Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 14 January—Continuation of debate on section 13(1)(B) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Tuesday 15 January—Conclusion of debate on section 13(1)(B) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Wednesday 16 January—Second Reading of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill.
Thursday 17 January—Debate on a motion on mental health first aid in the workplace, followed by debate on a motion on children’s social care in England. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 18 January—The House will not be sitting.
I would like to follow the remarks made by a number of Members this week and offer my condolences following the sad passing of Lord Ashdown and Lord Foster, two much-loved and popular figures who gave so much to politics and to their parties. Their families are in our thoughts.
I know Members will have been as shocked and appalled as I was to witness the abuse levelled at our colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). I hope we can start this new year in Parliament by setting a good example for others to follow.
Finally, I hope all hon. Members had a calm and restful break over Christmas. I would like to wish everyone a happy and productive new year.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business, albeit just one week’s. I join her in paying tribute to Lord Ashdown and Lord Foster, who were both very great servants of this House. I, too, want to express our solidarity with the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). She should never have been treated and abused in that way while going about her lawful business. Other hon. Members are also suffering these difficulties. They are doing so quietly because there are cases ongoing.
May we have a date for an Opposition day debate please? We have not had one since 13 November. The Leader of the House helpfully gave us the Easter recess dates. She knows what I am going to ask: when are the May dates? The House needs to plan.
This is a Government without a majority. They are in crisis and in denial about the crisis. The Government have faced two defeats in one week, breaking records. This is the first Government to be defeated on a Finance Bill since 1978. Our constituencies, businesses, the science community, the NHS, security and this House have made it clear that the Government should rule out a no-deal Brexit, yet the Government have refused to do so.
In fact, the Government are making plans for no deal. That is why this House, elected by our constituents, cannot rely on Government mantras or a Cabinet who discuss the fantasies of 50-year-old swingers and arrange a no-deal scenario with 89 lorries when 10,000 lorries use the channel ports, and when contracts are being given out for services that do not exist. A concerned House voted for an amendment to ensure the Government come back within three sitting days, because they cannot be trusted.
How many times over the years have we heard it said in this place, “No, this can’t be done”—“No, women can’t have the vote”, “No, women can’t be on the Floor of the Chamber. They have to be up in the Gallery”, “No, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act can’t be altered”? In fact, it can be done. A well-respected former Attorney General tabled an amendment and Parliament rose up, because the evidence was clear.
In December, the Government agreed and tabled a motion, and the vote was agreed for 11 December, but the Government pulled the vote. The Government said no to this House, no to a vote, and treated a democratically elected Parliament with contempt while themselves being in contempt. Will the Leader of the House categorically confirm today that the meaningful vote will take place on Tuesday 15 January?
There are no new amendments, legal or otherwise, to the agreement. It is the same old agreement. Nothing has changed, other than a written statement by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster yesterday announcing the publication of a policy paper on UK Government commitments to Northern Ireland—warm words and reassurances, but still the same old agreement. The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) has called this “cosmetic” and “meaningless”. Can the Leader of the House say whether a new agreement will be tabled before Tuesday, or will the House be voting on the same old agreement?
On Monday, the House debated the fifth report of the Committee on Standards. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) intervened on the Leader of the House and asked what she meant when she said that the purpose of the review
“will be…to address outstanding areas, such as how to incorporate into the scheme visitors to constituency offices”.—[Official Report, 7 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 125.]
Several colleagues have approached me and said they are unclear what she meant. Will she explain, in a letter to all Members, what that means, and will she ensure that all Members are consulted?
Later that day, the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) made a point of order to clarify another matter. He said that
“if there is no order of the House that a debate must end at a particular time, and if Members are standing at the moment of interruption, then that debate should continue at another time, when time becomes available”.
Madam Deputy Speaker said:
“I took the decision that the Question ought to be put to the House”.—[Official Report, 7 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 135.]
I do not recall the Leader of the House challenging the Chair on the ruling. Can the Leader of the House respond to all the questions that I and other Members might have asked if the debate had continued and tell us when she will respond?
On a slightly different matter, will the Leader of the House look at the delays in the personal independence payment appeals? A constituent of mine sent in an appeal in July 2018. My constituents are still waiting for an appeal date. It seems that the Department for Work and Pensions has missed all evidence submission deadlines, and my constituents have been told they will have to wait 27 weeks for an appeal. This is unacceptable and is affecting the most vulnerable.
On a happier note—well, I am not sure about that, but it was a significant day—yesterday saw the official launch of the MPs’ guide to procedure. I was pleased to see that the Chair of the Procedure Committee was there, along with the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel). Four hundred copies have been given out. That shows what the House staff can do and their tremendous talent. Every single page, including the design, layout, words and review, was done in-house. We should nurture that talent in-house and thank everybody who took part—all their names are on the inside cover. In particular, I should mention those you mentioned in your foreword to the guide, Mr Speaker: John Benger, Mark Hutton and, of course, Joanna Dodd, who had the unenviable task of editing the whole thing. It is a very good tome.
May I add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) and the hon. Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) on their knighthoods, and that great public servant, Roy Stone, who served this House so well? In particular, I should also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Sir Alan Campbell). I have always called him Sir Alan!
Sadly, next week will be the last in which Fiona Channon will serve the House. She has been here since 1999 and has had roles in the Estates Team and the Committee Office. She has always undertaken her duties with efficiency and courtesy and has been incredibly professional serving this House so well. She will be missed. She is only down the corridor in the House of Lords, but I hope she will come back. Fiona, thank you very much for everything you have done to help us function.
I thank the hon. Lady for the warm gratitude that she showed to those who work so hard in this House. I absolutely share that, and I particularly point to Fiona Channon, who has done so much in this place, and to Sir Roy Stone, who has done so much in the Whips Office for a very long time.
The hon. Lady asks when there will be an Opposition day debate. As she will appreciate, there is a lot of important business at the moment, but the Government will, of course, abide by our obligations to provide Opposition days. I note her point about the May recess, but I am glad that she acknowledges that we have just announced an agreed Easter recess.
The hon. Lady asks if we will rule out a no-deal Brexit. As she will appreciate, that is the legal default position. Members of the House have the opportunity next Tuesday to vote for a deal that would rule out no Brexit, and I encourage them to take that opportunity. She asks me to confirm that, as I have just announced, the meaningful vote will take place on Tuesday 15 January, and I refer her to the business of the House that I have just read out.
The hon. Lady asks about the point of order that was raised concerning visitors to constituency offices. She was on the working group on the complaints procedure, so she knows full well—I am surprised that she is asking me—what the group decided about the question of how to deal with complaints from people who come to our constituency offices, sometimes with very grave problems.
We, as Members of Parliament, always seek to help our constituents, but sometimes we cannot do so for various complex reasons, as all hon. and right hon. Members will know, and constituents sometimes take against the result. The working group, which the hon. Lady was a part of—and you, Mr Speaker; we had regular conversations about this—decided that in order for the complaints procedure to get up and running for six months, we would deal at a later point with the complexities of people with various mental health issues and grievances that might not be valid in a complaints procedure sense. We agreed in the House that the question of how, if at all, we could deal with the complaints of constituents in our constituency offices—either to our constituency staff, or to us, as Members—would be looked at in the six-month review of the complaints scheme, which kicks off on 21 January. I will, of course, be delighted to write to all hon. and right hon. Members on that point, for clarity.
On the hon. Lady’s point about the talking out of a vote the other evening on the Standards Committee report, I can absolutely reassure her that both the Member who raised the point of order and the actions of the Deputy Speaker were entirely in order. You might want to confirm that, Mr Speaker, but that is a matter for you. The advice I have taken is that both were entirely in order.
With regard to PIP, if the hon. Lady wants to write to me, I will of course take up her serious constituency matter. I point out that this Government have ensured that there has been an £8 billion increase in real terms since 2010 in the amount of money that we spend on supporting people with disabilities.
As many people may have noticed, I have not been in this Chamber as much as I might have liked over the last three months. As the House will know, I was acquitted just yesterday in Southwark Crown court of all charges relating to the 2015 general election. I know that business questions are generally a call for debate, but in respect of election law we fundamentally need legislative change. In this area, it is surely unacceptable that innocent people are dragged through the courts, at enormous expense to the public purse, on the back of abstract law.
My case went through a variety of court processes prior to trial. In March, the Appeal Court, in front of the Lord Chief Justice, agreed with the long-held principle that election expenses can only be so if authorised by a candidate or agent. The Supreme Court, in July last year, overturned that view to one of mere use, whether authorised or not.
The opportunity for ne’er-do-wells to get involved in election processes and cause prosecutions is surely obvious. Everyone acknowledges that there are huge grey areas between the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000—it deals with what is usually called the national spend—and the Representation of the People Act 1983, which covers local spend. Electoral Commission guidance is confused and sketchy. I would not want anybody in this House, from either side, to go through what I have been through over the last three years. Surely, it is in the interests of the House and all Members that we have clear and unambiguous law, and I hope that a campaign for clarity in this area will be supported across the House.
Can I say to my hon. Friend that I am delighted for him that he has been fully acquitted? I congratulate him on that. My heart goes out to him over the difficult time he has had in recent years in clearing his name. I think all hon. Members across the House would recognise, on a non-partisan basis, what a difficult time he has been through. It is fantastic that he has been found not guilty of any offence.
It has become apparent from broader legal proceedings that election law on spending in 2015 was fragmented and unclear, with even the courts divided on the interpretation of the law. The Government will take steps, working alongside the Electoral Commission, to ensure there is a clearer and more transparent framework in future elections. It is in everybody’s interests that we get this right, and the Government are committed to protecting and strengthening electoral integrity.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I join the tributes to Lord Ashdown and Lord Foster, congratulate Sir Roy Stone on his well-deserved honour and wish Fiona Channon all the best.
Yesterday was truly appalling and embarrassing. For the second business week in a row, Government Members were reduced to nothing more than a braying mob, finding conspiracy in car stickers. Once again, we found the Leader of the House centre stage as the principal cheerleader, egging her colleagues on in that unedifying spectacle. This has to stop, Mr Speaker, and the Conservatives must start to respect the authority of the House and the authority of your office.
This is utterly appalling hypocrisy. The Government have done their level best to curtail debate and withhold information from the House. They were even compelled by the courts to allow us to have a vote on leaving the European Union, and only successive votes of the House got them to reveal vital information about their Brexit deal. They have been found in contempt of Parliament. It is absolutely right that they are stopped.
Do you know what, Mr Speaker? This is called taking back control—a concept the Government might be a little familiar with. The House must have its collective view known, and you, Mr Speaker, are to be commended for ensuring that the view of the House will always come first. The Government had better get used to it, because Parliament is increasingly asserting itself. As this chaotic Government continue spectacularly to collapse, this House and its membership will pick up the slack. If the Government want Government versus Parliament, they will be on the losing side, because we are now in the majority.
There is no business scheduled for a week on Monday, the day the Government are now obliged to come back with an alternative to the Prime Minister’s deal. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that is exactly what they will do? Will they come back and explain the options, and is she actively considering what those options are? This feels a little like the end of Tory days. It is unusual for a country to witness such a chaotic and spectacularly shambolic collapse of a Government. Perhaps we can have a debate—we might call it a vote of confidence—so that this country can be shot of this chaotic Government once and for all.
I genuinely value the hon. Gentleman’s views. I listened to him very carefully, and I agree with him that taking back control is absolutely essential. The fatal flaw with his assertion is that what happened yesterday was not Parliament taking back control. What happened yesterday and in the days running up to it was that a number of hon. Members tried to table amendments to yesterday’s business of the House motion. [Interruption.] A number of them, on both sides of the House, tried to put forward amendments to the business motion. The Table Office said the motion was unamendable and undebatable. [Interruption.] An hon. Gentleman shouts from a sedentary position, “How do you know?” I know that the Table Office turned Members away, saying that the motion was unamendable and undebatable.
If the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire looks carefully at “Erskine May”, he will see that “forthwith” means unamendable and undebatable. As for his point about Parliament taking back control, the issue is that the role of the Chair is to uphold the rules that Parliament has made for itself, not to change those rules arbitrarily. So yesterday was not an example of Parliament taking back control, but an example of a differentiation between the Members who were told that the motion was unamendable and undebatable, and those who were told differently.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government would accept the Grieve amendment; of course the Government will do so. The Prime Minister has shown her willingness always to return to the House at the first possible opportunity if there is anything to report in relation to our Brexit deal, and we will continue to do so.
Let me finally deal with the hon. Gentleman’s point about “no confidence”. As I have said time and again, should this House have no confidence and should the official Opposition put an issue of no confidence to the House under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, the Government will provide time for it to be debated, as is the convention. The official Opposition have not chosen to do so, and therefore this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.
Order. I have looked forward to hearing from colleagues who have a chance to participate in the business question—as, of course, the Leader of the House has not merely the opportunity but the obligation to do—so I will content myself simply with saying this.
There was nothing arbitrary about the conduct of the Chair yesterday. This Speaker is well aware of how to go about the business of chairing the proceedings of the House, because he has been doing so for nine and a half years. I hope that colleagues will understand when I say that I require no lessons or lectures from others about how to discharge my obligations to Parliament and in support of the right of Back-Bench parliamentarians. I have been doing it and continuing to do it, and I will go on doing it, no matter how much abuse I get from whatever quarter. It is water off a duck’s back as far as I am concerned.
Last night in Westminster Hall, during a debate about the armed forces, a Minister put the case very eloquently for more spending on defence, not just because of the threat that this country faces, but because of the wider benefits to society of our armed forces. Would it be possible for us to have such a debate in Government time, so that we could really make the case for investment in our armed forces?
I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend. He will be aware that in the Budget the Chancellor pledged an extra £1 billion for the Ministry of Defence over the next two years. Defence questions will take place on Monday, and I encourage him to raise the matter then.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the two Backbench Business Committee debates next Thursday. That is very welcome, given that both debates have been pulled on previous days because of the overrunning of other business.
My I give notice that the Committee has received an application for a debate on Holocaust Memorial Day? If any time could be found during the week beginning 21 January so that we could mark that day, the Committee would be most grateful.
Finally, let me issue a little advertisement. The Backbench Business Committee—in collaboration, of course, with the Liaison Committee—is inviting applications for a departmental estimates day debate. The date is yet to be determined, but it will have to be prior to 18 March.
As ever, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving a heads-up of his Backbench Business Committee requests. I will certainly take them away and look at them carefully.
The present is formed by what we know, and the future is shaped by what we learn. In that spirit the Workers’ Educational Association reaches 50,000 people a year through a network of branches and an army of volunteers. It teaches everything from architecture to arithmetic and from computer skills to competence in English, and yet, alarmingly, it now faces a 28% cut in its core funding. You, Mr Speaker, will doubtless be familiar with the words of the Commission on Adult Education from 1919:
“Adult education is a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, and therefore should be both universal and lifelong”.
Is this generation to forget what its forefathers knew: whatever disadvantage people face, they deserve the chance to bask in the light of learning?
I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of learning. I am not aware of the organisation he mentions, but I am sure he will, in his usual way, seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise the issue directly with Ministers.
Can we share some understanding for the Leader of the House, who is obviously struggling a little bit at having been defeated in yesterday’s vote? It is sometimes very difficult when one loses a vote, and we really should show some appreciation for how she is struggling to reconcile herself with being in that losing position.
Perhaps the Leader of the House, however, can confirm that she is keeping space free on Monday 21 January, for after the Prime Minister’s proposals have been defeated, so that the House will be able to debate what comes next. She would not want to fail to comply with the instructions of the House, albeit she is a bit sore at having lost on that particular point. Finally, can she confirm, excellently, that she will also be publishing the advice her officials are giving her about Monday 21 January since she was entreating the House and the Speaker to publish all the advice that is given to him?
I am slightly disappointed at the hon. Gentleman for helpfully mansplaining my job to me. I am perfectly able to carry out my job, and I have already answered the question put by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) by saying that the Prime Minister will, of course, abide by the terms of the Grieve amendment.
May I ask the Leader of the House to consider giving legislative time for the introduction of a housing ombudsman? I and a number of other Members are having problems with cowboy builders, particularly a building firm called Southworth Construction in my constituency, which is building substandard homes. A number of companies headed up by similar directorships have folded, and the situation is causing great concern to not only my constituents, but those of other Members.
My hon. Friend is a great champion for her constituency, and I am aware that many Members are concerned about the quality of house building. She will be aware that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is looking carefully at this issue and what more can be done, but I absolutely applaud her for raising the matter in the Chamber. I encourage her to perhaps seek a Westminster Hall debate so that other hon. Members can join in with the conversation about what more needs to be done.
Jayden Moodie was a 14-year-old little boy who was mown down by thugs in my constituency on Tuesday night and then stabbed to death. He is the sixth child that my community has had to bury in the last 18 months; many more have been stabbed or attacked with guns in my constituency. I know that the Leader of the House will understand the concern that I and my hon. Friends the Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) share about policing and the importance of police resources, but we also want to prevent these instances, and too many of the histories of these young people involve exclusion from mainstream schooling. Too many of our young people are being written off. The Government announced last March that they were doing a review into exclusion, so may we have an urgent update on that review and on what is being done to put proper support into helping these young people to save their potential, rather than seeing more families having to bury children because of youth violence?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that we have to do everything that we possibly can to stop young people getting into this life of danger to themselves and to others around them. She will be aware that I have already given two days of full debate on what more we can do in the area of prevention. We also have Home Office questions on 21 January, and I encourage her to raise this matter then. She will be aware that the Government have introduced our serious violence taskforce and that we are committing hundreds of millions of pounds to community projects that seek specifically to get young people out of those directions that lead to a life of knife crime, and potential death to themselves or their colleagues. We need to do everything we possibly can, and the Government are absolutely committed to this.
World Cancer Day is on 4 February, and I am delighted that you, Mr Speaker, and the Lord Speaker have kindly agreed to the request to illuminate the Palace of Westminster in pink to mark that day. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Elaine Monro from Selkirk in my constituency, the Cancer Research UK volunteer who suggested that proposal? Can we also find time for a debate to look into the causes of cancer and how we can address them?
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in commending Elaine for her excellent idea. Fighting cancer is a top priority for the Government, and survival rates are at a record high. There are around 7,000 people alive today who would not have been if mortality rates had stayed the same as they were in 2010, but there is much more we can do. Our 10-year plan for the NHS will radically overhaul early detection and boost research and innovation, so I think we are in a good place. There is more to do, but we are committed to eradicating the terrible problem of cancer.
Further to the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), and previously from my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), Jayden Moodie’s murder has shocked us all. Notwithstanding the other important issues we are discussing at the moment, I think the country would expect us to reflect on what we are going to do about the fact that a 14-year-old boy has been brutally murdered on our streets. He had just moved from my constituency to Walthamstow. We can be outraged and shocked, as we all are, but what are we going to do about this? What is this Parliament going to do about it? We can all say that this or that should happen, and I know that the Leader of the House shares this concern—she has mentioned the serious violence taskforce and the Government’s strategy—but surely the Home Secretary should be coming to the House on a regular basis to update us on what is happening, and on what is and is not working. Nobody wants to see this happen again. We cannot rewind the clock, but we owe it to Jayden Moodie and to all the other victims, and their families and communities, to show that we know what is going on, that we care, and that we are going to work with them to do as much as we can to stop this.
Again, I totally agree. We owe it to Jayden’s family to do everything we possibly can. I can outline some of the specific actions that the Government are taking. There is a £200 million youth endowment fund to provide support to children and young people who are at risk from a life in the world of knife crime, gangs and drugs, to try to stop that. There will be £22 million over the next two years for a new early intervention youth fund to support youth groups and communities in their attempts at early intervention and prevention. There will be more than £1 million for the anti-knife crime community fund to help communities themselves to tackle knife crime. There are youth violence intervention programmes such as Red Thread in London—it is expanding to include Birmingham and Nottingham—and some of those projects go into hospitals after young people have been attacked with knives to try to persuade them at the bedside to choose a different path. We have also been carrying out the #knifefree campaign, and the police have Operation Sceptre, which is looking at a proposal for knife amnesties. So the Government are doing a lot, but I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman that we owe this to Jayden’s family, and to all the families of the many people who are suffering from this appalling spike in knife crime, which is absolutely unacceptable.
May we have a debate in Government time on borrowing by local councils? One only has to read The Times today—I am sure that the Leader of the House has—to see that it is getting out of control. Taunton Deane Borough Council has borrowed £16 million to build a spec hotel on a derelict site, which is a potential disaster for the taxpayers of my constituency and neighbouring constituencies, and the council leader is far too close to the developers. We need a proper instruction from central Government about the borrowing that councils can use to buy spec developments, so may we have time in this place to discuss the matter?
My hon. Friend raises an issue that is clearly of great concern to him. I recommend that he raises the matter in a written parliamentary question to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ask about the specifics of the legitimacy of that project.
Following the questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), the murder of Jayden Moody two nights ago in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, although close to the boundary with my constituency, marks a new low in the wave of violent crime, and knife crime in particular, that has swept across London and other parts of Britain. The problem is wide and deep. It seems to be getting worse, and the resources are simply not there to deal with it—that view is shared across the House, not just by Opposition Members. Under these circumstances, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling said, the Home Secretary and junior Home Office Ministers should be regularly asking the Speaker whether they can make statements to update the House on what is happening and to allow us to question the Executive.
I pay tribute to all the hon. Members who are raising, as they often do, this appalling problem of the rise in knife crime, which is incredibly concerning. I will not repeat the answer that I gave to the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues, but we also have the Offensive Weapons Bill, which seeks to make it more difficult for young people to obtain knives online and so on. I encourage hon. Members to seek a Backbench Business debate or a Westminster Hall debate before such time as I can offer more parliamentary time. I have given two days of debate to the matter, and we have Home Office questions on Monday 21 January, so the hon. Gentleman may want to raise the matter directly with Ministers then.
May we have a debate on the importance of academic freedom? Universities are about the free and frank exchange of ideas, even if they are unfashionable and unpopular. Is it not wholly unacceptable to suggest that a respected academic such as John Finnis, emeritus professor of law and legal philosophy, who has taught at the University of Oxford for some 40 years, should be removed from office simply for holding traditional Catholic views? Is that not the opposite of diversity and open, robust debate?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is essential that young people at university learn how to engage in robust debate and to challenge views with which they may not agree. The solution is not to silence those who make them. The Government said in our response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ report that we have concerns about the culture in universities in relation to free speech, and we made it clear that all
“education is a place where students should be exposed to a range of ideas, including those that may be controversial and unpopular—and where they learn to think critically and challenge those who they disagree with, not shut them down.”
I congratulate Sir Roy Stone on his knighthood.
Could time be found for a debate on the urgent matter of the incarcerated Kurdish MP and former mayor, Leyla Güven, who today entered her 64th day of hunger strike in protest at the continued isolated imprisonment of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan? Members of the Kurdish community in Wales, including Ilhan Sis of Newport, are among 200 Kurds worldwide undertaking hunger strikes in solidarity. Ilhan is currently in his 25th day of fasting. We should send a clear message of support to fellow democratically elected representatives who have been arrested and imprisoned for the very act of representing their people.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that issue here. It is vital that all those who seek to represent their communities in a legitimate and law-abiding way should be free to do so. She will be aware that we have Foreign Office questions on Tuesday 22 January, so I encourage her to raise the matter then.
Can we have a debate about traditional events such as the burning of the clavie? This Friday I will be joining thousands of others in Burghead to watch clavie king Dan Ralph and his crew carry a barrel of burning wood and tar through the village up to Doorie hill, where it will then burn out, to celebrate new year. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Dan Ralph on his 31st year as clavie king, and in congratulating everyone involved in keeping this ancient tradition alive?
Fantastic. My hon. Friend, as ever, raises what sounds like a superb event in his constituency. I certainly hope that clavie king Dan Ralph continues to attend for many years to come.
The Government fully recognise the contribution that the UK’s oral traditions, social practices and festive events make to the country’s cultural fabric, and we continue to encourage communities to celebrate these practices and continue them for future generations.
I listened very closely to the Leader of the House when she said that the Prime Minister will abide by the result of yesterday’s vote. The Leader of the House did not categorically guarantee that that means her Government will schedule the next motion for Monday 21 January after the Government lose the meaningful vote next Tuesday, as we anticipate. Could she do that? Will she also confirm where and when she will lodge copies of the advice she receives from officials on these matters, as she also indicated in a previous answer?
I absolutely reassure the hon. Lady that my advice was that the amendment selected yesterday would not be in order and would not be selectable. That is the advice I received, and I hope that is very clear. With regard to whether the Government will abide by the Grieve amendment, the Government will abide by the Grieve amendment, and I hope that is now entirely clear.
Order. The responsibility for the selection of amendments—I say this not just for Members of the House but for those attending to our proceedings—is, of course, a matter for the Chair. It is a matter for the representative and champion of Parliament; it is not a matter for a representative of the Executive branch, who is the Executive’s representative in the Chamber of the House of Commons. I will do my job, and other people can seek to do theirs.
Before Christmas I raised the serious concern about the escalation of aggravated burglaries in my constituency. These are organised gangs of thugs who break into people’s houses when they are home, beat them up and steal their goods, and they steal their address books so that they can move on to the next house. Unfortunately, this has escalated over Christmas and new year, and I understand from colleagues on both sides of the House that it is happening in other constituencies, too. Can we have a debate in Government time on how we challenge aggravated burglaries and on how we support the police in taking action so that we bring these criminals to justice and imprison them, as they deserve?
I share every one of my hon. Friend’s concerns about this matter. It is horrendous for anybody who has been burgled. I have a constituent who was burgled recently and found it absolutely traumatising, so he is right to raise this serious issue. We have Home Office questions on 21 January, or he might want to seek an Adjournment debate to discuss the particular problem for his constituents.
May I surprise the Leader of the House by telling her that in May 2019 I hope to celebrate 40 years in the House? In all those years I do not remember a worse atmosphere in the House. There is something deeply wrong with how we are talking and communicating with each other, and stress at work is not a good thing wherever we work.
I would like an early debate, and I would like the Leader of the House to take the lead. I look at her and realise that she has a really tough job. I have known Leaders of the House for whom the job has been a doddle—their Government had a majority and they got their legislation with no problem, and they often had a very easy Speaker who did everything the Executive told him or her to do.
The fact is that the Leader of the House has a tough job. She has no majority and she is losing votes, which is very stressful. I do care about her, and I worry about her. Sometimes people lash out when they are under stress, but she has a responsibility to do something about how we treat each other in this House. Let us take the initiative and have a debate, which she could lead, to start giving an example to people out there that we can treat each other decently and positively. Will she please take a lead on that?
I am really grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said and the way he said it. He is absolutely right that in this place we do need to treat one another with courtesy and respect. Every Member who comes here is elected by their constituents to represent them, so it cannot be right that any of us should seek to control any other one of us, but at the same time we do have a shared desire for Parliament to be a good role model. I will think carefully about the hon. Gentleman’s words and I will absolutely never flounce again; he has my undertaking.
Later this year, there is the triennial replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. That is an incredibly important fund, which has contributed to the reduction of deaths on a wide scale across the world. May we have a debate on the importance of the fund, especially as some of the progress is stalling, not because of lack of work, but because of resistance to drugs, for instance in the case of malaria?
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point and I am extremely sympathetic to it. Eradicating TB, malaria and the problem of HIV/AIDS is absolutely vital for the sake of our world. I would encourage him to seek a debate, perhaps in Westminster Hall, and I will consider whether we can give Government time to such a debate.
The Leader of the House is no doubt aware that Josep Costa attended Parliament this week as the Deputy Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, and met the Deputy Speaker of this House, the right hon. Member for Chorley (Sir Lindsay Hoyle). Catalan politicians, and indeed the former Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, are facing trial in Spain imminently for supporting the manifesto of their properly elected Government and respecting the will of their own Parliament. I am sure that no one in this House would want our Speaker placed in a similar position for any potential misdemeanours, but will the Leader of the House provide Government time to allow us to debate the situation in Catalonia, and for other Members to express their anger at some of the situations that properly elected politicians have to face in their own country?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. Spain is a key ally. They are a very strong democracy and it is right that they, as they do, abide by their own laws at all times. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He may well wish to seek an Adjournment debate, or to ask a question at Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs questions on 22 January.
May we have a statement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government about ongoing issues to do with conduct by some members of Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council? Following my Adjournment debate on Sandwell last year, many issues are still outstanding in respect of the standards and conduct of some councillors within that authority. Only last weekend, The Times reported an email exchange between the leader of the council and West Midlands police, where Councillor Steve Eling called for the immediate arrest of a blogger who had criticised him and the council and stated that, if that individual was not arrested, the police would be in contempt and it would be a matter for the Home Secretary. Will the Leader of the House find time for a Minister from the Department to come to the House to explain what the Government will do to help my constituents in Rowley Regis understand what is going on within Sandwell Council?
My hon. Friend raises what sounds like a very concerning situation. I would strongly encourage him to seek a further Adjournment debate, so that he can debate it directly with Ministers, or perhaps seek to see one of the Ministers in the Department to raise these very specific issues directly.
As temperatures drop, we need more than ever to tackle the growing epidemic of homelessness, which is frankly killing people. I will be joining the Big Sleep Out at Huddersfield Town stadium in March, raising funds locally. If any Members want to join me for a night under the stars, they will be very welcome, but we need to do much more. Government efforts are clearly not working. They are not enough; they are inadequate. So may we have a debate on how we may reach a cross-party consensus on how we move forward and end the cancer that is homelessness?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue, and I commend her for taking part in the Big Sleep Out; it sounds slightly romantic, but I am sure it will not be. Obviously, homelessness is a scourge on our society—it is incredibly difficult, as we have seen ourselves just outside Parliament. I have certainly worked with the House authorities to look at what more can be done to support those who are homeless outside this place.
Right across the country, as the hon. Lady will be aware, there are complex reasons why people become homeless. I am aware, for example, that Westminster City Council says that there are places for homeless people, but getting them to use them is difficult for a number of reasons. There is a lot more that we are doing. We have committed more than £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, and we have clear targets to reduce the problem of homelessness and rough sleeping over a very short period.
The original version of the Greater Manchester spatial framework that the Labour leadership in my region drew up was so bad that it was criticised by 27,000 residents, as well as Conservative colleagues across Greater Manchester—it was rightly torn up and started again. The new version of the GMSF is better, especially as it has more of a focus on the redevelopment of Bolton town centre. Can we have a debate on the importance of listening to local residents, who emphasise the importance of redeveloping our town centres and brownfield sites, rather than Labour’s focus on using the green belt first?
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important issue. All of us share a desire for more homes to be built and for our high streets to thrive more while ensuring protection for the green belt. He is absolutely right to raise the issue. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss it directly with Ministers.
I hope that the Leader of the House can advise me on how to get the Government to take action on this. People fleeing domestic violence face the most uncertain time in their lives. If they have come from a country outside the European economic area, they can apply for a destitution domestic violence concession. If they are fleeing domestic violence but are originally from inside the EEA, the response that I have had from the Government suggests that they should go to their home country: they cannot apply through the domestic violence concession route. How can I get the Home Office to take the issue seriously? I have had reports of women returning to abusers because they have no recourse to public funds on fleeing their abusive homes. Please will the Leader of the House advise me on how to get the Government to take the matter seriously?
I am very concerned to hear what the hon. Lady has said. As she will be aware, the Government have committed £100 million of funding into projects that support organisations helping women who have suffered violence. If she writes to me with the specifics of the case she is talking about, I will be very happy to take it up on her behalf.
The Labour leadership of Crawley Borough Council has recently wasted about half a million pounds on a delayed IT project at great expense to local taxpayers. When constituents have made freedom of information requests of the local authority, they have been obstructed. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about the importance of the efficiency and probity of local councils such as Crawley’s?
My hon. Friend raises a concerning case. Too often, there are examples of projects going wrong and wasting taxpayers’ money, which can never be right. He will be aware that there are clear rules about the use of taxpayers’ money in such examples. I encourage him to table a parliamentary question to the Department to seek a ruling on this specific issue.
I have been contacted by a constituent who lives part of the year in Portugal. They are concerned about being able to drive and hold car insurance in both countries if they have to exchange their UK licence for a Portuguese one: they need to continue to drive in the EU if we leave the EU. I cannot be the only Member with a constituent who has that concern. I am aware that Transport questions took place earlier; I tried to catch Mr Speaker’s eye, but I was out of luck. Will the Leader of the House ask the Transport Secretary to come to the Floor of the House to make a statement about these licensing issues and issues of car insurance for those who live part-time in the European Union?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not get to ask his question directly to Transport Ministers, but I will do my best. There is now a Government communications plan to try to provide specific answers to such questions. I did not have prior notice of this question, so I do not know whether this issue is included in that plan, but through national radio and so on the Government are directing consumers and householders to the gov.uk website to seek specific answers to questions about what will happen when we leave the EU. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me, I would also be willing to take up the issue with the Department on his behalf.
To the great relief of children and parents in Rugby, Yum Yum World, our Willy Wonka-style high street attraction, has been saved because its unfair business rates bill was finally slashed by £59,000. The Valuation Office Agency has two years to respond to a challenge on business rates, which is far too long for a small business that is overpaying by such a huge amount. May we have a debate to consider the priority of institutions such as Yum Yum World keeping our town centres alive?
I congratulate Yum Yum World on its survival. Plenty of children and some adults will be delighted by that, but go easy on the sugar everybody!
My hon. Friend raises an important point about business rates and how we can keep our high streets thriving. He will know that the Government have made changes worth more than £13 billion in aggregate to businesses, including taking more than 600,000 small businesses out of paying any business rates at all. Our dedicated Retail Sector Council brings the Government and retail sector organisations together to consider what more we can do to ensure thriving high streets.
My constituency staff and I have challenged a large number of unfair private parking penalty charges. We have won back more than £700 for local constituents who were wrongly charged, including a constituent who was charged outside a doctor’s surgery for dropping off his wife who has a serious long-term health condition. The Parking (Code of Practice) Bill, promoted by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), was accepted by this House. Will the Leader of the House say when we can expect that Bill to return to this place, and whether it will get Government support? I am sure there will be a lot of interest from across the Chamber.
I am very sympathetic to what the hon. Lady says, and by coincidence, my office has also been dealing with a number of complaints about unfair parking tickets. It is a real problem, and MPs often successfully challenge such matters on behalf of our constituents—I share the hon. Lady’s success levels. She raises an important point about the private Member’s Bill and, as she knows, I attempted to schedule six additional days for the consideration of private Members’ Bills. Unfortunately that motion was subject to an Opposition amendment and was therefore not put to the House. However, I intend to work through the usual channels to provide further information on days to consider private Members’ Bills.
May we have a debate in Government time on cyber-bullying? The Leader of the House will know that before Christmas I raised the case of a 13-year-old boy in my constituency who took his own life, and it is an issue on which Members across the House would like to come together and discuss. Will she welcome the new campaign on this issue, headed by Dame Esther Rantzen, which was launched on the Channel 5 show “Do The Right Thing” on Sunday evening?
My hon. Friend raises an issue that matters a great deal to all families, parents and young people across the country, and I know that many right hon. and hon. Members are also concerned about it. The Government have sent a clear message to schools that bullying—including cyber-bullying—for whatever reason, is totally unacceptable. We are providing nearly £3 million in support for anti-bullying projects and, as part of this, the Diana Award has developed a number of resources to help students and staff deal with cyber-bullying and understand reporting together with social media providers, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.
There is mounting public concern in Glasgow about the impact of continued council cuts on vital community services. On Tuesday night, Dennistoun Community Council organised a meeting, which was filled to capacity, in protest at the proposed closure of the Whitehill pool, and further cuts are proposed for Haghill sports centre and for golf courses and libraries in my constituency. Glasgow City Council has had a 10% cut since 2011, and the proposed cut for the coming year is 3.6%. Local government cuts in Scotland are five times the cut that the Scottish Government have had, which is a huge amplification. Will the Leader of the House therefore consider holding a debate in Government time on the huge impact that austerity is having on all levels of government and on vital community services across our country?
I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents are concerned about potential cuts, which of course are decisions for local councils to make. What I can say is that councils have access to over £200 billion to deliver local services up to 2020. In areas such as social care, which we know are under pressure, the Government have provided more money. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise his particular concerns directly with Ministers.
Last week, eight-year-old Penelope Jones from Bedworth visited my regular surgery, having written me a letter about improving her local play area. I appreciate that it is not in the gift of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to provide the zip-line and extra swings that Penelope asked for, but it served as a timely reminder that we represent all our constituents, not just those who are old enough to vote. May we therefore have a debate on how we can better engage with young people and encourage constituents of all ages and backgrounds to engage more positively with their local representatives?
I think that is a really good idea. I congratulate Penelope on getting involved and trying to improve her local community—hopefully she will keep up her interest for many years to come, and perhaps even stand for Parliament one day. As part of last year’s suffrage centenary, the Cabinet Office has developed various resources for use with young people by teachers, or indeed by representatives, which are designed to educate and encourage them to participate in our democratic society.
In 1944, eight-year-old Tony Foulds was playing football in Endcliffe Park when a US B-17 bomber flew over and, after swerving to avoid hitting him and the other children, crashed in the woods, killing 10 soldiers. Every single day since then, Tony has maintained the memorial to that B-17, for 75 years. Will the Leader of the House consider meeting Tony and me to discuss how we can honour him, and will she raise with her Ministry of Defence colleagues the prospect of a flypast to mark the 75th anniversary on 22 February?
That is a heart-warming story, although obviously one that started in tragedy. I congratulate Tony on his absolute commitment to the memorial, and the hon. Lady on raising it today. I would be delighted to meet them both and to raise the matter further with MOD colleagues.
Just a few days before Christmas, the manufacturing firm Kaiam in my constituency closed its doors, telling staff that there would be no pay before Christmas and that they might not have a job in the new year. The West Lothian and Livingston community rallied around and the women of West Lothian set up a hub to ensure that toys, food, money and vouchers were available, so that no one would go without at Christmas. May we have a debate on how quickly the Redundancy Payments Service moneys can be disbursed, and on what can be done to ensure that these companies maintain their pension liabilities, that cowboy chief executive officers, such as the one who runs Kaiam, who flew out of the country as staff were being told their fate, are brought to justice, and that we do everything we can to support the workers during this difficult time?
I think that we are all incredibly sympathetic to the hon. Lady’s constituents who were given such terrible news in the run-up to Christmas, and we join her in congratulating and thanking all those who made sure that they could still celebrate Christmas. She raises some important points about how businesses behave if they are failing. She will be aware that the Matthew Taylor review has raised some serious issues relating to pensions management and so on, which the Government are looking at closely. I encourage her to apply for an Adjournment debate so that the matter can be raised directly with Ministers.
I say to the Leader of the House that I do not think there is anything wrong with a good flounce—sometimes in life it can be useful—but I do not think that we should flounce out of the European Union. I am concerned that the Solicitor General said that we would manage to have Second Reading of the European Union withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill before Christmas. That cannot now happen until at least 28 January, if at all, and only if next Tuesday we proceed as the Government intend. Therefore, what will the Government do to ensure that we have proper legislation in place before 29 March, and will the Leader of the House seriously consider—do not rule it out now—that we might have to delay leaving beyond that date?
First, I simply concede to the hon. Gentleman that I am quite sure he would be a better flouncer than me in all circumstances.
I think it would be agreed unanimously.
It’s an outrage!
Not in the slightest—we love the hon. Gentleman dearly.
It is absolutely not the Government’s intention or policy to do anything like flounce out of the EU. We are looking at our meaningful vote on Tuesday and it is absolutely our intention that we win that meaningful vote, introduce the withdrawal agreement Bill and have a smooth transition out of the European Union. As the hon. Gentleman will know, my job is to make sure that the legislation passes through both Houses, and it will not surprise him that I look at that issue closely on a daily basis. I am confident that we have enough time to get the withdrawal agreement Bill through both Houses.
Like many in the House, I was delighted with the Home Secretary’s decision last year to make cannabis available for medicinal use. Unfortunately, for many people like my constituent Murray Gray, a little boy, this has not helped to ease their pain. We have heard stories of over-rigid regulations and the difficulty of getting what is now a legal medicine. Will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate in the House to tackle the thorny and grown-up question of whether we should decriminalise and regulate the cannabis market to overcome this problem?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the decision was taken that cannabis oil can be used for medical purposes and it is not the Government’s policy to consider the broader deregulation of the use of cannabis.
Jaguar Land Rover is today set to announce 5,000 job losses in what will be the biggest hammer blow to manufacturing in this country since the closure of Longbridge. When Longbridge closed, it was all hands on deck: we had taskforces and visits from Cabinet Ministers. When will we get an action plan of that kind of force from this Government? Will the Leader of the House tell us when she expects Cabinet Ministers to come forward and explain how we are going to ensure that every single one of those people who lose their jobs today is back in employment as soon as possible?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise this very concerning report. Jaguar Land Rover will make its statement at 3 o’clock today. The Government will of course respond in full at the appropriate time, but we need to wait until the company has let us know its specific intentions.
Just to reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) just said about Jaguar Land Rover, it is very important that we get a statement from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about what discussions he has had with Jaguar Land Rover. It is very important for Coventry and the west midlands. As I have said before, once a company has announced 5,000 job losses, there is a knock-on effect on the supply chain, so we may well need to use a multiplier of two or three. It is important that people in Coventry know what the situation is. Lots of constituents have written to me about this issue over the past few weeks, so it is important that we get that statement.
I say again that we were all very concerned to hear this report, but we need to wait and see what Jaguar Land Rover itself has to say. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is standing by the Chair and will have heard his remarks. I am sure that the Secretary of State intends to respond fully as soon as we know exactly what the details are.
On new year’s eve, 40 people were arrested at a flat in Fulham in my constituency, following a serious knife attack nearby. The police told me that the flat had been rented out on an Airbnb-style let and then used for a party that attracted people from a wide area. The Government deregulated Airbnb lets in London; may we have a debate on re-regulating them to stop properties in residential areas being turned into hotels and hostels and, increasingly, becoming the focus of antisocial and violent behaviour?
I was not aware of the incident raised by the hon. Gentleman, but it sounds extremely concerning. I encourage him, perhaps in the first instance, to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can describe the exact incident that took place and hear Ministers’ direct response.
Around the time of the centenary of the Armistice, many of us had the privilege to attend events in this place and in our constituencies. After that, there were many programmes involving schoolchildren, and I hope that the Leader of the House can give us some time in which to debate the matter. I refer to a wonderful programme of Cefn Community Council, where research was undertaken by primary schoolchildren from Ysgol Cefn Mawr, Ysgol Rhosymedre and Ysgol Min y Ddol in order to provide information about each of the 130 fallen from their community. It is an extraordinary programme that is a credit to the community of Cefn and is something that we should mark in this House.
I join the hon. Lady in congratulating all those who were involved in this fantastic initiative. Bridging the gap between the generations so that young people understand the sacrifice of those who came before them is vital. All of us have enjoyed the amazing tributes paid by young people to those who fought and died during the great war.
Will the Leader of the House organise an urgent debate on incineration contracts? Gloucestershire County Council has just had literally pulled out of it the news that it has spent an extra £100 million on a half a billion pound contract at the Javelin Park project in the Stroud constituency. It cannot be the only local authority that is watching council taxpayers’ money just being burned on bad value for money. Will the Leader of the House order an urgent inquiry and a debate on the issue?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. There are Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions next Thursday, so I encourage him to raise the matter then.
Is it not about time that the Government started to be straight and honest with the British public? The Prime Minister has continued to repeat that there is a Brexit dividend, despite the fact that we all know there is not a Brexit dividend and, indeed, the Government’s own figures show that there is not a Brexit dividend. May I unusually ask the Leader of the House for us not to have a statement and not to have a debate on the Brexit dividend, because it does not exist?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point about the issue of economic forecasting that presupposes different alternatives. In my view, economic forecasting is only as good as the inputs into the forecasting model. Although he says that there is not a Brexit dividend, the fact that I would rely on is that once we have left the European Union, we will no longer be paying the billions of pounds in net terms that we were previously paying to the European Union.
In the week before Christmas, my local food bank in Penge gave out 300 parcels to some of the most vulnerable. It is an outrage that at a time of year when most people are out celebrating, Tory austerity has meant that far too many rely on food banks for essential supplies. Can we please have a debate on the impact of Tory austerity on food bank usage and food poverty across the country?
Let me first pay tribute to all those who help out with food banks, either by donating to them or by running them; they do an amazing job in all our constituencies. The hon. Lady is right to point out that we absolutely do not want people to have to rely on food banks. However, there are now 630,000 fewer children living in workless households, and the numbers both of people and of children in absolute poverty are at record lows, with 1 million fewer people and 300,000 fewer children in absolute poverty at a time when income inequality is also down and lower than at any time under the last Labour Government. We are building a fairer society, jobs are growing and wages are rising faster than inflation. These are all very good things and are to be welcomed.
How is it in the interests of our constituents that this House is prevented from expressing its views on an issue as important as Brexit? Does the right hon. Lady see her role as Leader of the House as ensuring that the Government can prevent this House from expressing its view in that way?
I think it is absolutely vital that the House gets the opportunity to express its view, which is why we have five days of debate prior to the meaningful vote.
One of my constituents who has worked all her life had to take a part-time job, leading her to access benefits for the first time. Imagine her surprise when she was paid a week early before Christmas so that the company’s head office could close for Christmas, but then lost £250 of universal credit. This goes against the grain of the Government’s mantra of making work pay. Can we have a statement saying what the Government are going to do about this anomaly in universal credit, and will they look at these individual cases?
The hon. Gentleman often raises constituency cases, and he is absolutely right to do so. If he wants to write to me about that case, I can take it up with the Department for Work and Pensions on his behalf. I am certainly aware that that is not the intention. The point about universal credit is that it allows for flexibility in benefit payments to people whose job circumstances change. But if he will write to me on the individual circumstances, I can take it up for him.
I know that the Leader of the House will be as concerned as I was this morning about some of the findings of the Environmental Audit Committee report showing that there were higher levels of hunger among our children than in most other countries in Europe. In Hull, we are pioneering the 50p school meal, jointly subsidised by Hull City Council and schools, but it is now under threat because of the cuts to school budgets and is having to go up to £1. May we please have a debate on whether austerity really has ended in some of the most disadvantaged parts of this country?
The hon. Lady is quite right that I share her concern about any child going hungry. I know that this is a long-standing and intractable issue, particularly during school holidays. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), who has long tried to seek the opportunity for school lunches to continue even during the holidays. It is a very important issue. However, I would draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the fact that with the increase in our economy—the real rises in wages, the growing number of jobs, and universal credit, which makes sure that benefits are not withdrawn as people increase their working hours—the opportunities for people to increase their earnings are now there more than ever before. We are seeing that the result of that is a decrease in absolute poverty and a decrease in the number of workless households, and therefore a decrease in the number of children being raised in workless households, all of which are very good things in our society.
The all-party parliamentary group on home electrical safety will shortly publish the results of a consultation on the need for better regulation of online sales. Websites such as Amazon, Wish.com and eBay are not doing enough to prevent the sale of illegal and unsafe goods to UK customers. Shockingly, Wish.com is openly selling zombie knives and knuckledusters without any checks on the age of the buyer. Will the Leader of the House consider a debate in Government time on better regulation of online sales?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. I know that Members right across the House would wish to see more done to stop online sales being a free-for-all. She raised a particular point about zombie knives being sold online. She will be aware that that will be made illegal under the Offensive Weapons Bill, and I encourage her to raise that point specifically with Ministers during its remaining stages in this House.
Before Christmas, I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on Yemen, and told her about my constituent, Jackie Morgan, whose daughter had been kidnapped in 1986 and was now trying to flee from Yemen. I am grateful for the help that the Government have given so far, particularly the Middle East Minister, who has been very helpful indeed. However, now that she has got out of Yemen, there is also the issue of her husband, who is with her and who wants to travel to the UK with the family, understandably. Will the Leader of the House encourage her Home Office colleagues to step up to the plate as her Foreign Office colleagues have done to help this family?
I am very glad to hear that there has been progress for the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. I say again that Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, and the UK is fully committed to doing everything it can to support resolution there. I would encourage him to raise this directly at Home Office questions on 21 January, or if he wants to write to me, I can take it up on his behalf.
The Irn-Bru carnival at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow has been running autism-friendly sessions, which encouraged people with autism to enjoy all the fun of the fair over the festive period. There are good initiatives elsewhere in Glasgow to help people with autism and their families, such as a dedicated space within the St Enoch Centre. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating those involved? Can we have a debate to encourage other businesses right across these islands to put in place similar measures?
I certainly join the hon. Lady in congratulating all those involved. It is vital that we all get a better understanding of the challenges for people with autism, so that we can fully appreciate their strengths as well as the problems they face in dealing with everyday life. I would absolutely encourage other businesses to take up similar initiatives.
Could we have a statement to clarify the position with regard to WASPI women who are submitting maladministration claims? The recent referral to the High Court has led to my constituents receiving letters saying that their cases have been closed, yet the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has confirmed that those cases that relate to communication have merely been put on hold. That is causing massive confusion for a group of women who have already suffered from communication problems.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point that clearly needs to be raised directly with Ministers. If he writes to me, I can take it up with them, or he might like to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can talk directly to them.
Over the Christmas period, I was contacted by many constituents who shared with me horrific and disgusting images of foxes being slaughtered in hunts. I do not know whether there is a loophole in the legislation or just a flagrant disregard for it, but we urgently need a debate on how the Hunting Act 2004 is working and whether it needs reviewing.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point. The Hunting Act is clear that hunting should be restricted to trail hunting, and it is vital that the police uphold the law. He might like to seek a Back-Bench business debate, so that Members can share their concerns.
New research from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre has shown that my constituents in Inverness and Nairn alone are paying £1 million a year more due to unfair delivery surcharges. Can we have a statement on when the Government will finally act to end that scandalous rip-off?
The hon. Gentleman has raised that in the Chamber before, and he is quite right to do so. That is completely unfair, and I encourage him to seek the opportunity to raise it directly with Ministers, so that they can respond to his request.
The Prime Minister is today meeting the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Could the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will raise the concerns already raised by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the resumption of Japanese whaling? Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a statement in the House as soon as possible, to give feedback as to the Japanese Government’s response to those concerns?
I cannot confirm exactly what the Prime Minister will be raising, but I am confident that she will raise that serious and concerning issue. We have DEFRA oral questions next week, so perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can find out then from Ministers what was specifically discussed.
In the event that the deal is voted down next Tuesday and there is a vote of no confidence, with the Opposition parties joined by those on the Government Benches who want a no-deal Brexit, what provisions do the Government have to avoid a no-deal Brexit by default—something the great majority of people in this place and certainly the great majority outside it do not want—during the period of the election, in terms of deferring or revoking article 50?
As I said earlier, this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, and if the official Opposition believe that not to be the case, it is for them to put forward a motion of no confidence under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The convention is that the Government will then give time for that to be debated. It is not for the Government to try to second-guess what the official Opposition would choose to do.
Like the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), I was delighted when the Government legalised medical cannabis at the start of November. What has become clear, however, is that there are significant financial, bureaucratic and cultural barriers preventing consultants from prescribing. The system is not working. May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on how we can make it easier for people to access the medicine they need?
I think all right hon. and hon. Members were delighted when the decision was taken swiftly to make cannabis oil available to those who need it for medical purposes. Obviously, we need to have a period for this recent decision to bed down, but I encourage the hon. Gentleman perhaps to raise the issue at Home Office questions on 21 January to see when Ministers intend to review how the system is working.
Advice Nottingham’s new report on housing in my city has revealed that there are only 23 properties available with rents under local housing allowance rates, including only three three-bedroom houses. The local housing allowance is supposed to be supporting low-income families to rent, but it is not. May we please have a debate in Government time on the impact of the housing crisis on Nottingham?
I am genuinely sorry to hear that. The hon. Gentleman will obviously be concerned about the lack of housing available in his constituency. He will be aware that since 2010 the Government have brought social housing waiting lists down by over half a million and delivered many more council houses than was the case under the Labour Government. Nevertheless, we have huge ambitions to do more. We are putting in place measures to enable the delivery of more social and affordable housing, but he might want to seek an Adjournment debate to raise the specific issues for Nottingham.
On Sunday 6 January, President Sisi inaugurated Egypt’s largest Christian church a day after a deadly bomb blast near a Coptic church that killed a policeman and wounded two others. Efforts to promote tolerance are to be welcomed, but we must acknowledge that the situation on the ground for Christians in Egypt remains very, very dangerous. Christians were attacked multiple times in the past year, including the November 2018 terrorist attack where three buses carrying Christian pilgrims were ambushed, killing seven and wounding 19. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this issue?
The hon. Gentleman reports horrific occurrences. It is absolutely unacceptable that anybody anywhere is hounded, tortured, punished or bombed for the sake of their faith, race or gender. He is right to raise this issue, as he often does in this place. Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions are on 22 January. I encourage him to raise it then.
Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Christine Jardine, supported by Catherine West, Dame Caroline Spelman, Tim Farron and Sir Edward Davey, presented a Bill to make provision for certain asylum seekers to be granted permission to work; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 1 March, and to be printed (Bill 313).