Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?
The business for next week will include:
Monday 13 May—Second Reading of the Non-Domestic Rating (Preparation for Digital Services) Bill.
Tuesday 14 May—Opposition day (unallotted day). There will be a debate on prisons and probation followed by a debate entitled “Health and local public health cuts”. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.
Wednesday15 May—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (Further Implementation etc.) Regulations 2019, followed by general debate on serious violence.
Thursday 16 May—General debate on the definition of Islamophobia, followed by general debate on the international day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 17 May—The House will not be sitting.
Colleagues will also wish to know that subject to the progress of business the House will rise for the Whitsun recess at the close of business on Thursday 23 May and return on Tuesday 4 June.
The whole House will want to join me in congratulating the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on the birth of their new son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. We wish them a lifetime of happiness together.
I am delighted that the Bill to enable the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster has this week been introduced. In the wake of the tragic fire at Notre Dame, and with clear evidence here from recent fire incidents as well as falling masonry and many other safety issues, this Bill is vital to ensure we safeguard the seat of our democracy for future generations.
Finally, I am looking forward to taking part in one of the first voluntary independent complaints and grievance scheme training sessions for Members of Parliament later today, and I encourage all Members to show their commitment to our new behaviour code by taking part in one of the training sessions as soon as they can. As the six-month review of the ICGS is now well under way, the roll-out of the training for staff and Members will continue to demonstrate our commitment to treating everyone with dignity and respect.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. I was going to ask her for the Whitsun recess dates, so I am pleased that she has announced them. May I ask for an update on when we are likely to get the list of ministerial responsibilities? I should also like to press her on the summer recess dates. The deputy Prime Minister said that he thought 2 July was the cut-off date for EU matters. It should not be beyond the House to provide those dates.
Members have often raised the issue of Ministers and other MPs visiting their constituencies without giving notice, and it has now happened to me. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) kindly informed me that she was coming to my constituency, in fact getting me an invitation to launch a train—apparently there will be tea and sandwiches in one of my favourite places in the constituency, the New Art Gallery—but I had not even been invited, even though those events were taking place in my constituency. This is the second time that that has happened. The Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), kindly apologised to me when I was given notice of an event only two hours before she visited. Those Members were actually being quite helpful; it is just that something is going wrong with the offices and the invites. Will the Leader of the House please raise these courtesies and protocols with her colleagues? Members should be told about these visits, and indeed invited to the events.
I am pleased that the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill has been introduced. As we have all said, the skills and jobs should benefit all our constituencies throughout the country, not just a few property companies based here in London. We need to ensure that our constituents are involved. I say gently to the Leader of the House that I am sure the Clerk of the House practically faints when she mentions Notre Dame, because he would never allow people to be in this building if it was not safe. We know that people are constantly firefighting here every day, and no one would be allowed in the building if it was as unsafe as that.
Will the Leader of the House update us on when the withdrawal agreement Bill will be introduced? There has been some debate in the media about that. I do not think it was Faisal Islam who tweeted about it this time, but there has been some suggestion that it could be next Thursday, and I know that a Backbench debate has been scheduled for that day. Are the Government going to bring back the withdrawal agreement Bill next week?
We need certainty on that matter, because the right hon. Lady will have seen the research from the Incorporated Society of Musicians which shows that the uncertainty over Brexit is continuing to cause real damage to the music industry, which is a very important part of our GDP. The ISM has concerns about future work, mobility, visas, transportation of instruments and equipment, and health and social security. The research showed that 63 respondents cited difficulty in securing future work in the EU27 and EEA countries as the biggest issue that they faced because of Brexit. More than one in 10 respondents reported that offers of work had been withdrawn or cancelled with Brexit being given as the reason. May we have more certainty for that sector?
Many Members are trying on the captain’s hat, even though there is no vacancy for the captain of the ship, but as they look through the periscope, they will see that 200,000 nurses have left the NHS since 2010. If there is not a crisis, why are the Government having to recruit tens of thousands of nurses from overseas? It is because nurses are being driven out of the overstretched NHS owing to the lack of Government funding. Why are we seeing the first sustained fall in GP numbers in the UK in 50 years? Why are they leaving the profession? We also know that 30,000 ambulance staff have quit their jobs. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Health—when he takes off the captain’s hat—makes a statement on that crisis?
When the Home Secretary takes off the captain’s hat and looks through the periscope, he will see the crisis on our streets. The Prime Minister said yesterday that she had chaired a summit and a taskforce, and there will be a general debate on serious violence next week. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) wanted to raise this matter with the Leader of the House. Will she ensure that the Home Secretary comes to the House next week to report on the taskforce and to tell us exactly what is going to happen to stop people dying needlessly? Our police need their resources. Our criminal justice system also needs resources, and barristers are about to walk out on strike. It was no good the Leader of the House saying last week that it is up to the Justice Committee to respond when I raised the Criminal Bar Association’s strike. She cannot outsource responses to Select Committees; we need to know what the Government are doing.
The Leader of the House kindly said that she would get an answer to Opposition day motions within eight weeks, but exactly when will our climate emergency motion receive a response? The clue is in the word “emergency”. She will have seen the news about the effect of climate change on the unprecedented decline in biodiversity, and I will read out the whole thing so that people know what I mean. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services says that
“1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction”.
We need a response, and I understand that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did not say when he would respond to our Opposition day motion.
May we have a debate in Government time on their flagship digital identification system Verify, which is failing its users? Only 3.9 million people have signed up, and it will affect those applying for universal credit most of all. Some 25 million users are expected by 2020.
I am pleased that the Backbench Business Committee agreed to a debate today, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), in tribute to John Smith, the former leader of the Labour party, as we approach the 25th anniversary of his death on 12 May. He served as an MP for 24 years, and I am sure that hon. Members will do him justice. I remember the image of Smith and Brown striding into the Commons to take the Government apart with their brilliant arguments. At this time, we think of his widow Elizabeth and his brilliant daughters Sarah, Jane and Catherine. He would have been pleased that today is also Europe Day, which marks peace and prosperity within Europe.
The Opposition also wishes Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor and all the babies born this week peace and prosperity for their futures.
The hon. Lady raises several issues. The list of ministerial responsibilities will be updated in due course, and the summer recess is obviously subject to the progress, so I will announce it as soon as I can.
As for West Midlands Trains, I am glad that the hon. Lady accepts that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) went out of her way to ensure that she was invited. It was a matter for West Midlands Trains and has nothing to do with any Government mission. As a matter of fact, when my hon. Friend raised the issue with West Midlands Trains, she was told that the hon. Lady had in fact been invited but had not checked her emails. I hope that that deals with that query. The hon. Lady should feel free to apologise to my hon. Friend if she wants to.
Turning to the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill, I am glad that the hon. Lady shares my delight at its introduction. I am particularly grateful to her for being one of the Bill’s sponsors. It is important that it is a parliamentary project, so I am delighted by the cross-party support for it.
The hon. Lady asked when the withdrawal agreement Bill will be introduced, but that is obviously subject to the talks with the Opposition. so I am sure that she will able to get an update from her own side. It is the Government’s intention to seek cross-party agreement to get a Bill that the whole House can support. It is absolutely essential that we leave the European Union, and it is utterly unacceptable that we have not done so three years after the referendum. I say to all hon. Members who are worried about the impact on businesses and on people going about their everyday lives that if they support the withdrawal agreement Bill, we can put such issues to rest and get on with the important matters that our constituents are concerned about.
The hon. Lady mentioned GPs, and I can tell her that under this Government the NHS is having its biggest-ever investment, with £33.9 billion in cash terms by 2023-24. There are over 4,500 more paramedics since this Government took office, and Health Education England recruited the highest number of GP trainees ever last year—nearly 3,500. We are committed to increasing access to general practice, which is vital to us all. The hon. Lady raises the issue of serious violence and the serious violence taskforce, and I hope that she noticed that, in response to the many requests from across the House, I announced that we will hold a debate in Government time on serious violence next week. It is my expectation that the Home Secretary will lead the debate—although, of course, that is not a matter for me to determine—and it is for Departments to decide who is the appropriate responder.
On Opposition day responses, I confirmed a couple of weeks ago that, in response to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s recent report on resolutions of the House of Commons, I have shortened the deadline for the Government to respond to motions passed by the House, from 12 weeks to eight weeks, to ensure the House gets those responses faster, while still ensuring that there is time for full and proper consideration of resolutions.
Finally, the Government and all parties agree that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world. To give the hon. Lady a few of the Government’s actions, we have planted 15 million trees since 2010; we are calling for an increase from 10% to 30% of the world’s oceans to be marine protected areas by 2030; we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since 2010; and we have launched a 25-year environment plan with a pledge to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste. Those are just a few examples of this Government’s excellent work, and we are determined to be world leading in our actions, not words, to tackle the global challenge of climate change.
May we have an urgent debate on the Turkish incursion into the Cyprus exclusive economic zone? The incursion is unlawful and unacceptable, and it is shocking that a NATO ally is responsible. This House needs an opportunity to condemn those actions.
My right hon. Friend raises a serious issue that I am sure she will wish to raise at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday 14 May. I commend her for raising the importance of such an issue.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I wish her, most sincerely, all the best in her renewed leadership campaign. I do not know who has better odds—her of becoming Prime Minister or me of succeeding you in the Chair, Mr Speaker. I suspect it might be me, but it now looks like the Gloria Gaynor of 10 Downing Street might not survive much longer as the men in grey underpants set a timetable for her departure. So can we have a debate on cruelty in sport? There are now so many runners and riders that it will be like a dysfunctional grand national, with one Minister saying that few of them know how to ride.
The council elections went well, didn’t they? It is hard to think of an election in which both the Government and the main Opposition party got royally stuffed. We are all now looking forward to the European elections—the SNP certainly is—and we cannot wait to see the Tory manifesto. I bet they will be up all night writing that one. “Chapter one: we want to leave the EU, but the party won’t let us. Chapter two: please don’t vote for Farage! Chapter three: erm, that’s it.” I do not know whether the award for best comedy in a party political manifesto has yet been awarded, but it should definitely be delayed until we see that cracker.
We have not had an answer to the meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement, but I think that the House deserves one. The rumour is that the Government will bring it back next week, with Thursday being suggested. What are the Government’s plans for the meaningful vote? When, and in what form, will they bring it back? This purgatory cannot go on any longer. Nothing is being done. Important Bills need to be brought back to the House, and we need to get back to work. The House rose early on two days this week, and this place is quickly becoming an international laughing stock. All I can say is that, after 20 years of devolution, we are looking forward to completing the powers of our Parliament in Scotland, and it will be goodbye to this place.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his, as ever, rather witty, if a little misguided, contribution. The fundamental problem is that his party does not believe in abiding by the result of referendums, whereas the Conservative party does. We had a referendum in 2016, and we are determined to deliver on the result by leaving the EU; Scotland had a referendum in 2014 and, regardless of whether it has another one, the SNP will abide by it only if it gets the result it wants.
As a huge supporter of the United Kingdom, I also welcome the 20 years of devolution, which has been a huge success—except to the extent that the hon. Gentleman’s Government in Scotland have failed to take up many of the powers they have been offered under devolution. It is extraordinary that a party in Scotland that claims to be able to set up within 18 months a new independent country with its own currency, while staying in the EU, cannot even manage to accept powers to take on VAT, welfare or any of those modest little issues. It seems extraordinary to me that the hon. Gentleman is preaching to my party, which is determined to deliver on the democratic will of the people.
T.S. Eliot said:
“Knowledge is invariably a matter of degree”.
That was brought home again this morning when the Environment Agency predicted that many coastal areas, including much of South Holland and The Deepings, are at imminent risk of flooding. That is curious, given that for at least two decades the Environment Agency has predicted flood risk so inaccurately.
Floods have taken place everywhere, from Tewkesbury to Carlisle and from Stratford-upon-Avon to Gloucester, yet none of those has appeared on the Environment Agency’s flood risk maps. The Environment Agency seems to ignore both internal drainage and the reality of flooding, and it seems to me that its knowledge of real flood risk is a matter of question.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on how such agencies can be brought to account? I am thinking of Network Rail cutting down trees, of Natural England ignoring the stewardship of the countryside and now of the Environment Agency alarming and distressing very large numbers of my constituents. These people should be held to account by this House and be answerable to Ministers.
Some people think that we have already had the debate, but I always enjoy the mellifluous tones of the right hon. Gentleman and his unfailing invocation of literary testimony. He enjoys it, even more than we do.
My right hon. Friend raises an important issue for his constituency, and I understand his concern about unnecessary scaremongering. However, the chief executive of the Environment Agency does an excellent job; I would say that because I appointed her when I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She is assiduous in ensuring that people are made aware of the risks from climate change.
Having ratified the Paris agreement on climate change in November 2016, reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation and, in the past year, generated record levels of solar and wind energy, the United Kingdom is leading the world in tackling climate change, but we still have to do everything possible at home to ensure that we protect people and our environment from the impact of global climate change.
New data shows that there have been nearly 5,500 hoax calls to the West Midlands ambulance service in the past five years. Hoax calls not only waste hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money, but put lives at risk due to delays in answering calls from patients who genuinely need help. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning those who make hoax calls to our emergency services? Will she look for an opportunity to have a debate in Government time on the vital work that our ambulance services do and how we can all help to reduce the number of hoax calls for the future?
The hon. Lady has raised a very serious issue. Hoax calls to any of our emergency services are absolutely to be condemned. She will no doubt be aware that ambulance services deal with more than 23,800 emergency calls every single day, and it is totally unacceptable for anyone to waste their time. The Government have introduced a significant increase in paramedic numbers to deal with the challenge facing our ambulance services, but I recommend that the hon. Lady seek an Adjournment debate so that she can discuss directly with Ministers what more can be done.
To channel the spirit of my inner right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), somebody once wrote:
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
Will the Leader of the House congratulate the 82 Members of Parliament who attended the training programme on autism awareness last week? I was proud that they wanted to change themselves and take on board the learning and exercise. Will she encourage the remainder of our colleagues from all parties to attend the future training courses that are being run by the all-party group on autism and the National Autistic Society? More importantly, will she ensure that people with autism and their families are catered for in the Bill on the restoration and renewal of the House, so that this country can have a Parliament that is the most autism-aware and friendly destination in the world?
I truly commend my right hon. Friend for her work on autism. It is excellent that that number of colleagues attended the autism training day, and I encourage as many Members as possible to get involved with that training. It is an absolutely key requirement of the restoration and renewal of this place that we do everything we can to make it accessible to those with particular disabilities or challenges, to make this the most person-friendly Parliament in the world when we come back to it in the 2030s.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, including the Backbench Business debates on Thursday.
I declare an interest: I am the chair of the all-party group on football supporters. In that light, I congratulate both Liverpool and Tottenham on their amazing comebacks over the past two nights. The television has been electric. Those were probably the best two comebacks since Lazarus all those years ago.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, football supporters are struggling with the dreadful ownership of their clubs. At Newcastle United, where I am a season ticket holder, we have Mike Ashley and have to put up with everything that he delivers to us. Across the river in my own constituency, we have the situation at Gateshead football club, where Dr Ranjan Varghese and his financial adviser Joe Cala have sacked all the staff, including all the playing staff apart from one who has a contract that runs to June. The club is now talking about leaving the ground, which is owned by the local authority, and moving somewhere else. May we have a debate in Government time about the football authorities’ fit-and-proper-person test for being a club director? Frankly, these people are turning football into a joke.
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in commending Liverpool and Spurs for their excellent results. It is great to see an all-English final. I hope that football clubs and managers all across the country listen to what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is vital that the excellent work done to promote sport, particularly football, throughout the country is properly managed and cared for. We have Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions on Thursday 23 May, and I recommend that the hon. Gentleman raise the issue then.
Following on from the question from the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), I know that you, Sir, will of course have been absolutely amazed at what Liverpool did this week, but you will have been even more impressed by what happened last night, when Tottenham came back from an even more difficult situation.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the problems in football, but what has not been noticed is the long-term partnership between Tottenham Hotspur and the American National Football League. Two American football games will be played at the new Spurs ground next year, and this week the NFL announced that it will base its first academy at Barnet and Southgate College, where 80 youngsters will be taken in and given the opportunity for education and character development and to play American football. Premier league sides and the NFL are working together, so it is not all bad news. May we have a debate so that we can discuss these issues and in particular recognise the work that the NFL has done with its academy?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting forward the good side of some of the work done by football clubs in collaboration with other football leagues. I will certainly take away his request for Government time for a debate. Members often raise their own pet sports—mine being rugby, of course, rather than football, and we all know yours, Mr Speaker—and I will certainly take away that suggestion. We regularly have debates on sport and the contribution that it can make to our national life, and it is right that we continue to consider these issues.
A recent study of 17,000 police personnel across the UK found that 95% of officers and two thirds of operational police staff have been exposed to traumatic events, with 20% reporting symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder. Will the Government consider making a statement on this health crisis in our police service?
The report that came out was extremely concerning, and this is an opportunity to pay tribute to the police for all the amazing work they do to keep us safe. The hon. Lady will know that, as part of our NHS long-term plan, mental health and support for mental health issues are a high priority, as is achieving parity of esteem between mental health and physical health. We will see much more support available in the years to come. Nevertheless, she is right to raise the issue. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate perhaps to discuss it directly with Ministers.
As well as congratulating Liverpool and Spurs, I am sure that you will join me, Mr Speaker, in wishing Arsenal and Chelsea all the best for this evening so that we can have a full slate of English clubs in the European finals. On an even more serious point, may I ask for a debate on what one might almost call online economic terrorism against small businesses? Last week, I visited an excellent small business in my constituency that has been targeted over a certain matter, with a particular employee being the subject of that targeting. The business has been asked, or it has been told, that unless it fires that employee it will continue to be targeted. Fortunately, the threats are being taken seriously, but the young woman who owns and has grown that excellent business rightly wants me to raise this in a debate in the House of Commons. I am sure that it is not the only case that Members have come across.
My hon. Friend raises a very concerning issue about unfair intimidation of a business over whatever the activity is of one of the employees. It is absolutely right that when enforcement is required the police support any business that is trying to defend an employee against unfair accusations. I do not know the precise details, but I would encourage him to speak directly to Ministers about what more can be done.
I wanted to ask the Leader of the House to celebrate Europe Day with me, but I know that is dangerous on her territory. I have been campaigning for a long time about the poison coming through our air, polluting our air, poisoning our children and poisoning pregnant women. It is a disaster. Now we have realised—I asked every Secretary of State to introduce air quality monitors in every primary school, but I was rebuffed. May we have a debate on air pollution and what the Government can do about it before 2040, when 1 million people will have lost their lives to air pollution?
First, I absolutely join the hon. Gentleman in celebrating Europe Day. European nations are our friends and neighbours and we have a strong and long-term relationship with them. He raises an important point about air pollution and is right to do so. I can tell him that air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010. Emissions of toxic nitrogen oxides have fallen by 29% and are at their lowest level since records began. Of course, we have to take action. We have put in place a £3.5 billion plan to reduce harmful emissions from road transport and, as he points out, we will end the sale of new conventional diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040. Very importantly, we are implementing our new world-leading clean air strategy, and we will absolutely be tackling the very real concerns we all have about the quality of the air we are breathing.
Yesterday, we wore a white rose for ovarian cancer. We know that it and cervical cancer can be killers, and the Government are doing a great job in trying to encourage more women to have smear tests. Does my right hon. Friend share my great pleasure at the research that came out just last month that showed that, when girls have had the HPV vaccination, that has led to a dramatic decrease in cervical cancer? Given the concerns about measles outbreaks across the world, may we please have a debate in this place on the importance of having vaccinations, because vaccinations save lives?
I share my hon. Friend’s delight at the dramatically lower rate of cervical cancer as a result of vaccination. She will be aware that we had a debate last week on immunisation around the world and its importance in eradicating some of the world’s most terrible diseases, but she is right to raise again the importance of vaccination. All parents should look very carefully at NHS advice rather than some of the absolute misinformation that can be found online.
Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from Clydesdale Bank telling me that, without so much as a by your leave, it is going to shut its branch in Brora in Sutherland. This is yet another addition to a sickening litany of bank closures across the highlands. I know that I speak for many right hon. and hon. Members across the House when I say that we cannot go on like this; I cannot tell the House how upset my constituents are. Would the Leader of the House consider very strongly the possibility of a debate on the issue in this Chamber, because if we do not take action—if we do not try to do something—we will let down our constituents in every part of the UK?
I am well aware of the concern of many Members when there are bank branch closures in their constituencies; it is an issue for many people. The hon. Gentleman will also appreciate that banks are commercial businesses and the way that people are choosing to manage their financial affairs is changing. One step that the Government have taken is the access to banking protocol, which banks will consult broadly to ensure that they are not leaving people literally in the lurch. The work that the Government have done on investing in the post office network has been really important, resulting in 99.7% of the UK population now living within three miles of a post office branch.
Recent research has indicated that, if British households switched from eating meat for just one day a week, it would result in a reduction in carbon emissions equivalent to taking 16 million cars off our roads. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment on the importance of a healthier environment and healthier diets through less meat consumption?
As my hon. Friend knows, we are committed to ensuring that there is a fair balance between farming and climate change, which is why mitigating climate change is explicitly listed among the public goods in our Agriculture Bill. However, he should also be aware that, although food choices can have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, at the same time well-managed livestock farming provides environmental benefits such as supporting biodiversity; importantly, protecting the character of the countryside; and, of course, generating important income for rural communities.
Last night I received a Facebook message from somebody I know. I just want to read out a little part of it, if I may: “Dear Paula, I was wondering if you have had any experience of people suddenly having employment and support allowance being suddenly stopped. I get ESA. I’ve been in the support group for a while due to long-term conditions with my arm, bowel and epilepsy following being attacked by a patient at the hospital trust where I worked. I get PIP too. I had a work capability assessment a few weeks ago. Yesterday I got a letter to say it’s been stopped and I’m okay to work. I’m beside myself. I can’t sleep. I have always, for years, scored 15 points and now I’ve got zero. But nothing has changed.” Sometimes I honestly wonder how this wicked Government can do this to people. This is someone working in our NHS who was attacked, and now their benefits have been stopped; she is suffering mentally and physically. May we have a debate on how we can bring this terrible situation to an end and treat people with the dignity that they deserve?
The hon. Lady is raising a very serious constituency issue. As ever, I will be happy to raise that particular case if she writes to me after business questions. However, I have to make it absolutely clear that, since the personal independence payment was introduced in 2013, it has been there to ensure that people had more control over their own lives. Four million decisions have been taken and almost nine in every 10 PIP claimants are satisfied with the overall experience. What the Government are seeking to do is to provide as much support as possible, as flexibly as possible, to people who need personal independence payments. Obviously the hon. Lady is talking about a particular issue that must be looked at, and hon. Members often do raise particular issues, but we must not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The whole premise of the Government, in looking at benefits for people who need them, is to provide support for those people.
It has been apparent for some months that it was almost certain that we would be fighting the European elections, but yesterday the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirmed it. As a result of the late confirmation, a large number of local authorities have failed to send out forms or adequately ensure that the millions of European Union citizens in this country entitled to vote will be able to vote on 23 May. May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 2357, tabled by myself and Members cross-party?
[That this House calls on the Government to take immediate steps to ensure that all EU citizens in the UK who wish to vote in the EU elections are able to do so by making the additional form that EU citizens need to complete in order to declare they are not voting in another EU member state - the UC1 form - available at all polling stations on 23 May 2019, by instructing all local authorities to write by first-class mail to EU citizens who miss the 7 May deadline to inform them they will still be able to vote by filling in a UC1 form which will be available at polling stations and by directing local authorities to send polling cards to all EU citizens and not just those who have completed and returned the UC1 form.]
The EDM asks the Government to instruct local authorities to allow EU nationals to have the polling card sent to them, whether or not they have filled in the additional form, the UC1 form, and to have copies of that form available in polling stations, so that they can sign it there and confirm that they are voting only in this country and not in another European country, thereby enabling EU nationals legally resident here, with families here and working here, to vote in these European elections.
The hon. Gentleman is asking me a specific policy question that is clearly one for the Cabinet Office and/or for the Brexit Department. I would encourage him perhaps to lay a named question so that he can get a direct answer to his specific request.
One year ago this week, Scottish musician Scott Hutchison died by suicide. Scott had been very open in talking about his mental health struggles, and through that, and his music and lyrics, he brought comfort and support to people all across the world. This week, in his honour, his family launched a charity called Tiny Changes to support young people with their mental health. We know that young people are struggling more and more often with their mental health, and with the mounting pressures of modern life, it is unlikely to get any better. So will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to Scott, his work and his life and in thanking his family for their work? Could we please have a debate in Government time on young people’s mental health, so that we can come together and discuss this very important issue? Together we can make tiny changes.
I commend the hon. Lady for raising Scott’s story and I pay tribute to him and his family. It is just the most terrible thing when anyone takes their own life. I can tell her—I see she is quite moved—that a very good friend of my son also committed suicide, and he will also be taking action to try to raise money for those families who are struggling to ever get over this. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue. The Government have the very first suicide prevention strategy, and we have many different measures that are being considered right across Departments to do what we can to try to prevent more suicides. She is absolutely right to raise this and I will see what can be done about a debate.
I call Dr Julian Lewis.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was not expecting to be called until the end, because I would like to raise with the Leader of the House the situation at Carriage Gates, which is not strictly a matter of the business of the House. I am concerned that the incessant loud noise, which is being made not in the context of specific demonstrations but at varying times, is taking us back to a situation prior to 2010. Not only does it cause distraction, particularly in Westminster Hall, but, much more importantly, it has a huge effect on the police who are guarding the gates and have to be on the alert, as we know only too well, against attack. There are byelaws about this. I do not care which side of the EU argument the shouters are on—probably both sides—but it needs to be stopped. I wonder what the Leader of the House can do about this matter because one of her predecessors, Sir George Young, proved very effective in tackling it with Westminster City Council.
Yes, that was in 2012—I remember it well.
I regularly meet the director of security in the Palace and the Director General to talk about the challenges we face when going about our everyday work. I have raised the demonstrations going on outside, but not specifically the noise. Since my right hon. Friend makes that point, I will undertake to raise that issue the next time I speak to the DG.
I have had two yellowing newspaper front pages pinned to the wall in my office for nearly two years now, with headlines saying, “Five years for monsters who harm animals” and “Five years’ jail for cruelty to pets”. A Bill was published and then withdrawn. My constituents and thousands of people around the country have run a fantastic campaign to ensure that those who are cruel to animals are punished with severe sentences, which they are not at the moment. Where is the Bill? No more talk—we must have it in Parliament.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that cruelty to animals is utterly unacceptable. We are a nation of animal lovers and want to see perpetrators brought to justice. She is right that it is the Government’s policy to take action to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty, and that Bill will be brought forward in an animals Bill in the next Session. In the meantime, the Government have improved animal welfare through many different measures, such as making CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses. We are bringing forward a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. We have banned online and third-party puppy sales, and our world- leading ivory sales ban demonstrates our commitment to do everything we can to protect animals around the world.
I am sure the Leader of the House recognises the importance of grassroots sports in promoting physical and mental wellbeing in our communities. Will she take the time to recognise the great work that the parkrun project does across all parts of the UK, and particularly in my constituency? The Springburn parkrun, which was set up in the wake of the Commonwealth games in Glasgow with some of the legacy funding, is celebrating its fifth anniversary this Saturday. Every week, people can go along at half-past 9 to run, and it is not against each other, but to improve their fitness and their time each week. Will she recognise that great initiative?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the value of community initiatives such as parkrun in keeping people fit and motivated, with a bit of social company. It is a fantastic thing to do, and I congratulate his constituents on their work.
My 16-year-old constituent, Jackson Shepherd, has severe special needs, including learning disabilities, very limited communication and an inability to attend to daily needs such as washing and clothing himself. He is a student at the fantastic Riverbrae School for those with additional and complex support needs. However, his dad has been told that Jackson cannot claim universal credit because he cannot undergo a work capability assessment, as he is a student and therefore cannot work. Can we have a debate on this Government’s policies on supporting young adults with additional and complex needs, to ensure that people like Jackson do not fall through the net?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important constituency issue, as he often does. I encourage him to raise it directly with Ministers, and if he wants to write to me after business questions, I can take it up on his behalf. He will be aware that the Government are determined to ensure that people with disabilities—in particular, young people—are able to lead fulfilling lives and achieve as much as possible. To that end, we are spending £55 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions, which is up by more than £10 billion in real terms since 2010.
The Ministry of Justice’s own policy framework states that all prisons should develop specific multidisciplinary pathways for pregnant and post-natal women. Birth Companions, a maternity rights charity, has raised concerns that current practices are falling short. Please may we have a debate in Government time to discuss maternity services before, during and post sentencing so that we can better improve life chances for mothers and their children?
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue, and one that is dear to my heart. It is certainly vital in the perinatal period that women, their babies and their partners are given the support they need to get every baby off to the best start in life. I am not aware of exactly where Government policy is on this, but I encourage the hon. Lady to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise the issue with a Minister.
Even if the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) had momentarily forgotten the brilliance of his inquiry, the rest of us, thankfully, had not.
The Government have failed to increase stamp duty on purchases of properties by overseas buyers by 3%, instead cutting it back to 1%, which has resulted in less money being available for tackling homelessness. This is not just a rough deal on the homeless who have to sleep rough, but a rough deal on young people who want to buy houses that are forced out of reach by house price inflation. May we have a debate in Government time on the Government’s failure to join up housing policy, and its impact on our constituents and people who are facing homelessness?
The hon. Gentleman started off by saying something about a change in Government policy that I did not fully follow. However, I draw his attention to Treasury questions on 21 May, when he might like to raise his specific question. I can say to him that the Government are doing everything possible to eradicate homelessness. Our Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 means that everyone, not just those who are a priority, can get more support before becoming homeless, which is absolutely vital. There is also our rough sleeping initiative, working with local authorities with the highest levels of rough sleeping, which is demonstrating a 19% decrease in rough sleeping across the areas where it is in place. The Government are absolutely committed to tackling this, but he should raise his specific point at Treasury questions.
The Leader of the House has already talked about climate change this morning, and the Environment Agency has produced a report today about flooding. With rising sea levels and river flooding, 55,000 houses in the Humber estuary are at risk. May we have a debate about what new opportunities there are in tackling climate change and flood defences, and where we see it as an opportunity, not a burden, to develop the new industries that the Environment Agency says we need? For example, there is the proposal for a Hull lagoon from the Humber bridge to the port, which is championed by local businesses led by Tim Rix and which would help to protect the Humber estuary and regenerate the city of Hull.
As ever, I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing with the hon. Lady on a very significant issue. I have visited some of the most at-risk places, such as York, where the new flood defences have created jobs and opportunities for local businesses while at the same time protecting the city centre. I absolutely agree that we should be looking at opportunities to do more to think creatively about how we can protect ourselves from the risk of flooding. We obviously had Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions this morning, so I hope she was able to put her idea to Ministers then. If not, she might like to seek an Adjournment debate.
The Gillen review of the changes required to procedures and laws on serious sexual offences in Northern Ireland has just been published this morning. It contains over 200 important and radical recommendations that would bring our laws in Northern Ireland up to speed, and indeed get the productivity of getting such offences properly tried in Northern Ireland up to speed. What will be done? Can the Government arrange for those procedures to be implemented in the absence of devolution in Northern Ireland, and ensure that nothing is allowed to delay the implementation of the law changes that are required?
The hon. Gentleman will know that it is absolutely the Government’s aim to bring the main political parties in Northern Ireland together, with the UK and Irish Governments, to bring back a fully devolved Administration in Northern Ireland. That is an absolute priority for the UK Government. In the meantime, we obviously continue to talk about any essential measures that need to be taken. Ultimately, we want to see the talks that commenced on 7 May reach a fruitful re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive.
Earlier this week I announced that I am pregnant with my second child. As both my husband and I are MPs, the decision to have another baby was made possible only because of the introduction of proxy voting, and I wish to place on record my thanks to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), to the Leader of the House, and to you, Mr Speaker, for pushing that forward. Parliament has made much progress in recent years, but late-night votes and an archaic voting system that can mean MPs walking around in circles through the Lobbies for several hours on end can be off-putting. May we have a debate in Government time about how we can make Parliament a more accessible workplace?
I am delighted—congratulations to the hon. Lady and her husband. That is fantastic news, and we all share in wishing her a fabulous pregnancy with no sickness, tiredness, or anything of that sort. She is right to say that proxy voting was an important step as many more new families come to this place, and it is right for the diversity of the House of Commons that many more young parents are coming here as representatives. I commit to doing everything I can to make this place more family friendly. The issues of how we vote and the late timing are matters for the House, and I encourage the hon. Lady to seek either a Westminster Hall debate or a Backbench Business Committee debate so that all hon. Members can share their views. Surprisingly to me and to her, not all hon. Members share our view about making this place family friendly.
The hon. Lady will certainly get the Westminster Hall debate, and she should have a word with her hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) about the Backbench Business Committee debate.
Only yesterday, Clydesdale Bank announced that it would close its branch in Largs. That is the latest blow to my constituency, as yet another bank abandons our communities, leading to increasing concerns about financial exclusion, and all the implications that that poses for consumers, small businesses and the future of our high streets. May we have a debate in Government time about the social responsibility of banks, and a proper investigation into banking hubs for every community?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady is the second Scottish parliamentarian to raise a bank branch closure in their constituency during business questions, and I agree that bank closures are difficult for our constituents. She will be aware of the access to banking arrangements, under which banks must consult and demonstrate that there is no commercial value to be had from a bank branch, and that alternative arrangements are in place to suit the needs of the local community. In many cases those arrangements are provided by local post offices. The Government have invested £2.3 billion in the post office network since 2010, meaning that post offices are open for an extra 200,000 hours a week, with more than 4,000 opening on Sunday. Nevertheless, the hon. Lady makes an important point, and I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate on the issue.
I call Chris Bryant.
You are generous, Mr Speaker, especially because I am a naughty boy and was not entirely in the Chamber when the business question started. I am grateful to you—thank you very much. Would the Leader of the House care to come and visit me in my constituency and perhaps stay overnight? [Hon. Members: “Oooh!”] We have a spare room—it’s fine. She could then see the Cory Band, which is indisputably the best brass band in the country. It won the British open championships last year—it is the reigning champion—and last week it won the European brass band championship. While in the Rhondda the right hon. Lady could also come to the Rhondda Arts Festival Treorchy—RAFT—and see all the great acts that will be put on in the last week of June.
What can I say, other than that you were clearly tricked by the hon. Gentleman sneaking in under the radar, Mr Speaker? I hope you are not losing your touch. I find that invitation almost entirely irresistible, and I would be delighted to visit the Rhondda. May I commend the hon. Gentleman’s local brass band, the Cory Band, and congratulate it on its superb achievements?
The Offensive Weapons Bill seeks to strengthen legislation on weapons such as knives. The Bill is important, but friends in the Sikh community were concerned that it would impinge on their freedom to carry the kirpan, or ceremonial sword, which is an ingrained part of their religious practice similar to wearing a cross. There must always be a balance between freedom and public safety. I am delighted that the Government have considered that balance and amended the Bill to accommodate Sikh religious freedom. That positive result highlights the importance of considering freedom of religion or belief in all Government policy. Will the Leader of the House join me and others in welcoming that decision?
I am delighted the hon. Gentleman raises this issue. He is absolutely right to point out that the Government fully support religious freedom. The Government were pleased that the issue of wearing the kirpan was brought to their attention, so that the Offensive Weapons Bill could be amended and the protection of religious freedoms of the Sikh community ensured.
Those who claim asylum in the UK as third country applicants are currently waiting up to two or even three years for a decision. The Guardian reported last week that the third country unit was massively overworked and understaffed. May we please have a debate on the very real human cost of Home Office understaffing for those who rely on these decisions?
The hon. Lady raises a very serious issue, and I encourage her to raise it directly with Ministers. She will be aware that the UK has a very generous commitment to helping refugees who seek asylum. She raises the effectiveness of the arrangements around administering those cases. It is right that she should take that up directly with the Home Office. If she wants to write to me after business questions, I can raise it with them on her behalf.
May we please have a debate on the application of section 4 of the Ministerial and other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991? I understand that Ministers come and go, and that the Government are in a permanent state of reshuffle, but I personally do not think it is right that those who are sacked or forced to resign because of serious allegations get a five-figure pay-off funded by the taxpayer.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. I encourage him to raise it in a written question, so he can get a specific answer to his point.
Earlier this week, I received a letter from Father Liam McMahon, who is the parish priest at St Michael’s on Gallowgate in Parkhead. Like many other ministers and those in the clergy, he is concerned about the changes to tier 5 religious worker visas. May we have a debate in Government time about early-day motion 2362, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), to ensure that the Home Office reverses these retrograde plans that will disproportionately impact parishes right across the United Kingdom?
[That this House notes with concern the decision of the Home Office to remove Ministers of Religion from the eligibility criteria for tier 5 entry visas to the UK; further notes the widespread disappointment about this decision felt by Churches and other faith communities which have previously been able to invite religious ministers from overseas, and particularly developing countries, to provide supply cover for religious services over the coming months; believes this will have a negative effect on the ability of priests and ministers in the UK to take a break over the summer, on faith communities who may experience reduced worship schedules, and on the supply ministers who have used the opportunity to gain experience in the UK and earn some additional income before returning to their home country; and calls on the Home Secretary to meet with representatives of faith communities to listen to their concerns and urgently review his Department’s policy decision.]
I know the Leader of the House is sympathetic and a practising Christian. Will she be a voice in Government to U-turn on this ridiculous decision by the Home Office that will affect parishes all across these islands?
This issue has been raised a couple of times. Of course, we want to be able to facilitate visits by religious leaders around the world to talk to parishes here in the United Kingdom. There are arrangements—I am struggling to remember, but I think they can apply under tier 2 visa arrangements and that there are some pauses in place to ensure that those visas remain temporary. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman seeks an Adjournment debate, so that Ministers can set out for him precisely how visitors can apply for visas.