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Business of the House

Volume 638: debated on Thursday 29 March 2018

The business for the week commencing 16 April is as follows:

Monday 16 April—Second Reading of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords], followed by general debate on housing and homes.

Tuesday 17 April—General debate on anti-Semitism followed by debate on a motion on redress for victims of banking misconduct and the FCA. The subject of this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 18 April—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords], followed by general debate on industrial strategy.

Thursday 19 April—Debate on a motion on surgical mesh, followed by debate on a motion on cancer treatment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 20 April—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 23 April will include:

Monday 23 April— Second Reading of the Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwelling) Bill.

Young people are vital to our democracy. Their participation and their voices are crucial to a fair and equal society, so I was very sad to hear of the sudden death of Clarissa Slade, the UK’s youngest councillor, representing Tiverton. I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to her family and friends.

During recess, we will mark 20 years of the historic Belfast agreement. That agreement, along with its successors, has been fundamental in helping Northern Ireland move forward from its violent past to a brighter, more secure future. Our support for the 1998 agreement remains resolute.

This weekend is a hugely important celebration for millions of people. Christians celebrate the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his resurrection, giving us hope for everlasting life. For those of the Jewish faith, tomorrow is the beginning of Passover, a time of celebrating their liberation by God from slavery. May I wish everyone of all faiths and of none a very happy and peaceful Easter?

Finally, today marks a year until we leave the EU. I am confident that the decision taken by the people of the United Kingdom offers us a superb new chapter in the history of our great nations. As the Prime Minister has said, “Let’s get on with it”.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. Yet again, it is only for a week and a day. I also thank her for the list of ministerial responsibilities—it is in a Vote Office near you.

The Leader of the House announced the business after the Easter recess: it is just general debates. Can we have a debate on racism, particularly in light of the leaflet by Havering Conservatives, claiming that the Leader of the Opposition and the Mayor of London want to turn Havering into Hackney, Newham and other London boroughs—not like Essex? Will she condemn that leaflet, just as her colleague, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), has done?

I am going to keep asking until we get it: when will the Trade Bill, the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill and the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill return on Report? And I am going to ask again about the statutory instrument on postgraduate nursing bursaries—the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2018—that has been prayed against, but has not been listed for hearing. Indeed, the shadow Secretary of State for Education raised a point of order on this matter on Monday. Mr Speaker, you made it very clear that this House runs on conventions and precedents. That is why we want a debate when we pray against a statutory instrument. The Government appear to be throwing out the conventions of this House.

I ask the Leader of the House about the debate on early-day motion 1111 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), praying against the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2018. There is clearly plenty of time for this, because the Leader of the House has only scheduled general debates. Lawyers are at breaking point. They are concerned about cuts to legal aid, the burdens of disclosure and racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

The Government have offered full support to the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed). The Bill received unanimous support on both sides of the House, including from the Health Minister. The Bill was due to go to Committee four weeks ago, but the Government failed to lay a money resolution, so the Committee was cancelled at short notice. It was then scheduled for the week after, but the Government again failed to lay a money resolution so the Committee was cancelled. The following week there was no money resolution, so the Committee was cancelled again. This week—yet again—the Government have failed to lay a money resolution. That is four weeks in a row.

Apparently, the Government Whips have said that there is no time for business, but the House adjourned early this week and last week. When will the Government lay that money resolution? The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), with which we all agree, still has no date to enter Committee. It seems that the Government do not want to fix any business and want to gag the Opposition by flouting conventions and fixing general debates. There is a danger that we will become like Northamptonshire County Council—a large, fancy building with a bankrupt Government inside.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to stop calling people names, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Foreign Secretary? He was hoping that that would be the headline. In political terms, it was a dead cat on the table, because the only name that he should have been using was that of Christopher Wylie, who gave evidence for four hours on Cambridge Analytica and possible breaches of electoral law during the EU referendum. Will the Leader of the House reassure the House that the Information Commissioner will get further resources to do these investigations, if she requires them?

As the Leader of the House has said, it is half-time for the article 50 process. The regions are still anxious about what Brexit will mean for them. In Northern Ireland, the people voted to remain. There has been no decision on a hard border, but the Department for Exiting the European Union has suffered the loss of Simon Case, who was director general for Northern Ireland and Ireland. Scotland voted to remain, and the Government’s own analysis shows that a hard Brexit could cost Scotland’s economy £12.7 billion by 2030. Wales, which voted to leave, is looking at other methods of economic development and new energy, one of which is the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport in Wales, has said that Wales is

“prepared to consider a loan and/or equity investment”.

It now needs the UK Government to declare whether they will support the development. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees), who is sitting here, would be very happy to accompany the Prime Minister to have a look at the site of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon while she is walking in Wales.

When will we have a statement on the Galileo satellite project? UK companies have been at the forefront of the technology. The Prime Minister is apparently scrambling to stop Britain being excluded from the project. Can we have a statement on what the Government are doing to ensure that the UK remains part of the Galileo satellite project and is not locked out of the Copernicus project?

I, along with 107 other MPs, met Alfie Dingley’s parents in Parliament last week. That was organised by the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning). Alfie had 150 seizures a month. Since he has been put on the medication, tetrahydrocannabinol, in the Netherlands, he has only had one. When will the Government agree to his medication exceptionally?

I want to pay tribute, along with the Leader of the House, to the very, very young councillor, and her commitment to public service too. It is absolutely heartbreaking for her parents.

I also want to pay tribute to the former Leader of the House in the other place, Ivor Richard. He had a distinguished career in both Houses as MP for Barons Court from 1964 to 1974, British ambassador to the United Nations from 1974 to 1979, and a European Commissioner from 1981 to 1985, before being made a peer in 1990. He was a brilliant parliamentarian in both Houses.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, and those in your office for their unfailing courtesy in helping me to do my work, and everyone else who supports me—all the Clerks and House staff, including the Doorkeepers, the House of Commons Library, the Official Reporters, catering and cleaning staff, postal workers, and especially security and digital services. I wish all right hon. and hon. Members a happy Easter. I hope that we can take on the Easter message of renewal and hope.

The hon. Lady has raised a wide range of subjects. As is often the case, I have to remind her that discussions on debates and offering time for debates take place through the usual channels.

On the hon. Lady’s specific point about the nursing bursary statutory instrument, I do not think she is up to date on where we are with that. It is a matter of parliamentary convention that where a reasonable request for a debate has been made, time should be allowed for a debate. It was not possible for the Government to accommodate time within the praying period of the instrument that was laid before the House on 6 February, so we revoked the regulations on Tuesday and laid new regulations identical in substance to the original on Wednesday. Those regulations came into force today. This was as part of the arrangements made to give effect to the request from the official Opposition for a debate in Government time. We have fully worked with the Opposition to ensure that that request can be paid careful attention to and that we will be able to give time to that debate. I hope that that satisfies her.

The hon. Lady asks about other SIs that have been prayed against. Where a reasonable request for a debate has been made, it is the convention that time is allowed for it. That continues to be the case, and the Government continue to abide by all Standing Orders and conventions in this place.

The hon. Lady makes the assertion that there is no business going on. She will be aware that there have been some incredibly important debates. [Interruption.] She says from a sedentary position, “General debates”, as if somehow the only debates that are worth having are those on voteable motions. I have to disagree with her, because only this week we had a very important and very well-attended debate on national security and Russia. [Interruption.] Hon. Members are yelling from a sedentary position. At business questions each week, I get lots of requests for debates on subjects that are of significant interest to our constituents, to the national security of this country, and to diverse groups across the United Kingdom. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. They cannot insist on having only voteable legislation brought before the House but then criticise me when we do not give them debates on general subjects that are of vital importance to the United Kingdom. I do urge hon. Members to keep that balance in mind.

The hon. Lady asks about private Members’ Bills. There are a number of very valuable Bills that are supported right across the House and in the United Kingdom, and we will be bringing forward money resolutions in due course.

The hon. Lady asks about Cambridge Analytica and the Information Commissioner. As the Prime Minister said, the Information Commissioner’s powers will be strengthened, and if more resources are necessary, they will be forthcoming.

The hon. Lady asks about the European Commission’s threat that potentially the UK will be blocked out of projects such as Galileo and Copernicus. The UK makes a very strong and, in many areas, unique contribution to these projects. It is a matter for negotiation, but it is fully our intention to continue to collaborate and work closely with our EU friends and neighbours as we leave the European Union.

Finally, I join the hon. Lady in thanking all those who provide such good service in protecting and supporting us in our work in this place.

Yes, indeed. Of course, I think we all feel very strongly that the staff of this House should be supported in every way. Indeed, some of us feel extremely strongly that they should be well paid and, where possible, better paid each year—and Parliament will be the judge of that, rather than any other institution.

May we have a debate on areas of outstanding natural beauty and how we can increase the protection of those areas? During that debate, we could discuss the Chilterns AONB and the possibility of the Government designating it as a national park, to maintain its integrity, which is threatened by development on all sides. If we do not increase its protection to the highest level, which would be afforded by designating it as a national park, we could lose that precious environment as an asset for future generations to enjoy and benefit from.

My right hon. Friend raises an issue that is of enormous importance across our United Kingdom. She will be aware that in our 25-year environment plan, it is the Government’s intention that we will be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. The Government will be commissioning a review of designated landscapes in England which will examine their coverage, so there is more information to come, which I am sure she will welcome.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for after Easter.

As we have heard, it is now one year until we leave the European Union—Members are supposed to cheer at that point. I note that the Leader of the House said in a tweet this morning that she punches the air with joy at that prospect every morning. In Scotland, we are not quite doing that, as we have heard that it is going to cost us £12.7 billion. My country did not want Brexit. We did not vote for Brexit, yet Scotland will be taken out of the EU against our national collective will. I remember that in another referendum, we were told the only way to preserve Scotland’s EU status was to vote no. Well, that worked out well for us, didn’t it?

As for the business, or the non-business, when we get back, it is general debate central. This is business that has ceased to be, is bereft of life and has shuffled off its mortal coil and gone to meet its maker. This is as much ex-business as that unforgettable Norwegian blue parrot. It is a business statement from a zombie Government that pine for the fjords.

In Scotland and across Europe, people are being arrested just for having a political idea and vision for their country—people like Clara Ponsatí, a professor at St Andrews University who was arrested with a Spanish European arrest warrant. Her crime was believing that her country would be a better place if it governed itself, and peacefully and democratically making that her political aim. The UK is a country that hates state oppression, loves democracy and speaks out against injustice throughout the world, so can we have a statement on that, even if it is just to ask Spain to think about what it is doing and the reputational damage it is causing itself?

Lastly, Mr Speaker, I wish you, your staff and staff right across the House a very happy Easter. It might come as a shock to some Conservative Members, but I understand that the Prime Minister is going for a walking holiday in Wales. Forget about hard borders for Ireland. The gentlemen on the Conservative Benches should be hastily constructing one in Wales, so that we do not suffer the same fate as we did last year.

I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman quoting from the fabulous Monty Python. It is lovely to hear it. There is a good opportunity over Easter to catch up on some Monty Python films.

The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point about Catalan independence and the extradition warrant applied for against a Member of the Catalan Parliament. Spain is a key ally of the United Kingdom, and of course we support its right to uphold its constitution. Nevertheless, I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, and we always urge every one of our allies to look carefully at the backdrop to these cases.

The hon. Gentleman also talks about the Prime Minister going to Wales. I think we would all encourage her to take a break, put work behind her and think only of the beautiful countryside and fabulous Welsh food. Can I be any clearer than that?

As the House of Commons is not sitting on 1 April, will the Leader of the House pay tribute today to the Royal Air Force, which celebrates its centenary on Sunday, and will she join me in paying homage to all those who have given their lives to protect our freedom?

Yes, I am of course delighted to join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the RAF—as he says, on 1 April it will have been protecting our nation for 100 years—and to the so many who have given their lives to the service or made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

I am very grateful to the Leader of the House for the business announcement, including the fact that we now have an important Back-Bench debate on Tuesday 17 April on redress for victims of banking misconduct and the Financial Conduct Authority. In hearing the bid for that debate, it was all too clear why this Chamber needs to debate such an important issue. Am I to understand that it will be preceded by a business of the House motion protecting the time for that debate with a minimum of three hours? If so, that would be greatly appreciated.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the excessive pay of certain so-called senior people in the public sector? With regard to certain BBC executives and presenters, certain senior management in the NHS and the like, I just do not understand how any of them can possibly be worth more money than our Prime Minister.

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend on the latter point. We must all ensure that public services show restraint and value for money. The BBC is of course independent of the Government, so the amount it pays its staff is a matter for the BBC. However, as a public service broadcaster funded by the licence fee, it has a responsibility to set an example to others, and of course to lead the way in promoting equality in the workplace. Transparency is vital right across the public sector, and the public certainly deserve to know how taxpayers’ money is being spent.

May we have a debate on the growing concern that the US Administration could be on the point of withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, which through patient negotiation has succeeded in controlling Iran’s nuclear ambitions? In that context, may I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1143, in my name and that of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon)?

[That this House notes with concern the possibility that the US Administration could move towards abandoning the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA); believes that this would undermine what has been achieved in controlling Iran’s nuclear programme and damage both our credibility as international partners in negotiation and the pursuit of diplomacy as a means of promoting peace and ensuring security; asserts that weakening the deal would make it more difficult to keep Iran nuclear-free after the expiry of the special provisions of the JCPOA; and therefore expresses its support for the joint initiative from French and German Members of Parliament to urge members of the US Congress to stand by the Iran Nuclear Deal.]

The early-day motion expresses our support for the joint initiative of French and German parliamentarians to urge Members of the US Congress to support the Iran nuclear deal, a call to which I hope Members of this House will add their names.

The right hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important issue. I know there is concern about the intentions of the US Administration regarding the Iran deal. I encourage him to seek an urgent debate in Westminster Hall or a Back-Bench business debate specifically to address this issue with a Foreign Office Minister.

Cricket is under enormous threat at the moment, because of what has happened with Australia, which is unacceptable. It is our national game, and I also want to mention the British situation. Somerset county cricket club, of which we are all very proud—I am one of the MPs representing the county—has just taken on a chairman who has been done for price fixing in his company and heavily fined. May we have a debate about our national game—in my eyes, it is our national game—which is important to all of us and is enjoyed by many thousands of people across the United Kingdom?

I certainly share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for the sport, and his concern about the way in which its reputation is being damaged by recent allegations. I encourage him to seek at the very least an Adjournment debate to address in particular the recent press stories of misconduct.

Order. More than 30 right hon. and hon. Members are still seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that there is a statement to follow and then two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, of which the first is enormously heavily subscribed. There is a premium on brevity— to wit, single-sentence questions and replies that are comparably brief.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motions 1024 and 1036, calling for a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war, and for giving shop workers and shoppers time to enjoy it by pushing back the Sunday opening hours on that day? EDM 1024 says:

[That this House believes that all people in the UK should be able to pay their respects on 11 November 2018 to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country during conflict; notes that this year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War; further notes that many people working in retail will not be able to commemorate this important anniversary due to the Sunday Trading Act (1980); and calls on the Government to encourage all shops covered by Sunday trading regulations to open from 12pm to 6pm on 11 November 2018 so that those working in retail are not required in work until memorial events have concluded.]

Will she look at those early-day motions and find time for such a debate?

I would be delighted to consider that, and if the right hon. Gentleman would like to write to me, I will respond to him more fully.

May we have an assurance that the forthcoming announcement on whether there will be a competition for the new generation of mechanised infantry vehicles will be made to the House when Parliament is sitting, and not in the recess?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. I cannot answer that question at the moment, but Defence questions are on 23 April, and if he wishes to write to me I will ask the Ministry of Defence on his behalf.

For the avoidance of doubt, the answer is very clear: the announcement should be in the House of Commons. That is the situation, and it is the responsibility of office holders to ensure that that is the case. I know the Leader of the House will take seriously her responsibility on that matter.

We seem to have been waiting for the S4C statement, published today, longer than “Pobol y Cwm” has been on air, and there are still questions to be answered. May we have a Government statement that sets out a clear commitment to protect S4C’s budget, to allow it to maintain its independence and integrity, rather than simply top-slicing, and to allocate a separate, immediate budget to enable it to make the transition to digital and compete on a level playing field?

The independent review will ensure that S4C continues to produce first-class content and serves Welsh-speaking audiences across the UK. The additional funding announced today will give S4C the certainty that it needs for the next two years to deliver its much-needed reforms.

Following the welcome announcement yesterday that NHS money will become available in north Essex, may we have an urgent statement from the Health Secretary to outline when capital funding will be made available for west Essex and Harlow? The Health Secretary has visited Harlow’s hospital a number of times, and he is aware that the Princess Alexandra Hospital is not fit for purpose, and that our town desperately needs a hospital fit for the 21st century. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Health Secretary to do everything he can to ensure that Harlow has the new hospital it needs?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to yesterday’s welcome announcement. The Princess Alexandra scheme submission was one of the largest in capital value, and further work will be needed on those large schemes to ensure that we use centrally available capital to demonstrate value for money and affordability to the health economy. NHS England will soon contact my right hon. Friend’s sustainability and transformation partnership to communicate the next steps.

On 23 November 2016, 30 March 2017, and 9 February 2018 I wrote to the Government to ask for a debate in Government time on anti-Semitism. Over those 18 months, on all three occasions I was told that there would be such a debate. Now that it has been scheduled, and considering the importance of the issue, half a day is simply insubstantial and insignificant. We need a full day’s debate, and I am sure that Labour Members would be happy to agree to a rearrangement of business to give it a full day. Will the Leader of the House please take that suggestion away and consider it?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s grave concern about anti-Semitism, and in recent weeks we have seen some appalling examples of anti-Semitic behaviour, which is utterly unacceptable. I will take away his request, but he will appreciate that there are lots of competing demands on time in this Chamber.

In view of research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that highlights how home ownership has declined over the past 20 years, may we have a debate on what the Government are doing to help people on to the housing ladder?

My hon. Friend’s point is incredibly important to this Government, and we are fully committed to tackling that issue. There were 365,000 new first-time buyers in the UK last year, which is the highest number since 2006. There is a lot more to do, and we are committed both to tackling supply problems and to helping people on the demand side.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House, and everyone else who attended last week’s memorial service for Keith Palmer and all the other victims of the terrorist attack. It was a splendid, thoughtful and moving occasion. Thank you. May we have an early debate on knife crime, which is killing and injuring so many young men in our towns and cities? It is a national scourge, and we need a debate on that.

I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the excellent service last week, which was a very fitting tribute to those who lost their lives. He is right that knife crime is a challenge and a real problem. The Home Office is looking at ways to tackle it and will be bringing forward its serious violence strategy soon. Operation Sceptre combines police forces to tackle the carrying and use of knives. I would certainly welcome a Backbench Business debate on knife crime, unless I can find Government time for a debate.

May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for championing Back Benchers over a long period of time? In your rest over Easter, will you have the opportunity to read today’s excellent Daily Express, which has a wonderful front-page headline? Inside, the Foreign Secretary is quoted as saying:

“Like an unstoppable express, we are heading for Brexit and frankly my friends, we can’t arrive soon enough.”

Could the Leader of the House somehow manage, in the next few weeks and months, to arrange one or two debates on the European Union?

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have already had one or two debates on the European Union, including two days of debate in response to demands from right across the House. As he will appreciate, I am under some pressure not to allow general debates, as Labour Members seem not to appreciate them, but as ever I will try to balance the requirements of all Members.

I know that the Leader of the House will seek to do that. I also know that in seeking to do that extremely conscientiously, she will bear in mind that if you did a straw poll of members of the public and asked them, “What do people in Parliament do?” the answer would be debate and vote—quite elementary, really.

May I press the Leader of the House to make time available for a further debate on the draft EU withdrawal agreement so that we can discuss the outstanding matters therein, such as the role of the European Court of Justice, the settlement of disputes, European arrest warrants, and Ireland and Northern Ireland? In that debate, would she expect the Department for Exiting the European Union to make it clear that the most difficult issues are still unresolved, and that the UK will not cut and run and get into transition with those matters still unresolved?

The right hon. Gentleman might be pleased to know that there is a debate on Brexit and justice today at 1.30 pm in Westminster Hall. As I mentioned, we have just had two days of general debate on the EU. There will be many more opportunities to discuss the Government’s determination to get a good deal that works for the United Kingdom and for the European Union.

May we have a debate on the rise of protectionism around the world, especially in relation to Government contracts, such as when a British company is not able to apply for a contract with another country but a French company, say, is able to take a contract awarded by the British Government?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. The evidence is that free trade improves prosperity and opportunity for everybody. We intend, as we leave the EU, to be a global proponent of free trade, which will be in all our interests.

This week, a serial thief with 156 offences to his name appeared in a court near me. May we have a debate on how persistent offenders are dealt with in the judicial system, including a discussion on the use of exclusion orders?

The hon. Lady raises a very important issue—she often raises important justice issues—which clearly has great resonance in her constituency. She will be aware that the Government have invested £100 million in recruiting 2,500 new prison officers, and that we are creating 10,000 new high-quality modern prison places to ensure that we can focus our efforts on changing behaviour to try to minimise reoffending. At the same time, our work on reforming probation means that we are now monitoring 40,000 offenders who would previously have been released with no supervision. There is much more to be done, but we are improving the way in which we monitor those who have offended.

From next Tuesday, when my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 comes into force, every English local authority will have a statutory duty to assist local residents who are threatened with homelessness or who are homeless themselves. The Act will assist anyone threatened with homelessness, but may we have a statement after Easter on what the Government will do to help to combat the problem of rough sleeping right now?

I congratulate my hon. Friend again on his Homelessness Reduction Act, which is going to transform lives. He talks about the importance of solving the problem of rough sleeping and he is absolutely right. The Government are measuring it better. We have a “No Second Night Out” policy to actively identify and support rough sleepers, and we are taking unprecedented action to help people before they become homeless. Those are all very important measures.

My constituent Patrina Fraser was told yesterday that her application to register as a British citizen had been refused for a second time. Patrina is just one of thousands of people who arrived in the UK from Commonwealth countries as children. They grew up believing that they were British, and have worked hard and contributed all their lives, but they are now being told that their status as citizens is in doubt. It is an outrageous situation. Can we have a debate in Government time about how this injustice might be addressed?

There are very clear rules around citizenship status. The hon. Gentleman raises an important constituency matter that I am sure Home Office Ministers will look at. If he wants to write to me, I can take it up on his behalf. I also say to him that Home Office oral questions are on the first day back—16 April—and he might want to raise his specific point then.

On Tuesday I was delighted to host, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) and the Sikh Channel, a “Respect the Turban” event here in Parliament. It was fantastic to see many right hon. and hon. Members hearing of its significance. Sadly, the event was required due to a recent mindless attack on a Sikh gentleman outside Parliament. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the Sikh community for their valuable contribution to the UK over many decades, and may we have a statement on what more the Government can do to prevent hate crimes in our society?

I join my hon. Friend in thanking the Sikh community for the fantastic contribution that they make to the United Kingdom. I absolutely commend him for hosting the recent event, and I was so sorry to hear about the unacceptable attack on a guest of the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) just outside this Palace. All hate crime is condemned by all hon. and right hon. Members across the House. I can tell my hon. Friend that since 2010 we have published a hate crime action plan. We are working with the police and communities to tackle all forms of hate crime, including by improving police recording of such crime so that forces now capture data on all five monitored strands and can deal with it accordingly.

As the Minister knows, S4C is the only Welsh-language broadcaster in Wales. People will have been alarmed today to see the headline, “S4C set to lose UK government funding by 2022”. I am sure that people will lobby the Prime Minister when she is in Wales today, because there will be a lot of concern. I know that there is a lot more to it than this, but we should have a debate.

Since 2010, the Government have provided S4C with nearly £700 million of public funding. We remain committed to this very important Welsh-language channel, and the independent review will ensure that S4C continues to produce first-class content and to serve Welsh-speaking audiences right across the UK.

Imagine my pride when Mr Emdadul Hussain, the chef at Redolence Spice in Redditch, took the Tiffin cup—the most fiercely fought competition held in this place. Out of 12,000 Indian restaurants, his was declared the winner, and if you knew how many Indian restaurants there are in the west midlands, Mr Speaker, you would understand how significant it is that this cup has gone to a west midlands company. Given the importance of the Indian food industry, which is worth £1.8 billion, may we have a debate in this House about how such restaurants can be properly supported as a key part of our local high streets?

I pay tribute to all the fabulous Indian restaurants that provide so many Saturday night dinners for all of us. The only observation I would make in congratulating my hon. Friend’s local restaurant on its superb achievement in winning the Tiffin cup is that I am sure you and I, Mr Speaker, should probably be judges of next year’s competition. Would you not agree?

May we have a statement from the Government on support for mortgage interest, which is due to change next month? My Sandyhills constituent, Eileen Flynn, has cancer and is receiving chemo at the moment. Serco is tasked with dispensing the loan, but it is not doing very well at that. Can we have a debate on this, and will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State to look into Eileen’s case?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious constituency case, and I am very sorry to hear about it. If he wants to write to me, I can take it up with the Department for Work and Pensions on his behalf. As for the general point about changing what are effectively donations or benefits into mortgage interest loans, he will appreciate that the important point from a policy perspective is the balance between value for taxpayers and support for those who are in need of help with their mortgage interest payments.

The prospect of losing a child is a nightmare for parents, and the horror of its reality is exacerbated when they cannot afford to pay for a funeral. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a ministerial statement in response to the campaign by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris)? The financial support has been frozen for 15 years, and the heartbroken cannot be made to suffer any longer.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who has campaigned on this subject for a very long time. I think that there is support for the proposal throughout the House, and I will certainly look into it.

Children of my constituents who were sent to the two free schools set up by Raja Miah had a terrible educational experience. The schools were unsafe, there were no computers, children with special educational needs were given no support, and the teaching was of a poor standard. Both schools will be closed by the summer. The main beneficiary of this episode, which involved public expenditure of £13 million, seems to have been Mr Miah. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Education to explain, in either a statement or a debate, why he will not release the audit on the two schools, what he is doing to recover the money, and whether he has engaged the police in this matter?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue and I am very concerned to hear about it. It is obviously of great significance to children in his constituency, and I urge him to seek an Adjournment debate. I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, would look favourably on that.

Many high streets throughout the country are suffering, partly because shopping habits continue to change. May we have a debate so that we can discuss how the Government can help local authorities to reconfigure and regenerate our town centres?

We all agree about the importance of thriving shopping centres in our high streets, and it is commendable of the hon. Lady to raise the issue in the Chamber. The Government have sought to encourage councils to do more to develop their high streets by changing the way in which business rates accrue to them. However, I urge the hon. Lady to seek a Backbench Business debate so that all Members can share views and ideas about how we can improve the prospects for our high streets.

May we have a debate on today’s National Audit Office report on the cancellation of three rail electrification projects? The electrification of the midland main line was one of the projects that were cancelled but, astonishingly, the report says that the bimodal trains that were supposed to take the place of electrification do not exist. That is outrageous. People in Nottingham and throughout the east midlands are furious about this decision, and we need some explanation from the Secretary of State for Transport.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Transport Secretary announced in July 2017 in a written ministerial statement that new technologies would make it possible to improve passenger services before that could be achieved through rail electrification. In other words, the introduction of those bi-mode trains would enable far greater improvements, with far less disruption to passengers, long before the end of the disruption that would be caused by electrification.

Last Thursday I asked the Leader of the House which Department led on British sign language. She wrote to me this week—very efficiently and very kindly—to tell me that the Cabinet Office would respond to me directly, for which I am grateful. However, my parliamentary question to the Cabinet Office in September, and subsequent correspondence on 23 October, 19 December and 6 February, have so far failed to secure the information. Did the Cabinet Office say when I might expect a response?

I can only apologise to the hon. Gentleman for the fact that the issue has not yet been resolved. I am happy to write to the Cabinet Office again.

My constituent, Mr James McDonald, has specifically asked me to request a statement or debate on the spousal visa application process. Does the Leader of the House agree that the cost of these visas and the distress caused by the application process require a Government review and a debate in this House?

I am not aware of exactly what the hon. Gentleman refers to when he mentions the distress caused by the application process. Obviously the Home Office seeks to recover the cost of providing those visas—not to make a profit, but to ensure that costs are covered. He will be aware that there are Home Office questions on the first day back—16 April—and I encourage him to raise any specific issues then.

In October last year, the Government announced life sentences for those causing death by dangerous driving. May we have an urgent statement on when the Government intend to introduce tougher sentences through legislation so that no more families have to suffer like the family of Joseph Brown-Lartey in my constituency, and those of Harry Rice, George Wilkinson and Josh McGuinness in Hayes?

The hon. Lady is right to raise that issue in the House and I hope that she was pleased, as many were, to hear that there would be new sentencing arrangements. There are Transport questions on 19 April, in the first week back after the recess, and I encourage her to seek an answer then.

As the Government have plenty of time and no legislation, may we have a full day’s debate in the Chamber on the response to the Grenfell Tower fire? This week we learned that 95 families from blocks around Grenfell are all still in emergency and temporary accommodation and that dangerous cladding has been removed from only seven of 160 social housing blocks around the country. That is an appalling record for which the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is responsible. He needs to come here and give an account of himself.

It is absolutely clear—this has been made clear in every single statement—that the Government are determined to do everything possible to support the survivors of that appalling tragedy and to ensure that they can carry on with their lives. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave his last statement on 22 March, which was a regular update on progress in dealing with the Grenfell disaster. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the rehousing process must be very sensitive to the needs and requirements of the families concerned; it cannot just be about ensuring that they are placed regardless of their needs. The Government are determined to provide every support that we possibly can.

With the number of deaths worldwide due to drug-resistant infection now exceeding 750,000, and predictions that that number will rise to 10 million by 2050, antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest challenges facing mankind. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on this very important health issue?

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that antimicrobial resistance is a massive problem, and it is this Government who have taken a world leadership role in trying to focus attention on the need to reduce the use of antibiotics wherever we find it, whether that is for animals or humans. I encourage him to seek a Backbench Business debate so that hon. Members can share their thoughts on this very important subject.

Recent press reports suggest that the Government are moving towards agreeing a new contract for mechanised infantry vehicles with a German-led consortium without allowing any UK firms, such as General Dynamics UK in my constituency, to have the opportunity to tender for that work. May we have a debate or statement from a Minister so that we can understand the Government’s thinking on procurement? As we approach Brexit, businesses need reassurance and support.

I am not aware of the specific example that the hon. Gentleman gives, but I can tell him in a general sense that the Government have clear and transparent rules on procurement. We are of course big supporters of global free trade as a means of improving prosperity for all. If he would like to write to me on the specific subject, I can take it up with Ministers on his behalf.

My constituent, Julie Phillips, has been waiting for more than a year to access her civil service pension. The pension fund is using the excuse that it is waiting for information from Government Departments. May we have a statement from the Government on what assistance they can provide to allow people to access the pension that they have earned by working hard all their lives?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern that anyone who is waiting for their pension should not have to wait a lengthy period. They have an absolute right to receive their pension, and if he wants to take that issue up with me separately, I can raise it with Ministers.

Last weekend, three quarters of the residents spoken to said that they were concerned about gangs of youths roaming the streets in the Quadrant in Hull North, and I saw for myself the youths on motorbikes with no vehicle plates and no helmets—and, I assume, no insurance or tax—with their faces covered, speeding on estate roads. I was told that the level of intimidation means that many elderly people are fearful of going out. We need to do something about these yobs. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss what additional powers, resources and support the police need to tackle this scourge?

I am sorry to hear about the experience in the hon. Lady’s constituency. She will be aware that the Government’s new serious violence strategy, due to be published shortly, will put a far greater focus on steering young people away from a life of crime, while continuing to put together a strong law enforcement response. We are supporting communities to prevent violent crime, and we have awarded £765,000 to community groups and almost £300,000 to community projects that are working to end gang violence and exploitation.

Previously, we have been told that the Government’s serious violence strategy would be published in the spring. Yesterday, we were told that it was imminent, and today we have been told that it will be published soon, or shortly. I could ask for a debate on what “spring”, “imminent”, “soon” and “shortly” mean to the Government, but I am not going to do that. May we have instead a debate on the Government’s serious violence strategy, when it is published—and, I do not know, perhaps even a vote on it?

The hon. Lady has worked closely with the Home Office in providing her thoughts on the serious violence strategy, and I pay tribute to her for that. Obviously, the Home Office is looking carefully into this, along with various stakeholders, including the police and community groups. It will be very important, when the strategy comes forward, for the House to have a chance to debate it; on that, I absolutely agree.

To deal with the problem of drug-driving, the police need adequate resources to allow for consistent roadside testing. Given yesterday’s unanimous vote in this House, will the Leader of the House schedule an urgent debate in Government time on what more the Government could do to support police forces in dealing with this crime?

I beg the hon. Lady’s pardon; I misheard her. There are strong rules on how people use the roads when they are on drugs or alcohol or when they are using their mobile phones, and those rules are upheld by police forces. The Government are ensuring that police forces across the UK have access to up to £450 million of new funding that will meet their policing priorities. Of course it is an operational matter for each police force to prioritise where they see fit.

There is a private estate in my constituency, Cwm Calon, where the developer, Redrow, has behaved in a thoroughly reprehensible and disgraceful manner in relation to residents’ legitimate complaints about the state of the communal areas on their estate. I understand that the Government intend to introduce legislation to extend the rights of freehold residents on private estates, so may we have a debate to discuss the Government’s plans?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are bringing in new measures to protect tenants and homeowners in leasehold houses from some of the steps that developers are taking that really are there to rip off those who wish to own their own homes. We will be bringing forward legislation in those areas, so there will be opportunities for debate on those subjects.

The Aspley sewing workshop in my constituency is a fantastic example of how the arts can bring people together and reduce social isolation. Over the past eight weeks, funded by near neighbours, 39 people from different faiths and cultures have designed and made clothes, bags, cushions and toys for themselves and their children. May we have a debate in Government time on the impact that the arts can have on social cohesion?

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point, and I am sure that we all have great examples in our own constituencies of how the arts and crafts can be a fantastic way of getting people together, often in libraries and by combining younger and older people. I commend him for raising the matter in the Chamber, and I encourage him to seek a Back-Bench debate or even an Adjournment debate, so that Members can share their own experiences.

As I am sure that you will agree, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Open University, founded by the legendary Scottish Labour MP Jennie Lee, is a much-loved British institution, so can we have a debate on the vice-chancellor’s recent announcement of plans to restructure the OU that will involve substantial redundancies of academic staff and cuts to the curriculum that will have major implications for the OU’s research base and access to higher education for the most disadvantaged people and that will turn it from a word-leading distance education provider to a digital content provider?

I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the Open University for all it has done and continues to do to educate people and provide access to higher education for those too far away or trying to work and earn money at the same time. I am not aware of the changes he talks about, but I would encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can take them up directly with the Department for Education.

A year after it closed because of financial problems, the Ladybarn community centre in my constituency has reopened, after local councillors and local residents secured new funding. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the importance of such community hubs, and will she congratulate local residents on their achievement?

I certainly congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s constituents on their achievement in reopening the community centre. All community centres are a vital means of getting people together and addressing some of the issues that are the legacy of our late colleague Jo Cox in her loneliness commission. They provide so much to all our constituents in helping them to come together as a community and to work together to improve the lives of everybody.