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Business of the House

Volume 619: debated on Thursday 19 January 2017

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 23 January—Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill.

Tuesday 24 January—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Wales Bill followed by motion relating to the charter for budget responsibility followed by motion relating to the appointment of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Wednesday 25 January—Opposition day (19th allotted day). There will be a debate on prisons followed by a debate entitled “The detrimental effects on disabled people of Government plans on employment and support allowance and universal credit”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 26 January—Debate on a motion relating to statutory pubs code and the pubs code adjudicator followed by debate on a motion relating to access to Kadcyla and other breast cancer drugs. Both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 27 January—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 30 January will include:

Monday 30 January—Second Reading of the Pension Schemes Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 31 January—Second Reading of the Bus Services Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 1 February—Opposition day (20th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 2 February—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 3 February—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for the remainder of January will be:

Monday 23 January—Debate on an e-petition relating to the banning of non-recyclable and non-compostable packaging.

Thursday 26 January—General debate on protecting civil society space across the world.

Monday 30 January—Debate on an e-petition relating to pay restraint for “Agenda for Change” NHS staff.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement, but we still do not appear to have a date for the summer recess. I ask him to think carefully about that and perhaps come back with it next week, possibly with dates for Prorogation and the state opening as well.

Mr Speaker, may I wish you a very happy birthday? I am afraid that the House cannot sing to you. As a tennis fan, I do not know whether your presents included new balls, but we all know how well you handle a racquet—both outside and inside the Chamber. I also wish a happy birthday to Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin. She was an inspired choice as Speaker’s Chaplain and provides great pastoral support for MPs. Perhaps the Leader of the House will join me in challenging you both to a doubles match for charity.

Sadly, this House is losing MPs, including a former Prime Minister, but I point out that many hon. Members have made an incredible contribution and that things can be done from the Back Benches. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) amended the Finance Bill, highlighting gender-based pricing. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on stalking, and, with the help of the other place and the Government, has extended the maximum sentence for stalking to 10 years. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), when speaking about the loss of her baby, reminded us that we should allow coroners in England to investigate stillbirths so that errors in care can be addressed.

Many other hon. Members from across the House do great work, which is why many of us cannot understand why the Prime Minister refused to come and tell the House and its elected representatives about a major policy announcement that affects the whole country. The 12 points of principle are Government policy initiatives and should have been 12 paragraphs in a White Paper. The right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) said last week that his pleasure

“is magnified when I address the Chair and you, Sir, are occupying it.”—[Official Report, 12 January 2017; Vol. 619, c. 488.]

I wish he would say that to the Prime Minister. The 12 objectives should have been set out in a White Paper last September, which would have ended the speculation and uncertainty that have engulfed us for the past six months. However, we still need clarity on several issues, so I can see why the Prime Minister did not want to be questioned about them.

I welcome objective 4, which is about maintaining the common travel area with Ireland. The Prime Minister said that the devolved Administrations will be consulted, but, given the elections in Northern Ireland, will the Leader of the House confirm who from Northern Ireland will be sitting on the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations)? Gibraltar voted 96% to remain. What consultation do the Government intend to have with Gibraltar, and how, before Spain plants its flag? Spain has already threatened to plant its flag in Gibraltar.

The Prime Minister talks of a global Britain, yet principle 5 sets out the Government’s proposals to keep the world out. She said:

“And because we will no longer be members of the Single Market, we will not be required to contribute huge sums to the EU budget.”

In principle 10 she wants the UK to continue to be the best place for science and innovation, forgetting that in 2013 the UK received €8.8 billion, the fourth largest share in the EU, for research and development, with the private sector receiving £1.4 billion. And that is just one sector. We give but we get something back.

As we await the Supreme Court judgment on a point of law on 24 January—next Tuesday—let us remind the people that the judges are on their side, upholding the rule of law and holding the Executive to account. Can the Leader of the House confirm that, whatever Bill comes out after the judgment, it will not be a cynical, one-line Bill, as suggested by Government counsel? The Prime Minister wants to do this for our children and grandchildren, but our children between the ages of 18 and 24 voted overwhelmingly, 75%, to remain in the EU. They already feel let down.

As we remember Martin Luther King Day this week and Holocaust Memorial Day next week, let us remember the words of Martin Luther King and Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor who sadly died last year. And let us remember that the European Union was formed for nations to come together in peace, not hatred. We must remember that we are interdependent: we do not live in isolation, whether as individuals, countries or nations. Our constituents want justice—economic and social justice—both here and in Europe. In the months and years ahead, let those, too, be our guiding principles.

On the dates for the summer recess and Prorogation, although I hope to oblige the House as soon as I am able, the hon. Lady and others will understand that there are uncertainties about how long it will take to transact the business before the House in the weeks to come, so I am not yet able to give firm dates.

The hon. Lady made a number of criticisms and asked a number of questions about the Government’s handling of the forthcoming EU negotiations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union gave an oral statement to the House and answered Members’ questions for about two hours. In the hon. Lady’s strictures on the Prime Minister, I detect a sense of the frustration that I know is widely shared on the Labour Benches at the inability of the Leader of the Opposition to lay a glove on the Prime Minister every Wednesday on this or other matters.

The Ministers who have not resigned from the Northern Ireland Executive, in the way that Mr McGuinness stepped down as Deputy First Minister, remain as acting Ministers until the new Executive can be appointed, so the Government are able to talk to them. Of course, officials from the Northern Ireland Executive continue to attend meetings. I used to chair Joint Ministerial Committees on Europe, and I remember that after the previous Stormont elections it took a while for the Executive to be formed. During that period, Northern Ireland officials did attend the joint meetings to make sure that Northern Ireland was represented.

In line with the Prime Minister’s undertaking following the referendum, Ministers and officials are in regular contact with the Government of Gibraltar, from the Chief Minister down. More broadly, on the question of the European Union and the hon. Lady’s concluding words, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it very clear during her speech that the last thing she and the Government are seeking is a weakening or dismantling of the European Union. The Prime Minister said in terms that she wanted the European Union to succeed. My right hon. Friend and the entire Government are very aware of the fact that for much of Europe the mid-20th century was an utterly scarring experience, and that many Governments and many people in those countries still look to European institutions as a safeguard against anything like that happening again. We respect that outlook, which stems from their historical experience in the last century. We will go forward respecting and determined to implement the democratic verdict of the British people last June, but in a way that seeks to achieve a future relationship with our closest neighbours that is based on mutual trust, friendship, and continued alliance and co-operation on a range of policy measures.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I join the hon. Lady in wishing all the best to you and to the Speaker’s Chaplain on your birthdays today. I would be happy to accept the hon. Lady’s challenge, but I have to say that, knowing your prowess on the tennis court, I would regard the outcome of the encounter as something of a forgone conclusion.

It is a bit rich of the shadow Leader of the House to complain about parliamentary scrutiny of the matters announced to the media. I lived through the Blair and Brown years, when they never even bothered to turn up to answer anything, whereas this Government have been absolutely splendid—better than the coalition Government. Although the Opposition claim they want to discuss and bang on about Europe, yesterday’s debate on Europe finished early, as they did not have enough speakers, so will the excellent Minister continue to schedule general debates? Could they be themed debates, with one on each of the 12 points the Prime Minister mentioned, so that the Opposition could have as much time as they like to discuss this?

Finally, with your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I would just like to put to rest a lie. The leader of the Liberal Democrats claimed that I might have written the Prime Minister’s speech, but I had nothing to do with it; it was her own words.

I do not know whether that last comment was a bid to join the ministerial speechwriting teams in the future. On the point about debates, there will be ample opportunities for the House to continue to debate all aspects of the forthcoming negotiation on the European Union.

May I, too, wish you a happy birthday, Mr Speaker? Lang may yer lum reek, as we say in these parts. May I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week?

This week has quite simply been a bad week for Parliament, and the Leader of the House, as this House’s champion, should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. The Prime Minister made perhaps the most important statement about the future of this country— not in here, where the elected Members are, but in an assembly full of the press and diplomats. We know now that it is almost certain that a Bill will be required in order to trigger article 50, so will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that this Bill will be subject to the maximum scrutiny, thoroughly amendable and properly debated in this House?

May we have a debate on how to win friends and influence people? The Foreign Secretary’s is currently touring Europe like a dodgy character out of “’Allo ’Allo!”, doing his utmost to upset the very people that global Britain needs to negotiate with to get a good deal on exiting the EU. We now know that this Government’s predominant obsessions—everything that underpins this approach to leaving the EU—are immigration and freedom of movement, so perhaps they could start by confining the Foreign Secretary to barracks here.

Steady on! Over-eagerness there from those on the Labour Benches.

Will the Leader of the House do what the Prime Minister failed to do yesterday and confirm that the English votes for English laws procedure will not be applied to the great repeal Bill? That Bill will cut across many devolved competences, it will be a very complicated Bill and there will be many jurisdictions involved in it, so will he do what the Prime Minister failed to do yesterday and rule out EVEL today?

Lastly, through no fault of our own, we lost about half our Opposition day on Tuesday. Obviously, it was very necessary that people had an opportunity to question Ministers on the two important statements, but will the Leader of the House pledge to give us that half day back in the future?

On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, I cannot promise to give the Scottish National party that additional day. I do, though, recognise that there was pressure on the party’s limited time because of what he himself acknowledged were, by anybody’s count, two important statements. I shall reflect on that request, but he will understand that there are other pressures on the parliamentary timetable.

The hon. Gentleman asked two questions about European Union legislation. On the first, it is clear that until the Supreme Court has ruled, we do not know whether any Bill is going to be required. Nevertheless, if it is to become law, any Bill has to go through the full parliamentary process in this Chamber and in the other place—that is the only route available to change primary law in this country. I hope that gives him some reassurance. The extent to which amendments are in order clearly depends on the rules of the House and, ultimately, on the interpretation of the Chair.

On his question about the EVEL arrangements, it might be helpful if I remind the House that for any matter to be subject to those arrangements it has to meet three tests. First, it must refer to a matter that is devolved to Scotland; secondly, the legislation must refer only to England, or only to England and Wales; and, thirdly, there must be a certification from Mr Speaker that the clause, Bill or statutory instrument meets those tests. We have not yet published or determined the final shape of the Bill that will give effect to our exit from the EU—the repeal Bill—but those tests continue to be the ones that would have to be met in any case. A measure that repeals the European Communities Act 1972 clearly has UK-wide implications and would not apply only to one part of the United Kingdom.

May I, too, wish you a very happy birthday, Mr Speaker?

Yesterday, the all-party group on youth employment heard from several youth employment ambassadors. These young people were inspirational, but their achievements were not down to the careers advice they had received but because of their self-belief and determination. May we have a debate about how careers advice can be improved, because currently there are examples of where we are potentially letting young people down?

That sounds to me like an important issue that might well merit an airing in one of the Backbench Business Committee debates. It is an issue to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is giving close attention.

Many happy returns, Mr Speaker. Forty is a difficult age, so beware. [Laughter.]

I thank the Leader of the House for notifying us of the Backbench Business on 26 January, and for confirming that there will be Backbench Business on 2 February—we have provisionally tabled a six-hour debate on the armed forces covenant for that day.

On Monday, the House adjourned at 7.40 pm, which I think was rather predictable, given the business on the day. Will the Leader of the House please consider, yet again, working with the Backbench Business Committee to schedule Backbench Business debates on such days in future? Those debates would, of course, take second place should Government business run its full course.

Will the Leader of the House also resolve a little thorny problem? We have had an application for a debate on International Women’s Day, which I am sure Members will know is on 8 March, which is when the spring statement is scheduled. Will he work with us to get a debate on International Women’s Day as close as possible to 8 March—probably beforehand, if at all possible?

I will do my best to meet the hon. Gentleman’s request on his last point.

I take seriously the problem he identifies apropos last Monday, and will see whether we can do more to accommodate it. The difficulty for Government business managers is that they are never certain until the day whether there will be urgent questions, which will take up time, or how many Members from all parts of the House will want to participate in a debate and for how long they will wish to speak. I can remember previous occasions when Backbench Business came under enormous pressure, resulting in a debate having to be abandoned or drastically curtailed, which was, understandably, immensely frustrating for Back Benchers who had altered their arrangements so that they were in their places and able to participate in the debate. The challenge is to try to strike that right balance.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the national schools funding formula, because if the proposals go ahead every single school in Southend will be worse off and Southend will be the 84th worst affected constituency out of 533?

I can understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I know that he is always a formidable and active champion of his constituents’ interests. The consultation run by the Department for Education is live now—it does not end until 22 March—so I urge him to ensure that he, on behalf of his constituents, and his constituents individually make strong representations to the consultation.

I am always willing to offer birthday congratulations to young people, Mr Speaker, be it to you or your chaplain.

Why is there constant delay and evasion in the Government bringing a motion before the House on the renewal of the parliamentary building? I know about the debate in Westminster Hall next Wednesday, but why is there the delay? Is it not essential for a decision to be reached so that, if a general election is to take place in 2020, those elected will know that they will not be sitting in this building and that the work will be carried out without Members or staff being present, which, hopefully, will mean that it will be completed in a much shorter time than if evacuation does not take place?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be in his place on his birthday, which, if memory serves, is 26 June. We look forward to that and to his undertaking his usual interrogation at that time.

I understand and share the hon. Gentleman’s wish to get on with this. As some have already said, there is the possibility of additional legislation being needed after a court ruling next week—we do not yet know whether that will be the case—but there is pressure on Government time. I hope that we can come forward with a clear date as soon as possible.

In addition to your birthday today, Mr Speaker, there was, last week, the slightly less illustrious 70th anniversary of Crawley being declared a new town. I appreciate that it is obviously for Her Majesty to confer city status, but will the Leader of the House speak to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to see what process Crawley can initiate to explore that possibility?

I am happy to pass that request on to the Secretary of State, and I think that the whole House will congratulate the people and the civic leaders of Crawley on that achievement and their work over the decades in building a thriving and successful community.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that community pharmacies are a very important part of taking the pressure off over-stretched A&Es at the moment, despite them seeing cuts to their funding just last month. The Government have introduced a pharmacy access scheme to help deal with some of the cuts in communities. I was really surprised to see that, in the Prime Minister’s constituency, 37% of pharmacies will be able to apply for that additional funding. In the three Hull constituencies, only 1% of pharmacies will be able to apply. May we please have a debate about why the most disadvantaged communities still suffer the biggest cuts from this Government?

I clearly do not know the details of the situation in Hull, but I am happy to ask the relevant Health Minister—I think it is my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat)—to write to the hon. Lady. The principle is that there are now 15% more pharmacies than there were just a decade ago, two fifths of pharmacies are within 10 minutes’ walk of two or more other pharmacies, the average pharmacy receives roughly £220,000 a year in NHS funding and, even after the recently announced changes, the community pharmacy budget will be 30% more than it was a decade ago, so I think that the Government have demonstrated that they remain committed to community pharmacies and their importance.

For disabled people, achieving a job can be a life-changing experience. Last Friday, I was privileged to promote a This-Ability event in Cleethorpes to encourage local employers to take on more disabled people. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Lorraine Alexander and her team from Grimsby jobcentre, who did a great deal of work to stage the event, as well as all the voluntary and charitable groups? Can we find time to debate the role of and opportunities for disabled people in the workplace?

I am very happy to congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituents on this successful event. It has been an important step forward that we now have a record number of people with disabilities in work. I am the first to acknowledge that more still needs to be done, but I am heartened by the fact that we are making progress and that local enthusiasm, such as that which my hon. Friend describes, is helping to highlight those opportunities for people with disabilities.

In contrast to just about every one of his predecessors for the past 30 years, the Leader of the House shows no inclination to defend the wider interests of the House as opposed merely to progressing Government business; his disgraceful treatment of the Bill on parliamentary boundaries is a case in point. A parliamentary Committee—a Select Committee—has unanimously recommended a White Paper before the invocation of article 50, so what representations did he make to secure that in the wider interests of the House, as opposed to a prime ministerial statement that was not even made in this place, motionless debates or a one-clause Bill that will be rammed through like some sort of thief in the night? Will he indicate to the House that he sees his job as securing effective parliamentary scrutiny of a major constitutional decision, however long it might take?

I am absolutely committed to full parliamentary scrutiny of this matter. Indeed, I had the delight of appearing for the first time in my current role before the European Scrutiny Committee yesterday to give evidence on one aspect of that subject. The right hon. Gentleman makes some incorrect assumptions about the role of the Leader of the House apropos individual Select Committee reports. It is for Select Committees individually to come to their view and make recommendations to Government, and it is then primarily for the Department to which those recommendations are addressed to recommend to Government colleagues what the response should be. There is a collectively approved Government response to that Select Committee report and if the right hon. Gentleman believes that any Government of any political colour is likely to agree with absolutely ever recommendation of every Select Committee, I do not think that he has read many Select Committee reports or Government responses to them over the years. It is a perfectly fair and transparent way of conducting business and of Governments responding to Select Committee recommendations.

With the decision of the Backbench Business Committee not to schedule a debate on settlements and the destruction yesterday of Umm al-Hiran, is there a possibility of a Government statement on what appears to be a significant shift in Government policy over recent days as we cosy up to the incoming American Administration in granting complete impunity to Israel?

The Government’s policy on Israel and Palestine has not changed. We remain committed to a two-state solution, involving a sovereign, independent viable Palestinian state living alongside Israel, with mutually agreed land swaps where appropriate and with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states. Our view on the settlements remains that they are illegal in international law, and that is at the heart of the United Kingdom’s policy.

I thank the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for putting me right earlier. I should have realised, on reflection, that he would never write such an extreme speech as that which came out of the Prime Minister’s mouth the other day.

On the matter of flood-hit communities, not least mine in Cumbria after the devastating floods in December 2015, will there be time for a debate on Government financial support for those communities, in particular in the light of the Government’s decision in recent days to spend the entire amount of the £15 million we have now got for the December floodings from the European solidarity fund not on giving support to the communities that it was for, but on paying off a historical fine incurred in 2007 by a previous Government? Whoever’s fault it was that that fine was incurred, for certain it was not the fault of communities such as mine in Cumbria. Will the Leader of the House commit to all that money coming to those communities or at the very least to hold a debate on the matter?

An Adjournment debate is probably the best way forward on that issue, as it affects the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency. In fairness, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers have worked with Department for Communities and Local Government Ministers to make sure that the Bellwin money has been made available more rapidly than has sometimes been the case in the past when communities have been badly hit by floods. I will look into his particular point about the European solidarity fund money, since I am not sighted on that, and I or one of the DEFRA Ministers will write to him about it.

Nene Park was once the home of Rushden and Diamonds football club and is still a fully usable football stadium, but the demolition notices have been issued. Will the Leader of the House join me in urging the owners to sit down with the local authority, AFC Rushden and Diamonds football club and the community to have one last look at whether a solution can be found that retains all or part of the stadium, because once it is gone, it is gone? May we have a statement next week on those matters?

That strikes me as a natural Adjournment debate opportunity, but I very much hope that the sporting and other organisations locally in Corby can come together and find a way in which to maintain a clearly much-loved community sports facility.

Notwithstanding that many of us were disappointed with the result of the referendum, we recognise that the people have spoken. Nevertheless, it is not just for the Government to decide the detail; it is very important that this House gets a proper say. In response to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and other Members, the Leader of the House indicated that there will be ample opportunity for debate. Will he be more specific about how many days this House will get to debate and influence the Government’s thinking on how we progress the negotiations, so that businesses and our constituents who are very concerned have their views aired in this House, and we can reflect the views of the people about how this will go ahead?

As the hon. Lady knows, there have been a number of debates already on particular aspects of our leaving the European Union. I fully expect that there will be other such debates related to additional specific topics in the months to come. Whatever does or does not happen next week, we will have a Bill in the new parliamentary Session to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. That will provide plenty of opportunities as well. At my last count, more than 30 different Select Committee inquiries into different aspects of our leaving the EU were being conducted by Committees either of this place or of the House of Lords. Of course, mechanisms exist to bring those Select Committee reports to the Floor of the House for debate as well.

In this week, of all weeks, it is absolutely right that we say in the House of Commons that we want to proceed with the building of a Holocaust memorial museum. As the Leader of the House is responsible, at least in part, for the environs of the Palace of Westminster, does he accept that there may be merit in a debate on the siting of the museum? There is a view among many people that the best place for the museum would be within or outside the Imperial War Museum, so that its many visitors can see the link between the Holocaust and war and hatred, rather than siting it in Victoria Tower Gardens, which is one of the last green spaces around this Palace and visited by many hundreds of thousands of people each year. As the museum will be two storeys underground, there might also be a flood risk. There is a need for a debate on the siting of the museum.

My hon. Friend may well want to seek a Westminster Hall debate on the subject. The previous Prime Minister gave a commitment to the Victoria Tower Gardens site, and that has been reiterated by the current Prime Minister. Ultimately, the planning matters to which my hon. Friend alluded will be the responsibility of Westminster City Council.

Warm congratulations, Mr Speaker, as you approach the prime of life and the halfway point of your Speakership. You may be surprised to know that for all but two of your 54 years, Severn bridge users have been ripped off by the bridges being used as a cash cow. They have suffered double taxation, paying for the national road system and the local tolls. Can that rip-off now be ended as the bridges come into public control? It would be an immense benefit for accessibility on both sides of the Severn.

I have sometimes heard Welsh people say, “You have to pay to come to Wales, because it is such a privilege to visit, whereas everybody wants to get back to England in a hurry.”

No, no—they say it in the nicest possible way—[Interruption.] The point that perhaps I did not make clearly enough is that my interlocutors say to me, “If you tried to charge people to get back into England, they would want to stay in Wales and never leave.”

The hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) made a serious point, which I will take up with Transport Ministers. The tolls help to pay for the cost of the crossings and that is important, but I will get the relevant Transport Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman on the subject.

Will the Leader of the House give careful consideration to the time allocated to questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for International Trade and the Department for Exiting the European Union? We have only 30 minutes for oral questions and 10 minutes for topical questions to those Departments. Given the current relevance of them and their Select Committees, more time needs to be allocated. Will the Leader of the House give that consideration?

I am happy to give consideration to that proposal and to discuss it through the usual channels, because such matters are agreed by consensus if possible. However, if we add time to questions to those Departments, one of two things has to happen. Either we take time off other Departments or we extend the cycle of departmental Question Times to six weeks, rather than five, which leaves a longer gap before hon. Members have the opportunity to question the Secretary of State from any one Department.

This week saw the release of the damning National Audit Office report on the Concentrix scandal that demonstrated institutional incompetence and neglect at the heart of all the agencies involved. The vast majority of victims have not received compensation. I have written to the Prime Minister, asking her urgently to intervene in the matter, and I hope that the Leader of the House will support me in that endeavour.

We really must have a debate in the House about the scandal, because people who are receiving money that they should have had in the first place are getting it in instalments, as opposed to in one lump sum, which affects their ability to claim other benefits to which they are rightly entitled. We would like an opportunity to tell Ministers how much our constituents are being affected, so that justice can be done. This is an embarrassing situation for the Government which requires immediate rectification.

We are very clear that the service provided by Concentrix was poor, and it was right that the contract was scrapped. HMRC has apologised, and it knows that it has to learn some lessons from that contract and what happened there. When it became clear that Concentrix’s customer service issues could not be rectified by Concentrix, HMRC took back 181,000 incomplete cases, and rightly redeployed hundreds of its own staff to deal with this work. All those cases were finalised by 3 November. HMRC has then also had to deal with mandatory reconsideration requests, of which 36,000 have been received, and it has allocated additional staff to that work so that requests can be dealt with quickly and payments restored where claimants are entitled to them. There may be an opportunity for a Back-Bench or Westminster Hall debate on this issue, further to the airing it has already had in this Chamber, but I think HMRC was right to give priority to the incomplete cases and to deal with those first. It is now proceeding as rapidly as it can to sort out the remaining mandatory reconsideration requests.

Can we have a debate on dementia? I am sure the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating Incommunities—the social housing provider for Bradford, which is based in my constituency—on training its staff to support residents with dementia. In such a debate, we could encourage other organisations to do the same. We could also find out what more the Government could do to help people who suffer from dementia—an estimated 6,500 people in the Bradford district are affected by it—and what further support could be given to their families, who have the difficult job of caring for them.

I hope my hon. Friend will have that opportunity, perhaps in Westminster Hall. I add my salute to those groups and individuals in his constituency, and in many others, who have highlighted the challenges posed by dementia and worked not only to encourage more people to become dementia friends but to ensure that we treat people living with dementia with the respect and dignity to which they are entitled and that they get the solidarity and support from their fellow citizens that they are entitled to expect.

Can we have a debate on bravery? In March 1936, a young gay Conservative Member of Parliament, Captain Jack Macnamara, visited the Rhineland to celebrate its remilitarisation, because he was then a supporter of Hitler. But while he was there, he visited the first concentration camp, Dachau, and he saw such horrific violence to Jews and homosexuals that, when he came back here, he campaigned relentlessly against anti-Semitism and appeasement. He raised those matters in this Chamber, but he was spat at when he went to the Carlton Club that night. He was killed in action in the second world war, on 22 December 1944, and his shield is on the wall of this Chamber. Do we not owe a debt of gratitude to such people, and should we not be doing everything in our power to put an end to anti-Semitism and prejudice in our era? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

I agree with every word the hon. Gentleman said. The tribute he has just paid was a most appropriate one as we come towards Holocaust Memorial Day.

I hesitate to spoil your good humour on such a day, Mr Speaker, but you will be aware that Tottenham Hotspur is rebuilding White Hart Lane, and, as a result, we have to find a new home. The current proposal is that Tottenham will use Wembley stadium for a season, which will increase the use of our national stadium by 60%. There is an important issue for my constituency, which becomes the car park for Wembley stadium on event days. Worse still, Chelsea football club intends to come to Wembley for three years thereafter. May we have a debate in Government time on the uses to which our national stadium can be put, so that we can put on record our concerns about the potential abuse of our national treasure?

My hon. Friend has put his constituents’ concerns on the record most effectively, but there may be an Adjournment debate opportunity if he wishes to pursue the matter further.

It seems appropriate, Mr Speaker, that today we have not only an amazing exhibition of photographs in the Attlee Room on Syria and Aleppo by William Wintercross, a brilliant photographer—I hope people will be able to see it—but a debate on Holocaust Memorial Day. May we also, on this special day, think about having a debate on a report that came out, I believe, in July 2008—it was called the Bercow report—on children and young people? Owing to cuts to local government up and down this country, young people are in dreadful danger, because child protection is becoming very difficult to maintain. May we have a debate on the Bercow report so that we can see what progress has been made since those good recommendations?

I cannot promise a debate in Government time, but the hon. Gentleman can make a submission to the Backbench Committee.

As it is a double birthday today, Mr Speaker, may we have a pair of statements: one on the long-term future of HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, two of the most versatile and essential ships in the Royal Navy, whose future is threatened by a shortfall in the defence budget; and another on offering at least the same level of legislative protection to our veterans who served in Northern Ireland as is currently offered to the terrorists who fought against the welfare of the community that the veterans fought to defend?

On my right hon. Friend’s second point, the Northern Ireland Secretary has already said that he feels considerable disquiet at some of the reports of proposed prosecutions, and he is working very actively to try to secure agreement within Northern Ireland to legislate on the legacy of the troubles in a way that settles that issue as well as a number of others. On his point about the two naval vessels, I will ask the relevant Defence Minister to contact him about the detail.

Airdrie Savings Bank, the UK’s last independent savings bank, is to end all business activities after 182 years, with the loss of 70 jobs. Secured loans and mortgages will be transferred to the TSB, and customers will be helped to find alternative banking providers. As Unite the union has said,

“Airdrie Savings Bank has become yet another innocent victim of casino bankers.”

May we have a debate in Government time to discuss the state of UK banking?

Although I completely understand the concerns of the hon. Lady and those of her constituents who have accounts at the bank about the loss of this historic institution, the most important thing is that their savings are protected and that a banking service that is accessible to them remains in being. We have seen over the years a number of mergers of different banks and building societies. We have also seen a shift towards many, many more customers making use of online banking. Those factors are going to drive change, but having the service available is the key thing that we need to make sure is preserved.

Happy birthday, Sir.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for providing time quickly for the approval of the name of the candidate for the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, which was approved by the Health Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee yesterday?

As we have already heard, Tuesday 24 January is the day on which the Supreme Court is delivering its judgment. May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it would be expedient for the Government to plan to make a statement immediately on the future implications for business, even if a substantive statement on the longer-term implications of such a judgment will need to be made at a later date?

Clearly, I and other Ministers will want to brief Parliament fully on the substance and implications of the judgment once we know what it is. We do not yet know either its content or its complexity, and we are unlikely to get any prior knowledge—at most, it would be very brief—of what that judgment contains. I cannot make a promise today about the specific timing, but the principle at the heart of my hon. Friend’s question is one that I completely endorse.

Can we have a debate on the future of the Crown post office network? Crown post offices break even, unlike the post office network as a whole, and yet the Government are forcing through a change programme that puts at risk of closure scores of post offices across the country, including the one in Ulverston in my constituency. We need a guarantee that those services will stay. Can we have a debate about it, please?

The key point is that the services remain, whether they are carried out in a Crown post office or whether they are continued in a sub-post office. The sub-post office network provides post office services to the overwhelming majority of our constituents throughout the country. I certainly hope that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents in Ulverston will continue to get that service. The experience in my constituency, where the Crown post office closed, is that those services continued but at a different location. That surely has to be the objective.

Many happy returns for today, Mr Speaker.

As chair of the all-party disability group, I am extremely concerned by reports that disabled people are much less likely to be able to access affordable credit, and that they are therefore being plunged into the hands of payday lenders and loan sharks. Can we have a debate on equitable access to affordable credit, so that we can ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are not left open to financial exploitation?

I cannot offer an immediate debate. The hon. Lady makes a reasonable point, and I think that the banking industry has a social responsibility to ensure that its services are accessible to people with disabilities, to people on low incomes and to others who often find it quite difficult to get access to conventional banking. That perhaps needs something of a cultural shift.

Can the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate, before the Budget, on school funding? Across the country, many schools face a real crisis in their budgets over the next few years. Teachers are going to be sacked and per-pupil spending is going to go down. By 2019, Nottinghamshire County Council will lose £40 million. It is not good enough. Schools deserve better, and so do the children of this country.

Of course, the Government have had to take some very difficult spending decisions as a result of the need to continue to reduce the inherited deficit. I am pleased that the Government have, despite that difficult fiscal environment, been able to protect the core schools budget. The money that is going to be paid to schools, coupled with the rise in pupil numbers that we are expecting, should ensure that for most schools—depending on whether they are gaining or losing pupils—the overall core schools budget is protected in cash terms.

May I declare an interest as a crofter on the Isle of Skye? On 23 November last year, the Minister with responsibility for farming stated during Question Time that we would have a review of the allocations of the convergence uplift funding before the end of the year. I tabled a written question, to which I had a reply yesterday indicating that an update will be provided shortly. This is unacceptable. Can the Leader of the House make sure that the Minister makes a statement on the urgent review of the convergence funding? This is an important matter for crofters and farmers throughout the highlands and islands. Some €223 million euros of funding was given to this Government on the understanding that it would go to those in most need of it, and that has not happened.

The hon. Gentleman raised exactly that point during the debate on the rural economy on Tuesday. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs replied to him that she recognised his point, that she continues to look closely at the issue and that,

“I will keep him up to date with progress on it.”—[Official Report, 17 January 2017; Vol. 619, c. 835.]

He has had a clear undertaking from the Secretary of State and he has reinforced his point.

Twice this week, I have raised my constituents’ concerns about cuts to council services and Ministers have simply swatted them aside. Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to address those concerns and demonstrate that the Government are taking seriously the impact of Tory cuts on local people?

I accept that we have confirmed a settlement for local councils that is flat in cash terms, but we have also delivered what local authorities were asking for in certainty over a four-year funding period. We are planning legislation, which will be before Parliament soon, that will enable local government to keep all the business rates that it collects by the end of the Parliament. We have provided the power for local councils to levy a social care precept to help them with the challenges that they undoubtedly face in dealing with social care.

The terms of your earlier statement, Mr Speaker, mean that “happy birthday” is not a mere wish but an observation of fact. In passing, may I mention yesterday’s landmark 80th birthday of landmark statesman, John Hume, the pathfinder for our peace process?

Will the Leader of the House talk to Northern Ireland Office and Treasury Ministers to clarify that there is legitimate locus for the House, its Ministers and Committees in the renewable heat incentive debacle in Northern Ireland? There is no basis for pretending that the dimensions of abuse in the uptake of that scheme are confined to devolved expenditure and do not involve the annually managed expenditure from the Treasury. There is also a question about a period when the regulations for the scheme had run out, spending continued and it was not covered by the Northern Ireland budget. Did Treasury funding cover it in the period when there was no regulatory basis for that spending?

First, I join the hon. Gentleman in sending belated birthday wishes to John Hume. We all salute the heroic role that he played in helping to start and drive through the peace process in Northern Ireland.

On the renewable heat incentive scheme, the Northern Ireland scheme is fully devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive and is now the subject of an open inquiry by the Northern Ireland Public Accounts Committee. It is therefore in their remit to investigate it. The scheme in Great Britain has budget management mechanisms in place to stop the sort of overspending that was experienced in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence that Treasury money was in some way involved in supporting the Northern Ireland scheme and that money was misplaced, I urge him to write with the details to Treasury Ministers and I am sure that they will respond.

Like many Members—and, I am sure, the Leader of the House—I have been appalled by the Foreign Secretary’s crass comments. It seems to me that the Prime Minister has three options: she can sack him, gag him or educate him. If she decides to educate him, can the whole House have a role in that process?

When I think of our relationship with France, I think about how we stood with the free French forces and the resistance fighters against Nazism; how we and France stood together against Soviet tyranny; and the very active work that we carry out with France today against international terrorism. We look for a relationship after we leave the European Union that enables us to build on those historical strengths and to continue to work as active, complementary partners on a whole range of issues.

Yesterday in Scottish questions, I counted 13 non-Scottish-based MPs asking questions of the Scottish Secretary and only 10 Scottish-based MPs. Was that not a rather humiliating exercise in circling the wagons to save the Scottish Secretary from being scalped? May we have a debate on how to make the Secretary of State for Scotland answer to Scotland?

The Secretary of State for Scotland, like every other Secretary of State, answers to the House of Commons. It has always been the case that it is open to Members from any part of the United Kingdom to participate in questions to any Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman’s party frequently complains about arrangements for English votes for English laws. It strikes me as a wee bit odd for him now to complain if Members from other parts of the UK want to ask questions of the Scottish Secretary of State.

On 16 December, Elton post office in my constituency closed without warning. Elton is a rural village and it is not easy for its residents to travel elsewhere. I understand that the closure was unavoidable, but we have no clear timetable for the reopening of the post office. May we have a debate on what more can be done to speed up the reopening of post offices in such situations?

This may be an Adjournment debate opportunity for the hon. Gentleman. I know from my own experience that the reasons for delay are various. Sometimes it is not easy to get a new manager to take over a franchise and operate the sub-post office. I hope very much for his constituents’ sake that the sub-post office is able to reopen as swiftly as possible.

Samir Chamek, a Christian convert from Islam, was accused of insulting the Prophet by republishing pictures and comments on Facebook, and arrested by the cybercrime unit in Algeria. He was given the maximum punishment for blasphemy under the Algerian penal code of five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 dinars. On 8 January, a court of appeal upheld his conviction and sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment. May we have a statement on how we can encourage Algeria and other nations to repeal their blasphemy laws?

I do not know the details of this particular case, but my view and the Government’s view is that we should champion religious freedom everywhere in the world. We pride ourselves on being a plural society that respects people of different faiths and no faith. That view of the world and those values influence our foreign policy, and will continue to do so.

Every weekend, parkrun volunteers make it possible for thousands of people across the country to take part in 5 km runs. I myself completed the Cwmbran parkrun on Christmas eve. May we have a debate on the contribution parkrun makes to our communities, and to health and wellbeing all over the country?

I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to those who organise parkrun. I myself completed the Aylesbury run. Parkrun is remarkable as a demonstration of how a voluntary grassroots initiative can help not just to get people more active, but to change attitudes towards activity by making people, who have perhaps been very shy of getting involved in organised sports, feel that they are welcome to come along and participate.

Debating with this Government, who have forsaken all reason on Brexit, is proving to be a bit like administering medicine to the dead. None the less, may we have a debate in Government time on Scotland’s place in Europe?

I think Scotland’s place in Europe is going to be prosperous and secure through its continued membership of a United Kingdom which, while it leaves the European Union, will be forging a new partnership on trade, security and co-operation against crime that will work to the benefit of everybody in Scotland, as well as everybody else in the United Kingdom.

The Leader of the House has previously told me and the House that the reason the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), which deals with constituency boundaries, could not proceed to Committee was that it did not have a money resolution attached. I have just finished serving on the Homelessness Reduction Bill Committee, and that Bill went to Committee without such a resolution—in fact, we did not get one until the last week of the Committee. Why is it one rule for one Bill and another rule for another, and when will the boundaries Bill go into Committee?

Clydesdale bank’s latest tranche of bank closures includes the one in Giffnock, in my constituency, which has already been disproportionately affected by bank closures. As well as causing difficulties for our high streets, it is particularly problematic for people less able to get about, and the bank’s wilful disregard for any form of consultation is frankly shameful. Can we have a debate in Government time on the latest Clydesdale bank closures and on the role and responsibilities of high street banks?

It is right that the banks stick to their own code, which requires that particular attention be paid when the last banking outlet in a community is scheduled for closure, but these are independent businesses facing a future in which many of their customers are choosing to bank online rather than in person at a local branch. It is a challenge for them to get the balance right and to ensure that everybody in the hon. Lady’s constituency has the access to banking services that they need.

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker.

The Government have commissioned a report on electoral fraud, but what we actually need is a review of the behaviour of political parties during election periods and the punishments available. The Lib Dems were fined £20,000 for non-declaration of £200,000 of spending—money down the drain, by the way—Labour was also fined £20,000 and there are investigations into the Leader of the House’s own party. The Electoral Commission has said that a fine of £20,000 is no longer a strong enough deterrent to ensure that the rules are properly followed. Can we have a debate on that in Government time and take a serious look at the punishments available?

We have an independent, investigative and legal system that can look into political parties and ensure that expenses are checked, but I have to say that for Members of the Scottish National party to give lectures about good practice during election campaigning is a bit rich. There are plenty of independent-minded journalists who very much resented the bullying to which they were subjected during the last Scottish election campaign and referendum.

Just before the Christmas recess, I served on a European Committee on asylum that had two glaring problems: first, all the deadlines involved had already passed, and secondly, the House had decided on the motion before the Committee the previous week. What steps is the Leader of the House taking to ensure that nothing like this happens again?

I dealt with this matter in some detail in my evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee yesterday. There was an error on the Government’s part in the handling of that business, for which an apology was given to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, and steps have now been taken to ensure that there is no repetition.