House of Commons
Thursday 10 January 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
It is vital that passengers feel confident that they are buying the most appropriate ticket for their journey, which was why we committed in our manifesto to review rail ticketing, removing complexity and perverse pricing. The rail review will take a longer-term look at how the railway can support a fares system that delivers value for money for both passengers and taxpayers.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Last April, the then rail Minister wrote to me to say that he was conducting a review of fare simplification on the Brighton main line. In oral questions that month, he said that the review would be completed “rapidly”. Only the context of this Government’s handling of rail fares could the best part of a year be called rapid. When will that review be completed and when will fares be simplified on the Brighton main line?
My predecessor undertook to review the matter and remove some of the anomalies, and that work has already started, including in the fare review we saw earlier this year and the big piece of work reviewing how pay-as-you-go can be extended across the south-east. There has been a piecemeal approach where it has gone into Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and parts of Surrey, and we are taking a strategic approach to it and that will be happening in the first half of this year.
Devolution to Greater Manchester offers enormous opportunities to simplify rail fares across the area. What has so far been achieved in that regard, and what opportunities have been taken to broaden out the ease of using different modes of public transport across Greater Manchester on a single ticket?
That is very much a question for the Williams review of devolution structures in our transport sector. The principle of my hon. Friend’s question, which is about making things more convenient for passengers through smart ticketing, is absolutely right. If we make things easier for passengers, they will be more likely to use the services. That is a key question for the Williams review, and I will make sure that my hon. Friend’s question is fed through to Mr Williams.
Fares have gone up everywhere, including for Hull Trains, which has been particularly difficult for residents of Hull to swallow because the reliability of the trains has been so poor. I will offer the Minister a gift this morning—an opportunity to be a hero cost-free. I would like him to contact First Group and put extreme pressure on it to give Hull Trains a new train six months earlier than promised. If he can do that, it will improve reliability—and I am not even asking him for any more money.
That is quite unusual, to be honest, as we have a lot of requests for money. I will look into what the hon. Lady says and get back to her.
Leaving the EU: Aviation
The UK Government and European Commission have agreed in principle that the two sides should negotiate a comprehensive air transport agreement. The Department is working closely with the aviation sector to ensure its requirements are factored into negotiations. The Department’s aviation technical notices and the European Commission’s published plans for aviation contingency preparations, alongside proposed EU regulations published on 19 December, clearly demonstrate that, in a no-deal scenario, both sides are committed to maintaining aviation connectivity.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response to my question. What is the Department’s estimate of the effect of leaving the EU on the opportunities for the thousands currently employed in the aviation sector as apprentices?
I think that the aviation sector will continue to grow and develop as it has in recent years. We will continue to have connections across Europe, as we do at the moment, and, of course, with the plans for the expansion of Heathrow airport, there will be a real opportunity for apprenticeships in the sector and to open up new routes around the world, for example to emerging markets in Asia. I see the next 10 years as ones of great opportunity for the aviation sector.
The EU’s contingency arrangements are welcome, but what estimate has the Secretary of State made of the prospects for airports such as Bournemouth that want to increase their routes to Europe over the next year?
The European Union has said that it wants to keep flights at the current levels, and I suspect that they will find that that is not a universally held view among member states.
I am sure that the Secretary of State can chew gum and walk at the same time, so while he is dealing with future viability with our leaving the EU, will he also deal with the current crisis over drones affecting airports? May I give him the opportunity to answer the questions that he did not answer earlier in the week? Were contingency plans agreed with the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office to protect our airports from drone incidents and others, and if not, why not? Were such plans not activated in time because of dithering? Why did they not work? Was that the fault of the Secretary of State’s Department, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office or, indeed, the Cabinet Office?
Order. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman’s question with great interest. It was tangential to the substantive question, and I just say gently to him that I had been thinking of offering him an Adjournment debate on the matter, until I realised that he had, in fact, just conducted one.
Indeed he has, Mr Speaker.
I would simply remind the right hon. Gentleman of two factors. First, the disruptive attack at Gatwick was unprecedented anywhere in the world, and as a result we have been approached by airports around the world to learn more about how we tackled that. Secondly, as I have said, I am not able to discuss in the House the nature of the technology used for security reasons, but when a similar issue arose at Heathrow earlier this week, the response was very rapid indeed.
Does the Secretary of State agree that regional air connectivity within the UK is a priority as we leave the EU? Can he remind operators such as British Airways that reducing routes from Aberdeen International airport in my constituency disrupts business and leisure travel?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is why we have put down a clear requirement that as Heathrow expands a proportion of its capacity is set aside for regional connectivity within the United Kingdom. It is really important that an expanded Heathrow is a gateway for the whole United Kingdom to opportunities around the world, as well as within the country.
I chair the parliamentary air safety group, and I know a little about the aviation sector. During consideration of a statutory instrument upstairs recently, I challenged a Minister to tell me which chief executive or chair of any airline he had talked to about this subject. I have talked to them, and they are terrified of the impact of a no-deal Brexit. He could not name one.
I have talked to the chief executives of every major UK airline. I have also talked to representatives of a significant number of international airlines.
As the Secretary of State has spoken to the chief executives, he will of course be aware of their concerns about the contingency agreement only allowing for a freeze in the services of British airlines as they stand at the moment . What reassurances can he give airports such as Edinburgh that this will not in fact be the case, and that expansion will happen should we have to leave the EU?
The hon. Lady says, “should we have to leave the EU”. The country has already voted to leave the EU and we will next week vote on an agreement that would continue current aviation arrangements. If she is concerned about the contingency plans put in place by the European Union, will she join the Government in the Division Lobby next week to support the agreement?
Can the Secretary of State further outline discussions held with Belfast City and Belfast International airports to secure enhanced trading routes post March, and to evaluate what changes the airports may have to make?
I have had regular conversations with the leadership of the Belfast airports. Working with them in several areas, I want to see them expand their international flights. More flights are, of course, being planned for next summer, and I hope and believe that they have a strong and prosperous future with better links around the world.
The Prime Minister’s deal looks dead and we could well be heading into the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. If that is the case, we will no longer be a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency. Given that we do not currently have a bilateral air safety agreement with the US, can the Secretary of State give a guarantee that in the event of no deal there will be no disruption to flights?
Yes. The Civil Aviation Authority has been working for well over a year to ensure that in the event that we do not continue as a member of EASA we have a properly functional British alternative.
The services run by community transport operators are of vital importance to our transport sector and communities. During the most recent financial year, the Government supported community transport operators with almost £3.1 million through the bus service operators grant. A number of projects from the £11.5 million building connections fund will also provide new community transport links to support those most at risk of isolation.
That is a tiny amount to invest in community transport. My constituency is largely rural, and people in our villages—particularly older people—are left isolated because profit-making bus companies are not interested in serving them. There is some community provision, but very little funding. Will the Minister offer my isolated communities some comfort and commit more money to that sector, either directly or through the combined authority?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that community transport operators, even within his own community, opened a new service as recently as a few months ago, with extra support from the Department and the bus service operators grant fund. I looked on his local council website to check what was happening with community transport, and there was a reference to the funding that the Department for Transport had provided. The council said that the excellent public community transport in the borough was being provided by funding provided by the Department for Transport.
Until recently, the No. 5 bus service that passes through South Killingholme in my constituency was supported by a Government grant. The local authority is making provision for community transport to provide an alternative, but it will not replace the existing service. Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss whether other funding streams can be found to support the service?
My hon. Friend is a strong advocate for his constituency. I am not exactly sure which funding stream he is talking about, but let us sit down and talk about it, and see what we can do.
Meadowgreen health centre in Sheffield is moving, leaving the entire Lowedges estate completely unconnected to its GP surgery. Does the Minister agree that, under such circumstances, passenger authorities should be required to consult on bus routes to ensure that they are connected to GP surgeries? Will she write to South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive to ensure that it does just that?
The hon. Lady raises two very important issues. I will meet her to see what I can do to help out. She is right that if bus services are being changed, there needs to be communication with not only the traffic commissioner, but the local community. I am more than happy to sit down with her to see what is happening.
When can we expect a full Government response on the sections 19 and 22 permits?
Those are two very important permits, and I know that they have previously caused some anxiety in the sector. Of course, we carried out a consultation. I want to make sure that we respond appropriately, which is why we will take our time to make sure we get it absolutely right. It is important to note that we are working with community transport operators and the Community Transport Association, which receives a substantial amount of funding from us. It is important to note that the status quo as it is today for community transport operators continues.
What steps is he taking to ensure that community transport groups will not require a licence when the Government align sections 19 and 22 permits with EU regulations? The proposals that went out for consultation still carry a risk that small and medium-sized groups will need to pay in the range of £80,000 to £100,000, which would lead to the widespread disruption of those services. Does the Minister understand those risks?
I no doubt do not need to point out to the hon. Gentleman that I am a she, not a he, but no matter.
We are very supportive of community transport operators, which was why the consultation was so important. We will make sure that our response actually fits the fantastic voluntary work that takes place within our community transport network.
Community transport is a lifeline for many older or disabled people who would otherwise be trapped in their own homes, yet the Government propose to introduce a significant and unwanted extra burden on the charities that run those vital services. Age UK has reported that the majority of its community transport services would be forced to close because of the Government’s mistaken proposals. Will the Minister commit to reconsidering her approach and to working with, rather than against, the charities that run those vital services?
I am a little confused by the hon. Gentleman’s statement, because the Government are yet to put out our response. We are working with the charities sector, including with the Community Transport Association and community transport operators. There is an EU regulation that we are trying to make this fit into, but we are committed to ensuring that our community transport operators continue to operate. That is why we have the £3 million fund and the £11.5 million building connections fund.
Leaving the EU: Ports
The Department has been working for some time to ensure that traffic can continue to flow through UK ports as frictionlessly as possible in all scenarios when we leave the European Union. This has included engaging closely with others across Government, and with ports and their representative bodies. As regards ferry capacity, I refer the House to the two statements I made earlier this week.
The Government will forgive the House some scepticism about their efficacy and intention in this regard. Surely the Seaborne fiasco shows that only one of two things can be happening: either there is abject incompetence in the preparations for no deal; or the Secretary of State and his Department are not really taking them seriously. Which is it?
What is disappointing is that I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman, as a Scottish Member, would welcome the additional opportunities for Scottish business as a result of expanded services from east coast ports to northern Europe provided by DFDS, which is a very substantial part of the contracts that we have let.
Seaborne Freight has negative equity of just over £374,000, with one director being investigated by the Government for a trail of debt related to previous companies, yet due diligence did not flag this up. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether that is because due diligence guidance was to look not at individuals’ trading history, but only at Seaborne’s proposals? Why was such guidance provided?
As I said in the House earlier this week, we will not be paying Seaborne until ferries operate. From the point of view of business in Scotland, we have made sure that there are additional routes available from the east coast ports to northern Europe. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, which I hope will not happen, that should be a really valuable alternative for Scottish business, and the hon. Gentleman should welcome that.
How long has the Minister’s Department estimated it will take to recruit and train the thousands of additional customs officers who will be required if we leave without a deal, and what conversations has he had with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs about this?
I am very confident, as I have said, that HMRC will be ready. Of course, the point is that, at the moment, we do not collect customs tariffs or carry out checks. The Government have said very clearly that our prime priority in a post-Brexit world will be the fluidity of trade; other things can follow. Security, of course, remains of paramount importance, but beyond that, other things can follow. That is the approach the Government have taken.
I have two ports in my constituency, with ferry connections running from Milford Haven and Fishguard to Ireland. Those ports assure me that they have the skills and the capacity to handle a variety of Brexit scenarios, but all they see at the moment is the promise of further argument and gridlock in this place. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have a duty in this House to provide a way forward for this industry? Those who take comfort in just opposing everything are failing in their responsibilities.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. The reality is that it is all well and good Labour Members saying, “We don’t want no deal,” but then they are going to vote against the deal. They have not come up with any credible alternative plan, so I am afraid I take with a very large pinch of salt most of what the Labour party says at the moment.
Will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that the Government have signed the common transit convention, which means that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, customs declarations and import duties, as now, will be required to be paid only when the goods arrive at their final destination?
That is absolutely correct. In very many international trading scenarios using the common transit convention, customs processes can be at the start and the end of the journey. That is one reason why I felt able to say to the House earlier this week that I was confident that, in all circumstances, trade would continue to move relatively freely.
It has been reported that the Secretary of State’s Department is in talks with two rail freight companies about options to provide additional services via the channel tunnel and High Speed 1 to ensure supplies of food and medicines in the event of blockages at Kent ports. It is also claimed that the Department has written to Southeastern trains warning of possible disruption to its services if additional daytime freight movements are required. Is his Department really contemplating emergency rail timetables in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Has he written to Southeastern regarding such contingency plans? Should the many thousands of rail commuters in Kent be bracing themselves for possible disruption?
No. The story is untrue.
The Secretary of State’s responses in Tuesday’s urgent question on the Seaborne fiasco were disgraceful. He has awarded an emergency ferry contract to a company with no boats, no ports agreement, no personnel, debts and key personnel with dubious trading pasts. Parliament needs answers. How was Seaborne identified as a company that merited direct negotiations for an emergency contract?
It is a bit like the proverbial stuck gramophone record. I said very clearly, earlier this week, that we have let contracts with a number of operators, of which Seaborne represents about 10%, and we pay no money unless the service is delivered. To clarify further what the Chair of the Transport Committee said a moment ago, we are talking to a number of other potential outlets, in case extra capacity were to be needed—rail, ports, maritime—but nothing else has been decided. We have not issued instructions to any rail company about disruptive timetables and we have not taken any further steps to put additional measures in place. We are simply checking the lie of the land so that we can respond to all eventualities.
This is an emergency contract that the Secretary of State thought was so critical it could circumvent EU procurement rules for direct negotiation, yet he says, “It’s only 10%” and “Don’t worry, if they don’t deliver, they don’t get paid.” That means they don’t deliver that emergency service. We know how sensitive Dover is; there are predictions of delays that could lead to 30-mile queues. If that 10% is not delivered, what is the impact on Dover?
This is why 90% of the new contracts are with DFDS and Brittany Ferries. As I said, I am disappointed that the Scottish National party does not welcome the DFDS contract that will provide additional routes from east coast ports to northern Europe, which will be beneficial to Scottish business.
Putting to one side the ridiculous and desperate allegations of the Secretary of State that Labour is anti-business and his banal allegations over Brexit, I point out that the Seaborne fiasco lays bare his total incompetence and the complete failure of due diligence. Before granting the ferry contract, was he aware of the debt or the promissory note between Ben Sharp, now Seaborne’s CEO, and Mid-Gulf Offshore, acknowledging Sharp’s indebtedness to that company of over $1 million, which remains unpaid?
That clearly got under the hon. Gentleman’s skin because he really does not like Government supporting new start-up businesses. The reality is, as I said earlier this week, that due diligence on this contract was done by Slaughter and May, Deloitte and Mott MacDonald, as he would expect, and off the back of that we formed a contract which we pay nothing for until the service is delivered.
Here’s another one the Secretary of State might not answer. As a result of this debacle, a variety of legal challenges to the Secretary of State may well flow from, among others, existing freight service providers with capacity. On Tuesday, he said that Seaborne will be able to run ferry services immediately, but on Wednesday the Government said that Seaborne will not be able to open the route between Ramsgate and Ostend until late April at the very earliest. Surely that puts Seaborne in default of its contract to deliver services from 29 March and the contract is therefore void. In those circumstances, should not he reverse his appalling judgment and cancel the contract without delay?
We will hold all the companies that have presented us with proposals to the terms of their contracts.
CrossCountry Rail Franchise
The current CrossCountry franchise runs until October this year, with a possible extension to October next year. The hon. Gentleman should be assured that we are working to look at all options for the new CrossCountry franchise, including rolling stock. We will look at adding much needed capacity to the CrossCountry services as soon as trains become available.
In November, an unbelievable 30% of CrossCountry trains to Plymouth terminated early at Exeter because the Voyager trains could not get through Dawlish in bad weather. As well as placing orders for new rolling stock for the long term, will the Minister look at requiring CrossCountry to use the GWR HST trains that are currently being replaced with newer trains, to give Cross Country extra, interim, Dawlish-proof capacity?
I had a very positive meeting with the hon. Gentleman and his local council leader yesterday. We agree on the importance of the south-west economy, in particular its connectivity, and we recognise entirely the issue with the Voyager trains and how they are affected by the salt water to which they are exposed. CrossCountry is working on an engineering solution to that and we are working on adding capacity to the franchise. Passenger numbers have grown by 25%, so we need to put more rolling stock into it. We will look at where we can get the trains from to expand that capacity.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Protecting the line at Dawlish is crucial and sends a broader signal that the south-west is open for business, with all the connectivity that implies. So this is a national priority. Essential work is under way now to repair four existing breakwaters in the area. We have committed £15 million for further development work. Ensuring that the line is resilient, and that the south-west is open for business, is a priority.
Before Christmas, I travelled between Leeds and Sheffield on a CrossCountry train and experienced what my constituents regularly experience—as many passengers standing as sitting. The simple fact is that the four-car trains on the busiest part of the route between Leeds and Birmingham are simply inadequate. When we get a new franchise, will the Minister ensure that those four-car trains are extended, so that there is the capacity for people to actually get a seat on them?
I recognise entirely the crowding issues that the hon. Gentleman describes and has experienced personally, and which I have also experienced personally, so we are certainly looking to add capacity in the next franchise. We are also looking to add capacity before that franchise comes into force, if we can find it.
Like Sheffield, we do not get much salt water in the west midlands, but West Midlands Railway is now purchasing over £1 billion- worth of new rolling stock. Could not the Minister use that model with the CrossCountry franchise?
I am aware of the new rolling stock that is coming in to the west midlands; indeed, it is coming in across many parts of our network. We have a fantastic story on rolling stock coming in over the next two years. I will look at what my hon. Friend says and get back to him with an answer.
Manchester Oxford Road Station
Richard George was appointed by the Secretary of State to review the operational performance challenges on the railway in the north of England, following the introduction of the May 2018 timetable. That includes the performance of services operating through the Castlefield corridor, which includes Oxford Road. The Department continues to work with Transport for the North, Richard George and the industry to find solutions to improve performance.
A review simply is not good enough. More than three quarters of trains at Oxford Road do not comply with the timetable. We have had delays, cancellations, reviews. We need an immediate implementation of the Northern Hub investment programme —extra platforms at Salford, and extensions of platforms at Oxford Road, moving to new platforms 15 and 16. Will the Minister do that, and reject the ridiculous idea that this problem can be solved by digitalising the signalling system, when there is such mixed rolling stock on these rails?
The problem, which is clearly there because the Castlefield corridor is a bottleneck on our network, will be solved using a variety of solutions, some of which will be technical. Funding has been set aside in CP6 and we are working on what that will be spent on.
My constituents, who use the line from Oxford Road through my constituency to Liverpool Lime Street, continue to experience repeated delays and overcrowding, and they are told to expect that situation to continue at least until April. What penalties will Northern face, as much of this seems to be due to lack of rolling stock or of train crew?
If any of the train operating companies is in breach of its franchise, there are mechanisms to hold it to account. Northern is run through the Rail North partnership, which is a combination of the Department for Transport and Transport for the North.
Rail Travel: Affordability
The Department is very mindful of the affordability of rail services and we have capped regulated fares in line with inflation for the sixth year in a row. Last week we announced our intention to extend the 16-17 railcard, offering 50% off all rail journeys. Together with the recently launched 26-30 railcard, this means that everybody up to the age of 30 will have access to discounted rail fares.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but 2018 was an abysmal year for rail travel, with tens of thousands of services cancelled in Yorkshire and across the country. Services in Yorkshire are among the least reliable anywhere in the UK and it is having a huge impact on Wakefield city centre. Will the Minister look again at the Transport Committee’s excellent recommendation to enable season ticket holders to have a discount on their season tickets on the worst-performing lines, which at the moment are TransPennine Express and Northern? Both are heavily used by my constituents, who do not have time to claim for every train service that does not turn up on a daily basis.
I am acutely aware that passengers across the north—and, indeed, other parts of our network—did see an unacceptable service in 2018. Those Northern passengers most directly affected received targeted compensation worth about 8%—obviously, far more than the increase that we have just seen. Further compensation funds are available. We are agreeing with Transport for the North about how that money should be spent.
I warmly welcome the decision to extend discounted fares for 16 and 17-year-olds. Four of the five secondary schools in my constituency have no sixth form. We require our students to stay in education until they are 18, and they have to travel by train either north to Kent or to the south coast.
I have always been a big believer in giving it 100%. May I encourage Front Benchers to have that as their long-term aspiration, so that we give a 100% discount on rail fares for 16 and 17-year-olds?
That would indeed be a very bold aspiration. Obviously, we want to make sure that we have a viable rail service. If we can offer greater value, we certainly will—that is why we have capped rail fares in line with inflation for the sixth year in a row. We are keen to offer value across the rail network wherever we can.
Ministers will be aware of how long it takes to get right down to Penzance in my constituency.
Too long. They will also be aware that people very much depend on that form of transport. The truth is that average wages across my constituency are about a third of those in the rest of the country. Will the Minister give consideration to whether there can be some fairness for my constituents so that they pay less for travel, given their dependency on the network and the distances they travel?
If it is possible to deliver greater value, we will of course look at those opportunities. Part of the Williams review is about rail fares. I will make sure that my hon. Friend’s comments are fed over to Mr Williams for his consideration.
Heathrow Third Runway: Highway Vehicles
As the hon. Lady will be aware, the airports national policy statement requires 50% of passengers to use public transport by 2030, rising to 55% by 2040. It also requires 25% fewer staff car trips to work by 2030, and 50% fewer by 2040. In addition, I expect Heathrow to meet its public pledge of no greater airport-related road traffic.
The terminal 5 inspector recommended that that expansion should be dependent on additional rail access, and we have seen the consequences locally of that not having happened. The Department for Transport’s own figures say that a third runway will put an additional 54,000 vehicles a day on our local road system. Will the Secretary of State make any further expansion at Heathrow conditional on western and southern rail access?
I want to go further than that. Western rail access is currently in development and we are in the early stages of preparation for southern rail access. We are also making provision at Old Oak Common for a Chiltern connection into that station that will provide a link into Heathrow. High Speed 2, of course, will arrive at Old Oak Common and deliver an opportunity to connect into Heathrow from a different route. Finally, it is my hope that the Mayor of London will, notwithstanding the financial challenges at Transport for London, deliver the Piccadilly line upgrade, which is so important.
The terminal 5 planning conditions, set as part of its go-ahead, were that there would be no third runway and that there would be a legal limit of 480,000 flights a year. Now, of course, we are getting a third runway, and last week Heathrow asked—and, I presume, will be granted—permission to go beyond its 480,000-flight cap. Is not the reality that any assurances—legal, ministerial or public pledges from Heathrow—are utterly meaningless?
My right hon. Friend has made her point succinctly. She will understand, though, that if an application comes forward from Heathrow to change the current rules, it would be wrong of me as Secretary of State to pass comment one way or the other at the moment.
The Secretary of State has mentioned the Piccadilly line upgrade, but he knows that that—and, indeed, Crossrail—is there to cope with existing and future passenger demand, and not Heathrow expansion. Given that we know that Heathrow, as always, will do nothing to cope with the problems that it causes, what will the Government do when there is this massive increase in passengers, a 50% increase in flights and no capacity on those lines to deal with those?
Even an expanded Heathrow is forecast to need only 6% of capacity on the Piccadilly line and, as I said a moment ago, we are already moving ahead with western access and starting the process of southern access. I am making provision for a Chiltern route into Old Oak Common, connecting to Heathrow by Crossrail, and HS2 will come to Old Oak Common as part of the first phase of that project. I think we are doing rather a lot to prepare for surface access to Heathrow.
Access for All
Access for All has delivered step-free, accessible routes at more than 200 stations since it was launched in 2006, and a further 19 stations are currently under construction. To build on that success we have made a further £300 million available to extend the programme, and 300 stations have been nominated for that funding. I expect to announce the successful stations in April.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and one station to be nominated is Hillside station in my constituency. My hon. Friend highlighted the criteria that will be used, but does she agree that stations such as Hillside, which play host to less frequent sporting events such as the Open at Royal Birkdale, which hosted 235,000 spectators, should be taken into account when these applications are decided upon?
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that Hillside station has indeed been nominated. When preparing for nominations, the industry was asked to include any relevant factors, and Hillside’s nomination included details of the Open. Every factor will be given due weight during the ongoing selection process, and all I can say for now is that I hope there will be good news for my hon. Friend and his constituents in April.
To get from the car park to the south side of Flint station in my constituency involves two footbridges, and that is one of the projects that was nominated in November last year. Will the Minister assure me that access to funds for those projects will be maintained in the current spending review?
We have £300 million available at the moment and we have received 300 nominations. All the issues that the right hon. Gentleman has raised will be taken into account. It is important to note that journeys with step-free access have increased from 50% in 2015 to 75% today.
As the Minister knows, if someone wants to get from one platform at Beeston station to the other, the advice is to take a taxi all the way round, which is wholly unacceptable. I am grateful for her acceptance of that fact, and we also bid for funding. Last year she agreed to come to Beeston station to see it for herself. Can she now assure me that she will certainly come before Easter?
My right hon. Friend knows that we have spoken about Beeston on a number of occasions, and I apologise for having failed to visit the station already. I will do my very best to accompany her to Beeston station in the near future.
Will the Minister ensure that the Access for All project is delivered in Northwich station in my constituency, to allow people with mobility problems and disabilities to use it?
I cannot provide that assurance right here and now. We had 300 nominations and the decisions will be made in April. If the station was nominated—I do not have the list in front of me—I will ensure that it is considered as efficiently as possible.
This Government are investing at record levels in our rail network as part of the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century to provide reliability and capacity. Passengers expect high-quality rail services, and we are committed to electrification where it delivers passenger benefits and value for money. We will also take advantage of state-of-the-art technology to improve services.
It strikes me that a lot of official capacity is currently being sucked out of the Department by preparations for a no-deal Brexit, and that is slowing up projects that should be pushing ahead. What progress is being made on plans for electrification of the Chester to Crewe and north Wales line or, if not electrification, on the procurement of the electro-diesel trains that are the next best option?
The work on Brexit is not in any way changing the delivery of service improvements across our rail network, and one has only to consider how much is happening across the network to prove that point. We are delivering a £50 million project to upgrade the north Wales railway, including a new signalling system, and rolling stock will be picked up as the franchise is renewed.
I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The transpennine route upgrade is a significant project and we are modernising the entire route. We will be investing £2.9 billion in the first phase of this ambitious upgrade, between Manchester, Leeds and York. The work will commence in the spring. It is the biggest single project of rail enhancement in this country during control period 6. It is complementary to the work on Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is also being developed.
Would it not make a lot more sense to electrify the whole of the midland line, rather than stopping at Kettering in Northamptonshire? If that happened, we could save some of the £56 billion that HS2 will cost us, and save about 30 to 40 houses in Derbyshire that are due to be knocked down. All those things could happen if the Minister electrified the midland line, and passengers would get to London 30 minutes quicker—not that I want that—which is one of the promises the Government have made. For God’s sake, make a big hole in that £56 billion and electrify the midland line.
Well, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we will not be cancelling HS2, which is a positive project that will generate significant extra capacity right across our network. It is part of a modern, 21st-century rail network. With regard to the midland main line, we do not need to electrify the whole line in order to deliver the journey improvements, and we will see passenger benefits from a brand new fleet of trains from 2022.
Labour’s commitment to electrification has been unwavering, yet the Government have pulled electrification projects across the country. Last month we learned that the transpennine route will no longer support future freight, meet journey time ambitions or, without electrification, deliver on reliability either, depending instead on heavy and polluting diesel bi-mode trains—[Interruption.]
Order. The former Secretary of State is chuntering animatedly from a sedentary position about a period of time and a mileage—that is to say, about a length of track—but I can assume only that at this stage, albeit in a very amiable and jocular fashion, the right hon. Gentleman is talking to himself. There are some dangers in that.
What are they, Mr Speaker?
Only time will tell.
As I was saying, it is a downgrade of a downgrade, so why will the Minister not listen to the advice of rail experts, which I know the Secretary of State has had, and fully electrify the route in control period 6?
That was absolute nonsense. Labour electrified 10 miles of existing network in all the 13 years it was in government. There has been more electrification in the north-west alone under this Government than in all those 13 years, so we will take no lessons from the Labour party on this. With regard to the transpennine upgrade, we are spending £2.9 billion. It is the biggest single project in control period 6, as I explained to the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) only a moment ago. Rather than criticising, Labour Members should be supporting this project, and perhaps asking why they did not do it. We will take no lessons whatsoever from the Labour party, which did nothing at all for our rail network.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the important question of Crossrail. He will know that it is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London, and it is for TfL in the first instance to evaluate the future. Notwithstanding recent hiccups, we feel excited about the potential for the project.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but he will understand the huge disappointment in Romford, where we were hoping that Crossrail would be coming into action much sooner. At least partly because of the Mayor’s poor financial management of TfL, we have to wait a lot longer, so will the Minister assure the House that the new funding package will bring Crossrail to fruition much sooner?
As I said, Crossrail is a wholly owned subsidiary of TfL. It would be wrong for me to comment on the way the Mayor has handled TfL’s finances—that is a matter for him—but I will say that it is a very important project. As my hon. Friend will be aware, there is a new chief executive, Mr Wild, and he is understandably taking time to review the project fully before he publishes his own views.
Last night, the Evening Standard reported that officials from the Department for Transport and TfL were first notified about the Crossrail delays in June 2016. Will the Minister confirm that that is correct?
I have not seen the report that the hon. Gentleman describes, but he will know that in July we published a written ministerial statement touching on the question of whether there might be delays. It is striking that the Secretary of State was not notified until the end of August, and there has been some suggestion that TfL was notified before that.
EU Motor Insurance Directive
The issue of Vnuk and insurance is very important and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise it. Our assessment is perfectly clear: if it is not amended, the proposal has the potential to shut down UK and European motorsport industries. We take it very seriously. Of course, there would be further impacts on innovation throughout the UK automotive industry, and potentially more widely.
I am grateful for the Minister’s response. From my conversations with the Motorsport Industry Association, I know that it cannot sing the praises of the Department and officials more highly in respect of this incredibly important point. If the motor insurance directive comes into force, not only will it completely destroy the market for the most innovative part of our automotive sector, but during the transition period it may also destroy the UK domestic market. I know that the Minister is doing everything he can to try to sort this situation out, but I ask him to redouble his efforts and work as hard as he can to make sure that we do not lose the crown jewels of our motor industry.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for the recognition of the work that my officials and I have been doing on this issue, which we take extremely seriously. Lotus, Williams, McLaren—this country has a £10 billion motorsport industry. These ill-judged arrangements might put it at risk, and we are determined to do everything we can to prevent that.
Public Transport: Sporting Events
Officials from my Department have met the Premier League, most recently in November, to discuss collaboration between the railway industry and football bodies to improve travel to and from football matches. The Rail Delivery Group is a key partner in that ongoing collaboration.
Football fans in this country are often stung when fixtures are rescheduled for TV, meaning that they regularly miss out on the cheapest train tickets. The Premier League, the English Football League and the Rail Delivery Group are all in favour of a fans’ fare scheme, but the Department for Transport is dragging its feet. Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss how we can address this important issue, which affects so many football fans in this country?
The joint project involving the Rail Delivery Group, train operators, football bodies, supporters’ groups, British Transport police and the DFT has been set up to look into a range of issues around football-related train travel. That work includes the exploration of a flexible ticketing offer for supporters, including for when matches are rescheduled. I am happy to have a conversation with the hon. Lady. I would be interested to hear whether she will condemn the strikes throughout the north on Saturdays, which are affecting football fans’ capacity to get to their matches. Let us hear Labour say something on behalf of football fans throughout the north, and not in support of strikers.
Having heard the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) from his seat, we can now have the considerable joy of hearing him on his feet.
Will the Minister look at the responsibilities across his whole Department and other sectors covered by his Department as far as such situations are concerned? Last night, the M1 was closed for four hours, thus preventing all the supporters of Burton Albion from getting to the Etihad stadium. Will there be an inquiry into why it was necessary to close the M1 for four hours on both sides?
They missed a lot of goals.
My right hon. Friend makes a very valuable point with which I entirely agree. We will look at this matter across the Department.
May I begin by extending the condolences of the whole House to the family of Lee Pomeroy, who was tragically murdered on a train in Surrey last week? I pay tribute to the three members of staff who dealt with the tragic situation and all the British Transport police who responded to it; they all acted with great bravery. While I am talking about bravery, let me also pay tribute to the British Transport police officer who was stabbed in Manchester during the terrorist incident a few days ago.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and share his sentiments about the terrible attacks on our trains recently.
On 2 January I was at Castleton station in my constituency, watching train cancellation after train cancellation as my constituents were trying to get back to work after the new year break. Does the Secretary of State think that it is fair to hit rail passengers with an above-inflation rise in fares, given the clear decline in punctuality and reliability, and worsening overcrowding on our trains?
We have set a limit in line with inflation for the increase in regulated fares. Transport for the North and the Rail North Partnership have additional financial resources from the compensation package provided last summer that they can use on lines that continue to be affected by underperformance if they choose to do so. I would be very happy to see them do that.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. For over a decade it has been illegal for taxi and private hire drivers to refuse assistance dogs, and I am clear that they must comply with the law. We cannot risk lowering people’s confidence and ability to travel independently. Licensing authorities have the power to stop this happening by training drivers to understand their duties and by prosecuting them when they fail to comply. We are considering the recommendations mentioned by my hon. Friend and will publish a response in due course.
Owing to undercutting caused by the exclusion of seafarers from equality and minimum wage legislation, UK seafarers only account for about 15% of all seafarer ratings in the UK shipping industry. That is shocking. But now that the Secretary of State has spent £103 million of UK taxpayers’ money on these UK ferry contracts, will the Minister tell us whether any UK seafarers will be employed, and will the crews be protected by UK employment legislation? Yes or no?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken and has not heard what the Secretary of State mentioned earlier. No money has yet exchanged hands and it is up to the company how it crews its ships. It is important to note that we are working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that we can deliver the national minimum wage for our seafarers.
My hon. Friend has been a very tireless campaigner for transport issues in his constituency and I would be delighted to meet him.
I will resist the temptation to comment in advance on the elegance of the solution, but I think it is a very interesting idea in principle. As the hon. Lady may be aware, it would require the transfer of the road from Highways England and the agreement of the Secretary of State. We would also want to be sure that any changes were consistent with the combined authority’s long-term transport plans. Subject to those constraints, we would be very interested to see it.
Neither the police nor the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has records of foreign-registered vehicles that have been in the UK for more than six months, which means that our roads are more dangerous and there is not equality under the law for British nationals. What are the Government going to do about this issue?
As my hon. Friend will be aware, the problem concerns foreign-registered vehicles. For British nationals, there is an equality under the law. I recognise that there is concern about this issue. He knows that we seek vigorously to apply road traffic legislation where we can. This is for the police, in the first instance. In some cases, local authorities use international debt recovery agents. However, I recognise the problem that he describes.
I do not have the costs immediately to hand. However, the point about Operation Brock is that it is designed to replace Operation Stack and provide a solution well into the early 2020s in the case of disruption at the channel ports, which I do not want to see. To do the work on the M20 and the work that has happened on the M26, the cost is in the low tens of millions of pounds, but I will be able to give the hon. Gentleman an exact number. It is really important that we do not see a repeat of the disruption of 2015 in Kent.
Knutsford commuters have been repeatedly promised an upgrade to the Knutsford to Manchester line to two trains an hour. However, after excuses and procrastination, that is now not happening at the time it was meant to happen. It is unacceptable to have such an unreliable and irregular service for such a busy part of the country. Will the Secretary of State intervene, speak to Northern, speak to Network Rail, and get this promise fulfilled?
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that we want to see reliable services offering high capacity. She speaks well on behalf of her constituency. I will of course look into the matter and get back to her.
This is really an issue for the Spanish and Irish Governments; it does not affect British Airways at all, as it will be covered by the transitional arrangements as well as by the international agreements we have in place. It is an issue for Iberia and for Aer Lingus, which will clearly want to carry on flying within the European Union.
I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. What further progress is being made by the roads Minister and his team towards tabling the statutory instrument to facilitate the decriminalisation of parking in Kettering?
As my hon. Friend will know, we have discussed this at some considerable length over a long period. The matter currently rests with discussions with Northamptonshire County Council, but we are pushing ahead as fast as we can on it.
First, let us be clear: there is no perfect, off-the-shelf system available to airports that will simply deal with this problem overnight. I pay tribute to those in the police and the military, and across government, who responded so quickly to the Heathrow problem, ensuring that the runway was closed for a very short length of time, and to the team at Heathrow who did the same.
Now that the consultation on the High Speed 2 working draft environmental statement has closed, has the Minister had any indication of when HS2 Ltd will publish its response? Can she ensure that every submission will be given careful consideration?
I can indeed assure my hon. Friend that all submissions will be given appropriate consideration, and the report will be published in due course.
Currently just one out of 10 tube stations in Kensington is step-free. That is unacceptable. The council and London’s deputy mayor for transport tell us we must rely on developer funding to pay for it, which will never be enough, and in some instances they suggest funding just one platform in one direction, which is insulting. Just 50 stations out of 270 are step-free in the capital— the worst record in Europe. Will the Minister review Government funding to address the severe lack of inclusivity across our capital’s transport system, which is a national disgrace?
I believe that the hon. Lady is talking about the underground, which is the responsibility of the Mayor. Transport in London is devolved to the Mayor and delivered by Transport for London. It is for the Mayor to determine how to increase step-free access at underground stations. If the hon. Lady is embarrassed about the situation, I suggest she takes this case straight back to the Labour Mayor of London.
Heathrow flight paths go over the most densely populated part of our country—London communities. Drones are a clear public safety risk, as things stand. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should review the decision to further expand Heathrow and have more flights over more communities, on public safety grounds?
I am afraid I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. Airports in this country and around the world are now working intensively to ensure they can deliver technology that will deal with this issue. That needs to be done long before we ever get to the point of expanding Heathrow airport.
How much additional funding will the Department require in the 2019-20 financial year in the event of no deal, and has the Treasury approved that?
We have an allocation of funding for next year, but almost all our expenditure has taken place within the current year—it is in the region of £70 million. That is the prime amount we are spending. In the next financial year, if we require some of the contingency capacity to which I have committed, there will be a cost. As the House is aware, the maximum that we have contracted for is £103 million.
Can the Secretary of State give us an update on the midland main line delayed franchise? As he knows, I am very grateful for the conversation we have had. Stagecoach has taken out £35 million of profit, and it appears to be running down an otherwise excellent system. Can he tell us when the franchise will be awarded?
The slight delay to the issuing of the new franchise is for complex reasons related to rail pensions. I have noted the issues that my right hon. Friend has raised. I am concerned about it. It would be unacceptable for any current franchisee to run down the franchise in the run-up to renewal, and a strong message is being sent to the company that, if that is happening, it has to stop right now.
It is not clear to me what the unforeseeable emergency was that allowed the Secretary of State to award the contract to Seaborne Freight outside the rules. Did he receive explicit legal advice about that, and if so, will he consider publishing it?
We are confident that this was a proper procurement process, handled by the procurement team in my Department in the normal way.
Finally—what a difficult choice. I call Huw Merriman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I’ll buy my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) a cup of tea in a minute.
Will the roads Minister meet me to discuss how we can transfer a section of the A21 through Hurst Green from the hopeless Highways England to East Sussex County Council, before more of my constituents end up in hospital?
I do wish the hon. Gentleman would wear his Arsenal tie a bit more often.
I will not comment on that sartorial choice. Of course I completely disagree with my hon. Friend’s description of Highways England, but I would be delighted to meet him.
Yes, I will take a point of order, which I think is of some salience.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In relation to the debate we are about to have, the Government have said that they have already accepted some amendments. That is a concern, because they seem to directly contradict the withdrawal agreement that this House is debating whether to approve. In itself, it is a legal document that has been negotiated and agreed with the European Union and 27 member states, but, again, the Government seem to have accepted amendments I am not sure you have yet selected for debate. Can you tell me whether that is in order?
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order. It is important that people, within this Chamber and outside, know the procedure and know the facts. No amendments have been accepted by anyone to date for one very simple and compelling reason: no amendments have yet been selected by the occupant of the Chair. Moreover, no amendments can be selected by the Speaker until the last day of the debate, which is to say next Tuesday, as required by the Order of the House of 4 December. Some people it seems—certainly not the right hon. Lady—really do need to keep up.
Business of the House
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).
European Union (Withdrawal) Act
[6th Allotted Day]
Debate resumed (Order, 9 January).
Question again proposed,
That this House approves for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the negotiated withdrawal agreement laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’ and the framework for the future relationship laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom’.
May I begin on a personal note, Mr Speaker? I am very, very grateful to Members on both sides of the House, from all parties, who very kindly contacted me or sent messages over the course of the Christmas holidays following my son’s accident. I am very grateful for the kind words that many sent. My son is recovering well and I just wanted to register my appreciation.
A second brief point I want to make is that I want to ensure that as many colleagues as possible have the opportunity to intervene during my remarks. I recognise that we will be addressing a number of important issues today, not least the vital importance of maintaining environmental protection and the protection of workers’ rights, but I also recognise that many colleagues wish to speak, so I will try to keep my answers as brief as possible.
It is perhaps appropriate, Mr Speaker, given that this is a debate on European matters, that we should be emulating what happens in European football competitions by having a second leg of this debate following the first one. In hotly contested European matches, strong views are sometimes held, not just about the merits of each side, but about the referee, but all I want to say is that I am personally grateful to you, Mr Speaker. You sat through the whole of the first leg of this debate and intend to sit through the second, which is an indication of how important this debate is and how seriously you take your responsibilities. Across the House, we all owe you thanks for how you have facilitated this debate.
I also want to thank the many civil servants in my Department and elsewhere who have worked hard to secure the withdrawal agreement with the European Union. Officials, negotiators and others sometimes find themselves in the firing line but unable to speak for themselves, so let me speak for them: the dedicated public servants in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Exiting the European Union and other Departments have worked hard to honour the referendum result and to secure the best possible deal for the British people. I place on record my thanks and those of my Government colleagues for their wonderful work.
As everyone acknowledges, the deal that we have concluded is a compromise. Those who are critical of it recognise that there are flaws, and those of us who support it also recognise that it has its imperfections, but how could it be otherwise? There are more than 600 Members, all with different and overlapping views on Brexit and its merits, and on how it should be executed. Some 17.4 million people voted to leave—a clear majority—and we must honour that, but we must also respect the fact that 48% of our fellow citizens voted to remain, and their concerns, fears and hopes also have to be taken into consideration.
We are dealing in this negotiation with 27 other EU nations, each with legitimate interests, with which we trade and many of whose citizens live in this country. We consider them our friends and partners in the great enterprise of making sure that a rules-based international order can safeguard the interests of everyone. Inevitably, then, we have to compromise. I recognise that during this debate many principled cases for alternatives will be advanced. I will respect, and have respected, the passion and integrity with which those cases are made, but it is also important to recognise that those who support this compromise, including me, are passionate about delivering on the verdict of the British people in the referendum in a way that also honours the interests of every British citizen. That is what this agreement does. It honours the referendum result while also respecting the vital interests of every part of the United Kingdom and every citizen within it.
The difficulty is that we do not know the extent of the compromise because negotiations on the future agreement have yet to begin, and because we will have paid the money upfront and will be unable to walk away from these negotiations, so we will be in a weak position. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me about the level of compromise that is likely to be made?
I very much take on board my right hon. Friend’s point. As I will explain in greater detail in my remarks, I think we are in a far stronger position than many allow. The £39 billion that we will be giving to the EU is in part settlement of our obligations and in part a way of ensuring we have a transition period so that we can adjust to life outside the EU. The backstop that has been negotiated—let us all remember that originally the EU wanted a Northern Ireland-only backstop, but we now have a UK-wide backstop—allows us, as a sovereign nation, freedom in critical areas. These are freedoms that honour the referendum result and create real difficulties for European countries, which I will explore in greater detail in a moment.
It is critical that we recognise that the agreement the Prime Minister has negotiated will mean that we will be outside the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, outside the common fisheries policy, outside the common agricultural policy, outside the common foreign and security policy and outside the principle of ever closer union, and that we will have control of our borders and our money. The days of automatic direct debits from this country, at whatever level people might think appropriate, will end, and as a result the referendum verdict will be honoured.