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Business of the House

Volume 627: debated on Thursday 13 July 2017

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 17 July—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to international immunities and privileges, followed by general debate on the abuse and intimidation of candidates and the public during the general election campaign.

Tuesday 18 July—General debate on drugs policy.

Wednesday 19 July—General debate on exiting the European Union and sanctions.

Thursday 20 July—Motion relating to the appointment of a new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, followed by general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.

Friday 21 July—The House will not be sitting.

Colleagues will also wish to be aware that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise at the close of business on Tuesday 7 November and return on Monday 13 November; and for the Christmas recess, the House will rise at the end of business on Thursday 21 December and return on Monday 8 January 2018.

Finally, colleagues will also be pleased to know that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will be presented to the House today. As the Brexit Secretary has said, this is one of the most significant pieces of legislation that has ever passed through Parliament, and it is a major milestone in the process of our withdrawal. It means we will be able to exit the European Union with maximum certainty, continuity and control. That is what the British people voted for, and it is exactly what we will do.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the—oh, do I call it business? I am not quite sure. Quite frankly, I and other Opposition Members are appalled, saddened and bewildered in equal measure. We have asked the good citizens of this country to vote for us, and they have. As we are in a parliamentary democracy, they have given their consent to be governed, to enable MPs to form a Government, pass legislation, and hold Ministers to account. We have not been allowed to do that. This is not the end of term where we have no lessons and a light timetable, or where we are spending our time singing or whistling; it is a time of critical importance to this country, and the clock is ticking. We have been back for 31 days and in that time we have had only seven votes. Calling it a “zombie Parliament” makes it sound amusing, but this is serious. It is a threat to our parliamentary democracy.

Why does it take a Standing Order No. 24 application, as we had on contaminated blood, before a debate is scheduled, and then a concession by the Government, immediately before the debate, on an inquiry? Statutory instruments on tuition fees and personal independence payments were prayed against, and no debate was granted. Again last week, I raised the statutory instrument that enacts a 6.1% interest rate on university student loans, and asked for a debate. The Leader of the House said to one of her hon. Friends that

“the mood of many colleagues has been heard, and I am quite sure that the Department for Education is considering this matter.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2017; Vol. 626, c. 1346.]

Will she confirm when and how the Government will be considering the matter, and make a statement on these regulations, or at least give us time to debate it so that the Minister can come and explain why the most punitive interest rate is being applied to students?

To make matters worse, last week the same debate was scheduled on the Gibb report on two successive days until that was pointed out to the Government. This week, we also see two debates on the same subject—one in Westminster Hall yesterday, and then another on Monday, on the abuse and intimidation of candidates. While this is an important topic in the week that Viscount St Davids will be sentenced—we will hear today—on his abuse of Gina Miller, will the same debate be going ahead, or is it a mistake? Could we have an Opposition day on Monday instead?

The Leader of the House gave me no answer about whether there will be a summer Finance Bill. I do not know whether the Finance Bill will be in the autumn and the Budget will then be in the spring. Who knows, but it sounds to me like chaos, so can we have an answer?

Why has the Leader of the House not responded to requests for an Opposition day? The last one was on 23 February, granted to the Democratic Unionist party, but the official Opposition have not been granted one since January—to be precise, 25 January. Why no Opposition day? Why not let us debate and vote on an issue that is relevant to our constituents, who only a month ago told us what they thought? I thought the Leader of the House believed in sovereignty—that is what she campaigned on. The Opposition do, so let Parliament be sovereign and let us have a debate on a votable motion.

The Leader of the House said in June that the elongated Session would provide space to consider

“a domestic agenda which aims to tackle the social injustices in our country.”

So why has she allocated private Members’ Bill days for only one year of a two-year Session—13 dates? When will she say when the Opposition days will be for the first year of the Session, and when will we have the dates for the second year of the Session? Will she tell us her definition of what a Session is? If it is two years, we are therefore entitled to double the number of Opposition days.

On Tuesday, following the Taylor review, the Prime Minister said:

“We may not agree on everything, but through debate and discussion—the hallmarks of our Parliamentary democracy—ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward found.”

The Opposition agree, so why does the Prime Minister say that we need debate while Government representatives do everything they can to stifle debate? Is she an outsourced Prime Minister, completely detached from what is going on here? She can be heard in No. 10 singing the song “Heartbreaker”:

“Why do you have to be a heartbreaker,

When I was bein’ what you want me to be?

Suddenly everything I ever wanted has passed me by”.

I should have sung it rather than spoken it.

Finally, will you and the Leader of the House join me, Mr Deputy Speaker, in wishing everyone in the Black country a very happy Black Country Day? It is part of a month-long festival in Dudley, Walsall, Sandwell and Wolverhampton, and I invite everyone to come to Walsall.

I can certainly agree with the hon. Lady that that would probably be a more fun place to be today.

The hon. Lady raises some important points about our parliamentary democracy, but I find it deeply disappointing that the Opposition are trying to make something of what is an absolutely normal situation following a general election, when the Government of the day take steps to put Select Committees back in place, for instance. As she admits herself, the sitting days for private Members’ Bills are already on the Order Paper, and we are making progress. I congratulate all the Select Committee Chairs on their appointment yesterday, and the individual parties now need to get on with electing their Select Committee members, which they are doing at pace. The chiefs of the Opposition parties have been talking about Opposition days, and I gather that there has been an offer of an Opposition day in the next short sitting.

We are absolutely getting on with the business at pace and in accordance with normal procedures. I am left to conclude that this is just game playing by the Opposition. On the anniversary of her leadership of this country, the Prime Minister asked—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) is clearly not listening; she has other things to talk about. The Prime Minister asked all Members to come together in the interests of our country and give their ideas, input and support as we seek to fulfil the democratic will of the people in this country to leave the EU. What did the Opposition do? They ridiculed that. They absolutely reject the concept of working together in the interests of our country. Well, 13 million people voted for them, and they should support those people in their wish to see this country’s democratic will fulfilled.

Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 155, about the potential closure of London Road in Harlow?

[That this House expresses concern over the decision taken by Harlow District Council to close London Road to motorists, restrict traffic with a bus gate and split the community in two; notes the record number of 409 objections to the planning application and 2,000-plus residents who have joined a protest group; understands that this road has been used as a primary route for residents to access health, educational and leisure services for over 20 years; and calls on the Government to investigate the decision that the local authority has taken to close this vital connection and encourage Essex County Council to reject this Traffic Regulation Order from the planning decision.]

The decision by Harlow Council will cause immense problems to Harlow residents and motorists. May we have a statement on unnecessary road closures, as Harlow Council seems to be ignoring the wishes of thousands of people who have voiced complaints and the record 409 objections to the planning application?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment as Chair of the Select Committee on Education. He will be as delighted as all Members should be that there are 1.8 million more children in good and outstanding schools than there were in 2010. That is something for his Committee to build on. He is exactly right to raise the frustrating issue for all our constituents of unnecessary road closures. I am sure that he will give it his full attention, as he does everything he turns his mind to.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I join her in warmly congratulating my fellow Select Committee Chairs on their election yesterday. It is a great exercise in the democracy of this House, and we should be very proud of the way the Select Committees work, but we now need to get those Committees up and working. We need to get the membership of the Committees elected and we have one week in which to do it. Mr Speaker generously offered to facilitate with any issue, any party or any perceived blockage where he or the Deputy Speakers could help out. Did she take advantage of that generous opportunity? If not, why not?

We have passed one full piece of legislation through all stages of Parliament and two pieces on Second Reading, but we still have no Standing Committees in place. Will the Leader of the House endeavour to get this fixed before the zombies leave the building?

We have also not had a single debate about the perverse deal with the DUP, which has completely altered the usual funding allocations to the nations of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister may have shed a tear on election night, but the DUP are marching all the way to the bank, rubbing their hands with glee. They will be back, demanding another few hundred million pounds, like an extortionist knows when he has someone in a vice-like grip in those sensitive places.

Hurray, the great repeal Bill will be out today, a Bill to unite the country in an invitation to climb aboard the battered jalopy as it trundles over the cliff edge. Apparently, Labour will oppose the Bill by defiantly agreeing with the Tory hard Brexit that will take us out of the single market and end freedom of movement. What opposition has been offered by the Labour party? In the meantime, we will continue to look after vital Scottish interests and fight for a place in the single market.

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the membership of Select Committees. We want to get on with it, and on this side of the House we are getting on with selecting members. I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s democratic elections will be as clear as our own. I can assure him that through the usual channels an enormous amount of work is also going on to establish Standing Committees. No one wants that to happen more than we do on the Government Benches. However, his remark about “zombies” is very rude to his colleagues—a few of them are still here today, and I thank them for turning up.

The hon. Gentleman talks about this Government not being democratically elected, but I remind him that we got 56 more seats than the official Opposition, which means that, in a democratic place such as this, we have the duty as well as the right to form a Government. I hope that he and his colleagues appreciate that fact.

It is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman talks constantly about wanting to stay in the single market, which he knows for a fact means not leaving the EU. In other words, he, for his own ends and those of his Scottish nationalist colleagues, would seek to undermine the will of the United Kingdom. That is totally undemocratic. Government Members and, I hope, Opposition Members will fulfil the will of the people.

Is the Leader of the House aware of concerns regarding challenges to the democratic system of government in Hong Kong? Some elected representatives there are being prevented from taking their seats in the legislature, and a recent statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the Sino-British joint declaration as “a historical document”, which

“no longer has any practical significance”.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Hong Kong as a special administrative region on the principle of “one country, two systems”, so will she consider a debate in Government time about this concerning issue?

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. The Minister for Asia and the Pacific met the Chinese ambassador on 5 July, when he stressed the UK’s strong commitment to the Sino-British joint declaration—a legally binding treaty, registered with the UN, which continues to be in force. As co-signatory to the joint declaration, the UK will continue to stress to the Chinese Government the need to implement faithfully the one country, two systems arrangement.

We do not yet know the allocation that the Government have determined for the Backbench Business Committee in this Session. We hope that the 27 days allocated in a normal Session will be doubled to 54 in this two-year Session.

Will the Leader of the House try to facilitate deciding the membership of the Backbench Business Committee quicker than that of the other Select Committees? The Backbench Business Committee is not a normal Select Committee; it is here to determine the Chamber’s business.

First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his reappointment as Chairman. He did a great job in the previous Parliament and I am sure he will do so again. I am also sure that he recognises that we have tried to bring forward some of the carry-over requests from the previous Parliament for debates. As with Opposition days, the allocation of Backbench Business days is set out in Standing Orders. However, it has been the custom in longer-than-usual Sessions to offer additional days and we fully intend to do the same. More will be said about that in due course.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. In the previous Parliament, I introduced a private Member’s Bill to ban unpaid internships. The Matthew Taylor report outlined this week that they are indeed damaging to social mobility and an abuse of power by employers. May we have a debate in this Chamber on all aspects of the Matthew Taylor report? For all the crowing on the other side, no Opposition Member bothered to turn up to debate the private Member’s Bill.

My hon. Friend has really pushed this issue and he is right to do so. It is of great interest to the House, even when Opposition Members do not bother to turn up to support a Bill on it. The Government’s position is clear: employing unpaid interns as workers to avoid paying the national minimum wage or the national living wage is illegal, exploitative and represents a real barrier to social mobility by squeezing out candidates from less wealthy backgrounds.

Last week, I visited Shelley College, an outstanding-rated school in my constituency, where staff explained that the budget had already been cut to the bone. Every school in my constituency faces further cuts. May we have a debate on the Government’s worrying plan to cut funding for local schools?

The hon. Lady will know that the Government have protected cash spending on schools and we have created many thousands of new school places to meet demand. There has been a great deal of investment in the fabric of buildings. We fully appreciate that schools are under pressure. The hon. Lady will also know that we have accepted the recommendation of the independent schools’ pay body and we will do everything we can to ensure that, as I said earlier, the number of children who are in good and outstanding schools—1.8 million more than in 2010—increases and that we do more than ever particularly to help disadvantaged pupils.

It has been a long time since I asked a question on health from the Back Benches. I am sure that the Leader of the House knows that Hemel Hempstead is the largest town in Hertfordshire, but that in 2006—we know which Government were in power—the acute services at Hemel Hempstead Hospital were closed. We now have clinical commissioning groups, but they seem to be completely unaccountable. The CCG for our part of the world costs £10 million a year and it has just rubber-stamped more closures at Hemel Hempstead Hospital. May we have a debate on the power of CCGs and their accountability—or lack of it?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Many colleagues from all parties are concerned about what happens to hospitals in their areas. My right hon. Friend will know that there are clear rules about accountability and consultation with patients and that, of course, any decisions should be led by clinicians in consultation with users of the service. He makes an important point and he may well wish to raise it in Westminster Hall or in an Adjournment debate.

Yesterday, during the debate on the tragic events at Grenfell Tower, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), was asked whether local authorities—such as Coventry, for example—would be helped to introduce safety measures. He said that the Government would help with the process. In view of the number of cuts that the Government have inflicted on local authorities over the last seven years, may we have a statement to clarify what help local authorities will actually be given?

Grenfell Tower is one of the most appalling disasters that the country has ever faced. We will all continue to be absolutely focused and determined to get to the bottom of what caused it, and the top priority is to try to help the people who have suffered so terribly. At the same time—as the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government have made clear—we want to take steps to ensure that such a disaster cannot happen again, which will include requiring other local authorities to check what fire regulations and what sort of cladding their areas have and what other risks are being faced. The Government are giving as much support as possible to that process.

The public consultation on the future of the children’s congenital heart disease service at Royal Brompton Hospital will close on Monday. If the proposals from NHS England are implemented, all CHD services at the hospital will be closed, including the adult research centre, the children’s intensive care unit, and specialist children’s respiratory services for conditions such as cystic fibrosis, asthma and muscular dystrophy. Will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to explain how those services will be provided for my constituents and others in the south-east and London if the proposals go ahead?

My hon. Friend has raised a very important point, which I know is of huge interest throughout the House. No final decisions have been made, and there is no plan to close the Royal Brompton as a provider of CHD services. NHS England is currently conducting a review of congenital heart services across the country before finally deciding on and implementing any change. Let me make it clear that the review is not about cutting services or costs, but about ensuring that patients have the very highest standard of care now and in the future, regardless of where they live or which hospital provides that care.

Given the mess that the United Kingdom Government are making of the economy and Brexit, and given how successful the Scottish Government have been with their recent economic measures, will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on devolving further fiscal responsibilities to Scotland?

I think it behoves the hon. Lady to look very carefully at what the Scottish Government are doing now. Their track record of managing their current devolved powers leaves something to be desired.

The hon. Lady says that the UK Government are not doing well with EU withdrawal. I beg to differ from her completely. Today we are introducing the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which seeks to implement the will of the people. The Scottish National party clearly does not care about the will of the people. The Scottish people decided that they wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, but, rather than trying to get on with the day job, SNP Members focus entirely on who makes the decisions to which the hon. Lady has referred. That is not a democratic approach.

Alderley Park in my constituency is the largest bio-centre in the United Kingdom. It is a true world leader, and it is currently undergoing a 10-year transformation. Will the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy make a statement on the country’s industrial strategy and how Alderley Park fits into it? [Interruption.]

Is it not interesting that Opposition Members are just chuntering? That is because they are not interested in the strength of our economy.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on one of her first interventions since she retook her seat, and I welcome her back to this place. We should be talking about jobs, economic growth and areas in which the UK can lead the world. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be keen to talk about the Government’s industrial strategy. We are determined to ensure that it means that we have the high-skilled, highly paid jobs of the future, throughout the United Kingdom.

The previous chief executive at Hull Royal Infirmary left having put the hospital into a terrible state. He moved to another hospital, which subsequently moved into special measures. During that time, he was investigated by NHS Protect, the anti-fraud body of the NHS. I understand that he has now retired and set up a consultancy to offer his services to the NHS. Can we have a debate on the revolving door of failed NHS managers and their role in the NHS?

The hon. Lady raises what sounds like an extremely concerning issue regarding one individual, and the bigger issue of the revolving door of people who have failed in one job and move on to another one, often at significant expense to the taxpayer. She will be aware that there have been a number of Public Accounts Committee reports on that issue, but she may want to raise it herself through a Westminster Hall debate.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the looming crisis involving the amount of plastic entering our seas and oceans. We are quickly getting to the point where there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. In the light of that, I warmly welcomed the comment by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that the Government are now considering introducing a plastic bottle deposit return scheme, but can we have a statement from the Secretary of State, so we can discuss and indeed promote that scheme in the Chamber?

As my hon. Friend will know, I am passionately concerned about that issue. I was delighted with the results of the consultation on the banning of microbeads in face wash and other products and with the results of our litter strategy, which looks at what else we can do to eradicate plastics from our oceans. Eighty per cent. of the plastics that end up in the ocean come from the land, and it is important that we deal with litter on the land as well. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be keen to do just that, and that he will come to the House in due course when he has something clear to say.

Can we have an urgent debate on the role and remit of the Homes and Communities Agency? I have two businesses under threat of closure after the HCA triggered break clauses in their leases. The HCA has also damaged communities in east Durham, notably in Horden, through its failure to act after the Accent housing association disposed of its housing stock. Will the Government take control of that public body, which has delivered little benefit and caused no end of misery in areas such as east Durham?

Again, the hon. Gentleman raises what sounds like an important and serious issue. I am sure that he will want to raise it directly with the Secretary of State, or perhaps at oral questions, to ensure that a spotlight is shone on the issue.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you look like a gentleman who enjoys a glass or two of English sparkling wine. [Interruption.] Forgive me. I invite you and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to tour the many vineyards in my constituency, including the Fox & Fox and the Bluebell vineyards—award-winning vineyards supporting jobs and the local economy. Can we have a debate on the best of British produce, including English sparkling wine, and how we can best promote it in new markets and harness the opportunity of Brexit?

I can tell my hon. Friend that I have only ever seen Mr Deputy Speaker have a cup of tea and a Chorley cake. Isn’t that right, Mr Deputy Speaker? She raises an important point. English sparkling wine is taking the world by storm. We are winning prizes and competing with famous brands. She is right to raise that valuable and growing sector and I would be delighted to take her up on her offer.

Can the Leader of the House arrange an emergency debate on the re-routing of HS2 in South Yorkshire? At the HS2 briefing for Members last night, the chairman of HS2 said that the reason it is not in favour of the Sheffield Meadowhall station is the lack of backing by Sheffield City Council and the Sheffield chamber of commerce, blatantly ignoring the wishes of the other three councils in South Yorkshire. Can we have an urgent debate on those matters?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that there has been wide consultation on the routes for HS2, as I discovered during phase 1, which has now received Royal Assent, so there have been and will continue to be many opportunities for consultation. I urge him to take every opportunity to feed in to the process as early as he can.

May we have a debate on sharp practices by private car parking companies? Smart Parking has taken over the car park behind the Co-op in Saltaire and has changed the rules so that people have to get a ticket for the first 20 minutes of their stay even though it is free, when previously they did not, and with very minimal and inadequate signage, and it then introduced draconian fines of £100 for anybody who does not meet that new requirement. This is not only ripping off its customers and my constituents, but is having a terrible effect on local businesses in the area. May we have a debate so that we can stop some of these practices of rogue companies such as Smart Parking?

I am sure all Members will share my hon. Friend’s disgust at some of the activities of rogue and unfair private parking operators, and he will be pleased to know that the Government have taken steps to tackle this, including the banning of wheel-clamping and towing. Consumer protection regulations have also been amended to make it simpler and clearer for consumers to bring their own actions to seek compensation when they have been the victims of misleading or aggressive debt collection practices, but I do think this is an area that we will come back to.

The Leader of the House says that the business she has announced for next week is business as normal, but it certainly is not. Normal business in this Parliament is when Select Committees are able to meet and are able to quiz Ministers, when every second sitting week includes an Opposition day debate on a votable motion, and when there is a Backbench Business debate every sitting week, but she is not allowing any of that. Will not voters start to conclude that this Government are absolutely terrified of the House? Since she has congratulated the new Select Committee Chairs, will she at least guarantee that they can actually chair a Committee because they will be able to sit by next Thursday?

The hon. Gentleman is talking about what are routine measures after a general election to re-establish the Select Committees. If he looks back through history, he will see that we are moving exactly as quickly as any other new Government. We are trying to establish these Committees as quickly as we can. He says we are not discussing anything of any value; I think he must agree that we had the Grenfell Tower debate, and there is the issue of abuse and intimidation of parliamentary candidates, which is damaging—[Interruption.] He is not listening to the answer; he is not interested in the answer. [Interruption.] So, he is saying that discussing abuse and intimidation of candidates, which is clearly putting people off actually standing—[Interruption.] He will appreciate that not nearly enough time and effort has been given to what is a very significant matter. [Interruption.] He waves his hand; people have had death threats and people are being put off from standing for Parliament—[Interruption.] So he does not care about that. Next week on the Order Paper are very important—

Order. I do not think that is the case; I think every Member cares about every other Member here—let us be clear about that.

The Metropolitan police recently revealed that up to 50,000 crimes a year are now being committed by thieves on motorbikes and pedal cycles. That is reflected in correspondence I receive from my constituents across Hornchurch and Upminster. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on whether police have all the powers they need to tackle this alarming new crime wave?

May I start by welcoming my hon. Friend to her place? I can confirm that the Home Office is currently in discussion with the Metropolitan police about the problem of motorcycle and moped theft in London and will look very carefully at the evidence on what more can be done to prevent it. Of course, how the police enforce the law and deploy available resources is the responsibility of individual chief officers, taking into account specific local problems and the demands they are faced with.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Secretary told this House that the UK Government will

“work closely under the Joint Ministerial Committee to bring in the devolved Administrations and make sure the great deal we are going to get has their endorsement and approval.”—[Official Report, 11 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 139.]

The truth is that the JMC plenary last met in January, the JMC Ministers last met in February and there was no JMC agreement on triggering article 50 before the Prime Minister triggered it. Indeed, since the election no meeting date has yet been set with the Welsh and Scottish Governments. May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the JMC and its role in the process of the UK exiting the EU?

As many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have made clear, it is fully the intention to consult widely on all matters regarding devolution, and those conversations have indeed taken place before. It has been made clear that no powers that currently reside in the devolved Administrations are to be withdrawn, and that there will be further opportunities for devolution. The hon. Gentleman is focusing on process, and I am trying to explain that we are absolutely attending to process but what is important is the intention of this Government, which is to consult widely and to seek the agreement of all colleagues across the House as we fulfil the will of the people of the United Kingdom.

Could my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the laws relating to the unauthorised arrival of travelling people in parks and open spaces? Only last week, a group of very hostile people arrived in a local park and caused much damage to play equipment, not to mention the cost to the council officers and police who had to remove them.

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I am aware that this is a matter of interest to Members on both sides of the House who understand the frustration when Travellers arrive on unauthorised land and cause damage and upset to local communities. I can tell him that local authorities and the police have a wide range of strong powers that enable them to take action, and the Government really want to see them working together to address this issue.

Please allow me to refresh the Leader of the House’s memory. It was on 25 January this year that we last had an Opposition day debate. She referred earlier to Opposition Members needing to represent our constituents, and we wish to do so. Why will she not commit right now to granting Opposition day debates and to correctly doubling the number of Back-Bench business debates? Why not?

As I mentioned earlier, an Opposition day has been proposed for the next short session of Parliament, and that is going through the usual channels—[Interruption.] As a matter of convention, those things go through the usual channels. The Standing Orders set out the number of Opposition days and Back-Bench days. It is also the convention in a longer than usual Session to offer more such days, and it is our intention to do exactly that. It is absolutely the case that we will set up the Committees as soon as possible, as has happened before, and offer more Back-Bench and Opposition days than would normally be allocated through Standing Orders. I genuinely do not see why the Opposition are making such a big fuss about this. [Interruption.]

In the agreement made with the Democratic Unionist party, the Government generously and wisely offered a detailed study into the benefits of lower VAT for the tourism industry. May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on the benefits of such a study elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and potentially in coastal communities such as the Isle of Wight, and more generally on measures to support coastal tourism in the UK? May I recommend the Isle of Wight, not least because it has the highest rates of sunshine in the United Kingdom? Half our GDP comes from tourism, and it is a self-contained area that would greatly benefit from such a study into lower VAT on tourism.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. He will obviously be a strong advocate for the Isle of Wight, and I am sure that all hon. Members will be keen to go there just as soon as their summer recess plans permit. He has campaigned on the issue of tourism, which is vital for the economy of the Isle of Wight, and I completely understand his desire for more effort to be made for coastal communities. That is shared by this Government and he might wish to apply for an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate in which to put forward his suggestions.

When can the House express its disdain and contempt for the rip-off decision made by a gullible Government in agreeing to buy the dearest electricity in the world from a French company and guaranteeing that price for 35 years? Only months after starting out, the project is £1.5 billion over budget and a year behind schedule. Like all other European pressurised reactors—EPRs—this one will involve vast cost overruns and long delays, and none of them has ever produced enough electricity to light a bicycle lamp. May we debate this, to address the continuing rip-off of the taxpayer for the next 50 years?

I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman, who has been an anti-nuclear campaigner for a long time. I respectfully say, as an ex-Energy Minister, that I just disagree with him. On average, nuclear energy provides around 20% of our electricity needs at all times, and our ageing fleet of nuclear power stations must be replaced. If we want to continue to keep the lights on, we have to take steps. This particular project protects taxpayers from the costs of budget overruns.

As I understand it, the Government will deposit the High Speed 2 phase 2a Bill on Monday next week. According to parliamentary procedures, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) and I understand them, that leaves only 56 days of consultation over the summer holidays and summer recess, which is simply not enough. Will my right hon. Friend consider extending the period for six weeks or delaying the deposit of the Bill until we return in September?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that consultation is important, and I will certainly take up this issue with the Secretary of State for Transport.

The Leader of the House has been asked several times about having an Opposition day debate so that we can represent our constituents. I want to ask her a simple question to which she may answer yes or no: can we have an Opposition day debate next week?

The exploitation of leasehold agreements by house builders and management companies is a national scandal that is leaving homeowners in my constituency in financial difficulty. May we have an urgent debate to explore an industry-wide solution to address the actions of such companies across the board?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. The Government are working with partners who have an interest in reforming residential leasehold, as outlined in our housing White Paper, to try to improve fairness and transparency for leaseholders. The White Paper responded to leaseholders’ concerns that were raised by MPs in a debate on reforming leasehold in December 2016, and we will be consulting on what more needs to be done to promote greater transparency and fairness for leaseholders, including whether all developers and managing agents are acting in the best interests of those thinking of buying and living in a leasehold property.

On 25 July, we mark 18 years of brutality against Falun Gong practitioners in China. So many families have been destroyed and so many people have lost their lives for their faith in Falun Gong’s guiding principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. Despite all its resources and the inside knowledge, China has not provided any information to show that the forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience is not happening. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or, better still, a debate on this important issue?

The hon. Gentleman raises a harrowing issue, which many hon. Members across the House will have been made aware of. It is certainly something that he should raise at Foreign Office questions, and it would also be worthy of debate either on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall.

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has had enough time to look at my blog today. More’s the pity if not, but if she has, she will have been concerned to see that Taunton Deane has built up a secret land bank of houses with a nod and a wink from the leader of the council. Many millions of pounds are involved, and it smells and looks like corruption on an enormous scale. Before things get out of hand, please may we have time for a debate to discuss the matter, and to consider local government and how planning authorities are working in this country?

My hon. Friend knows that I spend most mornings doing nothing but read his blog. He raises a serious issue that I am sure he will want to take up directly with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

May we have a debate on the National Audit Office’s damning report on the closure of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs offices, such as the one in my constituency? I received a letter from the Chancellor just yesterday, confirming that a decision about committing public funds was made during the election period, which looks very much like a breach of the ministerial code. This Parliament must have the opportunity to scrutinise such things properly before decisions are made.

As the hon. Lady knows, the consultation took place over a long period of time, and the decision on the closure was not contrary to the ministerial code. She will also be aware that, as we discussed last week, the decisions on closures have been taken to try to maximise the best use of taxpayer resources. More coaches are being provided to try to help people get back into work, and costs of travel are being accommodated where it can be shown to be further than would be reasonably expected.

May we have a debate in Government time on the activities of rogue debt management companies such as Compass Debt Counsellors? The company operated in my constituency and went into liquidation last year, owing 1,700 people a total of £5.5 million after it emptied the coffers year on year, taking out hundreds of thousands of pounds. Is it not time that this kind of spivvery was outlawed once and for all?

I am incredibly sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s point. There have been some pretty awful examples of the behaviour of debt management companies. I am not familiar with the specific case, but I encourage him to take it up with the Financial Conduct Authority, which has responsibility for looking at some of these issues.

One of the many casualties of the recent general election has been the Government’s consultation on sentences and penalties for those causing death by dangerous driving. The consultation finished on 1 February 2017, and my attempts to find out the results have been met with evasive non-answers. May we have a statement on the progress of that consultation?

The hon. Lady raises an important point, and I will certainly look into it. If I may, I will write with any information I am able to give her.

On a similar point to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), three weeks ago I raised the issue of HMRC office contracts being signed during purdah. The Leader of the House received a letter from me, but I have not had a response. The Chancellor was asked this question two weeks ago, and he has not responded to me either. May I press upon the Leader of the House the urgency of having a debate or a statement—preferably a debate—on the issue, which affects all nations and regions of the United Kingdom, of why this Government negotiated contracts during purdah when, at the general election, four political parties opposed HMRC office closures?

I apologise for that. I have not seen his letter, but I can assure him that I will always try to reply within a week to any hon. Member who writes to me. I reassure him that I specifically checked, and there was no breaking of the ministerial code. I cannot find the note in my folder giving the precise detail, but I am aware that the consultation took place over a much longer period of time. In order to protect against some quite significant costs, the decision was taken to announce the decision to close during purdah, but that was not in breach of the ministerial code. He will forgive me for not having the precise detail, but I will certainly write to him with it.

This weekend, at Pontypool Park in my constituency, many of my constituents will take part in the 24-hour Cancer Research UK relay for life, not only to raise funds but to show solidarity with families touched by cancer. May we have a debate on the contribution that our communities can make to supporting families blighted by this terrible disease?

The hon. Gentleman raises a point that all hon. Members will be keen to support. Every one of us knows or is close to someone who has been touched by cancer, which is a frightening and horrible disease. It is fantastic to see the work of so many volunteers to try to contribute to research, so that we can get on top of cancer and find ways to cure every aspect of it. I congratulate his constituents on their efforts and I hope they enjoy their relay.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the terrible neglect, which has proved a national scandal, at South Lakes safari zoo. May we have a debate—a debate was in train before the snap election was called—on the lamentably inadequate national regulation? Many senior members of the organisation team that was in charge while the neglect was happening have had to be granted a new licence simply because they changed the guy at the top.

I recall the South Lakes zoo case that the hon. Gentleman mentions from my time as Environment Secretary, and we were all very concerned about it. It would certainly be worth his while trying to obtain an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate to raise the issue. As I recall it, the real challenge is enforcement, not the rules being inadequate, but this may be well be something worth debating to try to ensure that we get to the bottom of it.

Last week, Barclays bank announced the closure of its branch in Neston, following which there will be no high street banks left in the town. May we therefore have a debate on how we can prevent communities being isolated in this way, and on what more can be done to ensure that banks are more responsible to the communities they are meant to serve?

This has been an issue right across the UK. The Post Office has really stepped up to the plate and I believe it now offers basic banking services for all the main UK banks and certainly for Barclays. The flexibility of post office opening hours means that many constituents can get better banking services. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman raises this issue, because one of the biggest challenges is making people aware of that fact. He knows that the banks have an agreed consultation process before they decide to close. Nevertheless, I urge him to look at the prospects for post offices stepping into the gap.

By September, we will not have had an Opposition day debate for a staggering seven and a half months. In the interim, may we have a debate in Government time, because I, for one, want to debate the capped expenditure process, which will lead to massive cuts in York’s already underfunded NHS?

This is obviously the subject of the day for Labour Members. I have explained several times that we are making efforts to deal with all of these normal things: the re-establishment of Committees, the dates for Opposition day debates and so on. The hon. Lady will be well aware that next Thursday there is a pre-recess Adjournment debate, where she will have the opportunity to raise the specifics of the NHS in her constituency, for which I know she is a great advocate. I urge colleagues right across the House to try to understand that this is normal following a general election, and we need to focus on working together to try to deliver for the people of this country.

Last week, in a very animated response to a question from me, the Leader of the House advised that the Secretary of State for Scotland spent

“hours and hours of committed time”


“the discussion of a package of fiscal reliefs to support the oil and gas sector”.

The reliefs that came through were welcome. She continued by saying that,

“he spent hours with me working on a supply chain”.

But she omitted to say that the oil and gas sector is still awaiting action on late-life asset transfers and loan guarantees promised in 2016. I want the Secretary of State for Scotland not to spend hours on these matters, but to spend days, weeks and months, if necessary, to get Government action. Will the Leader of the House therefore advise on what discussions the Secretary of State had with her in her role as Minister in this area? She concluded her answer last week by saying that he has always

“spoken up for the people of Scotland at every opportunity.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2017; Vol. 626, c. 1354.]

Will she therefore explain why he always avoids answering my questions on the discussions he has had with the relevant Departments? Will she speak to him about that, and will she once again list his achievements for Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot possibly explain to him why the Secretary of State for Scotland thinks something or does something; I am sure he will realise that that is not a question for me. However, I am extremely pleased that the hon. Gentleman now acknowledges what I did say in some spirited fashion last week, which was that I absolutely recall the Secretary of State for Scotland standing up for Scottish people on protecting and promoting the oil and gas sector—he continues to do that. If the hon. Gentleman would like to talk to him about it, I am sure he will be able to speak for himself about exactly where he is on his support for the people of Scotland.

I am lucky in my constituency to take part in parkrun on a Saturday morning; hundreds of local people now run regularly because the Parc Bryn Bach athletics club has its own Couch to 5k programme. May we have a statement on promoting physical activity and improving public health? Finally, why will the Government not give us our fair share of Opposition day debates for the next two years?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his evident fitness and healthy approach to life. I hope that that will extend to his approach to the work in this Chamber over the next few years. It is absolutely vital that we do more to promote a healthy lifestyle. This Government have put a great deal of money into new cycling programmes, new sports for children in schools and so on, but I must also mention all the work that volunteers do to develop these programmes for running together through the park. It is a lovely thing to do and it also adds to the health of the nation, so I congratulate him on that.

May we have an early debate on this week’s report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration on the failure of the Border Force to monitor properly small ports for immigration, smuggling and illegal migration issues—issues that were raised by me 18 months ago in parliamentary questions in this House. Perhaps it is the sort of issue that we could have an Opposition day debate on if we were granted one.

The problem is that, by the time we get to an Opposition day, there will be about 20 different subjects, and no one will agree on what exactly they want to debate. Let us get away from the process, and focus instead on the important subjects. The right hon. Gentleman does raise an important subject and I am quite sure that he will want to put in for an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss that very report.

The Manchester Royal Infirmary has had to stop congenital heart surgery because staff have been leaving following the uncertainty caused by the review which the right hon. Lady referred to earlier. Patients now have to travel up to 150 miles for treatment. May we have a statement on how we can continue to deliver local congenital heart services to those patients in advance of the review?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. As I said earlier, NHS England is running a review of congenital heart services across the country before finally deciding on and implementing any change. This review is not about cutting services or costs, but about ensuring that patients have the very highest standards of care. He will appreciate, as will all hon. Members, that as improvements in medical technology and medical capabilities continue, we will need to look at the best delivery to give every child and adult the best outcomes that we can.

May we have a debate in Government time on income inequality, because research from the Resolution Foundation shows that, for the decade to 2020, we have had the lowest wage growth in 210 years? In that debate, may we also look at the contract-cutting wage promoted by Her Majesty’s Government that discriminates against the under-25s?

Youth unemployment in this country has dropped dramatically since 2010. It has been one of the enormous achievements in this country. Another enormous achievement has been the number of new apprenticeships that have been taken up. A third achievement of this Government has been the number of disadvantaged 18-year-olds going into higher education. We have a very strong, positive track record for what we are doing for the under-25s. There is still much more to do, but in terms of getting them into work, into apprenticeships and into higher education, we have a good track record.

The planned closure and relocation of Department for Work and Pensions offices will have a major negative impact on the local economy of towns such as Merthyr Tydfil in my constituency as well as many others across the country. It will also cause major travel difficulties for employees with caring responsibilities. May I ask the Leader of the House to urge the Secretary of State to carry out a full impact assessment and bring the results of that assessment, together with the results of any consultation, to the House as soon as possible—perhaps for an Opposition day debate?

The hon. Gentleman knows that, in looking at maximising the value for taxpayers from managing the estate, any Government Department will always look at ensuring that access is good enough and that the service is at least as good as it was previously. He will also appreciate that we need to live within our means. We have taken huge steps to getting back to a position in which we spend only what we take instead of adding to the debt and deficit that was left by the last Labour Government. It is vital that, where we can, we seize the opportunities to get better value for the taxpayer out of our Government estate.

May we have a debate on the future of Durham Tees Valley airport, the promise made by the Tees Valley Mayor to buy it, and the Government’s position on whether his nationalisation plans will be funded from the public purse?

I think we all welcome additional air travel opportunities, and this sounds to me like an ideal opportunity for an Adjournment debate.

As we rapidly approach summer and our thoughts turn to holidays, many of our constituents might need to send money abroad. May we have a statement from Ministers on the payment services regulations and the results of the Government’s recent research on transparency and consumer decisions on foreign exchange transactions?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the very important issue of people going on holiday. I wish everybody who is about to embark on their holidays, including those in this place, a good time. He should probably raise his specific point during oral questions, as I am not sure that he has given me enough information to respond with exactly what he is after.

Let me just clear something up. Normally, points of order would come after a statement, but if this is a special point of order on a point of clarification and is relevant to business questions I will take it now.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I, through you, ask the Leader of the House to clarify whether she announced new business in the form of an Opposition day in the short sitting in September, and if so, on what date that will be?

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. What I said to the House is that through the usual channels I am aware that an Opposition day debate is being offered during that short sitting in September.

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Can you clarify that there is a means by which the Leader of the House can correct the record? She has suggested today that it is utterly normal for us not to have Opposition day debates at this stage, but in fact in 2015, by the summer recess after the general election, we had already had five—