Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 24 June will include the following:
Monday 24 June—Second reading of the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No.3) Bill [Lords], followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019.
Tuesday 25 June—Second reading of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill.
Wednesday 26 June—Opposition day (un-allotted half day). There will be a debate on a motion on immigration in the name of the Scottish National party, followed by a general debate on Armed Forces Day.
Thursday 27 June—Debate on a motion relating to the contribution of co-operatives and mutuals to the economy, followed by a general debate on the children’s future food report. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 28 June—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 summer recess at the close of business on Thursday 25 July, and will return on Tuesday 3 September.
That is very helpful to all Members.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) for suggesting the business. I am pleased that we now have a recess date, but can the Leader of the House tell us who will be at the Dispatch Box on Wednesday 24 July?
How can he know that?
Well, that is what I am asking him. I am asking him when the identity of the new Prime Minister will be confirmed. I understand that all the results will be out on 22 July; perhaps he could let us know. I am pleased to learn that the House will sit in September, and I am sure that the Leader of the House will announce the conference recess dates as well. I think it is only fair to the outgoing Prime Minister that she knows when her last Question Time will be, and, more important, only fair to us—to Parliament.
The Leader of the House will know that we have had a busy week. He will also know that on Tuesday we had a Back-Bench debate about the Cox report. When is he likely to table a motion for a debate in Government time? It may be necessary to change a Standing Order, so will he find a date as a matter of urgency, before the House rises on 25 July?
I know that Back-Bench debates are important, but there is a backlog of very important legislation. The Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill, the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill need Report stages, and the Trade Bill is again stuck in the other place. When are we likely to debate those Bills?
Ministers are so occupied with their bids to become the next Prime Minister. Only after dropping out of the Conservative leadership race did the Health Secretary order a root-and-branch review of NHS food. Parts of the country have been unsettled by torrential rain, homes have been left without power and roads have been flooded in Lincolnshire—people in Wainfleet are in tears—but there has been no statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I know that there have been questions to him, but there has been no specific statement about the people in Wainfleet. The Home Secretary has said that he will put 20,000 more police officers on the beat if he is elected leader, but the Government have cut the number already. He is merely repeating a commitment made by Her Majesty’s Opposition.
As for the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), he has been careless with his words. He has said that his comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had made “no difference”, but they were used at her trial. He has put a woman’s life at risk and separated a family. For the record, Nazanin was on holiday visiting her parents. She has been in jail for three years. I met Richard Ratcliffe yesterday, and other Members have visited him too. Will the Leader of the House raise Nazanin’s case with both the former and the current Foreign Secretary, and send the Iranian Government the message that they should show the international community their seriousness, and free Nazanin and reunite the family now?
A motion scheduled for next Tuesday is to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019. The motion is a step in the right direction, but why are we waiting until 2050? Heathrow is already the largest single source of carbon emissions in the UK. Plans published on Tuesday revealed that Heathrow airport will construct a third runway by 2026 and complete its 50% expansion by 2050. This includes diverting rivers, moving roads and rerouting the M25 through a tunnel under the new runway. The Government’s own figures show that nearly 1 million households are to face increased daytime noise from allowing a further 700 flights a day. May we have a statement on the new plans for the expansion of Heathrow airport, including the environmental impacts?
It is Children’s Hospice Week this week. Hospices across the country are under threat, including one in my constituency, Acorns. It employs 70 people to care for 233 Black Country children and their families. It is facing closure due to lack of Government funding. I met my constituent Mark Lyttle, a bereaved parent, who spoke about his daughter Isabella, who was cared for by Acorns. Mark said Acorns Walsall extended and improved her quality of life and provides the family with ongoing bereavement help, because, sadly, Isabella passed away earlier this year at the age of 11. Black Country MPs across parties are working to save this hospice, and it is the only one of the three in the area to close.
I know that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care should be accountable. We have heard the phrase “A bedpan dropping and we hear it Whitehall,” but so much for accountability: at this stage we have to write to the Health Secretary and the head of NHS England, and the Prime Minister said yesterday that they would match-fund what the clinical commissioning groups put forward. May we use the good offices of the Leader of the House to raise this with the Health Secretary? We need the Health Secretary to make the decision so that children’s hospices, particularly Acorns, have their long-term funding. We cannot crowdfund and fundraise to save a children’s hospice.
The third anniversary of Jo Cox’s murder was on 16 June. The hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) is working very hard on one of Kim Leadbeater’s key asks for all of us: to focus on the humanitarian emergency in Syria, one of the issues that mattered most to Jo, by highlighting the plight of civilians trapped under the merciless bombing in Idlib.
It has been a busy week for me and the Leader of the House. Yesterday we agreed that we would save the education centre. It is also Refugee Week, and the education and engagement service will be providing a workshop to the refugee and migrant centre in Walsall, “An introduction to your UK Parliament”. I am pleased that that is going ahead and that education is also to be part of any restoration and renewal.
Finally, I offer my commiserations to the Scottish football team but wish the Lionesses well in the next stage of the World cup.
I thank the hon. Lady for her various questions, which I will go through in some detail in a moment. I also thank her for welcoming the recess dates, which I think we are all relieved have now finally been announced.
Having just announced the summer recess dates, an idea has occurred to me. We meet as a merry band on Thursdays—we are like a tightly knit club—and I wonder if this recess we might perhaps keep the camaraderie going, and all go off on holiday together. I would be happy to hire a bus or a charabanc, Mr Speaker, and as the new Leader who, as you know, has brought such a powerful sense of direction and renewed purpose to this House, I would be happy to drive it. Nothing would give me more pleasure than for my new-found friend, the shadow Leader of the House, to join me. She would be serenaded of course by the ever-cheerful hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on the pipes, or maybe the banjo, and accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) displaying his musical prowess on the spoons while spouting Wordsworth and Keats and John Clare and regaling us with cheery tales of those halcyon Victorian times when small boys cheerfully shinned up chimneys and widespread malnutrition and rickets were a mere footnote to a far happier age. And as the sun slips below the horizon we will hear the extraordinary tales of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) explaining how he quietly took over the entire business of government with his Backbench Business Committee. Or perhaps we should stick to our original plans.
The hon. Lady raised several important points. First, she asks who will be at the Dispatch Box when Parliament goes into recess. Of course, that is unknown; I have no crystal ball. There are four finalists, all extremely strong candidates, and we will have to wait and see. I can offer her a membership form for the Conservative party so that next time she can participate in the excitement and fun. I was grateful to receive her satisfaction, however, at our having set out the situation for September and at the fact that we will be sitting from early that month.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Cox report. Her request for a debate would need to be taken up through the usual channels, but I have taken her request on board—it is the second time she has raised it with me—and undertake to come back to her later today at least with something by way of a response, even if it is to say that I have asked the usual channels at my end of the usual channel to consider it seriously. She also asked about various pieces of future legislation and when they will be coming forward. They will come forward in due course. On flood defences, which she mentioned, we have of course just had Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, which was an opportunity for Members to address that issue.
The hon. Lady made various important points about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has now spent three years in jail in Iran. I can assure her that, whatever may or may not have been said by others in the past, the Government are working extremely hard to do whatever they can to ensure her imminent release. She also raised carbon emissions, which she will know the Government have reduced by 25% in terms of greenhouse gases since 2010. We have now had over 1,700 hours of producing power in our country without the use of coal, which is the longest stretch in the history of power production in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Lady made some very important points about hospices, particularly relating to the care of children, on which subject there will be an Adjournment debate on 1 July in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson). The hon. Lady may wish to attend and urge others to do likewise. I would certainly be prepared to facilitate the approaches she requested to the Secretary of State for Health in terms of funding.
The hon. Lady made some very important points about Jo Cox and the excellent work of Kim Leadbeater and her concerns about humanitarian aid in Syria. In that regard, we have a proud record in this country and have allocated some billions of pounds of assistance. Given that she also referred to Refugee Week, I should remind the House that we have agreed to take 20,000 refugees and 3,000 children from Syria.
Like the hon. Lady, I was pleased that during the remaining stages of the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill yesterday we underscored our commitment to education in this place, and, like her also, I commiserate with our Scottish colleagues on the football result yesterday while also cheering on the England team.
I think that the Backbench Business Committee is universally regarded in this House as a complete success. One of the great policies of David Cameron and Nick Clegg was to bring in a business of the House commission within two years of the coalition Government coming to power. The chaos in this place over the last few months caused by people trying to suspend Standing Orders was the result of our not having a business of the House committee. Can we have a debate on this matter? If we are to have a new Prime Minister, it would be a very good thing if all the parties could agree to have a business of the House committee so that we do not repeat the farce of the last few months.
The Government’s position on a House business committee remains unchanged: we will not be bringing forward proposals to establish such a committee. There was an absence of consensus on the issue at the end of the previous Parliament, and we believe that that remains the case today.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the purgatory for next week. As for his recess plans, they sound like some kind of holiday from hell, and I think I will resist the temptation to join him in that particular venture. I also thank him for his kind regards about the Scotland football team. I think we are recovering from the heartbreak of last night, and we all wish the Lionesses the very best in the remaining stages of the contest.
This business statement is unbelievable. Other than half a day for the Scottish National party, it is another week of absolutely nothing. This House should now be done under the Vagrancy Act. Never before in the history of Parliament has so little been done by so many on behalf of so few, as Churchill would never have said. But small mercies—at last this is the final day of the contest to see who will be gubbed by the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). It has become a kind of grotesque “Love Island”, without the love, the entertainment or the island. Maybe it is just Boris island. And I seriously do not get all this fuss about the issue of the racist rantings of the right hon. Gentleman being raised. If people say racist and unacceptable things, they have to expect to be held to account for them. I represent the most marginal SNP/Tory seat in the country. My leaflet is set to go, and it is simply a picture of the right hon. Gentleman and all his choice comments, with added quotes from Ruth Davidson. Scotland just will not take to his appalling “Etonic” buffoonery, and reasonable soft Tory voters in Scotland will be deserting the Tories in droves.
May we have a debate about Brexit? Remember that? They gave us extra time to try to resolve it, but they also told us to use that time wisely. We have not debated it in weeks, and there is no plan to debate it in the coming weeks. It is four weeks until the summer recess, and no progress has been made. Can the Leader of the House confirm that we will not be seeing the withdrawal agreement again? It must be dead and buried now. There is a new word that I want to introduce to the parliamentary lexicon, and that word is “unicornism”. That now seems to be the central policy of this Government in their approach to Brexit. They are doing nothing other than waste time and run down the clock. Halloween will soon be upon us, and the nightmare on Brexit Street will be set to haunt us all.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his weekly contribution. I have to say that it had a familiar ring to it, although I have to disagree with him about the summer recess. How could it possibly be a holiday from hell with him there? It would be nothing other than a great pleasure. He did give us the same old tunes, though. Last week I said he was using the Abba playbook, but this week I am going to elevate him to the Beatles. His meandering litany of woe was “The Long and Winding Road” that we had to endure, but as we know, it will all end up in the same place for the “Nowhere Man”. Anyway. They don’t get any better, do they?
The hon. Gentleman asks for a Brexit debate. The House has certainly debated Brexit at significant length over a very significant period—the best part of three years now. He could have chosen this very week to debate it in the half day allotted to the Scottish National party, although I have no doubt that, in the immigration debate that the SNP has chosen, he will be able to weave the European Union in somewhere.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future of the BBC? There have already been concerns about taking away free TV licences from the over-75s, but frankly, after that dreadful debate on Monday between my parliamentary colleagues, the quality of public broadcasting needs to be looked at, and presumably, during the course of our debate, we could find out who the idiot was in central office who agreed to the format of that programme in the first place.
My hon. Friend tempts me. On the specific issue of the free TV licence, we are urging the BBC to rethink its position. I have to say that I agree with my hon. Friend’s observation on the televised hustings, which made the candidates look like some kind of boy band perched on their stools. The BBC should always be an institution that is debated, including in further debates in this House.
I was sad to see the demise of the Scottish ladies’ football team last night, when they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory late in the game after taking a 3-0 lead. I was reminded that it has been only 41 years since Ally MacLeod and his tartan army ventured forth to Buenos Aires and sadly came back undone.
The Backbench Business Committee had a dozen applications for estimates day debates, and the business for those days has now been determined as relating to the spending of the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for International Development and the Department for Education. Will the Leader of the House confirm the dates for those debates? We have been led to believe that they would occur on 2 and 3 July, but I understand that there is now some doubt about that.
Despite the fact that the Backbench Business Committee has been getting an awful lot of business, I remind the Leader of the House that we still have unmet demand. He should also take note that, on Monday, the House went on to the Adjournment debate at 7.08 pm and adjourned at 7.47 pm. If the Leader of the House and the business team think that there is likely to be a shortfall in business—this was despite four urgent questions on Monday—could he think about making the Backbench Business Committee aware so that we could put something on at short notice?
The dates for the estimates days are not currently available, but I will ensure that we get them to the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible. I take note of his rather interesting observation about the possibility of a Backbench Business debate coming to the Floor of the House when other business is running short. There may be all sorts of technical issues around that, but I am happy to take his suggestion away and give it some thought.
A civilised society is defined by the way that it copes with and counters disadvantage. I was therefore alarmed to discover yesterday that 79% of assistance dog owners had been made to feel unwelcome or had received second-class service because they had their assistance dog with them, and in particular that 73% of those with guide dogs or assistance dogs had been turned away by a minicab or taxi driver. The Government commissioned a report on taxi licensing, and one of its recommendations was that we deal with this prejudice against people with guide dogs and other assistance dogs. It is time that the Government acted and joined you, Mr Speaker, and I, whose mission has always been to redistribute advantage.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, and I agree with him that access for assistance dogs and their owners, especially in taxis and other modes of transport, is extremely important. I would be happy to facilitate on his behalf an appropriate meeting with a Minister in the Department for Transport.
I know that my right hon. Friend is rather fond of poetry and, having been forewarned of his question, I found a poem by Julian Stearns Cutler that I think is quite appropriate to him as well as to dogs:
You’re only a dog, old fellow;
a dog, and you’ve had your day;
But never a friend of all my friends
has been truer than you alway.
Well, what a beautiful reply from the Treasury Bench. I must say to the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) that I have just received his most gracious, handwritten, borderline poetic letter in his illustrious capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Lebanon, and I intend to reply by hand—although probably not, as he would prefer, by the use of the quill pen—similarly graciously and within a very short timeframe. My response to his request will be in the affirmative, and I expect that he will wish to dance round a red telephone box, if he can find one, in appreciation of my reply.
Is it in verse?
My letter is not in verse. I know my limitations. I cannot compete with the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings on that front.
The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) recently joined me as a trustee of the John Clare Trust.
I welcome the Leader of the House’s comments on Jo Cox. She was a Labour family friend, and her constituency was close to mine. I know we do not talk about these things, but I still worry about the safety and security of Members, particularly female Members, of this House, and I do not think we have yet come to terms with some of the vulnerabilities involved. That is not for major debate.
In most of our towns and cities, we are poisoning many women—pregnant women and older women—and men, too with the dirty air they breathe every day. Can we have an urgent debate on a fast programme of activity, not the Government’s 2040 deadline, to cut down the poisonous air our people are breathing in every day?
I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Jo Cox and, more generally, about security. It would not be appropriate for me to discuss it on the Floor of the House, but I assure him that I have already met the Chairman of Ways and Means and others to discuss matters of security across the parliamentary estate, which I take extremely seriously.
We have a clean air strategy, of course, and the Government have done a great deal to cut many emissions substantially over the past several years. Given that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), is still looking for opportunities for yet further debates, clean air might be a good subject. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) might like to approach him on that basis.
In eight recent Department for Work and Pensions appeal cases in my constituency the DWP has not submitted information to the court in time. That has led to the hearings being postponed, which is obviously distressing for the appellants. Will the Government make a statement on what they will do to make sure that the DWP adheres to proper timescales? Will the Leader of the House confirm that this is sheer incompetence from the DWP, and not a deliberate Government strategy?
I have two answers for the hon. Gentleman. First, when it comes to specific DWP cases—he cited some cases in his question—I am happy to facilitate an approach to the relevant Minister to make sure those cases are specifically looked at. On his more general point about how these cases are handled, DWP questions on 1 July will be a good opportunity to raise the matter.
It has been revealed today that Warrington Hospital has published a list of charges for operations that used to be free on the NHS. These are not cosmetic procedures but things like hip and knee operations and cataract removals. Can we have a debate on the creeping privatisation of the NHS under this Government and the denial of essential treatment to people who cannot afford to pay?
As a party and as a Government, we are entirely committed to healthcare being free at the point of delivery and on a universal basis. The Opposition often assert that wholesale privatisation of the NHS is occurring, which is simply not the case. The private sector has been involved in the NHS ever since its inception. Most of the drugs used by the NHS come from private companies, and general practitioners are effectively employed on a similar basis. As to the record of this Government, we have made the largest cash injection into the NHS in its history.
The Leader of the House is well aware of the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has already been mentioned in the House this morning. Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, is now on hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy here in London to show solidarity with his wife and to highlight the appalling conditions in which she is being held.
Mr Ratcliffe’s sister lives in my Newport West constituency, and she is extremely concerned about the physical and mental health of both Richard and Nazanin. Given that the previous Foreign Secretary made a bad situation worse with his comments on her detention, will the current Foreign Secretary come to the House to update us on the efforts being made to get Nazanin back home as quickly as possible to be reunited with her daughter and husband?
I have already touched on the issue of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and repeat that it is totally unacceptable that she should be held. We are engaged with the Iranian Government. I also respect the fact that her husband has entered into a hunger strike, as she has at the same time. For that reason, and all the others of her detainment, we wish to see her released as quickly as possible. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has raised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case with President Rouhani, and we will continue to push diplomatically on this matter.
I am upset with the Leader of the House, as he did not invite me on his bus tour, but perhaps he will let me know what slogan he intended having on the side of the bus. I am also disappointed that the urgent question has been cancelled; I wonder whether the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has been sat on. I will turn the homework that I had done for the UQ into a question for the Leader of the House. Will he make time for a debate, in Government time, about how extreme is the new normal in the Tory party and, therefore, the Government? He will know that a majority of Conservative party members are willing to see their party destroyed and the UK broken up in order to secure Brexit. It seems that defaulting on our debts, as Argentina did, is also the preferred course of action. So may we have that debate, when we could also debate the damage that no deal would do to the UK economy and the damage a default on our debt would do to our international credibility?
May I apologise profusely for not having invited the right hon. Gentleman on our holiday? I assure him that there would be nothing disagreeable on the side of the bus, but we do have a dress code and so, for that reason, I am not entirely sure he would be able to join us—but who knows?
I have no idea why my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) withdrew his UQ, but I can assure the House that he was not sat on—and certainly not by me. I can think of nothing worse than the prospect of sitting on him. As for the issue of debates on the EU, I think I have addressed that earlier; there will be plenty of opportunities, in different guises, to discuss that, and I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman bringing his suggestions forward.
The hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) judged that the situation had changed since his submission of the urgent question, and presumably it had changed to his satisfaction. I know no further than that. I am not surprised that the Leader of the House did not sit on the hon. Member for Stone, and indeed I should be very surprised if any Member on the Treasury Bench attempted to do so, for there has been one consistent thread in the career of the hon. Member for Stone and that is that he has had a relationship with the Whips characterised by trust and understanding—I do not think he has always trusted them and they most certainly have not always understood him.
New guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says that employers should help their staff to take part in physical activity. This measure would improve mental and physical health, and support our NHS, so may we have a statement from the Government about promoting physical activity in the workplace?
Before I answer that question, may I reply to you, Mr Speaker, about my hon. Friend the Member for Stone and reassure everybody I have invited on the holiday that he will not be there, and so there will be no sitting on him, be it on the holiday or otherwise? I say that just so we are absolutely clear what is going on in these important questions.
As for the issue of employers and physical health, there is clearly a link between physical activity and ensuring both physical and mental health. This might be an opportunity to speak to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee about another worthy possible contender for his attention.
Yesterday, reports emerged that the Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been advertising a price list for operations that were once free on the NHS. Vital procedures such as hip and knee operations will cost more than £18,000, which is way outside most ordinary people’s budgets. Recently, we have been seeing the privatisation of our NHS advertised to my constituents, with sick and vulnerable people being exploited for profit. Will the Leader of the House give time for a ministerial statement or a debate on this important issue?
I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that that question was in effect asked some moments ago. My answer remains the same.
The House will be aware that Ford has announced redundancies in my Bridgend constituency. Some 1,700 people are going to lose their and their families’ income, livelihoods and futures. May we have a debate about the Treasury’s benefiting from the misfortune of those who lose their job and face redundancy payments? At the moment, people will lose 40% of any redundancy payment over £30,000, and if those who will be able to access their pension once they are over 55 reach their 55th birthday after 2026, they will have to wait until 2027 to access it, thereby losing a further £40,000 to £60,000. It is wrong for the Government to benefit from the misfortune of those who are losing their jobs, and with a harsh Brexit ahead of us there will be many more to come. We need to resolve this situation now.
I agree with the hon. Lady that it is most unfortunate that there are redundancies at the Bridgend plant. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Secretary of State and his Ministers have been very much engaged in and closely connected to what is happening there.
The hon. Lady raised the specific issue of termination payments and rightly said that tax was due on payments over a £30,000 threshold, although there are some exceptions to that. I believe that is one of the most generous arrangements in the world and think I am right in saying—I stand to be corrected—that in Germany, for example, there is no threshold in play at all. However, she raised important points, particularly in respect of pensions, so I direct her to Treasury questions, which will be held on 2 July.
May we please have a debate on the statutory requirements for changes to bus services and the consultation process? Stagecoach has announced that seven services in and around my constituency might change. It has not given any details on what the changes are, other than to say that people in Neston will no longer be able to go to Arrowe Park Hospital. It is all squirrelled away online and is very inaccessible. It really is not good enough. Can we have a proper consultation process on changes to important local services?
That would make an excellent subject for an Adjournment debate, at which the hon. Gentleman would have an opportunity to ask the appropriate Minister specific questions about the specific routes and so on in his constituency.
On Sunday 16 June, the Quebec Government passed Bill 21, which prevents judges, police officers, teachers and other public servants from wearing religious symbols such as the kippah, the turban and the hijab while at work. The Bill clearly contravenes article 18 of the international covenant on civil and political rights, which says that the right to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others. To say that a teacher who wears a cross or a hijab is somehow a threat to public safety and health is an assertion that is both offensive and groundless. It is important that the UK raises this issue with our Canadian friends. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on the matter or, better still, refer it to a Minister from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and request that the FCO contacts the Quebec Government immediately?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his important question. Ultimately, it would not be appropriate for me to comment directly from the Dispatch Box on the position taken by the Canadian Government and their legislation—not least because I am not entirely familiar with the precise detail—other than to restate our position, which is that in this Parliament we are entirely committed to freedom of religious belief and the promotion of respect between people.
Today is Nystagmus Awareness Day. Nystagmus affects one in every 1,000 babies born in the UK and is a condition that I have. It means that my eyes wobble left and right and up and down, and I am registered severely sight-impaired. Today, it is estimated that nearly 2 million people are living with sight loss, but the number of people registered is significantly lower. Will the Leader of the House join me in celebrating Nystagmus Awareness Day? May we have a debate on the importance of registering people who are living with sight loss?
May I entirely associate myself with those remarks and welcome Nystagmus Day? I would be happy to meet with the hon. Lady to discuss making available appropriate time in some form or another to debate this matter.
In 2018-19, people from Coventry spent 674 days delayed in hospital because no suitable housing was available. That is the highest number on record. It is a shocking indictment of the Government’s time in office that we now have the highest number of homeless people trapped in hospital. May we therefore have a debate on the homelessness crisis in our country, its impact on our NHS and how the Government plan to improve collaborative working between housing and health services to stop people being unnecessarily pushed into homelessness or stuck in hospital for extended periods?
There are several important points to make about the important issue of homelessness which the hon. Lady has raised. The first is the Government’s commitment to ensuring that we build more homes. We have built 220,000 new homes, the highest number for any year other than one in the last 31 years. She will know that we have announced a substantial, multimillion pound fund to address rough sleeping. We have seen a slight decline over the more recent period, but there is still a lot more to do. This is an important issue that will always be worthy of debate, and if the hon. Lady would like to apply for an Adjournment debate, that might be a useful approach to take.
I think this is the first chance that I have had to welcome the new Leader of the House to his place. We are grateful for the SNP Opposition day, and I hope that the three hours next Wednesday will be protected.
I echo the calls for a statement by the Foreign Secretary on the situation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I had the huge privilege of meeting her husband outside the Iranian embassy this morning. He is showing huge determination and solidarity. I know that Members from across the House have been to visit, so perhaps the Leader of the House can encourage some of his colleagues on the Front Bench—perhaps the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Foreign Secretary—to show their solidarity with Richard and Nazanin’s family and finally get the justice that the family are so hungry for.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question; this matter has now been raised, quite rightly, for the third time in these business questions. I have set out the various actions that the Government continue to take to press the Iranian regime to do the right thing and release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and I know that the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Richard’s hunger strike will have been heard throughout the House.
It is 10 years since the Pontcysyllte aqueduct and canal became a UNESCO world heritage site, thereby joining sites such as the Taj Mahal, the Great Barrier Reef and the Great Wall of China—although Pontcysyllte is of course superior to all of them. It was built in 13 years by those great civil engineers Thomas Telford and William Jessop, and has a height of 126 feet. One can go on it on a boat; it is a most amazing place to travel. It is a masterpiece of waterworks engineering and a pioneering example of iron construction, and it was at the heart of the industrial revolution. I am a little worried that all Members will want to come on holiday at the same time, so perhaps they can promise not to do that. Will the Leader of the House explain how I can best promote the wonders of Pontcysyllte aqueduct and the canal across our nation and in this House?
That was a wonderful question. I will not attempt to pronounce the name of the canal, on the basis that I will probably not do it as well as the hon. Lady, but it is a marvellous construction and was the work of Telford and Jessop, as she said. I am delighted that it has achieved world heritage status. She asked how she can promote the canal; I would suggest that she has done just that with her question, but if she wants another opportunity, we will have Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions on 4 July.
The Royal Mail Group and the Communication Workers Union have agreed a groundbreaking collective defined contribution pension scheme for the group’s 141,000 UK employees. The trouble is that it needs to be enabled by legislation. Will the Leader of the House commit to introducing the necessary legislation prior to the summer recess?
I am happy to look at the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised, particularly as he suggests that it may relate to a requirement for future legislation. I also point him to Work and Pensions questions on 1 July.
A recent Smith Institute report confirms that Enfield has the third highest number of low-paid people of all London Boroughs. Even more concerning is that, according to the report, the low pay rate is £8.33 an hour. The current London living wage is supposed to be £10.55 an hour. Ministers are often telling us about employment levels, but these can mask the growth in poverty and poverty pay. May we have an early debate in Government time on the record levels of low pay and poverty that are causing such hardship to families and children in Enfield and up and down the country?
The Government strongly share the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Lady that we should do whatever we can to improve the position of the low paid. That is why we have taken 3 million to 4 million of the lowest paid out of tax altogether since 2010 by increasing the personal allowance, and why we have worked hard to get the economy moving to the point at which real pay has been increasing for the last 19 months consecutively. It is also why this party brought in the national living wage and why we saw such an increase in the national living wage at the start of this financial year.
Leo Goodwin, the managing director of TransPennine Express, received a lot of publicity last year because he earns £360,000. He is well known in Hull because he is presiding over a complete shambles in the management of Hull Paragon station. There are botched toilet facilities that were supposed to be rebuilt, there is signage covered in duct tape, and there are empty retail units that TransPennine built but cannot actually fill. To make things worse, on Monday this week TransPennine decided, without consultation with key stakeholders, to close one of the main entrances to the station between half-past 9 and half-past 4 o’clock—really putting up the white flag to a very small number of people who commit antisocial behaviour. This has meant that passengers, particularly disabled passengers, are having trouble accessing the station. May we please have a debate about companies that run stations appallingly?
The very specific points that the hon. Lady raises regarding TransPennine Express, the station and access issues would probably most appropriately be directed to an Adjournment debate, which would give the hon. Lady an opportunity to address them directly with the appropriate Minister at the Department for Transport.
My constituent was given a 10-year personal independence payment award in 2018 because of her heart condition. Recently she had a heart attack and spent 24 days in hospital. Having informed the DWP, she was sent for a PIP reassessment, at which she lost her entitlement. I was able to get that decision reversed, but we can all imagine how distressing that was for my constituent. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out the widespread concerns about PIP assessments, and how urgently this system needs to be reviewed and improved so that such an appalling situation does not happen again?
The situation that the hon. Lady describes sounds extremely unfortunate, to say the least. I commend her for the work that she appears to have undertaken to ensure that the original decision was overturned at appeal. I stress that there is the right of appeal in such cases, and that is an important check and balance in the system. If she has further cases of a similar nature and wishes me to facilitate an approach to Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions, I would be very happy to do so.
Rebecca Parker from Newport was in the news recently calling out high street retailers for the huge disparity between clothes size labels and the actual size of the garment, with the detrimental effect on self-confidence, particularly for young people, that that brings. As body image was this year’s theme of Mental Health Awareness Week, could we have a debate on how the Government can work with retailers to address this?
The hon. Lady raises an extremely important point. I say that as a father of three daughters, actually. I know exactly the element around body image and so on that comes at young women, in particular, from a variety of angles, including the one that she has raised. If she would like to meet me, perhaps after these questions, I would be very happy to talk further about how we could perhaps facilitate something in the way of a debate.
May I say how much I am looking forward to debating the Second Reading of the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill on Monday, when we will talk about 11 houses? However, I would be even happier if we were talking about the Report stage of the Agriculture Bill. Where is it, when is it coming back, and is it going to be fit for purpose when it does?
The Agriculture Bill is there in draft. It is fit for purpose, and it will be coming back in due course.
The York Central development will see the wrong kind of housing built, which people in my community cannot afford. It will choke off economic opportunity and draw cars into the centre of our congested, gridlocked city. Can we have a debate on how public land must be used for the public good?
I think that issue might be one for an Adjournment debate to give the hon. Lady an opportunity to discuss it with Ministers. She will know that, as I said earlier, we have made very significant progress in terms of house building. The number of homes built in the last year for which there are figures available is at the highest level for all but one of the past 31 years.
I call Chris Stephens.
Tails never fails, Mr Speaker—thank you.
On a more serious note, two of my constituents were in the House on Monday as part of a Red Cross event for Refugee Week. One of them has a letter from Serco telling them to leave their accommodation—written to them two weeks ago, not this week as Serco is publicly suggesting. So can I ask, for the second week in a row, for the Home Office to make a statement or hold a debate on asylum seeker evictions in the city of Glasgow by Home Office contractor Serco?
Serco has not enforced eviction in Glasgow and continues, at its own expense, to house the group that the hon. Gentleman rightly refers to. It estimated that the number of people not leaving their properties had grown to over 300 and that was impacting on its capacity to house new asylum seekers. That is the background to this matter. It is a Home Office matter, as he indicated. I would be very happy to facilitate whatever discussions he feels that he needs with Ministers there.
Today is Clean Air Day. Leeds was due to implement the first clean air zone in the country. However, this week it was confirmed to Leeds and Birmingham Councils that the equipment for charging and for vehicle recognition would not be delivered on time by the end of the year. Given that the UK is due to host the UN climate change conference in 2020, can we expect a ministerial statement on this failure to be able to deliver the clean air zones on time in 2019?
I think the Government’s record on bringing down emissions—I mentioned, for example, the 25% reduction in emissions since 2010—has been a very good one. We have legislation coming on the Order Paper next week in relation to making sure that we set strong net zero carbon emissions targets up to 2050. We remain committed, through our actions on clear air, to keep moving strongly in that direction. It will not be quickly enough for the hon. Gentleman, perhaps, but there will no doubt be ample opportunities, through the Backbench Business Committee and other routes, to debate these matters very fully in the weeks ahead.
There is growing concern that, despite all the assurances given to the contrary, as EU legislation—particularly, in this instance, pesticide policy—is being converted into British law, it is being weakened significantly. One example is the removal of a blanket ban on hormone-disrupting chemicals, which are known to cause cancer, birth defects and immune disorders. Can we have an urgent statement from a Minister on how we can ensure that the process of transferring over EU law is being done properly and with due scrutiny?
The hon. Lady raises an important point about pesticide use. I know that there have been lots of debates about, for example, the effects of neonicotinoids on the bee population and fertilisation of plants. She will want to ask Ministers specific questions. We had Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions this morning, but if she wants to use me as a conduit to send some questions and suggestions to Ministers, I would be happy to serve that purpose.
Ah, the ever smiling Drew Hendry.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is always a delight to be saved and savoured.
Can we have a debate in Government time on Ofgem’s handling of the renewable heat incentive scheme? Several of my constituents have been served with repayment notices of eye-watering proportions—for example, £17,000 and £20,000—to be paid within six months. That is despite them previously getting clean audits. They have been left carrying the can for the guilty companies that have simply vanished, and they are in desperate straits.
That is an excellent opportunity for an Adjournment debate, and I recommend that the hon. Gentleman put in for one, so that he can grill the appropriate Minister accordingly.