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Business of the House

Volume 636: debated on Thursday 1 March 2018

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 5 March—Second Reading of the Data Protection Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 6 March—Second Reading of the Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill.

Wednesday 7 March—Opposition day (un-allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of Plaid Cymru followed by a debate on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist Party. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 8 March—General debate on Vote 100 and International Women’s Day.

Friday 9 March—The House will not be sitting.

The business for the week commencing 12 March will include:

Monday 12 March—Remaining stages of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords].

May I wish all Members dydd gŵyl Dewi Sant hapus? I am told that that is “Happy St David’s day”, for all the non-Welsh speakers among us. I think that is right, but someone will no doubt put me right if it is not. This House has some great and talented Welsh MPs, and I wish them all a very happy St David’s day.

I can see plenty of daffodil pins in the Chamber, which today represent not only St David’s day but Marie Curie’s great daffodil appeal. As Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month begins, we are all incredibly grateful for the work of palliative care nurses, who do so much to support people suffering from such dreadful diseases. Our knowledge of the symptoms of ovarian cancer has improved over recent years, but we have a long way to go to improve early diagnosis, and this awareness month will support that.

Lastly, today is World Book Day. Much like in “The Chronicles of Narnia”, Members will be aware that today is very much winter outside but not Christmas. From “Alice in Wonderland” and “Little Women” to “The Tiger Who Came to Tea”, long may we all share our love of reading and continue to encourage children of all ages to share their pleasures in a good book.

I am really worried about parliamentary sovereignty. I note that the Leader of the House has not announced business beyond 12 March, but let me help her and the Government. I understand that the spring statement will be on 13 March, which was announced by the Treasury in a fancy infographic. I am sorry that the Leader of the House could not even announce the spring statement.

There was also no announcement of whether the Prime Minister is coming to the House to make a statement after her very important speech on Brexit. She chooses to make her speech in another location and not here, to us. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will make a statement here? Can she confirm whether the speech will be in Aberdeen or somewhere else?

I see the Government may have a new policy, called “pure illusion”—it sounds like a new perfume or a paint shade. European Council President Donald Tusk knows about it, and that is even before we have debated it. While we welcome him to the UK, I am sure he will want to remind the Government again that it is cherry blossom time coming up, not cherry-picking time. What about the U-turn on transition rights that was whispered about yesterday? Is someone—anyone—coming to the House to explain it, so that we can ask questions about it?

A written statement was made yesterday by the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) on behalf of the House of Commons Commission about restoration and renewal. He said that the sponsor body and the delivery authority need primary legislation to be introduced. Can the Leader of the House say when that legislation is likely to come before the House? Will it be next year, the year after or the year after that?

Last week, I raised two statutory instruments that had been prayed against on the eligibility for free school meals of those on universal credit and abolishing nursing bursaries for postgraduate nursing students. We are now rapidly eating into the 40 days. Could the Leader of the House make time for those to be debated? The shadow Education Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), has prayed against three more statutory instruments: No. 120 and No. 146 on childcare vouchers, and the School and Early Years Finance (England) Regulations 2018, on the national funding formula.

What about our next Opposition day? We have not had sight of that, and no one seems to be talking to us about when we are likely to have it. What are the Government scared of? It is the same with the Report stage of the Trade Bill and the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill. I know that Members are so keen to debate new clause 5, because the country wants to know what the position is on their jobs and living standards. There goes the sovereignty of Parliament, tossed aside again.

The same day that Ministers were at Chequers, the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) said:

“Discipline has completely broken down in the parliamentary party, so no one tells anyone off,”—

that may be a surprise to some Members at the back—

“because there’s no power anywhere.”

When the Conservative party does have power, it does not want to use it against money launderers. In a point of order yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) asked for guidance on the handling of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill in Committee. The Programming Sub-Committee decided that it wanted clause 1 to be taken after clause 18, but when the Committee got to clause 18, debate was stopped immediately, after 25 minutes. Could the Leader of the House ensure that there will be adequate time to debate the 40 amendments and clause 1, which is the Magnitsky clause and will strengthen our sanctions regime?

Private Members’ Bills are now backing up. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), the Stalking Protection Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), and the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) are all supported by the Government but have not been given a date for Committee stage.

Today the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse—a very important matter—publishes its first report on serious child abuse. Thousands of British children were deported by their own Government to the other side of the world and they suffered horrific sexual abuse. The inquiry will not hold a press conference on its findings, but it will publish the significant report online, and there is a written statement today. Given the scale and significance of this injustice, and the hurt suffered by so many, will the Government commit to making time for a statement at the earliest opportunity?

At Prime Minister’s questions last week, the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), who voted to cut police budgets—the west midlands has had to face a cut of £145 million since 2010—said that £10 million was being spent on “back-office staff”. The West Midlands police and crime commissioner has confirmed to me that the staff are in fact police support staff and are upset at the use of that pejorative term. They answer emergency 999 calls, investigate child abuse cases and carry out forensics. I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that an appropriate apology will be made by the hon. Gentleman and perhaps schedule a debate on what police support staff actually do.

We welcome back the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). He and the Prime Minister both agreed that early referral to a tertiary consultant was extremely important to save lives. The shadow Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), made a point of order yesterday requesting an urgent statement on why clinical commissioning groups are paying GPs not to make referrals. The Health Secretary needs to explain that policy and stop that alarming practice immediately.

I join the Leader of the House in saying that this is the 21st World Book Day. Walsall South has lost three libraries. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) will host the World Book Day celebrations in the Attlee suite between 10 am and 3 pm, when we can all go and read a book or recite a poem.

I, too, want to try my Welsh—I apologise to every Welsh person here—and say dydd gŵyl Dewi hapus. Happy St David’s day.

Excellent! I am glad that the hon. Lady and I are both determined to practise our Welsh today. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), who is sitting next to me, is a Welsh speaker and says that we both did okay. I thank him for that.

The hon. Lady mentioned parliamentary sovereignty. I say genuinely that, as Leader of the House of Commons, I have always made it clear I am absolutely, fully respectful of the sovereignty of Parliament. My role is that of Government spokesman here in the Chamber and of Parliament spokesman in Government. I always take very seriously the questions asked and requests made by the hon. Lady on behalf of Opposition parties. I must say to her, however, that it has been made very clear that there will be one Budget statement and one spring statement a year, so the upcoming statement is a statement, not a Budget or a debate. Statements are announced in the usual way, not during a business statement on the future business of the House. Likewise, she asked whether the Prime Minister would make a statement, but such business measures are announced in the usual way.

The hon. Lady asked about an Opposition day. I have just announced Opposition day debates for Plaid and the Democratic Unionist party. Is she really saying that their opportunity to debate matters that are of interest to them is not valid? She needs to recognise that there are many different aspects to this Chamber, all of which are valid, and we want to share out with fairness the opportunity to suggest new measures.

The hon. Lady asked about the customs Bill. As with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the Human Rights Act and many constitutional Bills in the past, there can be periods of time between Second Reading and Committee stage and between Committee and Report. She will recognise that such periods are not delays, but opportunities to consider amendments, Government policy and improving legislation. The hon. Lady is just wrong to portray this as a delay, and each of those Bills will come forward in good time. Given my role in seeing through legislation, I am committed to ensuring that all our Brexit legislation comes through in good time.

The hon. Lady mentioned the point of order that was raised by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). As the Minister for Europe and the Americas said in Committee, a motion was brought forward for the Committee to adjourn so that it could debate a significant amendment in a full session. That Committee meeting started 10 minutes ago, and they are indeed discussing that detailed amendment right now. I hope that the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) is reassured by that.

A number of private Members’ Bills have been promoted by Opposition and Government Members. We are delighted to support them and there are no delays. They are not stacking up; they are going through their Committee stages when they receive the support of the House in the usual way. I am afraid I just do not accept the hon. Lady’s concerns about parliamentary sovereignty. We are listening, and we continue to bring forward all legislation and consideration of Opposition days in the usual way.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the removal of diesel particulate filters from vehicles without replacing them? It appears there is a legal loophole whereby vehicles can be modified to improve their performance, with absolutely no regard for the damage done to people’s health.

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. The impact of diesel particulates on air quality and people’s health is a crucial issue, and we are determined to improve air quality. The Department for Transport takes my hon. Friend’s point seriously, and has published guidance on modifying a vehicle’s emissions system. Modifying a vehicle in the way suggested is not in line with current legislation, and the Department has recently instructed officials to investigate the creation of a specific offence for the removal of particulate filters.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. Here is my go: dydd gŵyl Dewi Sant hapus—I hope I have impressed the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) with that. I also note all the daffodils in the Chamber today. Looking outside, I think that is more in hope than experience as we face one of the worst snow storms that we have had for a number of years.

There are only two real items of business this week: the “beast from the east”, and the Foreign Secretary. One is a whiteout, delivering havoc and chaos wherever it goes and whatever it touches, and the other is the “beast from the east”. To help out the Foreign Secretary, perhaps we could have a debate about congestion charges, and we could gently explain to him how congestion charge zones are just a little bit different from international borders. It is now 24 hours since the Foreign Secretary said that he would publish his letter on an Irish hard border, so when can we expect to see it? Surely the Foreign Office One should be liberated, and allowed to continue to confound and baffle the country.

We now have red or amber warnings over nearly all of Scotland and large swathes of the rest of the UK, and the advice is not to travel—hence SNP Members are here in such numbers this morning. However, I am quite surprised that there are no plans for a Government statement as the nation grinds to a partial halt, particularly when National Grid has issued a “gas deficit warning” over fears that supplies could run out. Before we all leave for the day—well, at least some of us—will someone from the Government make a statement in the House about what provisions and contingency plans are in place, particularly if we experience difficulties over the weekend?

Finally, we are facing an increasing constitutional cliff edge as our devolution settlement remains under threat. Can we have a statement on what progress is being made in resolving those issues? Critically, what is being done to ensure that democracy is respected in every nation of this United Kingdom?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has clarified that so many of his hon. Friends are in the Chamber today because of inclement weather, because I thought they were here to wind me up about the Calcutta cup. What I would like to say through gritted teeth is that I have not seen Scotland play so well since the Hastings brothers, which is a very long time ago. Scotland played superbly. I am delighted that Scotland is, in part, a member of the home team, being part of the great United Kingdom. I would much rather see Scotland beat us than France, if I am allowed to say that in this place, Mr Speaker.

On the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts about Boris, I have a different perspective. I think he often says things as they are, and he says things in an amusing way. He makes a very good point that it is absolutely clear that we will not have a hard border in Northern Ireland. That is absolutely the case. We are committed to that, the Republic of Ireland is committed to that and the European Union is committed to that.

The hon. Gentleman talks about contingency plans for severe weather. This is a very serious issue on which I hope I can reassure him. I know a number of hon. Members raised it in Transport questions earlier. The Department for Transport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, schools and the NHS all have very carefully laid severe weather plans. I pay tribute to all those who are out there in this terrible weather trying to dig people out of snowdrifts and so on, and those in the NHS who are dealing with people who have slipped on the ice and so on. There are very good plans, which are available. If he has specific issues about his constituency, or the constituencies of any of his hon. Friends, I am very happy to raise them on his behalf, or he can raise them directly with Ministers.

May we have a statement on the actions of the West Essex clinical commissioning group? Osler House GP surgery in my constituency has been closed with little warning or consultation with me or other stakeholders, causing misery for nearly 3,000 patients, many of them elderly. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Health Minister to write to West Essex CCG to get it to restore this vital service to residents?

My right hon. Friend raises a point that is incredibly important to all of us. The issue of GP surgeries in our constituencies is vital. Having looked into this matter, I am told that the Department of Health and Social Care does not have a record of my right hon. Friend’s letter. It apologises if that is due to any error on its part and it will certainly be writing to him. We recognise the importance of primary care. We are investing in it to expand access and recruit an additional 5,000 GPs. As he knows, we would expect consultation and engagement if NHS England or a CCG were to decide on changes that involved a substantial service reconfiguration.

The “beast from the east” has claimed a number of victims—there are currently no trains crossing the border, on either the east coast main line or the west coast main line, to Scotland—and I am afraid to say that when the “beast from the east” meets “stormageddon Emma” there will be further victims. One of those victims is the business of the House. At the request of Welsh Members, the scheduled St David’s Day debate on Welsh affairs for this afternoon has been cancelled so that they can travel home safely. I apologise to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, but I think it is understandable given the conditions across the country.

Currently, the Backbench Business Committee has only six members—we are two down from the Government side. Given that the Committee has a quorum of four, that makes life extremely difficult for us. May I therefore ask that the Government appoint their replacement members as soon as possible, so that the Committee can carry on operating?

Finally, I thank and congratulate staff from my own local authority, Gateshead Council. Bin collections were curtailed yesterday as all staff were out gritting and snow ploughing across the whole borough in really adverse conditions. I put on record my thanks to all of them.

First of all, I am sorry to hear that this afternoon’s business will be disturbed. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), is slightly devastated because this was his chance to shine. The cancellation of the debate is completely understandable, as the situation is very difficult for people who have travel arrangements. I join the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) in congratulating all the people out there gritting and trying to clear away snow. Quite a number of schoolchildren are also out in villages and other communities, clearing people’s steps for them. That is a fantastic thing to see. I will take on board his point about replacing the Government members of his Backbench Business Committee. I will certainly see that we act on it.

Could we have a debate on the non-levy apprenticeship tender? Unfortunately, some very good colleges, such as Stafford, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Shrewsbury and others across the country, were not successful in the tender, and I have some grave concerns about the operation of it.

I am very sorry to hear that, and I encourage my hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise those specific points directly with Ministers.

Shw’mae, Mr Speaker—I am not Welsh, but I have two children born in Wales, so happy St David’s Day, and may I congratulate the Leader of the House in passing on mentioning cancer charities today? I will be walking in the Marsden March on Sunday, snow permitting, raising money for the Royal Marsden cancer hospital.

Could we have a statement on how we treat visitors to this House? We are in danger of getting to the stage where wealthy, well-connected people can come here without a Member and book rooms and tables in our restaurants. Yesterday, I had a large party who struggled down on a coach, campaigning to keep Huddersfield Royal Infirmary open. You will appreciate this, Mr Speaker —they had blue-and-white sweatshirts, the colours of the Huddersfield strip. The sweatshirts said, “Hands Off HRI,” and they were told by the police here to take them off or cover them, because they were party political, before they were allowed up into the Committee room area. If there is going to be one rule for ordinary people to come here and another for wealthy people, we should look at this very seriously.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but it is not for the Leader to decide what people do or do not wear in the House, and I know that she would not think it so—

Yes, and I was just being advised procedurally on the matter by the Clerk. The hon. Gentleman made his point with considerable force, but at a length that should not be imitated by other hon. and right hon. Members today.

I do not know where to go with this. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me, I will certainly take this up with the Administration Committee. However, I would say that there have been great steps. I know from the House Commission—the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) might also recall this—that we discussed the need to speed up the queues, for example, for people to get into this place. Some lengths have been gone to to ensure that people’s ease of access to this place is as good as it can be. On the specific point about what they were wearing, I was not aware of that, so if he wants to write to me, I will look into it.

Last Monday, the Government approved the go-ahead for Christchurch Council to be amalgamated with other Dorset councils. There was a referendum. I am not getting that in my constituency, which wants a referendum to decide the future of its council. We are being ignored. Democracy is being ignored. Could we please have a debate in this place on the protection of democracy in local councils?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue about local democracy. I am not aware of the specific concern that he has about his local council, but I am sure that if he wanted to take it up with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Ministers, they would be able to address it.

Country sports and shooting sports produce game worth £114 million in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland each year. The nourishment and taste value of it is substantial. There is a need to introduce it to a wider circle and customer base. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this issue and on how best to deliver good food that is every bit as good as chicken, and every bit as cheap?

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that game is delicious, very good for you and just as cheap. I encourage him to raise that at Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions on Thursday 8 March, when he can ask Ministers there exactly what we are doing to expand the retail use.

Very shortly, the Government will hopefully be announcing the recipients of money from the northern cultural regeneration fund. Perhaps the Leader of the House might find time for a debate on this subject so that we can all, I hope, explain why the Odeon in Bradford would be such a worthy recipient of that funding, which would do a massive amount to regenerate the city of Bradford. If she cannot find time for a debate, perhaps she will shorten the approach and go and tell the relevant Minister just to give the money to the Odeon in Bradford, and let us be done with it.

If only I had such influence! My hon. Friend is a great champion for his area, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can make his pitch directly.

The President of the European Council said in a speech this morning that the red lines that the Government have set themselves on Europe are incompatible with frictionless trade and a borderless Ireland. May we have an urgent debate—a debate that we have not yet had—on the consequences of the Government’s red lines for Brexit negotiations?

The Government’s red lines are that we are leaving the European Union in March 2019, in line with the result of the referendum. That means that we are leaving the single market and the customs union, and it means that we are taking back control of our borders, our laws and our money.

Everything is a negotiation. The Government have made it clear that we want low-friction trade and zero tariff and non-tariff barriers wherever possible. The Prime Minister will make a speech tomorrow on our negotiating position, but the hon. Gentleman must realise that there are no hard and fast answers at the moment. This is a negotiation, so what someone from the European Commission or the European Council may have said does not make it necessarily the fact.

Last week saw yet another abuse of leaseholders in my constituency, this time in Coleshill, where some one-bedroom flat owners received bills for up to £8,000 a year in ground rent. May we have a statement on how the important Government work on leases with short review periods and doubling clauses is progressing?

I met the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government this week to discuss that subject, in my role in connection with policy. My hon. Friend has raised a very serious matter. Abuses of this sort need to be stopped, and we are committed to stopping them through our programme of leasehold reforms. That means, for example, legislating to prevent the sale of new-build leasehold houses except when necessary, making certain that ground rents on new long leases for both houses and flats are set at zero financial value, working with the Law Commission to support existing leaseholders, and making the process of purchasing a freehold or extending a lease much easier and cheaper.

I hope that the House will indulge me if I tell a personal story. Last year I received a court warrant at my home in Scotland. It turned out that an Alan Brown in London, with a London address, had skipped a bus fare and been caught by an inspector. That Alan Brown did not respond to any correspondence, so an additional fine was levied in his absence. The case was passed to a private collection company, which decided to target random Alan Browns, and served the warrant on me in Scotland. The company would not budge, but I managed to get the court to cancel proceedings—or, at least, it said that it had cancelled them. Last week, however, I received another notification of a warrant on my property, live as of yesterday.

May we have a debate about the English court system and the presumption of innocence before guilt, and about how the English court system and Transport for London are using private companies whose sole objective is to exact money from people?

Perhaps we should have a debate on why so many people are called Alan Brown. That is the fundamental issue here.

The hon. Gentleman has raised a serious point about the way in which some collection companies pursue random people, but also pursue people to the point of doing them serious harm. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate on the issue.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that good lawyers are always available, even at short notice.

So far, much of the debate about the European Commission’s draft withdrawal agreement has centred on its effect on Northern Ireland, but hidden away in one of the footnotes is, regrettably, a restatement that Spain would have a veto on the application of either a transitional or a final agreement to the overseas British territory of Gibraltar. May we have an early, perhaps even an immediate, statement from the Leader of the House that Her Majesty’s Government’s position remains that such a scenario is wholly unacceptable, and that Britain will in no circumstances agree to any arrangement that prevents Gibraltar from being treated in exactly the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom?

I hope I can give my hon. Friend the assurance from the Dispatch Box that Gilbraltar’s interests will be protected, as will every other part of the UK and our dependencies. He raises an important point, and he will be aware that the Prime Minister is making a key speech tomorrow, and I will certainly make sure that I pass on his comments.

Order. Although the second debate has been withdrawn, there is a well-subscribed first debate and I am keen that we progress expeditiously. Questions are quite long and it would be good if they could be shorter.

May I start by saying how pleased I was that the Leader of the House mentioned the Eve Appeal and the fact that this is the month of ovarian cancer awareness, as it is important that we mark and remember that?

There is a broad consensus that faster connectivity between east and west is vital for the northern powerhouse. However, in May we will have a revised TransPennine timetable which will result in slower journeys from Hull. Hull and Humber chamber of commerce has tried to meet with TransPennine to discuss this, but has not been able to get very far. I am sure the Leader of the House agrees that it is important that that meeting goes ahead, but may we have a debate in the House of Commons about the fact that not just north-south connectivity but east-west connectivity is important?

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that east-west connectivity is vital. I hope she was able to attend Transport questions, because this would be a question very directly answerable by Transport Ministers. We are delivering unprecedented investment in better transport across the north—over £13 billion, which is the largest amount in Government history—but I encourage the hon. Lady to take up the specific point she raises directly with Transport Ministers.

Next week is national apprenticeships week. May we have a debate to highlight the opportunities available for people starting an apprenticeship? The best advocates for apprenticeships are apprentices, but if we have a debate Members could have a go and do our best to fill the gap.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that apprenticeships are a fantastic opportunity for young people. In my seven years as an MP I have had seven apprentices from schools in my constituency, and I thoroughly recommend that to all Members; that has been brilliant for me and for those individuals, and it is a very worthwhile experience. We now have more than 3 million apprenticeship starts since 2010. The Government are committed to apprenticeships as a very good choice for young people, and I encourage my hon. Friend to seek a Backbench Business Committee debate on the subject, as I am sure many hon. Members would want to talk about their experiences.

Given that employment law is reserved to this place, may we have a statement or a debate on employers forcing their employees to remain at, or come into, work when there is a red weather warning? There are many reports in Scotland of employers refusing to release staff when public transport is not available; does the right hon. Lady agree that that is not acceptable?

Clearly all employers, in both the public and private sectors, should take very careful heed of severe weather warnings, and particularly the red warnings we have seen across some parts of the United Kingdom, so I encourage the hon. Gentleman to urge employers in his constituency to listen to those warnings and release people where necessary.

It was recently reported in the local press in the Scottish borders that a Transport Scotland study had found that it was not going to be viable for the borders railways to extend to Hawick and on to Carlisle. If that is the case, it will be bad news for my constituency and those in Cumbria. Given that bringing the railway to Carlisle will involve investment from the UK Government, may we have a debate on the benefits of extending the borders railway to Carlisle?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency, and I can say to him that the UK Government are committed to working with the Scottish Government to drive forward the cross-border borderlands deal, and we hope to agree a deal later this year which will see significant investment to transform the local economies in the borderlands area. Funding for a study into reopening the line he mentions is being sought as part of this proposition.

It has been one hell of a week, Mr Speaker, particularly for my little sister. A week last Saturday, my sister broke her neck. She was in the Royal Blackburn Hospital for three days until there was a bed free for her at the Royal Preston Hospital where they could operate. Thankfully, the operation went well and my sister and all of my family are so grateful to all the hard-working doctors, nurses and staff in the NHS, but one thing I noticed was all the extra hours before and after their shifts that the doctors and nurses were doing. May we have a debate on the extra hours done by our public sector workers?

First, I wish the hon. Lady’s sister the very best for a speedy recovery. That must have been a real shock to all her family, and we all pass on our best wishes. I am enormously grateful to and have great respect for all those who work so hard in the national health service. What they achieve is amazing, as is the commitment shown by all workers in the NHS. We have many opportunities to debate the NHS in this Chamber; we have held many such debates. There are nearly 15,000 more doctors and more than 14,000 more nurses on our wards than there were in 2010. There is much more to do; we are undertaking one of the biggest training programmes ever in our history in the NHS to start training more doctors and nurses. We want to alleviate some of the pressures, but I pay tribute to them for all the excellent work they do.

Today is Purim, the commemoration and celebration of the delivery of the Jewish people from the evil Persian king, Haman. It is also Holi, the first day of spring, celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists worldwide. Both festivals commemorate the triumph of good over evil, so will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing everyone happy Purim and Holi hai?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising both of those celebrations and I am delighted to join him in congratulating all those celebrating. I wish them a very happy time.

Dydd gŵyl Dewi Sant hapus, Mr Speaker—happy St David’s day. Llongyfarchiadau, congratulations, to the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and the SNP spokesperson for using the Welsh language, which, historically, we were allowed to use recently in the Welsh Grand Committee of this House. I was pleased to make a speech in the Welsh language. Has the Leader of the House considered whether that welcome move could be extended into the Chamber now that technology makes it perfectly possible to have a freewheeling House of Commons-style debate using translation equipment?

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting suggestion and I am happy to discuss it with him further.

I have had constituents contact me overnight who are very concerned about the fact that Northamptonshire County Council seems to be closing Thrapston and Raunds libraries on all but one day a week. That has happened without any consultation with the public and I am surprised, because it is in this year’s budget and not the one for the year ahead, which has been so talked about in the media. May we have an urgent statement on this, because people in Northamptonshire are very concerned about what has happened?

My hon. Friend raises an issue that is very important to both his constituency and mine. There are seven Members of Parliament in Northamptonshire who are concerned about cuts to services. I was not aware of the closures he mentions, but I am happy to take that up directly with Ministers on his behalf.

Three weeks today will mark the sad anniversary of the tragic attack on Westminster, which saw five people killed on Westminster Bridge and the death of PC Keith Palmer. Will the Leader of the House give the House an idea of what plans there are to mark that occasion? I would also be grateful if she could support my early-day motion 938, which calls for Carriage Gates in New Palace Yard to be renamed the Palmer Gates.

[That this House believes that the Carriage Gates should be named the Palmer Gates, to commemorate the life and professional service of PC Keith Palmer and to mark his gallantry and ultimate sacrifice in putting his life before those he courageously sought to defend; acknowledges its profound gratitude to PC Keith Palmer and to all members of the police and security services who place themselves in the defence of the public and of democracy; and calls on the House of Commons Commission to consider commemorating the naming of the gates on 22 March 2018.]

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise the upcoming anniversary of those awful events on 22 March. There will be commemorations in this place and House staff are looking into the detail of that at the moment. Announcements will be made as soon as possible. As for his specific point about renaming Carriage Gates, he might like to write to me or possibly to you, Mr Speaker, to look into this further.

I welcome the Leader of the House’s comments on the Calcutta cup. I thoroughly enjoyed my day and I would like to draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 978, which celebrates Scotland’s historic success in that event.

[That this House congratulates the Scotland Rugby team on an historic 25-13 Calcutta Cup victory over England that was full of flair, fight and finesse; recognises the fantastic work done by Gregor Townsend and his entire coaching staff; commends captain John Barclay and his entire pack for the huge effort in dominating the breakdown and a solid set piece performance, with special mention to Johnny Gray for his 20 tackles; applauds Finn Russell as he stood up to his recent critics with a magnificent man of the match performance, including the pass of this, or any other, six Nations Championship, further commends Huw Jones for his two try display, his ninth and tenth in only 14 caps; notes that this victory was celebrated right across Scotland and beyond; and wishes Gregor, John and the boys all the very best for the rest of the Championship.]

Yesterday was rare diseases day, which highlighted the importance of research to find a cure for rare diseases, of which there are up to 7,000. I have been working with the Scottish Huntington’s Association on the difficulties of obtaining insurance, and with my constituent, Michael Conway, who was diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy in 2016. May we have a debate to mark rare diseases day and the importance of sustaining research collaboration, particularly after Brexit?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the importance of continued investment in research into rare diseases. I am sure that part of the frustration felt by those who suffer from them is due to the lack of funding, precisely because the diseases are rare. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment or Back-Bench debate on this subject. I would also like to say that, while I congratulate Scotland on winning the Calcutta cup, I do so through gritted teeth.

Twenty years ago, building on the work done by John Major, Tony Blair’s Labour Government were involved in intensive negotiations in Castle Buildings in Belfast. I was there as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Northern Ireland Office. Those negotiations led to the Good Friday agreement. The anniversary of the Good Friday agreement is unfortunately during the recess, so may we have a long debate before the House rises for Easter in which we can discuss the implications of the threat to the Good Friday agreement from the “Wrexit” coalition—between the Democratic Unionist party, whose members were demonstrating outside when the agreement was reached, and the European Research Group—which is now running this country?

I can completely assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are fully committed to the Good Friday agreement, and that nothing is in any way being considered that would do damage to that agreement. However, I say gently to those who try to suggest that the Government are in some way not committed to it simply because we are leaving the EU that that is entirely untrue and exceedingly dangerous talk.

I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that it is time we were given an opportunity to debate our industrial shipping heritage. In my constituency, we are still aggrieved that great icons such as the Queen Mary, the Cutty Sark and even the royal yacht Britannia are not at home in port in West Dunbartonshire, and that it is up to volunteers such as the Maid of the Loch Trust, which is rebuilding the Maid of the Loch at Loch Lomond, to ensure that that part of our industrial shipping heritage will once again set sail on the bonnie loch. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is time we debated that, and that she will congratulate the trust on its work.

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned some very famous ships, and I join him in congratulating the trust on its work on that fine heritage in his constituency. I encourage him to seek a Backbench debate in which all those with shipping interests in their constituencies can come together to celebrate that proud heritage.

In the light of the figures that many Members have received today from the Fire Brigades Union, may we have an urgent debate on the funding of the fire service, which has lost hundreds of millions of pounds of grant? In my constituency in Nottinghamshire, the fire service will lose 15% of its grant—some £2.8 million—over the next few years. That is unacceptable; it is not good enough, and we need to have a debate about it.

The fire brigades do a fantastic job. We have heard about some horrendous fires in recent months, as well as the appalling Grenfell disaster, in which the fire brigades really came into their own and did an incredible job for us, for which we are very grateful. However, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that, thankfully, the number of fires is decreasing, and the role of fire officers is therefore changing and adapting. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can talk about the specific issues in his constituency, but overall, the fire brigades deserve our respect and our gratitude, as well as a recognition that their role is changing.

Yesterday, the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust decided to set up a subsidiary company, and that was confirmed today. I appreciate the fact that there will be a half-hour debate on this subject next week, but will the Leader of the House push for a longer debate on public accountability, given the level of opposition to this decision and the fact that even MPs were cut out of being able to make representations on it? Will she organise such a debate?

As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, there is a debate on that subject next Tuesday, and I am sure that he will want to take this matter up at that time. I think that he is referring to the decision made by some trusts to bring together different aspects of care in order to give a better service to patients. We should all embrace the possibility of better wraparound care, but if he has specific concerns, he should raise them at the debate next week.

I am sure that we all want to pay tribute to the public sector workers who have struggled into work in this severe weather to keep vital services running, but may we have a statement on our preparedness for this weather? In all the years that I have been alive, we have had winter. We also have severe episodes of winter, but we seem to fall over quite easily when that happens. Countries that have this sort of weather on a regular basis seem to cope with it. May we have a statement on our resilience, so that we can learn lessons from what has happened this year, in the hope that we can get our trains running a bit better so that people are not left waiting at cold stations with no information about what is going on?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Obviously, we want to minimise disruption, and it is frustrating for people when trains are cancelled and schools are closed, for example. Equally, he will recognise that there are some exceptional weather events going on at the moment. Whitehall Departments have clear plans for dealing with disruptive weather, and we heard at Transport questions today about some of the excellent operations to dig people out of snowdrifts and to ensure that the trains can run. At the same time, there are always lessons to be learned from these events, and I am sure that the Whitehall Departments will be looking at what we can do better.

May we have a statement from the Home Office regarding resources for UK Visas and Immigration and, in particular, the MP correspondence unit? I and colleagues from all parties in Scotland have found recently that the resources simply are not there, and that standards are not being met. We are dealing with very vulnerable constituents who have fled war, famine and sexual violence, but we are unable to support them. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the resources for UK Visas and Immigration?

The hon. Gentleman often raises issues relating to the Home Office, and he is absolutely right to do so. As he knows, there are Members’ helplines to enable concerns raised by Members of Parliament to be fast-tracked, but if he has specific issues, I encourage him to write to Home Office Ministers or, if he wants to write to me, I can take this matter up on his behalf.

My constituents are finding it ever more difficult to get access to dentists locally, so may we have a statement from the Government on the access to and provision of dentists in areas such as Scunthorpe, Bottesford and Kirton in Lindsey?

We know that dentistry is absolutely vital, and that tooth decay is an increasing problem because, let us be honest, too much sugar is being eaten. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this matter. So far as the specific provision in his constituency is concerned, I recommend that he seeks an Adjournment debate on the subject.

Members of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary should be able to retire at the same age as members of the regular police force. The Civil Nuclear Police Federation has maintained this since the divergence in 2013. My understanding is that part of the Government is in agreement, but that part of it is not. May we have an urgent statement on when there will be equality in the retirement age?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point on equality of retirement ages. As he will know, the Government have taken great steps to try to ensure equality of retirement, and we continue to do so right across the public sector wherever we can. I suggest that he raises his specific point directly with Ministers, or through my office if he would like to do that.

I am sorry about the inconsistent bobbing, Mr Speaker, but it has just been announced that the Scottish Conservative conference this weekend in Aberdeen has been cancelled. That means that many more of us will be stuck down here throughout the rest of today and this evening. Although many people are spending their day at home, many more are continuing to go into work in these difficult conditions. Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to the emergency service workers in Scotland and right across the United Kingdom, and to all others who are keeping going today to keep us all safe?

I am happy to do so. It is amazing the efforts to which some people will go to keep others safe. I include the emergency services and many council workers right across the United Kingdom, who are out there gritting and sweeping away snow so that we can all get home.

Mr Speaker, I hope that this “beast from the east” is not another sign of Russian interference in Scottish politics.

When will a Minister next come to the House to explain what, if anything, the Government are doing to support university lecturers who are striking over reforms to their pensions? The decision by employers to accept ACAS arbitration is welcome, but constituents of mine at Glasgow University who are striking want to see progress so that they can get back to teaching their students, so what pressure will the Government bring to bear to ensure that lecturers’ pensions are protected?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is for universities to resolve this crisis, and Ministers are working hard to try to ensure that all sides come to the table. I have to say that it is extremely difficult for the students. My eldest child, who is graduating this year, is feeling the brunt of this, with no lecturers, no input, no tuition and no face time. The students, who have done nothing wrong and who have paid for their education, are faced with no input at what for many is a crucial time. I urge lecturers not to punish students for this dispute.