are of those who served in previous generations.

    On the more political elements of the hon. Lady’s remarks, I was surprised by what she said about aid and international development. The Government could not have been clearer about our commitment to the 0.7% development spending, as we have demonstrated, not least by writing it into law. The very work to help to build democracy and good governance that she talked about, through organisations such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, is part of that 0.7%, and the criteria for our aid spending are laid down by the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. There are clear guidelines and rules that govern how aid money should be spent, so I think that the hon. Lady is trying to set up some kind of Aunt Sally. There ought to be agreement across the House about our wanting an ambitious development programme, but also one in which we are rigorous in measuring the value for money of our aid and look carefully at the outcomes to make sure that that money—taxpayers’ money, don’t forget—is going to people who are in desperate need and is making a difference for good to their lives.

    On education policy, I do not know whether the hon. Lady was on holiday when my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary recently launched a Green Paper and major consultation exercise on education reform. While we are taking forward our proposed work on further education and technical education, as I have announced, we think that it is right to look at broader school policies in the light of the consultation responses that we will get. My right hon. Friend will be coming forward in due course with a considered approach, taking in the ideas set out in the recent Green Paper.

    Finally, when it comes to Europe and European exit, I have just announced that there will be a debate next Monday on one aspect—

  • A Backbench Business debate.

  • No, it is a full day’s debate in Government time on the UK’s exit from the European Union and workers’ rights, and it is but the first of a series of such debates that will provide ample opportunity for Members of Parliament from all parties to express their views clearly. I will just say this to the hon. Lady: if she really thinks that it is sensible for the Government to set out in public a detailed negotiating position ahead of a negotiation with 20 other countries, I would love to be negotiating on the other side of the table from her.

  • I realise that the Government are trying to maintain their efforts to stop the House from having a vote on article 50, but can my right hon. Friend reassure me that he is not trying to assert that the Government regard themselves as not accountable to a vote in Parliament on their general policies on our political, economic and trade relationships with the European Union for the duration of the negotiations, which will no doubt take several years?

    As my right hon. Friend is apparently offering a large number of fairly innocuous debates on broad-brush motions taking note of various European subjects, is he aware that, as a result of the number of Members who will wish to speak, many Back Benchers will unfortunately find that, as things stand, they have only three minutes in which to give a detailed explanation of their views on any subject? As the Whips will have nothing to fear from such debates, will he consider inviting the House to suspend the usual time rules so that we can have some more open-ended debates? Otherwise, the Government will try to dismiss the whole thing with a series of rather farcically constricted exchanges of views.

  • I am somewhat surprised that my right hon. and learned Friend appears to have an appetite for the kind of all-night sittings that he and I went through on the Maastricht Bill some 25 years ago. I do not think that that would be the right way to have a mature debate and to reflect public interest in these various European issues. I am sure that the House will have plenty of opportunities—not just in Government time, but in many others ways—to debate all aspects of our forthcoming negotiation, but the fundamental principle is that this House voted overwhelmingly to give the British people the final say when it voted through the referendum Bill earlier this year, and we need to accept and respect the consequences of that decision.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Order. The House will decide its sitting hours—that is a matter for colleagues—pursuant to what the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has said. I simply underline the point that I am a servant of the House, and whatever hours the House wants to sit to debate important matters, I am very happy to be in the Chair.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. His response thus far to the High Court ruling simply is not good enough. This is an important, significant ruling, which suggests that this House is sovereign on these matters. As a leader of this House, not just of this Government, he should respect that. What plans does he therefore have to bring an early vote on these matters to the House? It is little wonder that the Foreign Secretary compared this process to the Titanic, because what we have is a stricken, doomed liner going to the bottom of the ocean, taking its captain with it. Well, we in Scotland are preparing our lifeboat to get out of this, because there is no way we are going to the deeps with this stricken Government.

    May we have a debate on animal welfare? The nation is simply gripped by the story of Kim the Alsatian, and how the poor dog came to meet her ultimate maker. Lord Heseltine, of course, claims he did not strangle that dog, but it would not be the first time he had tried to dispatch a frothing-at-the-mouth but much-loved family member for the betterment of this nation.

    Looking at the business, what meagre business we have. It is full of general debates and Backbench Business debates. I am glad that we have some time for the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), but there is no legislation, save one piece programmed for a week on Monday. It took the last Parliament four years to acquire the moniker of the zombie Parliament; it looks like this Leader of the House is trying to achieve that in less than two years.

  • The hon. Gentleman is trying to work himself up into a sense of rage that, I am afraid, I find wholly synthetic. The judgment today is some 30 or 40 pages in length. The idea that I would come to the House within an hour of that judgment being read out in court and be able to provide the sort of detailed analysis and responses to questions that the hon. Gentleman seeks is, quite frankly, wrong-headed. That is why the Government are offering the oral statement when my right hon. and learned Friends have had the opportunity to look at the judgment in detail so that we can respond as best we can, given the sub judice rule, to the questions from hon. Members on both sides of the House.

    When it comes to the business before the House, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is not correct. I did say that we have legislation on both Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 November. I am asked all the time in these sessions for debates on European matters. The Government are now offering, in Government time, a debate on European matters—on workers’ rights, which is something the Scottish National party professes to care about a great deal. Now the hon. Gentleman argues that, instead of that, we should have Government legislation. I think he needs to make up his mind where his priorities really lie.

  • I was going, yet again, to raise the question of BBC monitoring in Caversham, and the determination of the Defence Committee to get a Minister responsible before us, but I will let the Leader of the House off this week on that topic. Will he instead make a statement about the holding by Russia of 31 Ukrainian prisoners, half of whom are having their Ukrainian nationality denied by the Russians because they come from that part of the Ukraine that is now occupied by Russia? I believe he met Nadiya Savchenko, the courageous army pilot whom the Russians took prisoner and sentenced to 22 years in jail until a campaign successfully got her released. A statement from the Government on the way in which Russia could perhaps do something to improve relations between east and west by releasing those prisoners would, indeed, be welcome.

  • I have a great deal of sympathy for what my right hon. Friend said. I did, indeed, meet Nadiya Savchenko yesterday, and I said to her that it was really good to see her a free woman, but also to be able to meet her in a free and democratic Parliament. I just wish that those conditions pertained in Russia as well. The approach that the Russian authorities have been taking in detaining Ukrainian citizens and holding them as political prisoners is but one manifestation of the increasingly ruthless and authoritarian approach taken by the Kremlin. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been very plain in his condemnation of the Russian Government’s approach, and the British Government will continue to urge Russia through all diplomatic channels to change its approach, and will continue to support international sanctions, including European sanctions, against Russia so long as it continues to occupy Crimea and to interfere in the Donbass.

  • The Leader of the House has announced Back-Bench business for up to and including 17 November, including two debates next Tuesday. We are grateful to get debates on a Tuesday, even though it is the last day before the recess. We have two important Back-Bench debates this afternoon, but you have granted an urgent question, Mr Speaker, and two Government statements will also eat into our time. Will the Leader of the House consider finding protected time on days other than Thursdays, so that Back-Bench business is not eaten into by Government statements?

    Last Saturday, I was privileged to attend the official opening of the north-east of England garden of remembrance in Saltwell Park, which is in the heart of my constituency of Gateshead. May I pay tribute to the Royal British Legion, the volunteers and the staff and members of Gateshead Council, who provide a wonderful, serene space in the town centre municipal park, for a magnificent display of commemoration for the fallen?

  • I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in his salute both to the Royal British Legion in Gateshead and to the work done by Gateshead Council.

    We will always do our best to ensure that there is no unnecessary intrusion of statements on Back-Bench business time, but there are always contending pressures for limited parliamentary hours. Just as Government business sometimes gets curtailed because of the need for time for statements or urgent questions, that applies to Back-Bench business as well. We will try to be as helpful as we can to the hon. Gentleman and his Committee.

  • The Government have rightly decided to appeal to the Supreme Court. Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the vote to leave the European Union was fundamentally based on a sovereign Act of Parliament that expressly transferred the decision from Parliament to the voters of the United Kingdom as a whole?

  • As I recall, during the debates on the European Union Referendum Bill, hon. Members on both sides of the House agreed and said in their speeches that that was the political consequence of enacting it. The Court has come to its judgment and we will make a further statement on Monday, after the Attorney General has had the chance to look at it in detail.

  • May we have a debate on the increase in the use of food banks? During my recent campaign, I met the manager of Batley food bank, who is increasingly concerned about the upcoming winter months, as hard-working people and families left behind by this Government are forced to make the really difficult decision between heating their homes and putting food on the table.

  • One of the differences between this Government and the Labour Government who preceded them is that this Government have made a conscious decision to signpost people who might be in need to food banks as a possible source of support; whereas under Labour, staff working for the Department for Work and Pensions were expressly discouraged and forbidden from doing so. Despite that, there was a tenfold increase in the use of food banks under the last Labour Government. I would have hoped that the hon. Lady would have welcomed the fact that a record number of people are in work in this country, and that all the indicators of inequality, including those that the Labour party has historically supported and championed, show that inequality has fallen compared with its level under the Labour Government.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Order. Given the pressure on time, to which I referred earlier, I should now appreciate single, short supplementary questions.

  • I welcome the announcement by the Leader of the House that there is to be a debate on the European Union and workers’ rights next week. Could he also provide an opportunity for the House to debate the rights of this House, because without our supporting our own rights, there are no rights for workers? The Court this morning reinforced the importance of parliamentary sovereignty. Will my right hon. Friend make it abundantly clear that this House believes in its own powers and privileges; that they should be sustained; and that we should not enter into the farce that we entered into last Monday, when Parliament made a mistake in relation to Select Committees? [Interruption.]

  • It is being chuntered from a sedentary position that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer. He is indeed a very distinguished lawyer, but I fear that we will have to wait for the next question to get a brief one.

  • I am also a Member of Parliament.

  • The right hon. and learned Gentleman is also a Member of Parliament, and we have heard him with great courtesy and, indeed, a degree of charity.

  • As recently as last week, we had a debate on a report from the Privileges Committee during which Members from all parts of the House spoke up for the rights, powers and authority of this House of Commons. The particular issues arising from this morning’s High Court judgment are precisely the ones about which Members will have an opportunity to ask questions on Monday.

  • Bonfire night is almost upon us, and I really worry about the fire and rescue service in Cleveland—one of the highest fire risk areas in Europe—where we have lost more than a quarter of our front-line staff since 2010. Firefighters are at breaking point and worried that their ability to save lives is compromised. May we have a debate on the funding of fire and rescue services, and will the Leader of the House encourage the Fire Minister to visit Cleveland at my invitation to understand what is happening there?

  • I will certainly alert my right hon. Friend the Fire Minister to the invitation and to the welcome that he will undoubtedly receive in Cleveland from the hon. Gentleman. The issue of fire safety as we approach fireworks night is always about trying to get the right balance between families’ individual freedom to buy fireworks, to have bonfires and to celebrate; and our need to provide for their safety. That freedom-versus-security debate is so relevant here, as it is in other aspects of public policy.

    The good news is that the trend in admissions to hospital A&E departments because of accidents on fireworks night is downwards. That suggests to me that individuals and local authorities are much more aware of the safety advice that the Government and local councils have promulgated, and that they are taking appropriate action.

  • President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo is due to step down on 19 December. He will not do so, and he has not even arranged for the elections to replace him. May we have an urgent debate on the matter? There is great risk of substantial violence occurring on and after 19 December at a time when everybody will be off for Christmas and the United States will have an interregnum.

  • It is important that those elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo take place as soon as possible. That is in the interests of the stability of that country and the wellbeing of its people, so many of whom have to live lives of the most dreadful poverty and still fall prey to endemic violence within the DRC. The Government are using all diplomatic means available to try to ensure that those elections take place. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), the Minister with responsibility for Africa, issued a statement to that effect very recently.

  • I aim to move on to the next business at midday.

  • Will the Leader of the House make a statement explaining why the Government can give a £4.6 billion loan guarantee to Thames Water but will not provide loan guarantees to the oil and gas industry?

  • As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the Government provide a range of measures through the tax system that help to support oil and gas businesses in the United Kingdom. There is also the economic reality that the global price for hydrocarbons has fallen very sharply in recent years, and it is never possible to insulate any industry completely from that kind of movement.

  • May I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) on the need for an open-ended debate on Europe? As normal on Europe, Ken and I are as one. For brevity’s sake, would it help the Leader of the House if he just said yes?

  • Learning of this historic pact, my heart skips. Although the Government have pledged that there will be a series of debates on different aspects of the forthcoming EU negotiation, I fear we shall never be able to grant enough of them to satisfy my hon. Friend.

  • Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the re-routing of HS2 in south Yorkshire? The new route will decimate communities throughout the region and provide none of the advantages first associated with the Meadowhall station, which was going to be a catalyst for growth in the south Yorkshire economy.

  • I will certainly report to my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary the concerns that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed on behalf of his constituents. As he will know, that phase of the HS2 route has not yet been published in the form of a Bill. I am sure he will continue to make very strong representations to HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport asking them to look again at the plans in the light of his constituents’ concerns.

  • As one who campaigned against leaving the European Union, I give my right hon. Friend the assurance that I would vote for triggering article 50 if given the chance. I welcome the fact that there will be a statement on Monday, but does he accept that the Government’s tone need not be one of disappointment? It should be one of welcoming the operation of the British rule of law, which I thought the referendum was partly about. It is not a decision to be afraid of, even if the Government wish to appeal.

  • We certainly pride ourselves, rightly, on being a country that lives by the rule of law. The case in question involves some very important constitutional matters concerning the respective powers of the Executive, Parliament and, indeed, the courts themselves, so it is right and inevitable that this will end up in front of the Supreme Court. My right hon. Friend, like other hon. Members, will have an opportunity to make such points again on Monday.

  • The High Court has ruled that the

    “government does not have power”

    to trigger article 50. May we therefore have a debate to celebrate taking back control and parliamentary democracy, and to argue that Parliament should determine when article 50 is triggered on the basis of full consideration of the implications of the advisory referendum?

  • The hon. Gentleman has aired his view. I cannot recollect at the moment whether he voted for or against the European Union Referendum Bill when it came before Parliament. I suspect that he did not vote against it at the time, which might make his call for a celebration now seem slightly odd. As I have said, this is a matter about which hon. Members can question Ministers on Monday, and we shall then have to await the appeal hearing.

  • Thanks to the hard work of volunteers and Rugby Borough Council’s parks department, under the leadership of Chris Worman, my constituency won a prestigious gold award at the recent Britain in Bloom awards. We are hoping for further success when Caldecott Park is nominated for the UK’s Best Park awards. May we have a debate about the importance of our green open spaces?

  • I am delighted to congratulate Mr Worman and his team on the achievement that my hon. Friend mentioned. I hope that my hon. Friend will have the opportunity, perhaps through an Adjournment debate, to draw the House’s attention further to this matter, as well as to point out how the Government’s policy on neighbourhood planning will give local people a greater say in the future of their precious parks.

  • My constituency is wonderfully diverse, so I was saddened this morning to read a very misrepresentative newspaper article about an area in my constituency, in which the journalist appears to do nothing but stir up racial hatred. Such articles serve no purpose. May we have a debate to discuss the role the media appear to be playing in creating racial tension?

  • I am obviously not aware of the details of the particular case that the hon. Lady has described. In my experience, to promote good community relations requires commitment and steady hard work by members of different communities at local level in towns and in cities, right down to the level of individual estates and neighbourhoods. In my years in this place, I have seen members of all political parties getting stuck into that kind of work. As a result, if we look at opinion poll findings, we see that although there are problems—I am not going to pretend otherwise—for the most part this is a country where people feel at ease with their neighbours, whatever colour skin, whatever religion or whatever background those neighbours may have or have come from.

  • My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) have a point. Irrespective of the court case, is a general debate on triggering article 50 good enough? Why should we fear a debate on a substantive motion? It would be a brave Member of Parliament who voted against the will of the people. When it comes to Brexit, the only thing to fear is fear itself—let’s get on with it.

  • As I said earlier, some important constitutional questions were raised by the case in the High Court, and by the court case in Northern Ireland last week. The Government are going to appeal against today’s High Court judgment. We shall see what the appeal brings.

  • The 2013 Tomlinson report identified malpractice at the Royal Bank of Scotland, and a constituent of mine, Mr Alun Richards, believes he has been the victim of similar actions by the former Lloyds TSB group and its surveyors, Alder King. May we please have a debate on the conduct of the banking industry in the years that followed the financial crash?

  • If the hon. Gentleman’s constituent has been the victim of criminal malpractice on the part of a company or its employees, there are routes available with independent investigatory and prosecutorial authorities, and he should present his evidence to those. If the hon. Gentleman would care to write to me with the details of that constituency case, I shall pass them on to the Minister responsible.

  • May we please have a debate on the time taken to obtain Disclosure and Barring Service checks? A constituent has been waiting six weeks for a check, despite having had a previous check only in January of this year. These delays are stopping people working.

  • Delays of the kind that my hon. Friend mentions are deeply to be regretted. Not only are they inconvenient—to put it mildly—for the individuals concerned but they often mean that a school, hospital or social services department has to carry a vacancy or employ temporary staff for longer than necessary. The information I have is that over the past 12 months DBS checks that have taken longer than 60 days amount to less than 6% of the total number dispatched, but if he would like to let me have some details about the problems in his constituency I shall ensure that the relevant Minister at the Home Office is made aware of them.

  • The stabbing of a 14-year-old in Ealing made the front page of the Standard this week. It was the 68th one with a victim under 25 in our borough in 12 months, and there have been nearly 1,800 London-wide. May we have a Government statement on what is being done to get a grip on knife crime, to stop this becoming the new norm in the suburbs?

  • My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor are both very well aware of this challenge. Strong laws are in place against the carrying of knives in public places, but the real problem here is the gang culture that has grown up in parts of our cities. I know that the police and other criminal justice agencies make strenuous efforts to curb that gang culture. I do not think there is a single neat, easy answer to these questions. I hope that the hon. Lady will have the opportunity for further debate on the matter and also to put questions on it to the relevant Ministers.

  • Since a majority of Members of this House would vote to trigger article 50 but want further reassurance about the terms of Brexit, may I suggest to my right hon. Friend that whatever the legal position it would be wise of the Government to allow a discussion and vote on the plan, before they find that, one way or the other, they are required to offer that?

  • There are important constitutional questions that need to be resolved definitively one way or the other, but I take careful note of what my right hon. Friend says on article 50.

  • Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate about the fate of Andy Tsege, with whom many Members of the House will be familiar, who is on death row in Ethiopia? There are concerns about his safety and the safety of the cell he is sharing, and there has been no consular access since August.

  • As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Foreign Office Ministers have made frequent representations to the Ethiopian authorities about Mr Tsege. I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman’s continuing concern to the attention of the Foreign Secretary at the earliest possible opportunity.

  • The Leader of the House may have noted my ten-minute rule Bill on Tuesday on the admission to schools of children suffering from autism, which affects thousands of people up and down the country. Will he arrange for a statement outlining whether the Government are prepared to reconsider the current situation?

  • All hon. Members will be aware from our constituency work of some pretty dreadful cases in which parents of children who have various autistic spectrum disorders run into difficulties in accessing one or more of the statutory services. It is important that we have the best possible practice and the best awareness of autistic spectrum disorders in the education service and all other parts of the public service. Ministers are doing their utmost to encourage such understanding. My hon. Friend will have the opportunity to pursue that further in Education questions on Monday 14 November.

  • What should be supreme: the single snapshot of public opinion taken on a single day in June, heavily influenced by racial scaremongering and the downright lie of extra billions for the health service; or the mature opinion of Parliament when the full titanic consequences of Brexit are known? The Government asserted on 13 September 2010 that all referendums are advisory. Will the Leader of the House stand up for the supremacy of Parliament, knowing that second thoughts are always better than first thoughts?

  • The Government, the former Prime Minister and the current Prime Minister have always been completely consistent. We have said that the referendum, while legally and constitutionally advisory, was something that we would regard as politically binding. That was also the view taken by the Opposition, and certainly Opposition Front Benchers, when the Bill was going through. I campaigned hard for the remain side, but I have to say that it takes us into very difficult and potentially dangerous territory if we lightly say that we set aside the results of an exercise in mass democracy that attracted a turnout on general election scale, and that had an outcome that, while close, was nevertheless decisive.

  • In the run-up to Halloween, I held an event with Sainsbury’s to raise awareness of the flame risk of children’s fancy dress outfits. Sainsbury’s has brought its fancy dress toys standards to the highest nightwear standards. Retailers should never compete on child safety matters. May we have a debate on that very important matter?

  • My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Last year, following other concerns expressed in the House, the Government tasked trading standards with carrying out checks on a large number of such costumes, as a result of which various non-compliant products were withdrawn from sale by retailers. We are now in discussions with the British Standard Institution and the relevant European standards organisation to review, and if necessary revise, the fire safety regulations governing costumes. Of course, the advice to parents and anyone else buying or hiring such costumes must continue to be to check carefully the fire safety certification before they do so.

  • My private Member’s Bill on sugar is published today. It requires the number of spoonfuls of sugar in processed foods and drinks to be put on the label. Given that a man like him is supposed to have only nine spoonfuls a day, the equivalent of one Coca-Cola, and a woman only six spoonfuls, the equivalent of one Müller Light, will the Leader of the House find time to debate obesity, sugar labelling and the impact on the NHS?

  • Obesity is certainly a real challenge for the NHS, because of its link to chronic conditions such as diabetes. That is precisely why the Government have launched the most ambitious childhood anti-obesity strategy that any Government in the United Kingdom have set in motion. The Government will take a view on the hon. Gentleman’s Bill if and when it is debated in the Chamber.

  • As my right hon. Friend may know, I have been campaigning to save the hedgehog. Bonfire night will be on Saturday. Does my right hon. Friend agree that people should check their bonfires before they are lit to make sure there are no hedgehogs lurking inside them?

  • My hon. Friend will merit some kind of Tiggywinkles award for his devotion to hedgehogs. He is right. If our constituents want further advice, they can consult the website of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, where further tips are available.

  • Truly, the hon. Gentleman has established himself as a hedgehog fetishist.

  • My constituent David Greenway is currently struck in Iraq. His employer is an American company called Hannaford, which has not paid him or his accommodation costs for some time, with the result that his passport has been seized by his hotel, which will not release it until all arrears are paid. The embassy has intervened without success and I have written to the relevant Minister. May we have a debate on what more can be done to help British citizens left in this situation?

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this case. He will understand that it is sometimes the right course of action to raise an individual case in public, and that with particular Governments it is better to try to go in slightly under the radar and make representations. I will make sure that Foreign Office Ministers are very alive to the case he describes. If he would like to let me have further details, that will help to speed things up.

  • Following the Welsh Assembly Government’s decision to cut the local government settlement for Powys County Council for the 10th year in a row, may we have a debate on whether the Welsh Government are taking their responsibility to serve the whole of Wales seriously, or whether they are interested only in looking after their Labour heartlands?

  • My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It is very important that he and others who represent rural communities in Wales impress on the Welsh Assembly Government the need to try to have a Welsh Government that works for all. The evidence, sadly, is that there is not much of that commitment on the part of the Labour party in Cardiff.

  • I trust the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) will now impress us with a single sentence inquiry.

  • At this time of year, when we remember those who died and their families, it is a national disgrace that there is a group of women who still do not receive any support from the state because after grief they again found love. May we have a debate on this injustice and an announcement from the Government that this will finally change?

  • The hon. Gentleman may have the chance to obtain an Adjournment debate on this subject, but I will make sure that the relevant Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions writes to him.

  • I thank the Leader of the House and colleagues.