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Business of the House

Volume 650: debated on Thursday 6 December 2018

The business for next week will include:

Monday 10 December—Continuation of debate on section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (day 4).

Tuesday 11 December—Conclusion of debate on section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (day 5).

Wednesday 12 December—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Ivory Bill, followed by a general debate on fuel poverty.

Thursday 13 December—A general debate on the public health model to reduce youth violence.

Friday 14 December—The House will not be sitting.

The House of Commons is now midway through our historic debate on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. Yesterday, my noble Friend Baroness Evans opened the Brexit debates in the other place. Come the meaningful vote on Tuesday, we will have spent about 38 hours debating the deal, on top of the hundreds of hours we have already spent in this place debating our exit from the EU. I hope that, with all views taken into account, and in the final analysis, Members will choose to support the deal we have on the table.

This week we are also midway through the Festival of Light, and I wish everyone in our Jewish communities a very happy Hanukah.

Finally, yesterday was International Volunteer Day. During business questions we often hear about fantastic examples of volunteering from right across our communities, so it is right that we all recognise the fantastic work that they do.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I note that there is only one week to go and we do not have the business for the final week. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the House will definitely rise on 20 December and return on 7 January? She will know that there are discussions, not quite about Christmas being cancelled, but about the day that the House rises.

I have raised this issue previously and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) has asked very nicely a number of times: when will the immigration White Paper be published?

It has been a momentous week, not least for you, Mr Speaker, because you were in the Chair for 14 hours on Tuesday. I suppose some could argue that it kept you out of mischief. I wish to comment on the proceedings because we need to separate them out from the debate on the deal. The Solicitor General said on television that this was a “complete diversion” and a

“concocted parliamentary parlour game that should be stopped”.

The Attorney General said that it was time we all

“grew up and got real.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2018; Vol. 650, c. 563.]

The Leader of the House’s comment on the radio that we would “live to regret” the vote was slightly threatening and she described the vote as “incredibly disappointing”. It was not disappointing; it was an inevitable consequence of the process and the Government’s failure to comply. It is quite surprising, because the Law Officers would expect everybody to comply with a court order. There was an order from this House and the Government failed to comply. The Government should have known better. The process is set down in the procedure and all Opposition parties were united. It was the will of the House to ask for the advice, which we have finally got, but the Government initially refused to give it. They could have given it, but regrettably chose to test the procedures of Parliament, and those procedures were then engaged. This shambolic Government will go down in history as the first Government to be held in contempt of Parliament. All that was within their control. Will the Leader of the House now accept that it was the Government’s own stubbornness that put them in that position?

On Monday, the Attorney General undertook to send you a letter, Mr Speaker. He said that he would be writing to you that evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) then asked whether we could all have a copy. Will the Leader of the House say what was in that letter and whether it has been published? [Interruption.] The Leader of the House should check Hansard, because he did say that he was going to write to Mr Speaker.

Will the Leader of the House correct the record? Last week, she said that there was an economic assessment of the draft agreement, but in fact the cross-departmental Treasury analysis was based on the Chequers plan, not the agreement. While we are at it, I am working my way through the agreement and I wonder whether the Leader of the House could take away the idea that its formatting might be done differently. If Members look at page 132, they will see that it is blank, apart from the title. There are lots of white spaces on the pages, so perhaps it would be a smaller and easier-to-read agreement if all the space were taken up. Do have a look at it.

I have now reached the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, so it is helpful that the legal advice has been released and can be read in conjunction with it. It is right that Members should have all the information before them if we are to make this momentous decision.

The Leader of the House will know that we are apparently paying £39 billion to the EU, but I should point out that, according to article 53, on access to relevant networks, information systems and databases, the UK will have to reimburse the Union for facilitating that access. That requirement goes through the agreement in a number of places, so is the Leader of the House expecting the Chancellor to make a supplementary financial statement? If so, when?

Will the Leader of the House confirm that she is actually asking Members to back the deal? I say that because Labour Whips have tweeted that she did not actually ask Members to back the deal; she asked them to “focus” on the deal. Could she definitively say that she also backs the Prime Minister’s deal?

It is chaos. It seems the Treasury is in chaos. This is a comment that was made: “I embrace chaos. I’m a thrill seeker”. That was not the Gilet Jaunes; it was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who was overheard saying that. It might be chaos and thrill seeking that has caused the Treasury not to provide the local government settlement for 2019-20. It has been cancelled. It was due to be announced today. Will the Leader of the House say when the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will make an oral statement to the House?

We are also missing the NHS 10-year plan and I am not sure what is happening about the police settlement either. Almost 80 leaders of Labour councils have written to the Secretary of State asking that any funding cuts—the figure of £1.3 billion has been mentioned—be cancelled at an absolute minimum and saying that to press on blindly with further cuts at a time when local government is on the brink of collapse would be hugely irresponsible—a bit like the Government not complying with the order to provide the legal advice. Or is it only the few in Northamptonshire who get a bail-out without an oral statement?

There is more chaos and thrill, but now in the Department for Education. As the shadow Secretary of State said—at the time, there was not a higher education Minister in place, but there is now—the student loan book, which was worth £3.5 billion, has been sold for £1.7 billion in upfront cash. The Office for Budget Responsibility said that this does not strengthen public finances. Can we have an urgent statement on the student loan book sell-off?

I want to pay tribute to Toby Jessel, who sadly died on Tuesday. He was my first MP. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) tells a funny story about how Toby Jessel was wearing this bright green and red tie one day. While he was speaking to the House, they found something sticking out of his trousers, which led the TV commentator to say it was his tie. I was a Labour candidate in Twickenham in 1987, and both Toby and his wife Eira Heath were wonderful and kind to me. It was my first outing. He was irrepressible and a gifted pianist.

Monday is Human Rights Day. The Attorney General said on Monday that the European convention on human rights is protected by the Belfast agreement, so there is no divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. I am sure that the ECHR is also embedded in our laws in perpetuity. I look forward to celebrating Hanukkah in Speaker’s House later, and I wish you and Sally a very happy anniversary tomorrow, Mr Speaker.

It is extraordinarily kind of the shadow Leader of the House to do that. Perhaps I may be permitted to wish her a happy birthday.

I also wish the hon. Lady a happy birthday. It is extraordinary. I remember this time last year we were also in business questions. Doesn’t time fly?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her many points. Yes, the House will rise on 20 December and return on 7 January, and as the Home Secretary said yesterday in Home Office questions, the immigration White Paper will be published as soon as possible. It is being finalised and will be brought forward. It is obviously important to me, as the person responsible for bringing legislation through, that we get it through in good time.

On the Attorney General and the contempt procedure, I gently point out to the hon. Lady that I was saying that any parliamentarian who finds themselves in government would regret this—that was not in any sense threatening and I slightly personally resent that she is implying that. I was making the point that it remains a fundamental constitutional convention that Law Officers’ advice should not be disclosed outside of Government. If we disclose that advice, it severely constrains future advice being offered in a frank and open way. That was my point. I hope that she accepts that in no way was I attempting to threaten anyone; I was merely stating the facts. While the Government have absolutely complied with the demand of the House, there is a fundamental problem with the overlap between the constitutional convention of confidentiality of Law Officers’ advice and the perfectly legitimate expectation and will of the House, with which I have complied.

The hon. Lady asked about the Attorney General’s letter to Mr Speaker. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench have managed to establish that it was published on the website on 4 December—hopefully that is helpful. She talked about the economic assessment of the draft agreement. Obviously, we will be discussing that during today’s debate and I hope that hon. Members will be able to pick that up.

I can absolutely confirm to the hon. Lady that, as I said at the start, I hope that all hon. Members will choose to support the deal that is on the table. It is the only deal on the table. On the matter of the local government settlement, we have local government questions on Monday, in which there will be an opportunity for Members to ask the Secretary of State about his plans.

The hon. Lady referred to the NHS 10-year plan. We all really look forward to seeing that. It is fantastic that this Government have made the biggest ever investment in our very precious national health service, and we all look forward to seeing some of the measures to create equality of mental health with physical health, more investment in identifying cancers early and better cancer outcomes for patients. There is so much that will be in that 10-year plan and we all look forward to seeing that. Finally, she asked about Education questions. I just point out to her that Education questions will be on Monday 17 December.

The curse of HS2, the Titanic of the railway world, has struck again with the apparent forced resignation of its third chairman, Sir Terry Morgan, after four months and the extraordinarily rapid public appointment of yet another chairman, Allan Cook, who, I believe, will also be part-time. After three chief executives, five Secretaries of State and six Under-Secretaries of State, we still do not know the real costs of this project, which, frankly, might put the £39 billion being paid to the EU into a box in the corner, because it is looking like it will cost £100 billion. Can we have a full debate on the Floor of the House on the subject so that we can find out what the real costs are, why the corporate governance is so dreadful, what the problems and the risks are, and what the cost-benefit analysis is for the taxpayers of this country, because, frankly, we should be putting this ill-conceived and ill-executed project out of its misery and cancelling it now?

My right hon. Friend raises a matter of great importance to her constituency, to mine, to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) and, indeed, to your own, Mr Speaker. We have all worked together to get the best compensation and mitigation for our constituents, many of whom have very serious concerns about that project. On the very important issue that my right hon. Friend raises, she will appreciate that this is a matter for the Transport Secretary and I urge her to seek to raise it directly with Transport Ministers, possibly in a Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate.

Mr Speaker, I also congratulate you on your endurance over the past couple of days. I hope that you are not having nightmares about big green chairs shouting “Meaningful vote” to you over the course of an evening. I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the most dramatic business for next week. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz)—for she is a friend—on her birthday today.

Here we are, Mr Speaker. It does feel a bit like the end of Tory days. After doing everything possible to avoid and evade a defeat, the Government have only gone and found a taste for it. After barely a glove being laid on them over the past two years, they endured three defeats in two hours on Tuesday. After acquiring this taste, they have offered themselves up for another hiding on Tuesday—or have they? That is the question. To go through with this vote and almost certain defeat seems almost unnecessarily cruel. It would be like political self-flagellation on an almost Marquis de Sade scale. To endure the indignity of a huge majority against them—most of them from their own Benches—on such a major issue of policy would be unsustainable for the Prime Minister. Can the Leader of the House take this opportunity today to confirm that, whatever happens over the course of the next few days, we will still have this vote regardless of the consequences and that they have no intention of taking it off the table? Can she also tell us a bit about what happens next? Let us hope that she will not be the Grinch of the House who stole Christmas in making sure that Christmas becomes Brexmas for the majority of Members in this House.

Almost laughingly, the Leader of the House has timetabled ordinary business on Wednesday. I think we might be telling hon. Members preparing for the Ivory Bill and the fuel poverty debate not to exercise themselves unduly. No one believes for a minute that it will be business as usual on Wednesday. It is going to be chaotic crisis management peppered with mild panic and served up with a dollop of a probable vote of no confidence in this Government. Can she tell us what provisions she has in place for Wednesday? What is she going to do to ensure that this House will be able to deal with the consequences of the devastating defeat? It is inconceivable that she has no back-up plan, plan B or set of extraordinary measures, and it is time to share them.

We in Scotland are watching this crashing of the UK with increasing alarm and concern, but we are also brushing down our constitutional options, and thank goodness we have them, because although this country may be going down with any arrangements for getting out of the European Union, Scotland most definitely will not.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises that so far in this Session the Government have introduced some very significant legislation, and have not lost any votes. Some extremely important legislation has been passed on automated vehicles and greater fairness to tenants. In fact, 45 Bills have been introduced, 30 of which have received Royal Assent. There are nine exit-related Bills in Parliament, and those that have already received Royal Assent include the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act 2018 and the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018.

If that were not enough, the House has also achieved some extraordinarily good things for our country through private Members’ Bills. I am delighted that the Stalking Protection Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) has completed its Third Reading here, as has the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight). Enormous progress is being made in this House, so I am grateful to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for pointing that out.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, yes, the meaningful vote will go ahead next week, as announced. He mocked, albeit gently, the business I announced today for next week. Although we do have very serious issues around our exit from the EU, it is incredibly important that we look at and take note of the serious challenges faced by those in this country suffering from fuel poverty, and indeed the broader global issue of the hideous trade in ivory that this country is determined to be one of the first to stamp out finally. The hon. Gentleman mocked last week’s business, when we brought forward the Offensive Weapons Bill, seeking to prevent young people from accessing knives online. These are very important pieces of legislation, and this House can be proud of our achievements so far.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the Scottish constitution and what the Scots think. I would gently point out to him that the Scots said very clearly in 2014 that they wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom. As a democrat, he should accept the will of the people. In 2016, the people of the United Kingdom decided that they wanted to leave the European Union. Again, he should accept the will of the people. The problem with the hon. Gentleman is that he only thinks about what he wants, not what the people want.

Benjamin Disraeli said:

“Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends”

yet this week Ofsted reported that, for our 1.3 million children with special educational needs, support is “disjointed and inconsistent”. Notwithstanding the good work of Gosberton House School, the Garth School and Priory schools in my constituency and many others, that report goes on to say that many of these pupils spend years out of school, thousands are left unplaced and, most disturbingly, some of our most vulnerable children’s whereabouts are altogether unknown. Can we have an urgent statement from Ministers on how we are going to respond to this national scandal? If our fate is dependent upon education, our humanity is defined by how we regard and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable; they deserve our care and their chance to prosper.

My right hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of how children with special educational needs are supported through their early years, and I am sure that, in his usual way, he will find the opportunity to raise the issue directly with Ministers, perhaps through an Adjournment debate. Some 86% of schools in this country are now classed as good or outstanding, compared with only 68% in 2010, and 1.9 million more pupils are now in good or outstanding schools. That is incredibly important, and it demonstrates the Government’s commitment to ensuring that every child gets a good education.

I am glad to learn that Christmas has not been cancelled, and I and the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) are very much looking forward to meeting the Leader of the House next Tuesday to discuss the hiatus in Backbench Business Committee debates in the House. As I said last week, by next Thursday it will have been eight weeks since we had any Backbench Business in the House, and I am pretty sure that when the Committee was established, the Standing Orders were written with the intention that the 27 days of parliamentary time would be over a one-year Session, not over two years. I remain disappointed that we are not getting any additional time, or notification of additional time, and I have written to the Chair of the Procedure Committee to ask the Committee to look into that, and into the Government’s interpretation of the Standing Orders.

Members may have noticed that the O2 phone network was down this morning, which also affected customers of Sky, Tesco, Giffgaff and Lycamobile. Thirty-two million subscribers have been without mobile telephone coverage since 5.30 this morning, which has also affected emergency services and bus networks. Will the Leader of the House ask the relevant Department to investigate the issue and consider what implications there might be, particularly for coverage of those emergency services?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate, I am sure, that it was not possible to find time for the Backbench Business Committee in next week’s business, but as I said last week, I look forward to meeting him to discuss the issue.

The hon. Gentleman raised an important point about phone networks, and I urge him to raise that matter directly with Ministers next week during questions to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

I join the Leader of the House in wishing everyone a happy Hanukkah, and I look forward to attending the annual reception in your house later this afternoon, Mr Speaker.

My constituents in Stanmore are suffering a crisis of aggravated burglaries. These are not normal burglaries where people break in and steal things; these involve gangs of five or six people who break in, beat up the residents and steal their possessions, including their address books so that they can move on to the next people. May we have a debate in Government time on how we deal with that epidemic, and the crisis in our society of aggravated burglaries in which people suffer not only the loss of their possessions, but personal injury as well?

I am genuinely sorry to hear about the problems experienced by my hon. Friend’s constituents, which are completely unacceptable, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise that issue. I know from my constituency that the police are concerned that sometimes residents do not report crimes—indeed, they would want us to encourage our constituents always to report any crime they experience, because so often that assists police to form a picture of what is going on, and to get the intelligence that enables them to make arrests. My hon. Friend will be aware that the resources available to police during this funding period have been increased, and it is for police and crime commissioners to make decisions on policing priorities. I am sure he is in contact with his own police and crime commissioner.

Frankly, we could all do with a little bit of Christmas cheer in this place this week, so I will briefly speak about Derek Highe from Robin Royd Avenue in Mirfield. He lights up his house every year, and has raised more than £40,000 for charity, including for Kirkwood Hospice. In this case seeing really is believing, and I encourage people to visit to see it for themselves, if they do not want to or cannot visit Mirfield. May we have a debate on how our local communities contribute so much at this time of year, whether by donating to food banks or raising money for charity?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for cheering us all up; I also love to see the houses that have been made bright and friendly for the whole community by people who have gone to enormous lengths. I encourage colleagues to pop around to my office. We have a few Christmas decorations up there as well, although probably nothing like as good as the ones in Robin Royd Avenue. I pay tribute to her constituent for the excellent work he is doing in raising money for charity.

The Leader of the House is well aware of the situation between Taunton Deane and West Somerset, which is my council. The amalgamation is now going so wrong—so many people have decided to leave the council that it is having to raid the housing revenue support grant to pay the redundancies. First, that is immoral, and secondly I hardly think it is legal. Can we please have a debate on this? Certain councils may be bailed out—mine is not, so we are living at our edges. Can we have time in the House to discuss the matter?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, Housing, Communities and Local Government questions are on Monday 10 December. I encourage him to raise the matter directly with Ministers.

This is the first opportunity I have had to apologise to the Leader of the House; the last time we were together in the Chamber, I said that she “flounced”. I did not realise that that was a disrespectful or sexist term, but I used it and I apologise profoundly.

While we have her in a good mood, can I ask the right hon. Lady for an early debate on the status and respect given to the Bank of England and its Governor? I have been in this House for quite some years, and I cannot remember a time when Ministers have so reviled the Governor of the Bank of England—undermining the work that the Bank is doing in independently telling us that there is no deal better than staying in the European Union. Can we have a debate on how the Bank of England—this wonderful institution—can get back to full respect from all parties in this House?

I am really grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his apology, which is unnecessary—he had already apologised to me privately. I have been practising my flounce, although I am not sure I have perfected it yet. [Interruption.] It is something like that—[Laughter.] I was not quite sure what a flounce was. I know that the hon. Gentleman’s daughters told him off; I would like to put that on the record—we know when we see a bit of sexism.

The hon. Gentleman raises a very serious issue about the ancient institution of the Bank of England, to which we all in this place owe a great debt of gratitude given its determined pursuit of the national interest over many years. Colleagues have different views about how different spokespersons for the Bank of England represent their views, and it is right that we allow freedom of speech in this place. But the hon. Gentleman’s fundamental point is about the importance of the Bank of England, and I share his great regard for it.

In Redditch, I am supporting an excellent charity called Charlotte & Craig Saving Hearts Foundation in its campaign to get first aid on to every school curriculum. May we have a debate in Government time about how we create a nation of lifesavers and get cardio-pulmonary resuscitation —CPR—in every school curriculum?

I think my hon. Friend would find a lot of support across the House for that; I congratulate her constituents on their initiative in trying to get it on to the agenda. She might want to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that hon. Members, who I am sure would have a lot of sympathy with the issue, can share their views.

On Tuesday night in my constituency, there was significant violence at the away end of the Port Vale and Stoke City derby football match. I thank the police and emergency services for their work. Can we have a debate in Government time on the rise of football hooliganism in parts of our country?

I am sorry to hear about the experience of some of the supporters in the hon. Lady’s constituency. Any rise in football hooliganism is absolutely unacceptable. It used to be a problem in the past and we do not want it to come back again. DCMS questions are next Thursday and I encourage the hon. Lady to raise it with Ministers then.

Can we have an urgent statement on protecting public libraries? In a potential act of barbarism and cultural vandalism, Essex County Council is threatening to close libraries in disadvantaged and deprived areas of my constituency of Harlow—a disgraceful decision. These libraries are treasured by the community and schoolchildren as an important place of reading. Will my right hon. Friend work with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and get these cuts reversed?

My right hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. We all know the value of libraries in our communities. It is not just about accessing books; many other community activities take place, bringing people together and providing them with support and guidance. The Government are committed to seeking a sustainable future for libraries. As he will be aware, local authorities in England have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. I am aware that Essex County Council’s consultation on its proposals closes on 20 February. I am sure that he and his constituents will want to participate in that consultation.

It is just not good enough to say, “It’s coming—it’s on its way.” The immigration Bill is necessary for my constituents, whether they work in the creative industries and want to be able to continue to tour around the European Union over the coming years as they do now, work in some other service industry, or are EU citizens themselves. When, when, when will we see the immigration Bill and White Paper?

As the Home Secretary said yesterday, it will be brought forward soon. As I have just said, it will be as soon as the specifics around the policy are finalised. The hon. Lady, as an Opposition Whip, will be involved in usual-channels discussions, and I encourage her to make her views continually known, as she always does.

May we have a debate to celebrate the local fundraisers who we all have in our constituencies? I would like to make a special mention of Nancy Jamieson from Keith, who every October since 2005 has cycled 100 miles to raise funds for breast cancer charities and in that time has raised over £13,000. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Nancy on her great efforts, particularly this year, because when she started she was 89 and when she finished she was 90, having celebrated a very significant birthday at the end of October?

It is obviously something in the air: my hon. Friend’s constituents are extraordinary people and he is absolutely right to praise them as he so often does. The desire to raise money for charitable causes is one of the best human qualities and one that we should all celebrate and encourage. I would like to join him in congratulating Nancy Jamieson and the extraordinary achievement of cycling 100 miles at the age of 90, for which she deserves a huge amount of praise.

I am pleased that we are due to have a debate on youth violence next Thursday; we will see whether it actually happens. I support the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) in calling for a debate on burglary. I have seen in my constituency a rise in burglary and aggravated burglary. That is not entirely unconnected with the fact that three police stations have closed in my constituency. We do not have a single police station, so that deterrent has completely disappeared. May we have a debate on this?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), I am very sorry to hear of the ongoing problem of aggravated burglary in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. He will know that many of the decisions around police station closures are to do with the tendency of people to prefer to report crime via the telephone or online. Nevertheless, it is absolutely vital that police and crime commissioners take the steps necessary to keep their communities safe. I encourage him perhaps to raise this through an Adjournment debate.

May we have a debate about Northern Rail and its appalling track record—if you will excuse the pun, Mr Speaker? My constituents repeatedly experience trains being cancelled, often at rush hour, so they are late for work, or trains that are completely jam-packed, sometimes so jam-packed that they cannot even get on the next train and are even later for work. Northern Rail is showing a complete disregard for its customers, and the Government really need to do something to make it to get a grip of the situation. Please can we have a debate, because my constituents and I are getting greatly frustrated by its incompetence?

My hon. Friend is quite right to raise that issue. The disruption to rail passengers has been completely unacceptable. He will be aware that the Department for Transport is seeking resolution of the issues and that there is massive investment going into rail infrastructure, to ensure that we have better passenger experiences, but I encourage him to raise that directly with Rail Ministers.

At the launch of the Institute for Public Policy Research report on social mobility this week, the Child Poverty Action Group reported that out of every class of 30 schoolchildren, nine of those children are being brought up in poverty, and six of those have at least one parent in work. May we have an urgent debate on child poverty in the UK, as also identified by the report from the UN rapporteur?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. We, as a Government, are absolutely committed to taking care of and protecting children, and that is why we challenge the report to which she referred. In fact, there are fewer children and families in absolute poverty than there were in 2010. There are over 3 million more people in work than there were in 2010, which means more people with the prospect of securing a living for their families, and inequality is at its lowest level ever. Just because the hon. Lady makes those assertions, it does not make them true.

May we have a debate on the great job that Parliament TV does, allowing our constituents to see what we do in this place and hold us to account? I am pleased to report to the Leader of the House that a clip of her highlighting the failures of the SNP in this place attracted more than 60,000 views on my Twitter feed.

I am always delighted to hear about the importance of the Westminster operation to constituents in Scotland, which demonstrates their commitment to remaining a part of the United Kingdom and the relevance of what we discuss here. My hon. Friend’s determination to support his constituency interests is admirable, and I commend him for it.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] My shirt is not tucked in. My late grandmother would be appalled that I was not correctly attired.

Last week, I asked the Leader of the House whether she could use her offices and influence to help progress Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill. She told me that she was tabling extra days for private Members’ Bills, but she will know that the list of private Members’ Bills waiting to be heard is so long that Lord McColl’s Bill may not make it through. May I ask her again to use her influence to try to get the Bill at least into Committee, so that it can be scrutinised by Members of this House?

Less heckling from my right hon. Friend.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s late grandmother would be very proud of him. He raises a serious point about days for private Members’ Bills. As he knows, I have sought to provide a further six sitting Fridays for private Members’ Bills to make progress. Unfortunately, that was objected to, and an amendment was tabled to reduce that number to five. Those discussions are ongoing through the usual channels, and I hope to come forward soon with an alternative proposal.

A constituent of mine bought three tickets earlier this year for the BBC Biggest Weekend concert in Swansea through Viagogo. She expected to pay £50 overall. The confirmation said that she had paid £1,772.41. The bank refused to make that payment, but Viagogo then put a £1 charge through, as a gateway to take the full amount. She has taken it up with the bank and Viagogo, and I have taken it up, but we have not had any positive response. May we have a debate on that kind of behaviour and total corporate irresponsibility—I would almost say corporate theft?

My hon. Friend raises what sounds like a case of appalling behaviour by a private company, and he is right to do so in this place. We have Digital, Culture, Media and Sport oral questions next Thursday, and I encourage him to take it up with Ministers then.

In 2015, seven-year-old Rowan Fitzgerald, a constituent of mine, died in a bus crash. Last week, having pleaded guilty, Midland Red—part of Stagecoach—was sentenced and fined under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. At the time of the accident, the driver was 77 years old and had worked an average of 72 hours in the four weeks up to and including the week of the tragedy. Currently, this is not illegal, as short-distance local bus drivers can work unlimited hours. Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate on limiting working hours for local bus drivers to ensure that a tragedy like this is never allowed to happen again?

The hon. Gentleman raises a really tragic case, and I know we were all desperately sorry to hear of it. He raises an important point about the number of hours that individuals are allowed to work, and I encourage him to raise it directly with Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministers and Transport Ministers. There is always a balance to be struck between ensuring that people are fit for work and enabling them to earn a living, but he raises a very important point.

This year has been a fabulous one for women in Parliament, and it would be excellent if this centenary year could leave a lasting legacy for those to come. Yesterday, the all-party group on women in Parliament—I encourage women from across the Floor to come along—met Professor Sarah Childs to look at her report on “The Good Parliament” and see what more can be implemented. Given the support from across this Chamber for proxy voting for baby leave, does my right hon. Friend think that we could make more progress on that before the end of this centenary year?

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on all her work as chair of the all-party group on women in Parliament. I repeat to her that I am absolutely committed to ensuring the Government do all they can to allow new parents to spend that vital early time with their new babies. We had a valuable debate during the September sittings, and as I confirmed in the debate, I will bring forward a substantive motion on proxy voting as soon as I can.

Pen-y-Bryn, Glanwern House and the Beeches retirement homes in my constituency face Christmas under threat of closure. May we have a debate on retirement home provision, acknowledging that while we of course have to plan for the future, that should never be at the expense of our existing residents, who really rely on and thrive in these facilities?

I think that we all want to pay tribute to all those who look after elderly people in such a caring way, and those retirement homes are vital for some older people who perhaps do not have extended families to help them in such ways. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue, and I would encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can talk about his particular constituency issues.

Earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade held a very successful event with businesses in Stirling. I know for a fact that Stirling’s businesses want to see Scotland’s two Governments working together in areas such as trade. I have become aware that the Government are about to set out a new intergovernmental concordat with the devolved Administrations on trade. May we have a statement?

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue for Scotland and, in particular, about how the entire UK can work together to promote some of the amazing exports that come from Scotland as well as from England. When I was Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, I had the great pleasure of attending some of the international food and drink symposiums of which Scottish whisky, smoked salmon and so on formed such an important part. [Interruption.] Yes, and haggis, too. I absolutely encourage my hon. Friend to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that hon. Members can discuss this important concordat.

May we have a debate in Government time on recognising great British sporting heroes, including Cudworth resident Dorothy Hyman, and my campaign to secure her BBC sports personality of the year trophy 50 years after it was originally awarded to her?

I join the hon. Lady in congratulating Dorothy Hyman on her win 50 years ago. I wish the hon. Lady success in promoting her constituent at the forthcoming sports personality of the year. I encourage her to raise the issue at DCMS questions next week.

May we have a debate to remember all the people who were killed by terrorists in Northern Ireland, particularly on this day? The House should remember the 17 people killed at Ballykelly shortly after 11 o’clock on this day 36 years ago. Of those 17 people, 11 were soldiers, with eight from the Cheshire Regiment. Six were civilians, and significantly and extremely sadly five of them were young women.

I know my hon. Friend was the incident commander that night and lost many of his own men. He reminds the House of the dreadful events of the Ballykelly bomb in 1982. As with all acts of terrorism, this was an act of unspeakable evil for which there can be no possible justification. We all owe a vast debt of gratitude to the heroism and bravery of the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law. Our thoughts today remain with the families of those who lost loved ones in this appalling attack.

Conservative-run Cambridgeshire County Council has sent a miserable Christmas present to their staff this year by demanding they take three days unpaid leave at Christmas—effectively a 1.2% pay cut. May we have a statement from a Minister to explain the mess they have made of local council finances?

I am sorry to hear about the situation for the staff in the hon. Gentleman’s local area. I wish them all a very happy Christmas in spite of it. He will be aware that the local government finance statement will come forward soon. I suggest he raises it with Ministers then.

The hospice movement does a fantastic amount of very good work, none more so than Derian House in the constituency of my parliamentary neighbour, the right hon. Member for Chorley (Sir Lindsay Hoyle). May we have a debate on the difference in state support between the general hospice movement and children’s hospices, such as Derian House? Normal hospices receive about 30% of their income from Government support, while children’s hospices receive about a third of that. May we have a debate on closing that gap?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising such an important matter. Hospices across the country provide vital respite, as well as end-of-life care. To compensate for the lower levels of funding that children’s hospices receive, NHS England provided £11 million in 2018-19 through the children’s hospice grant, which is awarded annually. I can tell him, however, that end-of-life care is an important part of the proposals that are helping to shape the long-term plan for the NHS. The children’s hospice grant is being considered as a part of that.

In my constituency, Wandsworth Council is planning to close York Gardens children’s centre and to cut universal stay-and-play for nought to three-year-olds at the Yvonne Carr children’s centre. Parents have got in touch with me to share their concern, worry and dismay at the move by the council. Like parents across the country, they recognise the importance of children’s centres and they rely on them. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss Government funding and funding for children’s centres?

I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for children’s centres and the work they do right across the country. They really do provide valuable support for new families and families with young children. She will be aware that councils are receiving over £200 billion to deliver local services, including children’s services, up to 2020. The Government are setting out to provide local councils with the financial support to be able to provide for the needs of their own local communities.

In 2012, a decision was taken by the Government to dissolve the University of Aberdeen’s Royal Naval Unit and merge it with Edinburgh. I campaigned against that decision as a student and I am campaigning to overturn it now as an MP. URNUs are brilliantly positive organisations, affording students a great opportunity to experience life with the Royal Navy and doing much for the visibility of the Royal Navy in the wider world. Will my right hon. Friend grant a debate in Government time to debate the importance of University Royal Naval Units not just to the universities and communities that they serve, but to our senior service?

University Royal Naval Units offer dedicated training facilities in or around universities, and they certainly spread much needed awareness of the role of the Navy to students. They open up huge opportunities for students right around the country so I fully understand my hon. Friend’s disappointment about the 2012 closure of his closest URNU in Aberdeen. I understand that the relocation to Edinburgh captures a greater number of students and offers easier access to waters, but I suggest that he perhaps seeks an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss further his concerns.

May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the UK shared prosperity fund? Many communities, including my own of Ynys Môn, have been beneficiaries of the European social fund. The clock is now ticking and many of those communities need to do planning for post-2020, so that the poorest communities in our country can get the help and support that is needed.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the UK shared prosperity fund will replace the previous EU funding. In fact, the priority for debate today is the economic proposals under the meaningful vote debate, so he might well wish to raise that later today.

May we have a debate on the benefit of the Men’s Sheds movement in tackling social isolation and loneliness? Last week, the Barrhead Men’s Shed celebrated its fifth birthday, and I was absolutely delighted to congratulate it on its work, so will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Alex Storrie, Alex Locke, Bill Core, Fiona Currie and all the shedders at Barrhead’s Men’s Shed for everything that they do for our community?

That is a shedload of congratulations to all those in his constituency who are doing such good work to support men’s mental health and other mental health issues. I am delighted to share in his congratulations to them.

I do not know whether I should admit this as a Whip, but when I went into the Lobby on Tuesday, I was slightly concerned about the number of Conservative Members and I thought that I had walked into the wrong one. Of course, this coming Tuesday, there is the likelihood of people walking into all kinds of Lobbies that they are not normally accustomed to, so can we not finally reform this totally arcane procedure, which is leading to crushes and delays, and get on with it, modernise the system and introduce electronic voting?

I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have loved to be in the same Lobby as some of my hon. Friends and to be able to share and enjoy the moment. He does raise an important point. I know that this House has considered alternative methods of carrying out our business. If he wanted to discuss it with the Procedure Committee and if the Committee wanted to have an inquiry, I would be delighted to look at it, but as he and all other hon. Members will notice, every time I put forward a motion, somebody objects to it—it just seems to be par for the course these days.

My constituent, who wishes to remain anonymous, is being treated for severe depression and has contemplated suicide as a result of the retrospective tax changes that the Government introduced in the Budget last year. He runs a small business and is a family man. He is just about to lose his house and his business because he is being pursued by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Could we have a statement in this House from the Chancellor about the impact of retrospective tax changes on people’s livelihoods and homes?

I am very sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. It is always incredibly difficult when somebody comes up against an issue that was unexpected for them, and I hope that his constituent will find a way through this difficult time. I just say to the hon. Gentleman that we have the Chancellor of the Exchequer here shortly to open the debate on today’s economic assessment of the withdrawal agreement and political declaration, and indeed, we have Treasury questions next week, so there are plenty of opportunities for the hon. Gentleman to raise this matter.

Does the Leader of the House share my interpretation of the passing of the amendment from the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) on Tuesday, which is that if this House does not vote in favour of an amendment that allows this country to leave the European Union without a deal, the Government cannot leave without a deal? Is that correct?

The practical impact of the Grieve amendment is that if we are not successful in winning the meaningful vote, the Government will return to Parliament to set out their next steps. The amendment means that at that point the Commons will be able to express its view by tabling amendments to the Government’s preferred way forward. I should add that the Prime Minister remains fully focused on the importance of winning the vote on Tuesday, and is determined to do so.

At 8 am on Monday, the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union will issue its final judgment on the question of whether article 50 can be revoked—and revoked unilaterally—in response to the case brought by me and by a number of other Scottish parliamentarians. Yesterday the Prime Minister acknowledged that it was highly likely that the Grand Chamber would follow the Advocate General’s opinion.

Given the considerable amount of public money that has been expended by the Government in fighting me and my fellow petitioners through the Scottish courts, the UK Supreme Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union, does the Leader of the House agree that the UK Government owe it to the people of this country—the taxpayers—and the House of Commons to come to the House on Monday and make a statement about the outcome of the case and how they intend to proceed, and justify the expenditure of public money to prevent the House and the people of the United Kingdom from knowing the answer to that question?

As the hon. and learned Lady will appreciate, a democratic vote in the 2016 referendum determined that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union, so the issue of whether the United Kingdom could choose not to leave the European Union is not one that the Government are minded to pursue. Nevertheless, the hon. and learned Lady will have ample opportunity over the next few days of debate to raise specific questions with Ministers about what the Government’s response should be to the findings of that judicial review.

According to written parliamentary answers that I have received to my questions 193440 and 196869, only 308 out of 144,000 universal credit claimants have been offered home consultations. May we have an urgent debate about the systematic refusal of the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments to provide home consultations for sick and disabled universal credit claimants?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point, and I am sure that he will wish to raise it with Ministers directly during questions to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions at the next opportunity. Let me add, however, that universal credit overall is designed to help people, to get them back into work, and, when necessary, to give them more support. Since last year’s Budget we have scrapped the waiting days and increased advance payments to 100%, and we are now paying two weeks’ housing benefit to people moving on to universal credit. We have also formed a partnership with Citizens Advice in order to deliver universal support that helps claimants through every step of making a claim.

The Leader of the House will be well aware of the displacement of 100,000 Christians from Mosul as a result of Daesh’s campaign of terrorism. Rudaw reports that Daesh has destroyed thousands of Christian homes, as well as 120 churches and Christian shrines in Mosul alone. It is estimated that the renovation of those properties would cost a minimum of $12.5 million. While thousands of displaced Christians have returned to the Nineveh plains, only a few have returned to Mosul. Their houses remain destroyed, and the security situation is unpredictable. More must be done to help these people. Will the Leader of the House arrange a statement or a debate on this very concerning matter?

The hon. Gentleman paints a horrendous picture of the plight of the Christians who have been so badly treated by Daesh and the terrorist attacks that have taken place. He is absolutely right to do so, and I encourage him to seek a further Westminster Hall debate. I know that he secured one recently and will have raised a number of these issues then, but it is very important that the House always remains aware of what is going on, and, of course, that we continue to support all those who are being so terribly abused.

Recent figures released by IPPR North show that the north of England has seen the biggest spending cuts of any UK region; in fact, public spending in the north has fallen by £6.3 billion but has risen across the south. People in Bradford and across the north know that austerity is not ending for them; this is fact, not assertion, and to say otherwise does my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) a great disservice. So may we have a debate in Government time on these unfair disparities in public spending and what urgent steps the Government are taking to invest in the north?

The hon. Lady will recall that it was this Government who introduced the northern powerhouse, devolved so many powers to local government, introduced mayoral authorities and invested over a quarter of a trillion pounds on infrastructure since 2010. Public investment has been 14% higher on average than under Labour, and we have embarked on the biggest rail programme since Victorian times and the largest road-building programme since the 1970s. The northern powerhouse and the north of England have significantly benefited from this Government’s commitment to developing an infrastructure that is fit for the 21st century.

On 23 November the PSA Group announced another 241 redundancies at Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port; when they have been completed we will have lost over half the workforce in just a year, so as the Leader of the House can understand there is real anxiety about the future of the plant. May we have a statement about what the Government can do to protect this vital piece of manufacturing in my constituency?

I am very sorry to hear about the further redundancies in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. He will be aware that the Jobcentre rapid response team will be available to seek to redeploy staff who have lost their jobs, but this is a very difficult time of year and they deserve our sympathy. The hon. Gentleman might well wish to raise this issue at Treasury questions next week.

St Helens Council has lost 71% of its funding since 2010, so while it has not welcomed the local government funding settlement that has at least provided certainty from which to plan. Will we have the announcement before Christmas, and if so will the Government leave us a few quid under the council Christmas tree, as opposed to taking the presents back up the chimney?

As I have already said to other colleagues, we have Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government questions on Monday, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise that matter there.

And in other news this week, the Select Committee on Transport found the Transport Secretary culpable of the timetabling chaos earlier this year, January’s rip-off rail fares have been nodded through, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) just said, IPPR North research shows that spending fell by £18 per person in Yorkshire and the Humber since the launch of the northern powerhouse in 2014 while increasing by £326 per person in London. Moreover, Crossrail 1 is demanding the third bail-out within a year and the chair of HS2 has resigned after just four months. Given this and the Transport Secretary’s trail of calamity from the DWP through Justice and into Transport, may we now have a debate on why he seems to be unsackable?

I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I have just given about this Government’s commitment to the northern powerhouse and to ensuring we develop an infrastructure that is fit for the 21st century. Our investment in infrastructure has been unparalleled over many decades. With regard to the rail review, my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary has made it absolutely clear that he finds the disruption to passenger services over the past few months unacceptable. He has a very broad-ranging review under way to look at what can be done differently in future to ensure we get the better journeys and the better fare structure that our passengers deserve.

The UK does not produce radio isotopes that are used in medicine for cancer diagnosis and treatment. At the moment Euratom guarantees the time-critical delivery of these materials, so may we have an urgent debate on the arrangements for the supply of these materials—radio isotopes in particular—in medicine post-Brexit?

I understand from colleagues on the Front Bench that this question was raised just now in Department for Exiting the European Union questions and reassurances were given. The Government are preparing for all eventualities, including ensuring that radio isotopes for medical purposes remain available in the event of all outcomes, including no deal.

Next Thursday, we are having a debate on tackling youth violence with a public health approach, and I want to ensure that we can inform the debate better. Will the Government provide a written statement on what they have been doing about this, before the debate? Also, will the Leader of the House ask all the relevant departmental Ministers to attend the debate and at least listen to it even if they do not respond? I genuinely believe that this will help to ensure that we have a good debate on an issue that I and many other Members think is so important.

As the hon. Lady knows, I completely agree with her that this is a vital issue and that we have to do everything we can. I genuinely believe that the Government are doing everything possible through publishing the serious violence strategy, establishing the serious violence task force and progressing the Offensive Weapons Bill, as well as through many interventions through community projects to try to get young people off a life of crime. And yes, I absolutely will take up with other Departments the hon. Lady’s request for Ministers to attend if they possibly can.

The Government have brought forward the national funding formula for schools, which is something I strongly support, but will the Leader of the House organise an urgent debate on those recalcitrant authorities such as Gloucestershire that still refuse to pass the funds through to schools?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises the value of the new national funding formula. He will be aware that we are investing more than £1.3 billion up to 2020 to attract new teachers into the profession, and that 1.9 million pupils are now in good or outstanding schools since 2010. That is something that we can all be proud of. He has raised a specific issue about his local authority, and I encourage him to raise that matter at Education questions next week.

May we have a debate or a statement on encouraging young people to becoming involved in social enterprise and become young entrepreneurs, as celebrated in early-day motion 1892, which congratulates Erin McGinley, a pupil at St Oswald’s School and a Pollok resident, on being a finalist in the Scottish young entrepreneur of the year awards this year?

[That this House notes the entrepreneurial achievements of Erin McGinley, a talented and inspirational youngster based in Pollok; congratulates her on being shortlisted as a finalist in the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category at the Scottish Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2018 for her fantastic small business EMO-G; praises her success at the Young Enterprise Awards in April 2018; commends her on winning a Caritas Award earlier in the year; and wishes her a very successful future in all that she does.]

Does the Leader of the House agree that we should encourage and support all such talented and inspirational young people?

Absolutely! That was very much worth waiting for, and I congratulate Erin on being a finalist. That is fantastic news and a great achievement. We all celebrate the achievements of young people, particularly when they want to get involved in raising funds for charities or in starting their own businesses. That is absolutely the right way to go, and I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Erin.