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Business of the House

Volume 633: debated on Thursday 21 December 2017

The business for the week commencing 8 January 2018 will include:

Monday 8 January—Second Reading of the Taxation (Cross-border) Trade Bill.

Tuesday 9 January—Second Reading of the Trade Bill.

Wednesday 10 January—Opposition day (7th allotted day): there will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 11 January—Debate on a motion relating to defence. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 12 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 15 January will include:

Monday 15 January—Second Reading of the Space Industry Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 16 January—Remaining stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 1).

Wednesday 17 January—Conclusion of remaining stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

Thursday 18 January—Debate on a motion on treatment of small and medium-sized enterprises by RBS Global Restructuring Group, followed by general debate on Holocaust Memorial Day 2018. The subjects for those debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 19 January—Private Members’ Bills.

This morning, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Melbourne as the troubling situation there continues to develop.

I congratulate the city of Birmingham on securing the 2022 Commonwealth games, which is excellent news for the people of the west midlands, and we wish them every success.

Finally, at the end of this busy term, I wish Mr Speaker, colleagues on both sides of the House, all our staff and the staff of the House a very relaxing Christmas and a happy and healthy new year. I am sure that we are all looking forward to hearing Big Ben’s chimes once again as it rings in 2018.

I thank the Leader of the House for the future business. I am also pleased about Birmingham getting the Commonwealth games—I have my running shoes on already.

I note that there was no date for the restoration and renewal debate. I know that the Leader of the House listened to the Members from across the House who felt that a Thursday was not an appropriate day because many people have different things to do. As the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is moving to the other place, will she say when the R and R debate is likely to occur? We need to act sooner rather than later. The many people on the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster worked on the report, but it has taken a long time to get that debate going.

Prime Minister’s questions are becoming more like Prime Minister’s slogans. We have heard “fit for the future”, so, if this is a way to stop her, we say, “Fit for the future with Labour.” Someone needs to update the Prime Minister, because she mentioned sustainable and transformational partnerships in relation to an integrated health and social care system, which she says Labour is opposed to, but of course we are because it is another reorganisation, such as the disastrous Health and Social Care Act 2012, which cost the country £3 billion. The Prime Minister did not mention accountable care organisations, but to whom are they accountable? Last week, I asked the Leader of the House when the Government were intending to lay the relevant regulations before the House, but unfortunately she did not give me an answer, so will she confirm that there will be adequate time for a debate and a vote?

Another week means another U-turn or two. On Tuesday, we found out that plans to end the revenue support grant and allow councils to keep 100% of business rates would be put on hold. Not everyone has Oxford Street in their constituency, so we hope the change will end the bizarre policy of councils buying shopping malls. [Interruption.] I do not know why the Whip is chuntering when you asked for no chuntering or murmuring, Mr Speaker. If he would just listen, that would be helpful. The Government are consulting on a fair funding review, and the consultation closes on 12 March. Given that the House is in recess for two weeks over Christmas, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether the consultation could be extended until the end of March to give people time to respond?

The other U-turn came on Tuesday, when my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) led a Westminster Hall debate on the exclusion of foster carers from being able to claim free childcare for their foster children. Foster carers do a fantastic job for society. I did not understand the policy, but the Minister ended the exclusion and should be congratulated on closing that gap in policy. That is what we would like to see on our Opposition days. We want to work constructively where there are gaps in policy.

I asked the Leader of the House about the sifting committee for statutory instruments, and she indicated that she will propose changes to Standing Orders when the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has received Royal Assent. If she could do that when the Bill is in the other place, that might be quite helpful. Given the many statutory powers the Government are reserving to themselves, will she confirm through the usual channels, fairly quickly perhaps, that the chair of the committee will be from the Opposition?

May we have a statement on why the Equality and Human Rights Commission is not appointing people because Ministers are vetoing appointments on political grounds? At the moment, the board cannot function. Sarah Veale, the former head of the equality and employment rights department at the TUC, has not been reappointed despite being supported by the chair of the board,. She was told that the decision not to reappoint her was taken because a political adviser at No. 10 had noticed a tweet she had sent disapproving of some Government policy. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government are not vetoing appointments on grounds of dissent from the Government, and will the Government look again at reappointing Ms Veale? She is highly qualified and supported by the chair.

As the Prime Minister travels to Poland, and given that the EU has just formally advised the other 27 member states that the Polish Government’s legislative programme is putting at risk fundamental values expected of a democratic state, including judicial independence, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will be raising the rule of law with the Polish Government? Is this the kind of Government our Government are to do trade deals with? Our country played a vital role in drafting, and was the first to sign up to, the European convention on human rights. We promote the rule of law throughout the world.

The Leader of the House mentioned the events in Melbourne. Looking back on the year—from Westminster to Manchester, from London Bridge to Finsbury Park—I think of the families spending their first Christmas grieving for their lost loved ones, including our own Deputy Speaker. Our prayers are with him and his family at this difficult time. I am pleased that, following the statement by Mayor Burnham, the Government, who initially were only going to put £12 million towards Manchester’s public services, will now pay the full £28 million asked for. Yesterday was International Human Solidarity Day. We always see the country come together during disasters and difficult times. We should strive to do that when there are no disasters.

I want to thank the Opposition Chief Whip for all his support and help; my staff and his; the Government Chief Whip, given last week’s vote, for his support; the Leader of the House and her family; the Deputy Leader of the House, who has been so loyal throughout the years under different Leaders of the House; your family, Mr Speaker, and your office in particular; the Clerks; Phil and his team of Doorkeepers; the House of Commons Library; the official reporters; catering and cleaning staff; postal workers; security; and all right hon. and hon. Members and their families.

Finally, I have to do this, Mr Speaker—it is a joke from a Christmas cracker, and I am just trying to set the scene for the future: what do reindeer hang on their Christmas trees? Horn-aments! May I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year?

I am sure that the hon. Lady’s joke will resound around many a Christmas table this year. May I particularly join her in sending all our sympathies to the Deputy Speaker and his family? What a terrible tragedy! We are all so sorry. I also want to echo her remarks about human solidarity. We have seen so many examples of amazing solidarity, and yet also, very sadly, too many examples of people allowing their disagreements to splash into violence, vitriol and hatred. We want in this Parliament to be able to air our disagreements and then go and have a cup of tea together. I am always delighted to share a cup of tea with her, and I certainly wish her and her family a very happy Christmas.

The hon. Lady asks when the R and R debate will be scheduled. As I said last week, I can confirm that, following representations from Members from across the House not to have the debate on a Thursday, I am working with the Chief Whip and through the usual channels to find a suitable date.

The hon. Lady asks about accountable care organisations. These are intended to provide more joined-up care, more efficient care and greater productivity, and are something the NHS would value having as a tool at its disposal. That is their purpose. There is nothing else but the intention to make the NHS more effective and productive.

The hon. Lady asks whether the consultation on fairer funding could be ended at the end of March, rather than on 12 March, and I am happy to take that up with the Department for Communities and Local Government. I am sure that if there is no good reason why this cannot be done, DCLG will be sympathetic. On childcare for foster children, I think the whole House is delighted with the progress in this area. We should celebrate that access being provided by the Government.

The hon. Lady asks about the sifting committee. Draft changes to Standing Orders are available on the Order Paper for her and colleagues to look at. The decision about who will make up the committee will be made in due course, through the usual channels.

The hon. Lady asks about appointments to the Human Rights Commission. Obviously, these decisions are taken when we are in possession of all the facts about who would provide the right balance in terms of experience, background and so on. I cannot comment on the specifics of what she mentions, but I can assure her that there is scrupulous fairness in the appointments to commissions.

The hon. Lady asks about Poland, and I can tell her that it remains a very strong ally of the UK. Polish fighters in world wars have been enormously supportive to the interests of the United Kingdom, and we should never forget that. However, she rightly points out that the UK upholds international law. We have an absolute commitment to the importance of the rule of law, and the Prime Minister will be making her views on that very clear when she is in Poland.

Finally, I just wish to share the hon. Lady’s all-encompassing good wishes to everyone who works for and in this place.

As per usual, there is extensive interest in the business question, but I simply advise the House that we have two statements to follow and that more than 30 people are seeking to contribute to the two debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. Therefore, there is a premium on brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike, now to be inimitably demonstrated by Sir Peter Bottomley.

The House will welcome the statement by DCLG today on the crack- down on unfair leasehold practices. Will it be possible early in the new year for the Government to announce when there will be a Government debate on the timetable, so that we can stamp out the exploitation, crookery and heartlessness of some freeholders, who have been operating untouched in this field for too long?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern about some of the practices that have gone on in this area. I am sure that DCLG Ministers will want to come back to this place to provide updates as soon as they are able to do so.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next year. May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all the Members of the House a very merry Christmas? I will not repeat the list given by the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), as I am sure she was very extensive in the list of people she wished a happy Christmas to at this time of year.

It is panto season. I suppose every day is like a pantomime in this House, but this year we have our very own version of “Mother Totally Goosed”, where our hero, with repeated warnings of “He’s behind you,” is transported to a magical land where her dream of unfettered trade deals and transitional arrangements are grown from the magic Brexit beans. No longer assisted by the pantomime dame from “Aladdin”, our hero climbs bravely into the Brexit unknown.

I am sure we are hoping for a peaceful election in Catalonia today. Last time there was a democratic contest there, ballot boxes were seized and people were assaulted by the state for simply voting. It is almost impossible to believe that political leaders in a modern European democracy are contesting this election from prison or exile simply for desiring a particular political outcome for their country.

May we have a debate about tax, so that we can try to better understand why England is quickly becoming the highest taxed part of the UK? Whereas in Scotland 70% of taxpayers will have their tax reduced, in England, once council tax is factored in, taxpayers in a band D property face a tax increase of more than £100. Perhaps the Scottish Government could give the Government some advice and assistance on how to design a fair tax system based on the best principles of redistribution.

Lastly, at this time of good will and cheer, let us remember that Scottish Tory MPs are not just for Christmas; we are stuck with them, as they plummet in Scottish Westminster opinion polls. Those cute, doe-eyed stoppers of a second independence referendum can grow up to be that unwanted, unloved, forgotten waste of space with nothing better to do than bark about our Government 500 miles away. So remember, people of Scotland: if you are thinking about voting Tory in Scotland, have a look at what they grow up to be when they get down here.

I am not entirely sure what to make of that, but I shall take the hon. Gentleman’s points in the Christmas spirit, which is very important. He clearly feels under threat from my hon. Friends from Scotland because of their excellent work, not only in holding the Scottish Government to account but in representing their constituents in Scotland. It is great for Government Members to see Conservatives at work supporting Scottish constituents.

The hon. Gentleman asked about taxes. He will of course be aware that Government Members, particularly my hon. Friends from Scotland, are disappointed to see income taxes going up in Scotland, particularly as the Chancellor announced in the Budget an extra £2 billion for Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Catalonia. I think the whole House will join in hoping that today’s election there will be peaceful and respectful. Spain is a key ally to the United Kingdom. As I just said to the shadow Leader of the House, we absolutely uphold the rule of law at all times.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about Brexit trade deals. The Prime Minister has said on any number of occasions, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, that we are determined to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom and for our EU friends and neighbours as we leave the EU, which will happen on 29 March 2019.

There was a Westminster Hall debate on corrosive substance attacks yesterday, but will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on new types of crime such as moped gangs and acid attacks? This depressing trend seems to show that the law and sentencing guidelines are not fit for purpose.

My hon. Friend raises a very worrying issue. We are determined to put a stop to this new type of crime. The Home Office has been working closely with a number of partners, including the motorcycle and insurance industries and the police, to develop an action plan. We will review progress early in the new year.

On acid attacks, the Government are consulting on new legislation that would include the prohibition of the sale of harmful corrosive substances to under-18s, and the Home Secretary intends to put sulphuric acid on the list of regulated substances. It is a big challenge. I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend is pleased that traditional crimes are decreasing, thanks to the excellent efforts of our law enforcers, but we must and will react quickly and effectively to modern crimes.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for advertising the wares of the Backbench Business Committee for the new year, particularly the intention to have a six-hour debate on defence, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), on the first Thursday back after the recess.

It is Christmas, and we should add to the extended list that we heard from the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). Christmas is a time for forgiveness, so let us extend a warm and merry Christmas to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. IPSA is indeed the founder of our feast, in a strange sort of way, so let us extend a merry Christmas to its staff at this time of good wishes.

May I extend an invitation to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Leader of the House? Next year, between June and September, Gateshead and Newcastle will be hosting the Great Exhibition of the North. I am delighted to invite you both to visit Gateshead and Newcastle during that period.

I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you and I would be delighted to do that. I have really enjoyed previous trips, particularly to Gateshead. It is a fabulously vibrant place with fabulous views. There are some really tall buildings that offer enormous roofscape views. It is fabulous, so I shall certainly take up the hon. Gentleman’s offer.

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention that important defence debate on 11 January. It will give many Members who have wanted to discuss defence the chance to air their views.

I share in the hon. Gentleman’s wishing IPSA staff a merry Christmas; may they have a successful and happy 2018.

It is increasingly clear that the health and social care needs of rural communities diverge very significantly from those of urban communities. Like me, does the Leader of the House welcome the creation of the National Centre for Rural Health and Care and the appointment of the excellent chairman, Richard Parish, who has vast international and local experience? Can we have a debate in Government time on the unique pressures that rural health and social care providers face in recognition of the changes that we need in funding and structure?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. Rural areas do face unique pressures. Challenges raised are often around barriers to access, including rural transport and urgent and emergency care. She will be aware that dwellers in rural areas often enjoy better health than those in urban areas, but she may wish to apply for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate to discuss this very important matter further.

Members across the House will have been horrified to see the amount of plastic in our seas after watching “Blue Planet” this year. Will the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, make it your new year’s resolution to make Parliament plastic free in 2018?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. I, too, was glued to “Blue Planet” and the issues that it raised. As Environment Secretary, I was delighted to be able to announce the litter strategy, looking at how we can reduce the plastics in our seas. The current Environment Secretary has just now signed the commitment to banning microbeads from face washes and other products. This Government have done more than any other to try to clamp down on waste plastics getting into our marine areas, and we will continue to do everything possible.

One of the farcical stories of Newark’s 2017 is Network Rail’s continual failure to man the barriers at Newark Castle station, so it is a good job that Santa will be arriving through the air on a sleigh, because otherwise he may not even be able to get into the town. The latest instalment in this pantomime was that Network Rail’s operatives failed to recognise that the barriers should be closed from 10 pm in the evening, overnight, and misread it as 10 am, closing the entire town off for Saturday shopping at Christmas. Will the Leader of the House give us an early Christmas present and pick up the phone to the chief executive of Network Rail to give him a good telling off?

As ever, my hon. Friend represents his constituents extremely well. He may wish to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise that particular issue.

Happy St Thomas’s day, Mr Speaker—to be precise. I am delighted that the Leader of the House has said that we are moving the date for the debate on restoration and renewal, because it is better that the whole House should be able to come to a proper decision. May I just say to her that I can help her with this as I have found time on 15 January when we can do it? The Second Reading of the Space Industry Bill took less than two hours in the House of Lords, so I do not see why it should take any more time here, and we can use the rest of the day to do R and R and come to a proper decision. Incidentally, IPSA has said that, next year, if Members want staff to be paid before Christmas, they should all say “aye” today, and it will do it properly next year.

I am very grateful, as I am sure are the Chief Whip and the shadow Chief Whip, for the hon. Gentleman’s advice on how to schedule the business, but he will appreciate that the space Bill is an extremely important piece of legislation that will create highly skilled jobs for the future and provide a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom and it needs to be given a proper hearing in this place.

Can we have a debate on Made in Britain? Does the Leader of the House share my concern that the new British passport from 2019, a black passport, not a purple one, could be designed and printed in Germany—made in Berlin rather than made in Britain?

We all support the UK’s stance as a global free-trading nation, but, at the same time, we recognise that Britain has a huge amount to offer in terms of our manufacturing, our food and drink and all manner of services that we provide to the world, and we can compete on a level playing field.

As we come to the end of Hull’s first year as city of culture, may I pay tribute to Rosie Millard and Martin Green, who have led the city of culture organisation and put on so many wonderful events this year? The fact that we have had 3.5 million visitors to Hull speaks for itself. Can we please have a debate about the legacy for Hull coming out of city of culture? Coventry will be city of culture 2021, and we need to make sure that we get the arts funding out to the regions so that it is not concentrated in London.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her support for Hull’s superb time as city of culture, and on her enthusiasm for Coventry’s. I recommend that she seeks a Westminster Hall debate to focus on these important points. I am sure that Ministers will be interested to hear her views.

There is growing concern among residents and business owners in Cleethorpes, particularly in St Peter’s Avenue and the High Street, about the growing number of vagrants in the area. That concern spilled over at a public meeting last week. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time so that we can discuss the response of the various agencies, how they can deal with the problem and how they can deal with those who are genuinely homeless?

My hon. Friend raises an issue of great concern to us all. The Government are committed to eliminating rough sleeping. We are investing more than £1 billion to 2020 in order to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. For example, we have a homelessness reduction taskforce and a rough sleeping advisory panel to focus minds right across Government on what more we can do. We have £20 million for schemes that support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to get secure tenancies, and £28 million of backing for Housing First pilots. It is vital that local authorities take advantage of the funding available to them, and that we all focus on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.

I send my best Christmas wishes to all, but Christmas can be a very tough time of year for some people. At the Samaritans reception that was held here this week, a very simple request was made—that all MPs put the Samaritans number on their out-of-office message. As many of our offices will be closed over the Christmas period, at least that number would then be available if anybody did contact us in an emotional crisis. I have already done this. Will the Leader of the House join me in asking the MPs present whether they feel that they could do this too?

That is a lovely idea. I will certainly be delighted to do that myself. Indeed, I have made a short YouTube clip explaining how people can get hold of me if there is no answer from the office. The hon. Lady is right that the issue of loneliness and people who are desperate for urgent help must be addressed—never more so than at this time of year when that help can really matter a great deal to people. I commend her suggestion.

The London Assembly this week announced the publication of a report that shows that there are 9,000 sheds in London alone that are accommodating people in back gardens and unsavoury areas. That is council tax that is not being collected and landlords who are exploiting people who have nowhere to live. Can we have a debate in Government time on this nationwide problem so that we can crack down on this disgraceful activity?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this pretty shocking statistic. He will be aware that the number of statutory homeless people is lower than it was at any time in 2010. Nevertheless, there is a lot more to be done. We must clamp down on rogue landlords and those who seek to abuse people who do not have access to safe rented accommodation or other accommodation. I share my hon. Friend’s view that the Mayor of London should seek to put a stop to this activity.

Will the Leader of the House please press for Government time, during the process of the restoration and renewal debate, in which we can debate how to make both Houses of Parliament truly accessible for people with disabilities, particularly for those one in 100 people on the autistic spectrum?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for all you have done for those with disabilities and to try to make Parliament more accessible. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the possibility of the House debating easier access once we get into the R and R debate.

Last week in The Times and other papers, there was a very good article by a former special adviser to David Cameron and George Osborne about corruption in local government. I asked for a debate last week; I am asking again. We now have firm evidence that there are problems, and I would like a general debate in this place if possible.

My hon. Friend raises an issue that is of great concern to him, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise it specifically with Ministers.

Two young girls from my constituency, Amy and Ella Meek, are coming to Parliament today to meet the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. They are Kids Against Plastic. These young girls are fantastic campaigners. Given the urgency of this issue—as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) said, we have all been moved by “Blue Planet”—they want us to do even more. Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Environment Secretary to come to Parliament and make a statement so that we can all contribute to trying to do something about this issue?

May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, the Meeks, on taking the great step of coming here to make their views known? It is fantastic when people choose to do that, and it is important for young people to take such an interest in their environment. I can tell the hon. Gentleman’s constituents that as a result, for example, of cutting the use of plastic bags by 83%, there are 9 billion fewer plastic bags now being used. We have doubled the maximum litter fines to try and discourage litter on land, which so often ends up in our seas. We have also just finished consulting on our proposals to reduce plastic, metal and glass litter, which included consulting on reward and return schemes for drinks containers. All these things are important, and I absolutely encourage the hon. Gentleman’s constituents to keep up their campaigning work.

Can we have a statement to this House on the recent report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland on the Scottish National party’s plans to merge the British Transport police into Police Scotland? That report highlighted that issues such as terms and conditions and pension arrangements need to be discussed sooner rather than later. Given that we are less than 16 months away from full integration, does the Leader of the House agree that that shows how poorly the SNP has handled this? In fact, it might be better if it abandoned its plans altogether.

My hon. Friend raises a very important matter, and he is right to hold the Scottish Government to account. I encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate so that he can raise this with Ministers to see what can be done.

My Easterhouse constituent Ibrahim al-Kasharfeh submitted an asylum claim over a year and a half ago, and despite service standards of six months, he still has not been given a decision. May we have a debate in Government time on the process and procedures for asylum claims, because we are clearly not getting them right?

The hon. Gentleman raises a significant constituency issue, which he is absolutely right to raise. I encourage him to take it up with Home Office Ministers, who I am sure will be keen to look at that specific case.

Let us never forget that, in the fight for freedom and justice in the war, Poland lost a quarter of its population.

Closer to home—I am sure the Leader of the House will agree with this—can we please have the debate on restoration and renewal on a substantive amendable motion as soon as possible? The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and I have different points of view, but we do think we should get on with this now. In a building such as this, fire is an ever-present risk, and the House needs to come to a conclusion quickly and to get on with the work, particularly on fire doors.

As I have explained to Members, we have taken representations that the debate should not be on a Thursday, and we are seeking an alternative date as soon as possible.

Will the Leader of the House make time available for a Cabinet Office debate on the selective application of the ministerial code, so that the Cabinet Office could explain why the Deputy Prime Minister had to go, whereas the Foreign Secretary, who, according to my estimation, has breached sections 1.2a, 7.1 and 8.6, is still with us? Before she responds, however, may I wish her and other Members, as well as you, Mr Speaker, and everyone who helps us here in the House, a merry Christmas and, in the new year, an exit from Brexit?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his good wishes, apart from the last bit—clearly, I do not share that sentiment at all. He makes some very specific allegations that he should raise with the Cabinet Office directly.

May we have an urgent debate on net neutrality in the light of the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision in the United States?

I am pleased to say to my hon. Friend that I managed to catch the relevant Minister on this point just before coming into the Chamber. They confirmed that the UK remains committed to the existing laws around net neutrality and will be upholding those laws. However, my hon. Friend may well wish to submit a parliamentary question to have that confirmed to him directly.

Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker, to you and your family, and to all who serve in this House.

May I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent debate on the Government’s red lines on Brexit? Two days ago, we heard from the EU chief negotiator that passporting financial services is not possible while the Government insist on their red lines. Tens of thousands of jobs in Edinburgh rely on this.

I think the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, as has been said many times, this is a negotiation. I am sure that he will be delighted, as we all are, that we have made progress on to the second part, which is to discuss the free trade arrangements that we want between ourselves and the European Union. These negotiations are under way, and the Government will of course update Parliament and take in Parliament’s views at every opportunity.

Order. I should gently point out that if each Member could ask a short question of one sentence, we could move on in about 10 minutes, and that would be helpful to subsequent debates. Whether that will have any effect, who knows? We will see.

This morning, Sergeant Watchman V, the Staffordshire Regimental Association mascot, is being promoted to the rank of colour sergeant. Sergeant Watchman V is a Staffordshire bull terrier. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Watchman, and also his handler, Greg Hedges?

Of course I am delighted to join in my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm. I gather that Watchman also won the public vote in the Westminster dog of the year competition last year.

On 16 November, I asked the Leader of the House for a statement on when the results of the consultation on penalties for causing death by dangerous driving would come before Parliament and be enshrined in law. I wrote to her, as she asked me to do, but since then I have heard nothing. Will she please advise me on what further action I might take?

I will absolutely look into this if I have missed something. I am absolutely assiduous about following up on all pledges made in this House, so if I have not followed up in this case, I sincerely apologise and will do so straight after this session.

Following the recent experience in my constituency where a planning application for exploratory drilling that will lead to fracking has been declared for non-determination in a highly premature manner, may we have a debate in Government time about whether the planning system is working for these kinds of large applications?

My hon. Friend is a strong voice for his constituents, and he is right to raise this matter. An applicant for planning permission can exercise powers under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 for a right of appeal to the Secretary of State against a decision to refuse consent, or non-determination. Whether an applicant wishes to exercise that right of appeal is a matter for them. He will appreciate that major shale gas planning decisions will be the responsibility of the national planning regime, so he could raise this with Department for Communities and Local Government Ministers during questions on 22 January.

May we have a debate on early-day motion 722?

[That this House believes that the acceptance of a new job with Chinese interests by the previous Prime Minister David Cameron exposes parliamentarians to accusations of promoting their own financial interests in office in order to benefit from them later with lucrative jobs; recalls that David Cameron resisted all pleas to reform the abuses of revolving door that allows former hon. Members to prosper on the basis of insider knowledge unhindered by the impotent watchdog of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments; and further recalls that the former Prime Minister supported the Chinese-British Hinkley Point project that been condemned as a potential financial calamity by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.]

That might help to remove the most corrupt element in this Parliament whereby three Governments have failed to reform the committee that is supposed to prevent past Ministers from profiting financially from their time in office. Is there not a danger that the country will look at recent affairs and ask, as Chaucer did, “If gold doth rust, what will iron do?”

The hon. Gentleman raises what I am sure is a very important point. If he has an EDM, it will be dealt with in the usual manner.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the apprenticeship levy? In my constituency, Blaze Construction is working hard to support this process, but has concerns about how it affects its industry and its efforts.

I know that my hon. Friend shares the Government’s enthusiasm for apprenticeships, of which there have been more than 3 million since 2010. That is fantastic news for young people’s careers and the development of their skills. If she wishes to promote particular issues around the apprenticeship levy, I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise the matter directly.

May I send a special Christmas wish to the police who keep us safe in this place? They get overlooked sometimes. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is heartrending to read about a little girl saying, “Father Christmas forgot to come to my house last Christmas”? That is a terrible thing. The Children’s Commissioner has said that there are half a million vulnerable children in our country. Can we have an early debate about the Children’s Commissioner’s report on vulnerable children?

I fully share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about vulnerable children. We would all like, particularly at Christmas, everything possible to be done to ensure that children have the chance to be with their families and enjoy Christmas. I encourage him to seek a debate on the matter so that all Members can participate.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking postal service workers over this busy Christmas period? Can we have a statement on future support for post offices, especially those in rural constituencies such as mine?

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in thanking all Post Office workers. They do a fabulous job at this time of year. The issue that she raises is very important, especially to rural communities, so I am pleased that the Government announced yesterday that they are committing up to £370 million in new investment in the post office network for the three years from April 2018.

Would the Leader of the House agree to have a debate on a national Sikh war memorial in a prime central location in our capital, to commemorate the extraordinary bravery and sacrifices of Sikh soldiers in the service of Great Britain? That includes both world wars, when more than 83,000 turbaned Sikh soldiers laid down their lives and more than 100,000 were injured. To assist her in that, she may have seen early-day motion 708, which already has the support of more than 150—

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the amazing sacrifice of Sikh soldiers, and I share his interest in a memorial. He may well wish to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise that directly with Ministers.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating my constituent Marsha Gladstone? She received the Points of Light award for her work with the Yoni Jesner Foundation, which was set up in memory of her son, who was killed by a Tel Aviv bus bomb 15 years ago.

My hon. Friend raises a very sad story. He is right to seek the warmth of this House for his constituent, and I am very happy to give it.

I hope Parliament will join me in congratulating the UN and the World Federation of the Deaf on declaring an International Day of Sign Languages. May we have a debate on its recognition in UK law?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on what I am sure was very accurate signing. I am sure that hon. Members would be delighted if she were to seek a Back-Bench debate on this subject.

As we approach Christmas, our thoughts are often with those whom we have lost during the year. I am sure the thoughts of many of us in the House will therefore be with the family of PC Keith Palmer, who gave up his life while protecting ours. Several months ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) suggested that some kind of commemoration, such as a commemorative plaque, should exist on the parliamentary estate. Can the Leader of the House give us an update on progress?

Keith Palmer showed huge bravery and courage when he sought to protect our parliamentary community from a terror attack. He was also a father, a husband and a Charlton Athletic fan, and he is now the posthumous recipient of the George medal. The Police Memorial Trust is working with Westminster City Council to erect a memorial stone outside Carriage Gates, and that is something that we will all be pleased to see.

In terms of the hard work of Scottish Tories, I have submitted written questions asking how many meetings they have had, and when, with police and fire services on the question of VAT. The answer I got was that there are regular policy meetings with hon. Members. I then asked when Scottish Tories last met each one, and I was referred back to the same answer. Will the Leader of the House make a statement explaining how I can actually hold the Government to account and how she will get Ministers to give straight answers?

I think the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, in the last few weeks, the Chancellor has seen many hon. Friends every night in the Lobbies. How often the Chancellor comes across his colleagues is really not a matter on which to hold the Government to account.

Will the Leader of the House commit to arranging an early statement on the astonishing and unacceptable threat by the United States ambassador to the United Nations that note will be taken of countries, like our own, opposing the move of the Israeli capital to Jerusalem and that consequences will follow?

We are aware of Donald Trump’s comments, but the UK’s long-standing position on Jerusalem has not changed. The UK’s position is that the the status of Jerusalem should be determined through a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and that it should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states.

Will the Leader of the House join me in celebrating our community councils, particularly the volunteers who form the foundation of our democracy, and may we have a debate on the role of volunteers in our democracy?

The hon. Gentleman follows a line of other Members who have sought further discussion on the excellent work of volunteers. I encourage him to seek a Back-Bench debate so that all Members can pay tribute to those who work so hard as volunteers.

The great northern powerhouse project of course includes the central trans-Pennine corridor. When will the Government facilitate a debate on what they consider a flagship project—in Government time, in this place—so that Members of Parliament can discuss the northern powerhouse?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Government are fully committed to the northern powerhouse. Half a trillion pounds of investment has gone into infrastructure since 2010. The national productivity investment fund is looking to improve infrastructure right across the United Kingdom, and the northern powerhouse has been a big recipient. I encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that he can put forward further ideas to make it a success.

I believe the other customary greeting at this time of year is “May the force be with you”.

May we have a debate on the recruitment policy of the Civil Aviation Authority? A constituent of mine approached me to say he was prohibited from obtaining a medical certificate for a commercial pilot’s licence simply on the grounds that he was HIV-positive. Does the Leader of the House agree that nobody should face unjustifiable discrimination because of their HIV status? I have written to the Transport Secretary, but I have not yet had an answer. May we have a debate on this issue?

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman. This Government are against discrimination. I encourage him to ask a parliamentary question so that he can get an answer on his specific point.

Will the Leader of the House ask a Work and Pensions Minister to make a written statement on the remaining months of the roll-out of universal credit in constituencies in the UK? I received an incorrect answer to a written question on Monday, and I still have not had a response to my oral question in Work and Pensions questions on Monday afternoon.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me on that point, I will take it up with the Department for him.

The publicly owned Royal Bank of Scotland is closing more than one third of its branches in Scotland, including the very busy one in Renfrew in my constituency. May we have a statement on this Government’s abdication of their responsibility to the taxpayers of Scotland in leaving 13 towns with zero bank branches?

A debate on that matter has already been announced, unless my memory is incorrect, but the Leader of the House will in any case give us her reply.

Yes, Mr Speaker, there will be a debate on the RBS restructuring group. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about closures, this is a commercial matter, as the Prime Minister has made clear. We are certainly very keen to promote the excellent work of the post office network in providing basic bank account services. He will certainly be aware of the protocols on bank closures that every bank must follow, and he may wish to take this up directly with BEIS Ministers.

On a similar note, 62 bank branches are closing in Scotland, including in Rothesay, Campbeltown and Inveraray in my constituency. Thus far, the Government have steadfastly refused to get involved, saying that these are commercial decisions, but such an answer is unacceptable. May we have an urgent statement on the bank closure programme in Scotland and how it can be stopped?

As I said to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), the key point is that decisions about bank closures are commercial ones. Many people are turning away from branch banking to mobile banking. There are protocols for consultations on footfall and so on that must be followed by any bank before it decides to close its doors, but these are ultimately commercial decisions.

Earlier this week, militants attacked a Methodist church in Pakistan, killing nine people and wounding dozens of others. The two suicide bombers were stopped at the entrance to the church, but had they managed to get into it, the number of casualties would have been as high as in the 24 November attack on the mosque in Egypt. This attack is especially poignant at Christmas, so will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on the escalating violence in Pakistan and the middle east?

I think all Members would condemn the sort of violence mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, on which I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate.