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Business of the House

Volume 635: debated on Thursday 1 February 2018

The business for next week will include:

Monday 5 February—Motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2018 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2018, followed by the remaining stages of the Smart Meters Bill.

Tuesday 6 February—Remaining stages of the Space Industry Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on housing, planning and the green belt. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 7 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.

Thursday 8 February—Debate on a motion on community bank closures, followed by a debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 9 February—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 February will include:

Monday 19 February—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 20 February—Second Reading of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords].

Yesterday evening, the House took an historic decision to choose action to restore and renew the Palace of Westminster, and I want to congratulate all right hon. and hon. Members across the House on their attention to this debate and their contributions to it. As the Leader of the House, I will now be taking forward the decision of this House, following a debate that is to take place in the other place as soon as one can be arranged.

I thank the Leader of the House for setting out next week’s business.

A robin in the Chamber, a blue blood moon and Roger Federer winning the Australian open—but I will not mention the thing that you were not very happy about, Mr Speaker: Swansea beating Arsenal. Oh dear.

I thank the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), the Backbench Business Committee and other Members for suggesting that a debate on restoration and renewal take place today. If the Committee had not agreed to that debate, the Government would not have been pushed into having it yesterday. As the Leader of the House rightly said, a decision has been made. I, too, thank everyone who took part in and signed the amendments for such an excellent debate; it was well-tempered, and people made their points.

The Leader of the House mentioned the pre-recess Adjournment debate. I hope that she gets her deputy very soon, because she has her hands full with restoration and renewal. She has been assiduous in trying to engage Members, particularly on the northern estate programme. I know that she will do the same with restoration and renewal. May I press her, though, on the date for the summer recess? It is only one date, so I hope that she will be able to give it to us very soon.

The Leader of the House mentioned the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which provisionally comes to the House for debate on 20 February. It started in the other place, so will she confirm whether there are plans for any Brexit Bills to start in the other place? The Bill was published on the same day that it had its First Reading. Will she reassure the House that that will not be the case for the other 15 Brexit Bills?

On Brexit, it is a year since the Lancaster House speech on the Government’s negotiating objectives for exiting the EU, but the Government appear to have abandoned the financial sector. They have shelved a position paper setting out their trade goals for financial services after Brexit. Is the Leader of the House aware that the policy chair at the City of London corporation says that the sector had been counting on the paper to clarify Government policy, and that

“the City is left in the dark”?

And so say all of us. When can we expect publication of the position paper on financial services, which will affect 1 million people?

It seems that the Government have annoyed the City; they have also annoyed the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and all the Opposition. The Government have said that the “EU Exit Analysis—Cross Whitehall Briefing” will be published. Will the Leader of the House say exactly when it will be provided to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union and to Members but not on a restricted basis?

The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), said that civil servants who do their work are “always wrong”. He appears to have a bizarre understanding of what civil servants do. They are independent; they follow Government instructions and Government policy. Could we have an apology from the Minister to the civil service?

Next week, there will be debate on a motion on the police grant. Quarterly police figures show a 14% rise in recorded crime in England and Wales. Domestic burglary is up 32%. That is mirrored exactly in my constituency: a young couple who just got married had their wedding jewellery stolen, and another constituent gave me a video of a gang entering a home and marching people upstairs to rob them. There is only one police station in my constituency, in Darlaston, and that is closing, despite having been upgraded. It is not fair to say that the Government are protecting the police budget. May we have an urgent debate—perhaps a Minister could make a statement—on how much more money will be given to local councils to protect local services? When it comes to taxes, it is not right or fair for the Government to shift the burden on to local councils.

Mr Speaker, you allowed an urgent question on Capita earlier, but I want the Leader of the House’s reassurance that the Government’s jobseeker’s allowance helpline and the helpline that administers the teachers’ pension scheme will be protected. I would also like a statement on how much the Government have outsourced to Capita.

Finally, we are celebrating the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave 6 million women the right to vote. We still have to put up with men-only clubs. The test should be: would the Prime Minister be invited? Was she invited to the Presidents Club? The answer is no, but she has been invited to give a speech on Tuesday in Westminster Hall. I encourage all Members to celebrate this landmark in the UK’s history between 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm on that day. The event will launch Parliament’s Vote 100 programme for 2018. Women have moved from their place behind the grille at the back of the Chamber to its Floor. As we celebrate that, let us all think of those unseen men and women who speak out and fight every day for equality for all.

I share the hon. Lady’s excitement about the centenary of the Representation of the People Act next Tuesday. One hundred years later, our Head of State is a woman. We have our second female Prime Minister. The First Minister in Scotland is a woman, as is our Home Secretary. The Leaders and shadow Leaders of the House of Commons and the House of Lords are women, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner is a woman—I could go on. There have been some changes for the better, but there is so much more to do to make sure that women play an equal part in every aspect of our society, both in the United Kingdom and around the world. I share the hon. Lady’s commitment to doing whatever we can to make sure that comes to pass.

The hon. Lady asks for a summer recess date. That will be provided as soon as we can. I absolutely accept that hon. Members want to get on and think about what else they might like to do with their lives other than sit here, and I share that enthusiasm.

The hon. Lady asks about Brexit Bills being introduced in the other place. As she will appreciate, in my role as chairman of the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee, I have to ensure that Bills are ready to be introduced. We then have to look at the parliamentary timetable to see what else is going on in either House and make decisions based on the volume of business that is available to go. It is not possible to say with certainty at any one time, “It’ll be this one; it’ll be that one,” but in due course, through the usual channels, we will always give as much notice as possible.

The hon. Lady talks specifically about the financial sector. In fact, there are not 1 million people, but 2 million, if we include all the professional services around the financial services sector—ranging from Edinburgh to Bournemouth, to Birmingham, to Manchester, and of course, to the City of London. It is a vast and very successful sector for this country, and we were recently declared to have extended our pre-eminence over all the other financial services sectors in the world. It is absolutely vital to the United Kingdom. Positional work will be going on and it will be announced in due course, when the moment is right.

The hon. Lady asks me to confirm that the Government will comply with the terms of the Humble Address, and I am happy to do so. She asked about economic forecasts. All I can say is that if hon. Members want to ask the Bank of England how many times its economic forecasts are right, that will demonstrate that forecasting is not an exact science. It is an art, and it is not a criticism of the civil service to say that economic forecasts are rarely correct. Indeed, pre-referendum, certain forecasts presumed that our economy would be around 6% smaller than it is today, so those forecasts were also wrong.

The hon. Lady asks about the police grant. Real-terms overall police spending has increased since 2015-16 by over £475 million, including increased investment in transformation and technology. In this settlement, we propose to increase the total investment in the police system by a further £450 million year on year in 2018-19, if police and crime commissioners maximise their local precepts. She is absolutely right, however, to point out the very concerning rise in particularly high-impact crimes, such as knife crime. I hope that she welcomes Operation Sceptre, which many police forces are joining to try to tackle this appalling crime, which has such a terrible impact on victims and their families.

Finally, the hon. Lady asks for reassurance about Capita. There has just been an urgent question, in which the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) answered a number of points about Capita and Carillion. A web page has been set up by the Insolvency Service for those who are affected and seeking advice about the failure of Carillion. In the context of Carillion, there is a dedicated website set up by the special managers, PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as a dedicated helpline. Jobcentre Plus, through its rapid response service, is available for advice and support for those whose jobs may be affected. In the case of Capita, however, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the Government closely monitor all the firms to which they outsource contracts, and they do not believe that Capita is in anything like a similar situation to Carillion.

In this centenary year of some women gaining the right to vote, does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be a debate in Government time to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, perhaps to demonstrate the respect that the Government have for the immense contribution that women have made to this place over the past 100 years?

I commend my right hon. Friend for all that she does to advance the cause of women and equality. She is a real champion of women’s rights, and I agree with her that the centenary of women’s suffrage should ensure that we mark International Women’s Day. As she knows, time for such debates is traditionally provided by the Backbench Business Committee, but I have raised with the Chief Whip the view expressed on both sides of the House that it would be good to have an appropriate opportunity to mark that important day, and I am optimistic.

I thank the Leader of this crumbling House for announcing the business for next week—and what a week! There may or may not be enough Conservative Back Benchers to trigger a leadership challenge, and the party civil war that is now raging in the Conservative ranks would put the cavaliers and roundheads to shame. Could we perhaps have a debate on peace, love and understanding, so that the rest of us could wish all the best to our Conservative friends in their current difficulties?

Having secured yet another Humble Address defeat, the Government will once again go through the whole business of trying to defy the will of the House by revealing as little as possible about the latest disastrous Brexit papers. After debasing our Opposition day debates and refusing to be held to account, they are now making a mockery of Humble Addresses.

If we cannot get the Government to vote on Humble Addresses, how about getting them to try to change Standing Orders? One issue that unites the House against the Government is opposition to the procedure known as “English votes for English laws”, which is as useless as it is divisive. No other party in the House will support it, and Scottish Conservative Members would look singularly stupid if they voted for a procedure that continues to emasculate them in the House. We may not be able to secure time for a debate, but the Labour party has loads of time available. Why do not Labour Members join us and help us to defeat the Government and get rid of this divisive procedure?

Lastly, is it not delicious watching all the Brexiteers rage about the unelected House of Lords as it chews up their precious hard Brexit? People who would have no second thoughts about donning the ermine if it were offered and who have ignored all our calls for the House of Lords to be abolished are now starting to rail against it. You couldn’t make it up.

It is just as well that I genuinely like the hon. Gentleman, because I have to suspend my disbelief when it comes to some of the remarks that he makes. Let me gently correct him: the House is not crumbling. The infrastructure within it is the problem. The House, as he will see, is beautiful, and it is not crumbling. As for his recommendation for lessons on peace, love and understanding, I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, would like to see more of that in this place. I entirely share the hon. Gentleman’s desire for us all to work together, and as Leader of the House, I do all that I can to ensure that we show each other that love and understanding.

The hon. Gentleman talks about Opposition day debates. We issued a clear proposal that when an Opposition motion was approved by the House, a Minister would make a statement within 12 weeks to inform the House of exactly what steps had been taken to address the issues raised, and that continues to be the case.

The hon. Gentleman talks about EVEL—English votes for English laws—which is indeed designed to stop Scottish votes for English laws. It is important for Members on both sides of the House to recognise that it is a consequence of devolution, when a number of the nations that make up the United Kingdom were rightly keen to be able to manage their own affairs more closely. It is right that Members who come to this place from those nations should not be able to vote on laws that affect only England, or England and Wales.

The hon. Gentleman laughs at those who are frustrated by the House of Lords, but surely he recognises its role as a revising House with very useful expertise that often improves legislation and makes a genuine contribution to the work of the House of Commons.

If there is to be a decant, it is vital for it to be as short as possible. On that, we are all agreed. I personally believe that the builders should work triple shifts and not do what builders traditionally do, which is to stay as long as possible. Is it my right hon. Friend’s opinion that, when we set up the legislation, only the MPs and peers on the sponsor body should vote, so that we can get a grip on this?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, because he has been a passionate advocate for the restoration and renewal of this place, and I am sorry, as he will no doubt be disappointed by yesterday’s decision. While that decision confirms action, it is not action along the lines that he would wish to see, and I am very sympathetic to his personal view that in staying in this place we could do the job more efficiently and effectively. In direct response to his question about how the sponsor body will be set up, it will have a majority of parliamentarians, and their role will be to reflect the range of views across both Houses on precisely what the delivery authority should be tasked with delivering.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing that the business for 6 February will include a debate on housing, planning and the green belt, which is sponsored by the Backbench Business Committee. We know that proceedings on the Space Industry Bill are unlikely to go the distance, but we do not yet know how many Government statements or urgent questions may be granted by Mr Speaker, so may we ask for protected time for that debate so that it may last for 90 minutes or until 7 o’clock, whichever is the later, so that we are guaranteed that it will get a good airing?

Secondly, may I bring all Members’ attention to page 15 of today’s Order Paper under the heading “Applications for Backbench Business Committee debates on the estimates”. Members will have to submit applications by Friday 16 February, which is during the recess. I draw Members’ attention to that so they will be able to debate in full the estimates debates of their choosing.

Lastly, I have another plea. The Backbench Business Committee is effectively now down to five members. We have one member out on a Bill Committee, and we have lost two other members due to promotions to the Government. We are effectively down to five members, but we have a quorum of four, so it is getting very tight. I therefore ask for a relaxation of the quorum, or quick appointments to replace those who have been promoted.

I hear that, and the hon. Gentleman and I will certainly take that up to see how we can support what sounds like a very real practical problem. I urge all colleagues to look at page 15 of today’s Order Paper. It is important that all colleagues set out their applications for Backbench Business Committee debates on the estimates. The hon. Gentleman is right that the deadline is during the recess, so it would be helpful for all colleagues to look at that. I will also take away his request for protected time for the Backbench Business Committee debate that he mentioned.

My right hon. Friend will have seen early-day motion 783 on scrapping hospital car parking charges.

[That this House is disappointed that following the publication of Government guidance on hospital car parking in August 2014, 47 per cent of hospitals have increased their parking charges for a one hour stay; notes that there continues to be discrepancies in parking charges across England, with three hospitals in London charging almost £400 per week to park; believes that these charges have serious implications, not only for patients and those visiting their loved ones, but specifically for parents of premature babies, cancer patients, dialysis patients and those receiving treatment for tumours; considers these charges a stealth tax on drivers using NHS services; and therefore asks the Government to consider ending car parking charges at hospitals in England.]

My right hon. Friend will also know about the motion that stands in my name and that of other Members. If the House passes that motion, which will be debated this afternoon, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a Minister to make a statement to the House about how the Government will scrap hospital car parking charges?

My hon. Friend has been a strong champion for resolving the issue of hospital car parking charges for a long time. I wish him well with his debate this afternoon, and I assure him that I will write to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to put forward his request.

The all-party group on suicide and self-harm prevention heard a harrowing presentation this week from Professors Nav Kapur and Keith Hawton from the multicentre study of self-harm in England. We learned that there are 200,000 hospital presentations a year in England for self-harm and almost the same number to community health facilities, particularly of 12 to 17-year-olds. One in 100 of those will die by suicide a year after their presentation, and 50% of those dying by suicide have been involved in self-harm. This is an epidemic that is hitting this country. May we have a statement from the Government expressing how they intend to deal with the major risk of self-harm presentation in our hospitals?

The hon. Lady sets out harrowing evidence about the extent of self-harming, and the Government are incredibly concerned about this, particularly about the need for more support for those with mental health issues. We are investing a record £1.4 billion into children’s and young people’s mental health, and there are now a record 1,440 children’s mental health beds. Also, importantly, by this time next year, we will have trained 2,000 secondary school staff in mental health first aid to try to provide support to young people, and by 2021, 70,000 additional children and young people each year will be accessing NHS specialist mental health services.

In the village of Oulton in my constituency, a company that owns 70 rented homes has put in for planning permission to demolish them and replace them with private dwellings. On Friday, I met some of my constituents who could soon be receiving eviction notices and would therefore require new homes. May we have a statement from the Housing Minister on the power that Leeds City Council may or may not have to purchase those homes, instead of—I kid you not, Mr Speaker—wanting to build a lighthouse in the middle of the landlocked city of Leeds?

That is an extraordinary tale. Whether the council is planning for floods is anyone’s guess. My hon. Friend is a strong champion for his community, and he raises an important issue. I recommend that he seeks an Adjournment debate so that a Minister can answer his specific concerns.

Thank you so much, Mr Speaker. You took me by surprise. In the old and less enlightened days when I was at primary school, we could have a good old pinch and a punch for the first day of the month—

No, it was not in Queen Victoria’s time.

May we have an early debate so that many of us can give a good pinch and a punch to the private sector partnerships that benight so many hospitals in our land? So many of us want a new deal for our hospitals and health sector, but we are being dragged down by private finance initiatives that were badly negotiated many years ago. Let’s have a debate on this, please!

I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek a debate on that. When I was on the Treasury Committee about five years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for—Jesse Norman—

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. I had a momentary mental blank there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) and the Treasury Committee held an inquiry into PFI, and it was quite clear that in many of those deals the private sector saw the public sector coming, and that those deals have not been in the best interests of the taxpayer or the patient. Of course, the hon. Gentleman must reflect that those PFI deals were signed under Labour Governments. Labour agreed to them—[Interruption.] Well, John Major did a few of them, but the vast majority were done under Labour. Now, under private finance 2, there is a much better track record of ensuring that the interests of the taxpayer are better cared for. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that a debate would be a good way to raise this issue again.

Mr Speaker, I would like to share some good news with you and the good people of Taunton Deane. We have just heard this morning that the bid to the housing infrastructure fund for £7.2 million to build the spine road in Staplegrove in Taunton has been successful. That will make the building of 1,600 houses in that area viable. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming this announcement, which demonstrates the fact that this Government realise that if we are to make the delivery of much-needed housing viable, we must have the right infrastructure?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for her constituency, and it is good news that houses are being built. We are committed to building homes so that everyone can afford a safe, decent place to live, and today an extra £866 million has been confirmed for local housing projects to unlock the potential of 200,000 new homes. I am delighted that the Staplegrove spine road in her constituency will be one of the beneficiaries.

Seventy-seven per cent. of the public, 98 MPs on both sides of the House, and more than 20 national charities back my Bill to measure food insecurity. Figures released this week show that one in eight adults has gone a whole day without food, and the UN estimate of UK food insecurity stands at a staggering 8 million people. Will the Government make a statement to explain why their position on this heartbreaking reality is for so many one of total silence?

The hon. Lady raises an issue that is of concern right across the House. Food insecurity is a major challenge, but the Government have ensured that more people get to keep more of their hard-earned cash, raising the personal allowance so that a basic rate taxpayer is £1,000 better off and raising the national living wage to ensure that people are thousands of pounds better off than they were in 2010. It is vital that the Government do everything we can to ensure that people can afford to live well.

I want to bring something that affects my constituency to the attention of the Leader of the House. In Taunton Deane, about which we have just heard, the borough council has borrowed a fortune to do up its headquarters. Not only has it not signed a contract, which I think is illegal and pretty silly, but the headquarters will be valued at only half of what was borrowed. It is not a good council, so may we please have a debate on borough councils in the United Kingdom?

Order. Did the hon. Gentleman consult his hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) in advance of asking this question? If he did, so be it, but if he did not, it is rather unseemly.

Yes. I am not sure that that is very collegiate, but I will have to leave Members on the same side of the House to try to sort out such matters. I gently say to the hon. Gentleman, who is quite an experienced Member of the House, that there is a genuine unseemliness about continued references to another Member’s constituency. In the politest possible way, I exhort the hon. Gentleman, who I am sure has a fertile mind and wide range of potential political interests, to focus perhaps on other interests, rather than on those that might affect his constituency—I do not dispute that and do not have authoritative knowledge of the matter—but which most certainly affect that of his hon. Friend.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I encourage my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) to take the matter up with the Housing, Communities and Local Government Ministers.

My constituent “S” was trafficked to the UK as a child and forced to work in a cannabis factory, but the Home Office wants to send him back to Vietnam. May we please have a debate on the interaction between the protection of victims of modern slavery, and the asylum and immigration system?

The hon. Lady raises what sounds like a concerning case. As constituency MPs, we all raise particular cases with the Home Office, and I am sure that it will be happy to look again at this one. If she emails me about it, I can take it up with the Home Office on her behalf.

The Community Security Trust’s annual report shows a growth in anti-Semitic attacks in this country amidst a pernicious increase in anti-Semitism more generally. At the same time, the chief inspector of schools is making a speech today about the growth of religious extremism in our schools. May we have a debate in the Chamber in Government time on how to combat religious extremism and pernicious attacks on people’s religions?

My hon. Friend raises a worrying story. All of us will have read in the press about the rise in anti-Semitic attacks and the use of words that can be extremely hurtful. He is right to suggest a debate, and I encourage him to talk to the Backbench Business Committee about securing such a debate so that all Members can share their views.

The Government have expressed their support for women’s refuges, and their funding is currently being reviewed. I fear, though, that time is running out for many refuges, including Jane’s Place in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House please allow some Government time so that we can assess what urgent steps can be taken to avoid any closures?

We have committed £40 million until 2020, and we have delivered support to 80 domestic abuse projects across England. The hon. Lady raises an issue that is absolutely at the heart of Government priorities, which is why we have committed to introducing a draft domestic violence and abuse Bill. We have created two new stalking offences and we will introduce a new stalking protection order. It is important that the Government are taking action, and we will continue to do so.

Next Tuesday is Safer Internet Day, and on Monday I will be visiting Eastlands Primary School in my constituency to meet its eCadets and to find out more about their role in promoting safe internet use among their fellow pupils. There is real concern about what is happening online, so could we have a debate to consider what measures we can take to keep our young people safe?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising such an important issue. I hope that he enjoys his school visit. The Government fully support Safer Internet Day. This year, nearly 700 schools will take part, and they will be joined by charities, Government officials, businesses, football clubs and police forces. Safer Internet Day is marked in 100 countries worldwide to help children everywhere to remain safe online.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will be aware of the hearings on equal pay for women working at the BBC. Will she now take a lead on equal pensions for women, especially women born in the early 1950s who have been denied them? She could certainly make a name for herself—she would be up there with Emmeline Pankhurst if she did something about it.

The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that has been discussed in this House many, many times. Conservatives in government have committed more than £1 billion to supporting those affected so that no one will see their pension age change by more than 18 months. The new state pension will be much more generous for many women. By 2030, more than 3 million women stand to gain, on average, £550 extra a year.

I am sure my right hon. Friend will share my concern about yesterday’s sad news in Redditch that our local Marks & Spencer is closing. I am delighted that the employees will find alternative jobs, but nevertheless it is sad because Marks & Spencer is the last food shop in our town centre, and it is sadly needed. Can we have a debate on how we can work together with our local council colleagues to create vibrant town centres that are communities for everyone to enjoy, and in which to live and work?

My hon. Friend is a huge champion for her constituency, and she has her own vision for a sustainable and thriving town centre in Redditch. I share her concern, and it is always a great shame when a much loved and much used shop closes in a town centre. I encourage her to do all she can to revitalise the town.

Unfortunately, Nottingham was not selected as one of Sport England’s pilot cities for new models of physical activity. The House will know, however, that Nottingham people have developed lots of good ideas and, with our typical fortitude, will be making those ideas happen anyway in any way we can. Will the Leader of the House support us in that venture by accommodating a discussion in Government time?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the innovative efforts to increase sporting activity in Nottingham and on his desire for a debate in Government time. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate, in which a sports Minister might be able to give him some specific tips.

Consideration was given in Westminster Hall yesterday to the terrible situation facing disabled people in North West Durham and across the UK when being assessed for their personal independence payment. Many Members were not called to speak in that debate because demand was so high. They had important issues that they needed to press, so will the Leader of the House advise us on how we can have the urgent situation facing disabled people debated in Government time?

I understood there was a very well-attended debate yesterday, and it is right that there was. The hon. Lady should welcome the fact that almost 600,000 more disabled people have been able to come into the workforce over the past four years, with 3.5 million disabled people now in work. That is good news, and the PIP benefit is designed to give people more power over how they use their benefits to support their lifestyle and their ability to make the most of all the opportunities they have.

May we have a debate in Government time on banning the use of plastic straws? Last week, I visited Sunnyside Primary School in the Craigend area of my constituency and met its ocean defenders, who are doing sterling work among local authorities to ban the use of plastic straws. These people will be here a lot longer than we will, so will the Government take action on this issue?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for doing more to reduce plastics in all the things we use, whether we are talking about recyclable cups or any form of plastics. The Government have taken strong action in banning microbeads in certain cosmetics and body wash products. There is a lot more to do in protecting our marine areas, where 80% of our plastics end up, so this Government will be committed to doing everything we can to defend our environment.

Nairn, Grantown and Aviemore in my constituency are just three of the highland towns that will be negatively affected by the Royal Bank of Scotland’s planned branch closures. Given that the UK Government are the major shareholder, in addition to the planned debate may we have a statement on the range of responsibilities the Government have for holding shares on behalf of the public?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland has raised the House’s concerns in his recent meeting with RBS. He will also be aware that, as has been mentioned in this House many times, we have established the Access to Banking standard to make sure there is proper consultation before the closure of any branch. He will also be aware that the Government have invested significantly in the post office network and that about 99% of personal customers will be able to carry out their day-to-day banking at a post office as a result of new agreements facilitated by Government.

We know it is Government policy to replace sold council houses on a one-for-one basis, but a three-bed semi in my constituency was recently sold for just £27,000 and the council cannot possibly replace a house for that much money—unless, perhaps, it is made of LEGO. We know that across the country only one in five of the council houses that are sold are getting replaced, so may we have a statement from the relevant Minister about how this policy can actually be put in practice?

It is important that any money raised goes back into social housing and affordable housing. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government’s own investment in social, council and low-cost homes is now more than £9 billion. We have delivered about 350,000 new affordable homes. That number needs to continue to rise, but the Government are committed to ensuring that everybody has a secure and decent home to live in.

Rent-to-own companies such as BrightHouse charge eye-watering interest rates for essential goods. The Financial Conduct Authority has just revealed that the average debt for rent-to-own customers has doubled. May we therefore have a statement and real action from the Government and FCA to keep this sector in check?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very concerning point about the debts people get into by using these high-cost lenders to facilitate the purchase of essential white goods, furniture and so on. I know from my time as City Minister that the FCA takes this incredibly seriously. It has capped the interest rates that such companies are allowed to charge, and it is doing further work to ensure that we protect consumers from the practices of some of those companies.[Official Report, 6 February 2018, Vol. 635, c. 6MC.]

Now that the House has made the in-principle decision on what we are going to do about restoration and renewal, may I urge the Leader of the House to get together her ministerial colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Work and Pensions to put together a parliamentary skills strategy? We are going to need thousands of people working on this building, with high-tech engineering skills and craft trade skills that currently are not available in this country. This is an opportunity for every constituency in the land to have apprenticeships, with apprentices working here on the building.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his tenacity and his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, on succeeding in her amendment yesterday. I am delighted that the House voted to take action. As he rightly points out, there are huge opportunities, and in some cases those are already being fulfilled. For example, as he will know, the repairs to the cast-iron roofs are being carried out in the UK. There will be lots of opportunities for new apprenticeships, however, and I can absolutely assure him that as Leader of the House I will be taking every opportunity to create jobs for young people in the UK.

Can we have a statement on the unfair distribution of the tampon tax fund? With £15 million available in year 1, Scottish organisations were given just two weeks’ notice before the fund closed. In addition, Sport Relief invited 45 organisations to a funding meeting, but only three of those organisations delivered services in Scotland. With the year 3 criteria making it virtually impossible for Scottish organisations to apply, is it not time for this fund, while it exists, to be devolved?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. If he would like to email me with details, I shall certainly write to the Department on his behalf.

Almost three months ago, on 3 November, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about the Preesall gas storage facility plans in my constituency. I am still waiting on a reply. Will the Leader of the House look into this on my behalf?

Today, BT Openreach announced plans to roll out fibre broadband to 3 million homes by 2020. Far too often, however, new announcements are followed by slow action. This is an issue of growing urgency, and not just outside London; pockets of my constituency, including Cranford, suffer from very slow broadband speeds. I would like to thank Mohammad Chaudhry and residents of my constituency for raising this issue, which is having a huge impact on businesses and students and pupils wanting to study at home. Could we have an urgent debate in Government time on how to move from announcements to outcomes that will hugely impact on the prosperity, wellbeing and quality of life of all our constituents?

I certainly share the hon. Lady’s concern about pockets with no broadband. It is devastating for people who work or study from home. It is extremely difficult. I must say, however, that superfast broadband is now available to over 95% of UK homes and businesses, which is up from 45% coverage in 2010, so it is not a case of announcements with no action; there is real action behind it. There is more to do, however, and there is a plan. That said, I share her frustration. She may wish to seek an Adjournment debate to hear at first hand the prospects for her constituents.

Residents of the town of Llangollen in my constituency are concerned that there is no Department for Work and Pensions or Careers Wales presence in that town. This means that residents must travel some considerable distance. This is not just a problem for Llangollen; it is a problem for many of our rural communities and small towns across the UK. Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate in which we might seek to persuade the Minister of our case?

The hon. Lady raises an important point for her constituents. In my constituency, there are often online opportunities, in libraries and town councils, to gain support from the DWP, but if she wants to write to me with her specific concerns, I can take it up with the Department, or she might want to seek an Adjournment debate.

On 19 January, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), told the House that the Government were launching local pilot schemes to combat holiday hunger among our poorest children. As proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), using a small fraction of the £520 million that the Treasury expects to raise from April from the sugary drinks levy would be an excellent use of this money in places such as my constituency. Given the obvious merits of getting pilots under way as quickly as possible for this summer’s long holidays, may we please have a statement from the Department on how to apply for these pilots?

Members from all parties will be delighted to hear of those pilot schemes. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) for his commitment to making progress in that policy area. I will certainly ask the Department for Education the hon. Lady’s question and see whether it can provide a further update to the House.

A case has arisen in Bristol of restaurant owners charging their waiters and waitresses to work by demanding that those staff pay a percentage of the total price of the orders they sell to customers, regardless of tips received. This employer’s tax on working is then being used to pay staff wages. Remarkably, I am told that this is legal. May we have a debate to decide whether that needs to change?

That sounds quite extraordinary. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to take up that issue with the Home Office to find out whether it is actually legal. It seems to me to be extraordinary.

It is a great privilege for me to represent one of Britain’s great cities in this House, as many Members do, but I was alarmed to read in a recent report on the New Statesman’s CityMetric site that Britain’s great regional cities, such as Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham and Leeds, are lagging significantly behind our European peers in respect of productivity, which is in some cases half the rate of that of equivalent European cities such as Munich, Seville or Barcelona. Will the Leader of the House consider scheduling a debate on what the Government are doing to address the major problem of unbalanced economic growth and to ensure that our great regional cities are competing effectively with their European peers?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. He will no doubt be pleased that at the Budget we announced a £1.7 billion investment in the Transforming Cities fund, specifically to build transport infrastructure, which is so strongly linked to productivity. He may be aware that since 2010 the north-east and Scotland have both seen faster productivity growth than London. There is a long way to go, but it is clear that through initiatives such as the northern powerhouse, we are committed to ensuring that we see growth and a reduction in the imbalances between all regions of the United Kingdom.