Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 666: debated on Thursday 24 October 2019

The business for next week will be:

Monday 28 October—Second reading of the Environment Bill followed by, debate on a motion under section 3(2) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.

Tuesday 29 October—Second reading of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill.

Wednesday 30 October—General debate on Grenfell.

Thursday 31 October—Tributes to the Speaker’s Chaplain followed by, general debate on spending on children’s services.

Friday 1 November—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. He is certainly getting his feet under the table. This is his third business statement of the week, or his fourth if we count his point of order on Saturday, which was a quasi-business statement.

The Leader of the House has previously mentioned that his godfather was Norman St John-Stevas, that architect of Select Committees and parliamentary scrutiny, and I am sure he will be guided by that as the Opposition seek more parliamentary scrutiny. I hope he will withdraw this comment:

“Those who voted for the Benn Act and the Cooper-Boles Act are on pretty thin ice when they complain about rushing Acts through”.—[Official Report, 21 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 739-40.]

The Benn Act has three sections and the Cooper-Boles Act has five sections, but the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill has 40 clauses and six schedules. Was he wrong to say that, and will he correct it?

I do not know whether you have seen it, Mr Speaker, but there is an outrageous tweet going round. I would like the Leader of the House to confirm that the tweet, from the official Conservative party account, claims the deal has been passed by Parliament and it calls for donations, presumably from those who have made money betting on the fall of the pound. He will have to explain this, because the tweet includes a letter signed by the Prime Minister. The deal has not been passed by the House; it has passed its Second Reading.

Opposition Members stand ready to provide consensus on a programme motion that provides for proper scrutiny. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 states that the House should be given 21 days to consider a new international treaty before we vote on it. Why did the Government suspend this requirement?

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) asked the Leader of the House on Monday whether an impact assessment has been carried out on the deal, and he flippantly said:

“If you ask an economist anything, you get the answer you want.”—[Official Report, 21 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 742.]

I think the saying is, “If you lay all the economists end to end, they will not reach a conclusion.” The idea is that the Government weigh the evidence and give the reasons for their decision.

The Chancellor is at it as well. He does not want to publish an economic assessment of the deal, claiming it is “self-evidently” in our economic interests. If Somerset Capital Management wants to open funds in Ireland, as it has done, presumably it will look at reports and analysis before it does that. More importantly, may we have a statement from the Chancellor, ahead of the Budget, on whether he will publish an economic assessment of the deal?

The Leader of the House has announced the Second Reading of the Environment Bill next week. The Queen’s Speech committed the UK to “protecting and improving” the environment, with targets among the most ambitious in the world, but the Bill has failed to deliver; in its 244 pages, not a single target has been mentioned. Aviation accounts for 6% of greenhouse gas emissions, but it is not mentioned in the Bill, even though this is the cheapest and fastest way to decrease one’s carbon footprint. He did not respond last week when I asked him whether the Government will rule out fracking once and for all in the Environment Bill. We need a debate on that National Audit Office report. It must not be down to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and her Committee to produce a report—we get only 10 minutes for that. The NAO report says the Government do not even know who has ultimate responsibility to pay for the decommissioning of fracking sites, and the Government’s plans for making sites safe after they have been used are unclear and untested.

We resolved and we asked questions to get access to the sectoral analysis, and I wish to draw the Leader of the House’s attention to two important sectors. The first figures have emerged showing the impact that Brexit uncertainty has had on UK research. The Royal Society’s analysis shows that the UK’s annual share of EU research funding has fallen by nearly a third since 2015, and the Royal Society’s president, Venki Ramakrishnan, has said:

“UK science has also missed out on around”—

£440 million—

“a year because of the uncertainty around Brexit.”

May we have an impact assessment on this important sector? The UK is the second largest legal services market in the world and the largest legal services sector in the EU. It contributes £27.9 billion to the UK economy and £4.4 billion in net exports. It relies, in part, on uniform market access the EU and the European economic area. What are the Government doing to protect this vital sector?

I am pleased that the Leader of the House has scheduled a debate on the tribute to the Speaker’s Chaplain; the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin will become the first black woman bishop. Anyone who was in Speaker’s House on Tuesday will have heard Father Pat Browne sing “The Impossible Dream”. They have worked closely together and they have shown us that we are much more than the petty jealousies and rivalries as we work together and they support us in our work for the common good. I wonder whether the Leader of the House will consider expanding the tributes to include you, Mr Speaker, because everyone who was there yesterday in Speaker’s House will have heard the former leader of the Labour party and former Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), lay out your record dispassionately, and that must be read into Hansard. I am sure the Leader of the House will be aware of Guy Verhofstadt’s tweet saying that he would rather be John Bercow than Jacob Rees-Mogg. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) and other hon. Members would like to seek a “flex extension” for you, Mr Speaker.

With regard to thin ice, supporters of the Cooper-Boles and Benn Acts know that it is the thinnest of thin ice for people to complain, having abused the constitution, in my view, to push those Bills through. The Benn Act, in particular, was a fundamental change of approach to our understanding of how the constitution works between the Executive and the legislature, so I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to reiterate my comments: people should be consistent in the way they look at our constitutional processes, and not find that one thing suits them one day and the next day it does not.

The question of the Conservative party website probably falls outside my formal remit, but the deal has passed its Second Reading. That is a passage through Parliament and an indication of Parliament’s assent; it is not, however, an indication of the complete legislative programme. I do not think that is an unduly difficult concept, but if people reading and paying attention are now aware of that and wish to make donations, they will of course be very welcome. I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising that point so that I can give further publicity to the marvellous work that the Conservative party is doing. The point of it is that the deadline is the 31st, which we are all working towards. That deadline was set by the European Union, not by the British Government; the British Government accepted the European Union’s offer.

The right hon. Lady again raises the question of the CRAG Act. The issue with that Act is that it allows a treaty to be laid on the Table for 21 days, but it is then subject to no vote or legislative procedure. The agreement with the EU is being brought into legislation, which provides much more scrutiny than the minimum provided by the CRAG Act—really and truly. Under the CRAG Act, the Government do not have to provide any time for debating a treaty; they just have to lay it on the Table. Under this procedure, there would have been time, had the programme motion been carried, for debate on the issue.

The right hon. Lady questions the economic analysis that it is self-evidently in our interests to leave the European Union. This is a matter of routine economic debate. I think it is enormously in our interests to have the opportunity to be in charge of our own future—to allow the wisdom of this House to decide economic policy, rather than delegating it to tiresome bureaucrats, seems to me self-evidently to be in our interest. That is sufficient economic analysis. If Members think that poking through economic models to come out with gloomy forecasts will convince anybody, they have another think coming.

The right hon. Lady then went on to Monday’s business, the Environment Bill, which is indeed a very ambitious statement of environmental improvement. I should point out that the reason why the target is not in the Bill is that the target has already been brought into law—that was one of the last acts of the previous Government.

The right hon. Lady was concerned about Brexit uncertainty; we would not have any Brexit uncertainty if the Labour party had voted for the programme motion. Brexit uncertainty would have vanished—it would have disappeared and gone into the ether—as the Bill would have become an Act, we would have left on 31 October, and we would have gone on to the broad, sunlit uplands that await us. Even as we enter November, there will be broad, sunlit uplands. If only the right hon. Lady had led her troops in favour of the programme motion. But now, because of the Opposition, there may be some uncertainty.

I am much looking forward to making tributes to the Speaker’s Chaplain. I will not pre-empt them now, but your Chaplain, Mr Speaker, has been an absolute model of public service. I agree with the right hon. Lady that the ecumenism we have in the House is extraordinarily welcome. As a Catholic, I much enjoy the fact that we are allowed to use St Mary Undercroft for our services, as well as it being used for the services of the established Church. It is an enormous generosity on the part of the established Church to allow us to do that.

The reason why we are not having tributes to you, Mr Speaker, is that the matter was discussed and Mr Speaker modestly said that he felt that the tributes made on points of order were sufficient. However, I can give the House notice that in my statement next week I shall begin by making a tribute to Mr Speaker, so that we may do it in that context. I notice that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are looking thoughtful and thinking about how they will incorporate into their questions a suitable tribute to Mr Speaker.

Finally, on Mr Verhofstadt—well, Mr Speaker, you are the lucky one.

I thank the Leader of the House for what he said, which is entirely accurate. I am not making the slightest representation on my own account and I would not dream of doing so—I am extremely satisfied—but I do want to thank the Leader of the House for what he said about the Speaker’s Chaplain. I look forward to those tributes. I hope I can be forgiven for saying in respect of my appointment—Rose Hudson-Wilkin was my appointment—that there were plenty of snobs, bigots and racists who were against Rose being appointed at the time. I was right; they were wrong, and I am glad that she is now universally celebrated in this House, as she absolutely deserves to be. I warmly thank the Leader of the House for what he has said.

On Tuesday, the vast majority of the Labour party, the Lib Dems and the SNP all voted against the Bill and therefore against sovereignty and the clause to protect UK vital national interests, on which the Prime Minister rightly insisted. Those clauses would protect the whole United Kingdom and voters from every political party from destructive European legislation, such as that on taxation and state aid, undermining UK enterprises, businesses, jobs and global trading. Will the Leader of the House join me in urging the entire House to support not only the Bill, but clauses 29 and 36, which will protect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and voters from all political parties?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point and for the remarkable work that he has done over many decades to ensure that our sovereignty is protected. It is only a pity that the Bill did not manage to go into Committee, and therefore we were not able to debate the clauses that he thinks—and I agree with him—are so important to maintaining the national interest.

We also look forward to joining in the tributes to you next week, Mr Speaker, and, if it is all right with the Leader of the House, perhaps the right hon. and hon. Ladies will be able to get a few words in, too.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. Of course, it is much more notable for what is not included than for what is included, because, of course, there is no Committee stage of the withdrawal agreement Bill, which is now in some sort of Johnsonian purgatory. We are supposed to be leaving the European Union a week today, but we will be debating—probably appropriately—children’s services. We were supposed to be leaving next Thursday—no ifs, no buts—but we are not. This date was “do or die” and “die in a ditch”. It was the very basis of the Prime Minister’s Conservative leadership campaign. Of course, we will not be leaving next Thursday, and it will be somebody else’s fault. Perhaps it is just me, but I cannot remember this ridiculous pledge being dependent on: “If only this pernicious remoaner Parliament lets us do it,” and, “If only these Nats were more reasonable.” It was an unconditional pledge, without caveats.

I know that the Leader of the House likes his surrender rhetoric; we have heard a lot about that in the past few weeks. Will he now say that this date is dead in a ditch and that it will not be met? The white flag will be raised. Halloween will go back to being the preserve—the exclusive preserve—of the ghouls and the spectres. This date is a dead parrot, Mr Speaker.

May I say ever so gently to my friends in the Labour party that if they get round the table to draw up another programme motion with the Tories—if they have a timetable for a Tory Brexit—their current precarious opinion poll ratings will be as nothing compared with what is about to come?

Can we have a debate about the responsibilities of the devolved institutions, perhaps just to outline to the Prime Minister exactly what they are? In referring to the withdrawal agreement yesterday, he said that

“the Scottish Parliament has no role in approving this deal.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 963.]

The only thing is that it has, and I know that the Leader of the House knows that because he has been looking at the withdrawal agreement. Annex A of the explanatory notes contains countless instances where legislative consent is required. For the first time ever, the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments will refuse to give that consent to a Bill. Will the Government care a whit? Probably not because they never do. What was all that rhetoric about—lead, not leave, the UK, and a partnership of equals? Is it not the case that if we are to secure the rights of our Parliament, we will have to become an independent nation?

During his comments, the hon. Gentleman made the remark, “If only the Nats were more reasonable.” Well, that is something to be looked forward to, but I think it may be in the next world rather than in this that it finally comes. But the Nats in their unreasonableness are at least very straightforward; they want to stop Brexit and have always been very clear about that. Although I disagree with them, I respect their position. There is no false pretence in what they say. It is a position they hold. They are not using procedural mechanisms to try to frustrate what 17.4 million people voted for. They are absolutely upright and straightforward in their opposition. I disagree, but I respect the honesty of that position. And they are certainly not on thin ice because they have opposed Brexit the whole way through.

The responsibility of the devolved Administrations is a very important issue. This Government respect the rights and responsibilities of the devolved Administrations, but the devolved Administrations ought also to respect the rights of the United Kingdom Government. The conduct of treaties and the agreement of treaties is a matter for the United Kingdom Government. Some of the detailed implementing legislation may require legislative consent motions, but the two are different and separate concepts. Therefore, what the Prime Minister said was absolutely right.

The hon. Gentleman asked if 31 October is still the date on which we will leave. That is still the date set in law. We do not yet know what the European Union will do. The European Union knows that the request for an extension is not the Prime Minister’s request. It is the request of the Benn Act. Her Majesty’s Government do not want an extension. Let me say it again: Her Majesty’s Government do not want an extension and are making every preparation to leave on 31 October.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman wondered what had happened to the withdrawal agreement Bill. I think the answer lies with Sir Percy Blakeney:

“They seek it here, they seek it there

Those parliamentarians seek it everywhere

Is it in heaven, or is it in hell?

That demmed, elusive Brexit Bill”.

Whether Sir Percy Blakeney is searching for it or not, for all the consideration about, and requests for, extra time—some of which were quite reasonable about hours—when I listened to the radio this morning, I discovered the Labour party spokesperson saying that what Labour really wanted was weeks and weeks of further debate. Surely that can only be with one purpose: to stop Brexit altogether. I therefore wondered if we might have a debate in the coming week about the rationale and motivation of those who seek extra debate.

My right hon. Friend makes an extraordinarily good and valid point, which relates to what I was saying about the Scottish National party—that it is very straightforward about its position, which is that it does not want Brexit. The Labour party is in a more difficult position because some of its voters want Brexit, particularly in the midlands and the north of England, and some of its voters, especially in Islington, do not want Brexit. Labour Members are torn between the two and are therefore using all sorts of formulations to try to persuade us that they want that which they do not want. What they want is to frustrate Brexit, and that is what they are trying to do.

It might be helpful to the House if I explain that I want to move on at 12.30 pm, so there is a premium on brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike.

It is a bit rich being lectured about abuse of the constitution by the Leader of the House, who was found to have illegally prorogued Parliament. Given that we have a Prime Minister who has a tortuous and difficult relationship with veracity, can we have a debate about standards in public life, one of which demands that the Prime Minister tell the truth?

The British people voted to leave the European Union in a referendum and this House has given a Second Reading to the withdrawal agreement Bill. That cannot be changed; people either accept that or they do not, but it is going to be a treaty. May I ask my right hon. Friend why the Prime Minister does not just go to Brussels and sign the treaty—because it is endorsed by the British people and by our Second Reading—and why we cannot then have ratification by this House and the European Parliament at length? Could we then have a statement immediately after the Prime Minister has signed the treaty, saying that he has signed it?

My hon. Friend makes a very intriguing point. As far as I understand it, the problem—why it would not work—is that the treaty needs to be given effect in UK law for it to have effect from 1 November, or, strictly speaking, from 11 o’clock on 31 October. Therefore, although what he suggests is intriguing, I do not think it would achieve its intended objective.

Will the machinery in the Government and main Opposition parties please quickly organise their nominations for the membership of the Backbench Business Committee so that we can get about our business? We have a number of applications with the Clerks that are, as yet, unpresented to the Committee. We also, in the previous Session of Parliament, wrote to the Leader of House with some suggested topics for debates until the Committee was reconstituted, one of which I am glad to see will be on the Order Paper for next Thursday.

The hon. Gentleman, as always, makes an important point. I have already congratulated him on his unopposed re-election, but there are now more Members present than there were last time, when it was rather late, so I reiterate those congratulations. I will take up his point with the Government Chief Whip, and I am sure that the shadow Leader of the House will take it up with her equivalent.

This week I had the pleasure of having a meeting with the restoration and renewal team, particularly those who are writing the specification to ensure that we include facilities that are friendly to people with autism. May we have a debate on autism-friendly facilities? Perhaps we could also have an experiment in this House that would create a more relaxing environment for autistic visitors, including returning to waving our Order Papers in the air rather than clapping, which often causes distress to people with autism.

My right hon. Friend has probably been the leading politician in raising awareness of autism in this country. I must confess that as a Back-Bench MP, as I became more aware of it and the effect it had on my constituents, the more grateful I became for the work she has done. I will certainly take up her suggestion with the House’s diversity and inclusion team, and indeed the restoration and renewal project, to see whether there is more that we can do to make autistic visitors feel more welcome. Orderly matters are for you, Mr Speaker, but I think that the feeling that clapping is not welcome is widely shared—although it may simply be, on my part, the sadness that nobody has ever bothered to clap me. [Laughter.]

I must say for the record that I did not think I would ever hear it from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman, but I am delighted to hear that he is signed up to the merits of diversity and inclusion. This is a very encouraging development indeed.

The Leader of the House talks of sunny uplands. He may not know this, but I came into politics hoping to bring sunny uplands to the people of this country and the people of my constituency. Actually, that did not include a Government and a country run by old Etonians, but that is just my personal prejudice.

In terms of next week’s business, could the Leader of the House leverage in something that really does concern my constituents and constituents up and down the country—the safety of town centres? There is something wrong when people are now afraid to go into town centres at night. Could we look at how, through the police, more co-ordination or the revival of youth services, something could be done to make sure that ordinary people in this country going about their business enjoying themselves on a Friday or Saturday night do not go in fear?

I might quibble on the hon. Gentleman’s general sunniness: it does not come across enormously to this side of the Chamber, but I may be missing something. He is absolutely right on town centres. Government policy is doing a great deal about this through the extra 20,000 police but also the £3.6 billion fund to help town centres. We all want to feel that town centres are places that people can go to safely and enjoy. If they were to visit North East Somerset, there are lots of town centres—I think of Keynsham, Radstock and Midsomer Norton—where they will have a very enjoyable and safe time.

In far off times, in far away places, young men were sent to islands in the sun to witness the first nuclear tests. A former Defence Secretary promised me— I take him at his word—that the Government would look again at the health condition and wellbeing of those nuclear test veterans, as well as a medal to celebrate and thank them for their service. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be brought to the House saying how the Veterans Agency that the Government have established will deal with those matters? Perhaps at the same time, we might hear whether that agency will be able to commission services from the NHS and elsewhere. It is time we gave to those who gave so much.

My right hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. I note that he had a commitment from a previous Secretary of State for Defence. If he is concerned that that commitment has not been fully delivered upon, I would be grateful if he brought it to my attention, so that it may be followed up. His points are good ones, and I will ensure that they are passed on.

The report of the Commission on Justice in Wales, chaired by former Lord Chief Justice Thomas, is published today. The Commission unanimously concludes that the people of Wales are let down by the present justice system and calls for a separate judiciary and control over legal aid, policing, prisons and probation. Can the Leader of the House find time for this House to debate how Westminster fails to serve Wales with justice?

I am a great believer in the United Kingdom, and Wales gets enormous benefits from being a part of the United Kingdom—a very significant part of it. The first half of my surname gives away an element of Welsh antecedence, which is one of the reasons I am so much in favour of the Welsh connection. For a specific debate of that kind, a suitable route is the Backbench Business Committee, but the right hon. Lady and I disagree fundamentally on the place of Wales in the United Kingdom, which is probably more at the heart of this than anything else.

Yesterday, the Education Committee published a report on children with special educational needs and found that parents face a titanic struggle to get the right support for their children and a postcode lottery. Can we have an urgent debate on the report’s recommendations, which include a neutral role to help parents wade through the bureaucratic treacle?

The Government are doing a great deal on special educational needs, with an extra £780 million allocated specifically for it. As a constituency MP, I absolutely understand the reference to wading through treacle. One of the things we all do as constituency MPs is be a point of contact for people who have children with special educational needs. We somehow cut through the treacle to help them, and that is a role we all take very seriously. In terms of a debate, Chairmen of Select Committees are often allowed to make statements on Thursdays as part of Backbench Business.

I see the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee nodding, and he will have heard my right hon. Friend’s request for a debate.

I know that the Leader of the House is quite well up on history. Will he talk to the Secretary of State for Defence about the names of the five new frigates? Since 1658, there has always been an HMS Coventry. Indeed, HMS Coventry was sunk in the Falklands war, with the loss of 19 crewmen and 30-odd injuries. Will he have a word with his right hon. Friend, to get one of those new frigates named HMS Coventry?

That is not formally within my remit, but I tend to think that if there has been a ship in the Royal Navy with the name of Coventry for such an extended period of our naval history, it would be a great pity if that tradition were not continued, so I will certainly take up the hon. Gentleman’s point with my right hon. Friend.

The long-term outlook for children who need mental health services is directly correlated to the time it takes for them to access that care. In response to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) about special educational needs, the Leader of the House said that there was a lot of treacle to wade through. I applaud the Government for putting in extra money, but can we have a debate about what the Government can do to get rid of the treacle that those families who desperately need timely support have to wade through?

My right hon. Friend raises a concern that we all will have seen in our constituency surgeries, which is people trying to access mental health services in a timely manner. Funding for mental health services is increasing, which is important because it is more than treacle in this instance; it is a question of ensuring that the supply is there to meet the demand, and that is being tackled. It cannot be answered overnight, but it has universal support across the House.

If everyone asks a single-sentence question, most colleagues will get in. If they don’t, they won’t.

Will the Home Secretary make a statement on immigration policy, specifically in relation to scientists, and particularly the case of Furaha Asani, a young academic who came to this country with a full scholarship to do a PhD on infection and immunity and who has since done cardio- vascular research at Leicester University? She is now being told that she will be deported to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she has never even visited, let alone lived. This is surely scandalous, outrageous and inhumane, and is the last thing we should do if we are to invite and encourage scientists to this country.

In the interests of getting everybody in, it suffices to say that Home Office questions are on Monday.

Can we have a debate please on access to emollients for people suffering from chronic skin diseases and conditions and about the fact that the NHS and the powers that be are not always aware of just how distressing these conditions can be when they set the rules?

That might be most suitable for an Adjournment debate, but it is obviously an issue that will be important to people suffering.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Grace Warnock, from Prestonpans Primary School, where tomorrow her “any disability” sign will be unveiled—her very first “Grace’s Sign”? In the light of the many questions today, can we have a debate in Government time on people with invisible disabilities and the need to have a heart for the whole of our community?

That is one of the most charming points that has been raised in this House. We all have a responsibility to those with visible or invisible disabilities. I am not sure that Government time will allow, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman about raising that point more generally and about the need to lift that point in our general behaviour.

Can we have a debate on my Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019, which became law in March, to find out why the Government are dragging their feet in introducing the code of practice mandated by that Act?

I have a feeling I supported my right hon. Friend in bringing that Act forward, so I will most certainly take this up with the relevant Secretary of State to find out why on earth there is any foot dragging, which is most uncharacteristic of this Government.

The Government expect and want to leave the EU at 11 o’clock next Thursday. Is the Leader of the House making provision for the House to sit on the Friday to deal with the inevitable disastrous consequences?

May we have, in the run-up to Armistice Day, a statement from the Government on the unconditional restoration of war widows pensions so that 265 of them who lost their pensions on remarriage will not have to divorce and remarry their spouses in order to get them reinstated?

My right hon. Friend raises a troubling point. There will be time for a debate. This is not a formal announcement, but the Treasury has announced, though not to the House, that the Budget will be on 6 November, in which case there would be time to debate it.

Crime and antisocial behaviour in my constituency is on the rise, but community policing has been cut since 2010. Can we have a debate in Government time about the benefits of community policing and its funding?

I can reiterate the point that 20,000 police officers are being employed, and I hope that some of them will end in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

The armed forces covenant is incredibly important. I know the Prime Minister agrees with that and wants to bring forward legislation, but I notice that it was not in the Queen’s Speech that we will be voting on tonight. Will the Leader of the House update us?

The Gracious Speech is brought to a conclusion by the statement that other measures will be laid before the House, and it is no secret that one of these other measures will relate to the armed forces covenant.

May we have a debate in Government time about our role in responding to the global crisis of forced migration, which the tragic events of this week have, sadly, highlighted once more?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the tragic events of yesterday. The thing that struck me so much was actually what the Leader of the Opposition said about how awful it must have been for the emergency services to come across that sight and how, one would have thought, that must affect them for the rest of their lives. This is indeed the most tragic event. The Home Secretary has made a commitment to keeping the House up to date. There was a statement yesterday, and I am sure there will be further statements. I think that the whole House sympathises with the hon. Lady in raising that point.

Will the Leader of the House confirm, subject to the outcome of any general election, that he will time find after that general election to place before this House precisely the same deal that we have now?

My hon. Friend asks me a very difficult question. It is impossible to guarantee what might happen after a general election, because we do not know what will be in the various manifestos and we do not know what a new Parliament will decide to do. The deal, as it currently stands, has had its Second Reading. If there were to be an election, any Bills that had not completed their passage would, of course, fall, so there can be no guarantees of that kind.

My constituent, Kay Wadsworth, and her husband became homeless because they sold their home to pay off their daughter’s gambling debts. Kay tells me she believes that the stress contributed to her husband’s untimely death. Sadly, their only daughter took her own life because of the pressure of gambling debts. May we have a debate in Government time about gambling and its impact on family life, including with reference to advertising directed at women?

Again, many of us have seen in constituency surgeries the most appalling cases of gambling addiction and also the very limited help that bookmakers sometimes give to people with gambling problems. I cannot promise a debate in Government time, although I am very sympathetic to the suggestion, but I am looking at the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee—[Interruption.] He is nodding—ish—but I do not think he is promising anything.

Two residents of my local hospice were sent home from it this week because of the trustees’ decision to close it, and the situation has really upset the whole community. May we have a debate on how trustees must observe strict codes of transparency, accountability and professionalism so that we can get this decision reversed?

That is exactly the sort of issue that should be brought to an Adjournment debate, with reference to the specific trustees and to the trust concerned. Trustees have fiduciary duties that they must follow.

Recently there has been a very serious escalation in the Algerian Government’s crackdown on churches. Middle East Concern has reported that four churches, including the 700-member Full Gospel Church of Tizi Ouzou and a 500-member Protestant church in Makouda, were given orders to close. The churches are all members of the Protestant Church of Algeria, which received official recognition in 2011 and is entitled to register its congregations. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this matter?

The Government are gravely concerned by reports of church closures in Algeria, including the recent closures to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The Government have been active in raising cases with the Algerian authorities, including at senior levels, underlining the importance of freedom of religion or belief, as set out in Algeria’s own constitution, and the need for Algeria to ensure that its laws and practices are consistent with the constitution. The promotion and protection of religious freedom is a high priority for the UK in all its international engagement.

The Leader of the House has set out his wish that the deal we have secured does not get bogged down for weeks and months. The Prime Minister has also said that—and I agree. If, as a result of the European Union’s decision, when it arrives, about the length of an extension, an opportunity presents itself to get that excellent deal ratified more swiftly, will the Leader of the House ensure that a Minister, if not the Prime Minister, can come to the House at an early opportunity to update the House about the Government’s plans?

The Government will, of course, keep the House updated on any developments, measures or happenings that take place at any time in relation to the European Union. The Prime Minister has spent almost 15 hours at the Dispatch Box, and he has therefore been most assiduous in answering right hon. and hon. Members’ questions.

I know that the Government are not minded to change the laws on firework sales, but as it is this time of year, may we have a debate on the possibility of devolving to the Scottish Government the necessary powers to ban the sale of fireworks?

As I have said before, we need to have a balance. People enjoy fireworks and we do not want to be po-faced enders of fun for one and all. We want to allow our constituents to do things that they enjoy, so I am not in favour of extending regulations at every opportunity.

Alopecia UK is based in my constituency. May we have a debate on wig provision in the NHS, which I have to say is completely and utterly inadequate and causes a great deal of distress to victims of hair loss?

Mr Speaker, I understand that some candidates to take over your role are concerned about wig provision, albeit I believe of a different kind.

My hon. Friend makes a serious point. Having raised it in the Chamber, I would encourage him to press for further debates, and particularly to ask a question of the Health Secretary when he is next at the Dispatch Box.

Order. I call Sir Bernard Jenkin. [Interruption.] That is very gracious of the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to do two things at once, and not very successfully. I call Ruth Smeeth.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council signed a 25-year deal with Solarplicity for a community energy scheme and thousands signed up, but in August Solarplicity went into administration. The customers were transferred to Toto Energy, but Toto went into administration last night. May we have a debate in Government time on community energy schemes because, good as they are, local authorities have obligations to carry out due diligence before they sign up?

Fortunately, the hon. Lady has made that point at exactly the right time, because the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was in the Chamber to hear it, so it has already been raised at the right level. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that local authorities have an obligation to carry out due diligence and it would be absolutely remiss of them not to do so.

May I invite my right hon. Friend to urge the Prime Minister to bring forward a motion under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 for a general election? Not only is it usual, if the Government cannot obtain their business, for Parliament to be dissolved and to let the people decide on the matter, but this would allow those who profess their faith and belief in representative democracy to demonstrate it, or to demonstrate that they do not actually believe in representative democracy at all.

My hon. Friend’s constitutional expertise is second to none in this House, and he sets out the constitutional norms completely correctly.

I think that the hon. Gentleman wants my hon. Friend’s vote, so he ought not to shake his head like that.

My hon. Friend’s point about the Fixed-term Parliaments Act is absolutely spot on. We have had such a vote twice, and it is absolutely fascinating how many people say they would like an election, but disappear when they are offered the opportunity for one—they do not go for it. I am absolutely delighted that the shadow Chancellor has just taken his seat, because I have some quite helpful quotations from him on this matter.

It has been reported that after years of campaigning, the drug Orkambi will now be available to people, such as my young constituent Jemima Bennett, which is wonderful news. I am sure that hon. Members would like the chance to congratulate the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, so will he be making a statement on that?

This is the most wonderful news. As someone who has campaigned for a different drug for a constituent, I know how pleased MPs are when their constituents get what they need. Health questions will be next Tuesday, and I hope that there will be praise for the Secretary of State on that occasion, given the work he has done that has led to this happening.

The ever-closer relationship between Russia and Turkey should be of concern to us all, not least because of our commitment to mutual defence under article 5 of the NATO treaty. Given that London is due to host a NATO summit on the first weekend of December, will there be the opportunity for a debate on NATO and the implications of the ever-closer relationship between Russia and Turkey?

Yesterday, I was at a memorial service for the late Professor Norman Stone, who was one of the first people to suggest that Russia and Turkey may have a closer relationship post the Soviet Union—his prediction showed great foresight. This is obviously an important matter. My right hon. Friend asks for a debate at the time of the NATO summit. I do not want to promise anything at this stage, but there are normally statements or debates around events of such significance.

As next week’s business is extraordinarily light, will the Leader of the House consider asking the Transport Secretary to make a statement on the forthcoming sale of First Bus across the UK? What provisions can be made with the Treasury to finance local authorities that are purchasing the assets of FirstGroup across the UK to create a municipal bus service?

I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s principal point—the business next week is extremely heavy.

Many councils across the north of England, including mine in Harrogate, are supporting the northern forest with their own tree-planting programmes. May we have a debate to explore what the Government can do to support and accelerate that programme and all the environmental benefits that will flow from it?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of Harrogate, which is one of the most beautiful spa towns in the country. We could have that debate on Second Reading of the Environment Bill, which makes up a major part of next Monday’s business.

May we have a debate in Government time about smart motorways? Nobody understands whether those things are safe or good value for money—or, indeed, whether they work. Is it now time to discuss their future?

My hon. Friend and near neighbour tempts me because I suffer from delays on the M4 every week when going down to Somerset due to preparations for a smart motorway. This issue has been pretty well discussed, and we have literally just had Transport questions, which might have been the time to have raised it.

This week, the Health and Social Care Committee published a good report on drugs policy. May we have a full debate in Government time on the welcome recommendation that we move to a health-focused and harm-reduction approach to drug policy?

As I said to the Chair of the Education Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), there is the opportunity for Chairs of Committees to make statements or to apply to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate.

What is the point of smart motorways? We should have a statement or explanation in the House from the Transport Secretary, because even the head of Highways England has said that smart motorways are dangerous and confusing—they certainly are; I use the M4 twice a week. The Leader of the House should take the request from the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) a lot more seriously.

I saw the comments from Highways England that were reported in the newspaper today, and I am aware of the concerns. I merely point out that Transport questions were held earlier, and this is a matter for the Transport Secretary.

May we have a debate on support from the UK for the people of Burundi, where not only is there the highest level of malnutrition in the world, but people face the potential threat of Ebola coming across the border?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that pressing issue. Malnutrition is a major cause of preventable deaths, and the underlying cause behind 45% of child deaths and 20% of maternal deaths. The UK has been a leader on nutrition since it hosted the first Nutrition for Growth summit in 2013. Since 2015, the Department for International Development has reached 60.3 million people with nutrition services in 25 countries, including Bangladesh, Somalia, Burma, Ethiopia and Yemen. The next Nutrition for Growth summit is set for 2020. Ebola has caused devastation across Africa, and the bravery of frontline responders is to be celebrated. They are working tirelessly to help to save the lives of others. The UK has been a major supporter of the response to the outbreak since it began, and it has provided significant funding, technical expertise and political support. We are pleased to note that 10 African countries, including Burundi, have this week endorsed a cross-border collaboration framework for Ebola preparation and response, and we will continue to support them in their efforts to contain the outbreak.

Knife crime in England has now reached its highest level for decades, and many Members spend a lot of time dealing with its terrible consequences. May we have a regular update on the issue from the Home Secretary or the Minister for Security?

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. All Members are concerned by the rise in knife crime, hence the need for extra police. I suggest that regular questions to the Home Secretary, both written and oral, are put down in the normal way to ensure that the House is frequently updated on this issue.

I recently visited the ARCHIE Foundation at the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital. It does amazing work to help my constituents and parents who are going through difficult and distressing times by offering emotional support, accommodation and other facilities. Will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate on what more we can do to support amazing charities such as the ARCHIE Foundation?

We are fortunate in this country to have an extraordinary range of charities that ensure that almost every aspect of life is considered, with some help and protection offered. This sounds like the type of general debate that would be suitable for consideration by the Backbench Business Committee, rather than Government business.

My Small Business Saturday awards are an opportunity to celebrate the range and diversity of local small businesses. May we have a debate on the contribution that small businesses make to local communities and the economy?

I agree that the contribution made by small businesses to the economy is fundamental, and our economy grows because of the work of entrepreneurs. If the hon. Gentleman stays in the Chamber a little longer, we will come to the Queen’s Speech debate on the economy, in which I am sure his contribution would be enormously welcome and valued.

May we have a debate in Government time on the Treasury’s plan to extend the off-payroll working rules in the private sector? Many freelance and contract workers in the public sector have had those rules foisted upon them, resulting in higher taxes, even though they do not receive benefits such as employment benefit.

People have come to many of us, as constituency MPs, with concerns about the off-payroll working rules. I think we must assume that most people are honest, and there must be a balance between ensuring that tax is collected correctly and not making life impossibly bureaucratic.

A constituent told me that at around 4.40 on Sunday afternoon a firework was fired sideways into a park in Pollockshields. It landed and exploded within 5 metres of a group of children and a toddler with its mother. Does the Leader of the House understand how upset my constituents are with his flippant response to concerns about fireworks? By way of recompense, will he secure a debate in Government time to discuss the matter further?

No, I do not understand—there is a balance. We could ban absolutely everything and have no fun, which is basically what socialists always want to do.

Following my question to the Prime Minister about the pro-Pakistani groups marching on the Indian High Commission on Sunday, will the Home Secretary make a statement about policing arrangements? There are all sorts of rumours about bans, rerouting the march and so on. While I am on my feet, may I wish Shubh Deepavali to everyone celebrating Diwali on Sunday?

The Home Secretary will be answering Home Office questions on Monday, when there will be the opportunity to question her.

May we have a statement on why the Government are refusing to produce an economic impact assessment on the withdrawal agreement Bill? If it is the case, as the Leader of the House said, that there are broad sunny uplands to Brexit, why is he so reluctant to prove it?

According to Wikipedia, the Leader of the House has an unusually shaped seat, but like many of our seats, it contains a good music festival. The pipeline to good music festivals are good-quality grassroots music venues, so may we have a debate about why the Government are specifically not allowing rate relief for grassroots music venues when they are for institutions such as pubs and high street businesses?

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will, I think, be here fairly shortly, and he is the right person to answer on rates—[Interruption.] He is in the Chamber already—how could I have missed my right hon. Friend? He is sitting quietly at the end of the Treasury Bench and will have heard that question. He may well include a response in his all-encompassing speech.

Given that, all too often, international humanitarian tragedies suffer from “out of sight, out of mind”, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary to update the House on the ongoing issues in Kashmir, and specifically what actions we are taking as a permanent member of the UN Security Council? Warm words and solidarity are not having the effect that is needed in that part of the world.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise such an issue in the House. He is also right that “out of sight, out of mind” is a problem, and using all the available mechanisms within this House—no doubt you, Mr Speaker, will help him to do so—is the right way to go about addressing it. I urge him to use them all and to appeal for urgent questions, and for Adjournment and Backbench Business debates. That will ensure that the matter is in sight and in mind.

The winner of the South Wales police and crime commissioner partnership award was a multi-agency suicide review and response group made up of South Wales police, Public Health Wales and Bridgend County Borough Council, which came together to look at early intervention for those at risk of suicide. May we have a debate on the importance of such partnerships and early interventions in preventing suicide, particularly among the male population, which is particularly vulnerable.

It is not open to me just to say yes to requests that come through, but that is the type of request that deserves the most earnest consideration. The success in reducing suicide is of great importance and it is about multi-agency working. We remember the problems that there were in the hon. Lady’s constituency not that long ago. This improvement ought to receive wider publicity so that other councils can follow the same path.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues, but as I indicated earlier, the debate is very heavily subscribed and we must now proceed with it.