Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:11 am on 26th January 2017.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 11:11 am, 26th January 2017

I join the hon. Lady in welcoming the new Bishop of St Andrew’s—I mean St David’s—to her duties. [Interruption.] I am getting carried away by Burns night this week. The bishop must be taking charge of one of the most picturesque and delightful diocese anywhere in the country.

On the question of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, which the hon. Lady rightly raised, my hon. Friend the middle east Minister spoke to the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister on Monday to express our concern at the appeal verdict. The case has also been raised directly by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary with President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, and our ambassador will continue to raise it at every level and at every opportunity in Iran.

The Government have accepted that Concentrix provided unacceptably poor service, and also that HMRC itself needs to learn lessons from the experience. I hope the House will recognise that the Government were right to prioritise the people whose tax credit claims had been either handled wrongly or not properly assessed. HMRC has now dealt with all the 181,000 cases that were taken back from Concentrix.

I shall consider the hon. Lady’s request for a debate on climate change. As she will know, the Government continue to give a high priority to the issue, and we played a leading role in helping to forge the Paris agreement last year.

I cannot, as yet, give the House details of the dates of the summer recess or the Queen’s Speech, but I hope to do so as soon as possible.

The hon. Lady asked about the comprehensive economic and trade agreement and the override. There was a need for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade to override the normal scrutiny procedures, because the EU timetable for agreement within the Council accelerated faster than we had expected, and it was in our interests—in terms of our relationship with Canada, our support for free trade as a principle, and our EU relationships with other countries—to agree. The UK has been championing that agreement since the inception of negotiations. However, I said in my evidence to the Scrutiny Committee two weeks ago that we would seek an opportunity possibly to try to link the debate on CETA to a wider debate on international trade before much longer.

As for the hon. Lady’s broader questions about Europe, I am sorry that she was a bit grudging in her response to the Government’s announcement about the White Paper. The Opposition normally complain when an announcement is made by way of a written statement or a press release, away from the glare of parliamentary scrutiny. In this case, the Government made their announcement during Prime Minister’s questions, with a packed House, a packed Press Gallery and a packed Public Gallery. I thought that the hon. Lady might have welcomed that. I hope that it will not be much longer before, equally in prime time, we shall finally have the authoritative statement of what on earth the Opposition’s policy on Europe is. We have been waiting for that for far too long.