The business for next week will be as follows:
Since this is probably going to be the last weekly business statement in this Parliament, may I take the opportunity to thank the staff of the House for the service that they provide to every one of us throughout the Parliament, and to wish them the opportunity to put their feet up a bit over forthcoming weeks?
Secondly, I wish particular good fortune to those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have decided that they will not seek re-election. Each of them in their own way has striven to represent the interests of their constituents during their years here, each of them has brought particular experiences and political commitments to the causes for which they have fought, and all of them have contributed to building democracy in this country, and I place our thanks on record.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the very last week of this short and eventful Parliament; I will save my further thanks for the end of my response. This was an eventful Parliament, not least because of the death of PC Keith Palmer, Leslie Rhodes, Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran and now Andreea Cristea, as well as the injury of many others. As the dean of Southwark cathedral said at the memorial service for PC Keith Palmer, they died in the shadow of the clock that counts the minutes, the hours and the years of our lives. And, of course, our beloved colleague Jo Cox should have been fighting this election. We need to remember them as we campaign, during the election, for a country that is tolerant and just.
The Prime Minister wants stability and to strengthen her hand in the negotiations, but blames the opposition parties for calling a general election. This is about her dithering and confusion, and watching her back. First, what an arrogant alleged statement it is that she should presume to know the outcome of an election. Secondly, what have her Government been doing for the last nine months? Thirdly, can the Leader of the House confirm that if the Government win, we will not enter into a rolling programme of snap elections during the negotiations?
The Prime Minister wanted to trigger article 50 without a vote, but the courts said that we live under the rule of law and that Parliament should have a say—this is a democracy, not a dictatorship—and there has been silence from the Government since July 2016. Her Majesty’s Opposition called for a White Paper on the Government’s plans for Brexit in October 2016, but there was silence until a speech in Lancaster House, not this House. Mr Speaker, I do not know what the matter with the Government is; they seem to be afraid of you and of making statements in the House. I find you very personable—except when you say “Order, order.” Only later did the Government set out their 12 points of principle. Finally, a White Paper was published in February. Her Majesty’s Opposition insisted on a final vote on the deal and forced the Government to agree, because we are a representative democracy. As the Prime Minister sat in front of the great portrait of Robert Walpole to sign the letter to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, she forgot to mention Gibraltar, one of our overseas territories, where 96% of people voted to remain—no wonder she forgot to mention them.
The Government therefore appear to be speaking for the 52 %, while Her Majesty’s Opposition will balance the views of the 52% and the 48% and speak for the country. The confusion lies within the Prime Minister’s party, not within the Opposition. Of course the Government want a general election, because they need a new manifesto. Every day the Government break a manifesto pledge. There was no mention of lifting the cap on grammar schools in the 2015 manifesto; that became Government policy, and it is now stalled by opposition from all sides of the House. An increase in national insurance contributions for self-employed workers was ruled out of the manifesto, but then became Government policy, and then there was a U-turn. The manifesto said nothing about doing no harm to the vulnerable, yet their cars are being taken away as they wait for their personal independence payment assessments; many hon. Members have written on behalf of their constituents to stop the vulnerable losing their only mode of transport before they can appeal the decision.
This is a dithering, confused Government who cannot make a decision for the good of the country, so may we have a final debate next week on what leadership and stability really look like? We on this side of the House say it looks like this: for children, it is protecting Sure Start and free school meals for all primary school children; for students, no increase in tuition fees; for working people, a £10 minimum wage that will lift them out of poverty, not the living wage of £7.50; for society, investment in our public services, with local authority grants that are based on the need to protect local services, such as police forces and libraries, not special deals for special friends; ensuring small businesses thrive by preventing late payments; supporting those who care for others by an increase in carer’s allowance; and for senior citizens, protecting pensions and compensating women affected by an increase in the state pension age. Policies for the seven stages of life—that is what this country needs. No dithering, no confusion, just clear vision and strong leadership. Her Majesty’s Opposition, in government, will work for a tolerant, fair and dynamic United Kingdom.
I should like to echo the Leader of the House in thanking all the House staff for their brilliant support. I should like to thank you, Mr Speaker, and your office, and the Leader of the House, his erstwhile deputy and his office for all their help. I also thank my office and everyone who has made my job easier, including my Chief Whip, who tells me to cut out the jokes. Tomorrow will be Her Majesty the Queen’s 91st birthday. She shares her birthday with my hon. Friend Ian Mearns, for whom it will be a significant day. I hope he will not mind my saying that it will be his 60th.
Oh, it is the right hon. Lady’s birthday as well! I will not say what her age is. [Interruption.] She is 21, as are we all. I echo the Leader of the House’s thanks to those Members who are standing down. They have given their lives to public service, and we thank them all. Finally, I should like to say that it has been an absolute privilege to be the shadow Leader of the House.
I associate myself with the hon. Lady’s final gracious words, and with her tributes to those who lost their life in the recent terrorist attack and to our late colleague, Jo Cox. I hope that it will not be long into the life of the new Parliament before the permanent memorial to Jo can take its place in the House of Commons. I know that that will be welcomed and supported by every Member of this House and of the next House of Commons. I join the hon. Lady in wishing many happy returns to Her Majesty, to Ian Mearns and to my right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan. As my right hon. Friend’s constituency neighbour, I can tell her that whatever number might be appended to her years, nothing can diminish her vigour or her commitment to working on behalf of her constituents. Like her, I have always enjoyed and appreciated my relationship with our other constituency neighbour, John Bercow. Indeed, following the last boundary change, I became an elector in the Buckingham constituency, and I now have a particular interest in the outcome there.
If the hon. Gentleman peruses Mr Speaker’s previous election material, he might find the answer that he is seeking.
Valerie Vaz asked me a number of questions. I have to say that, when it comes to Gibraltar, her Front Benchers have a very short memory. People in Gibraltar have not forgotten how the last Labour Government tried to sell that territory down the river, or how they sought a joint sovereignty agreement. That proposal was rejected by the people of Gibraltar by a margin of well over 90% in a subsequent referendum.
The hon. Lady made a number of assertions about policies that I am sure will be debated in the country in the weeks to come. I simply say that all of us in this House, whatever political perspective we bring to these matters, want the kind of public services in which we can take pride, and which work effectively for our constituents who are vulnerable and in need of help. It is the belief of this Government and this party that the foundation for effective public services is a strong and growing economy. Under the plans put forward by the Leader of the Opposition, any chaotic Government of his would be incapable of funding public services, because they would bankrupt the British economy, raise taxes on ordinary working families and pile yet more public debt on to the next generation—a betrayal of young people.
The hon. Member for Walsall South said that she looked forward to the Leader of the Opposition being in a position to form a Government, but we know that three quarters of her parliamentary colleagues had no confidence in his ability to continue as the leader of the Labour party. Few Labour Members of this outgoing Parliament will be able to say with a straight face that they really have confidence that the Leader of the Opposition should be entrusted with the government and leadership of this country.
Order. Pursuant to what the Leader of the House said about our late and esteemed colleague, Jo Cox, I advise the House that the memorial to her had been scheduled to be installed in the Chamber next month. That date fell within what will now be the election campaign, and therefore a rescheduling is essential. The matter was discussed by relevant colleagues, the Jo Cox Foundation and me yesterday, and it is fully intended that the installation will take place very soon after the start of the new Parliament.
Notwithstanding my advanced years, I appear to have gained no more wisdom, because I wish to ask the Leader of the House for a debate on my and his favourite subject, and no doubt yours, Mr Speaker: High Speed 2. We need an emergency debate on HS2 next week, because in evidence to the Transport Committee yesterday, the boss of HS2, David Higgins, indicated that its failure to consider conflicts of interest led to the fiasco of its key contractor, CH2M, withdrawing from a £170 million contract. I want to know who will take responsibility for that, especially as this is a massive project—the largest infrastructure project in this country. We need to examine whether senior management are fit for their roles and should be in charge of such large amounts of taxpayers’ money at a time when we will be away from this place and unable to scrutinise them. May we have an emergency debate on HS2 next week?
My right hon. Friend is right to pursue this matter of great importance to her constituents and mine, and those in other constituencies along the proposed route. The failure of due diligence that Sir David Higgins acknowledged should not have happened. I am glad, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made it clear in his evidence to the Transport Committee yesterday that he gives a high priority to fair and transparent procurement in HS2, and all such projects for which he has responsibility.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week and the abrupt and premature ending of this Parliament. This will almost certainly be the last business questions for this Parliament, and I think I am the only shadow Leader of the House who has lasted the full two years. It has been a pleasure to work with the Leader of the House and Valerie Vaz. I shall give my thanks at the end of my contribution.
May we have a big shout out to all the Members who will compete in the London marathon on Saturday?
It is at some time over the weekend. My hon. Friend Hannah Bardell has the distinction of being the first Scottish National party Member to compete in the London marathon. I pity her political opponents when she laps them on the leaflet run during the election campaign.
Before the House rises, we must have an urgent statement on the status of all the Conservative Members of Parliament under police investigation for electoral fraud. Up to two dozen Conservative MPs face the possibility of being prosecuted in the middle of the election campaign. The public deserve to know what will happen under those circumstances. Will it be possible for those Members to continue as candidates in the general election if those prosecutions happen? With the first charging decisions to be made on
May we have a debate about debates and a Prime Minister who seems feart to participate in the television variety? It was the Prime Minister who unilaterally called this election, but she will not debate the issues with her political opponents, and it is right that all the broadcasters are considering empty-chairing her so that the maximum embarrassment is heaped upon her.
Lastly, I wish all Members of Parliament—well, nearly all Members of Parliament—a good election and pay tribute to those who are standing down. I thank the staff, who have served us diligently over the course of the past two years, and you and your office, Mr Speaker. I also want to echo the words of Valerie Vaz: as we leave today, we will remember Jo Cox and wish that she was out there on the stump with us, fighting for her re-election. It is so tragic that that has been taken away from this House.
I join the hon. Gentleman in wishing every success both to his colleague Hannah Bardell and to all colleagues from all parties as they make their final preparations for the London marathon on Sunday. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that their marathon training will serve them all in good stead for the seven weeks that now beckon us all—seven weeks that may give the rest of us the opportunity to wear out some shoe leather, although I suspect not quite as much as those who are competing on Sunday. I hope, too, that all those Members are successful in raising large sums of money for the various charities that they are supporting.
The hon. Gentleman made a serious point about the police investigations, and I want to reiterate what the Prime Minister said yesterday. We stand behind all our candidates at the forthcoming election, who will be out campaigning for a strong, stable Government in the national interest. A number of police forces have conducted investigations, many of which have been dropped. It is right that such matters are investigated properly, but the battle bus was directed by the national party, as was the case with other political parties, and we are confident that individual colleagues acted properly.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for being an exemplary Leader of the House? He is widely regarded as someone of impeccable integrity and has conducted his office impeccably during this Parliament, and I hope that nothing will change.
May I also draw the Leader of the House’s attention to and put down a marker about Select Committee staffing? We have wonderful staff who work incredibly hard, but Committee specialists tend to change too often. That does not happen in the Library, where specialists sometimes remain in post for a decade or more. It would strengthen the role of Select Committees if we could look at changing the nature of staffing, rather than put up with the current turbulence. I appreciate that that is something for the next Parliament, but I wonder whether he could leave something on his file to remind him when he gets back.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. Clearly, there is a balance to be struck between the value of continuity that he describes and the need to ensure that individuals have the opportunity to develop their careers in service through a variety of difference experiences and occupations. However, I will make a note, and I am sure that the Leader of the House—whether it is I or somebody else who has these duties when the new Parliament assembles—will want to take a close look at the matter.
The Backbench Business Committee has concluded its business for this Parliament, and I am grateful to the Leader of the House because we have had our full allocation of Back-Bench time in the Chamber in this Session.
We have half a dozen outstanding debate applications lying unheard and, if it is all right with the Leader of the House, I will ask our Committee Clerk to write to his office to seek an airing for those debates in the new Parliament, possibly before the new Backbench Business Committee is established, as happened in the current Parliament—general debates were scheduled by the Leader of the House’s office. Some of the subjects could possibly be debated in that time.
I place on record my thanks to the members of the Committee. The ever-presents: the hon. Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), and my hon. Friend Jess Phillips. The later arrivals: the hon. Members for Torbay (Kevin Foster), for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) and for Witney (Robert Courts). The members who departed in this Parliament: the hon. Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Kettering (Mr Hollobone). And those who had more than cameo appearances for a brief time: the hon. Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) and for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter).
And I thank you, Mr Speaker. That is me done for this Parliament.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and the members of his Committee for their sterling work during this Parliament. Backbench Business allows Members on both sides of the House to raise issues of importance to our constituents that might not be the subject of Government legislation. I take careful note of his point about the scheduling of general debates in the next Parliament, which I will consider carefully.
Today I will desist from eviscerating Veolia, but I hope, electorate willing, to be returned on
Does the Leader of the House agree that, early in the next Parliament, the Procedure Committee needs to revisit
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me notice of his question, which gave me the unexpected opportunity to study
Mr Speaker, I thank you and the Leader of the House for making it clear that we will remember Jo Cox at the earliest possible opportunity. We all wish that she could be on the campaign trail with us. I will be on the campaign trail but will not be returning to the House, so I thank you, Mr Speaker, and everyone here for the 20 years that I have been privileged to represent Birmingham, Edgbaston. It has been a privilege.
The next Parliament has a very difficult task. The Government have to implement the will of the people, as expressed on
Finally, I paraphrase Nancy Astor: I will miss the House, but I will miss the House more than the House will miss me.
The right hon. Lady is characteristically gracious and self-deprecating in her remarks. Those of us who have served with her in this House will remember her and her contributions for a very long time.
I appreciate that we have very little time left in this Parliament but, nevertheless, I request that consideration be given to a debate on the additional £10 billion that the Government have committed to the NHS until 2020. It is certainly starting to see results in my constituency, with the opening of new units at Crawley hospital.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this point, and I join him in welcoming these new units. It seems to me that the commissioning authorities and the trusts in his part of the country have taken advantage of the record Government spending on our NHS to reconfigure services in a way that will provide better services for his constituents and those in neighbouring constituencies in Sussex in the future.
Let me try again with the Leader of the House: is it possible in the next few days to have an urgent debate about the appalling state of our roads? In Nottinghamshire, there is a £320 million backlog on road repairs and some of the roads in my constituency are simply shocking. The Government’s response is to give the county council £14 million, but it will take 30 years to repair all of the roads at that rate. This is not good enough and the Government need to do something about it.
The Government set aside £23 billion for infrastructure in the autumn statement and we are investing a record £15 billion on road schemes. The amount we are spending on roads includes allocations to local authorities to fill in potholes and carry out other essential road maintenance, as well as providing for central Government spending on motorways and trunk road schemes. But I come back to the point I made to Valerie Vaz: the ability of any Government to provide for increases in public expenditure of the kind that the hon. Gentleman is seeking rests upon the capacity of our economy to create wealth and increase employment. The policies that I am afraid his party are espousing in this general election campaign will impoverish our economy and saddle future generations with debt.
May we have a debate on hospital services in Shropshire? Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the recent comments by Simon Wright, the chief executive of the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, that the women’s and children’s unit—the paediatrics unit—at the Princess Royal hospital in Telford is now safe and that new services such as cancer care patient services will be introduced over the coming months? Is that not more evidence that the NHS is safe in Conservative hands, both locally and nationally?
I very much welcome that news from Telford and Shrewsbury. It is important that these detailed decisions about the configuration of services are taken at local level and driven by the assessment of those in charge of our NHS locally about what is needed for their particular communities. One set-up will not work equally well in every part of the country, and there does need to be local sensitivity, and I am really pleased that that is what seems to be happening in Shropshire.
The reputation of politics was rock bottom, but now it is subterranean, as we have done nothing to reform the deep corruption at the heart of our political system by doing nothing about lobbying and the revolving door. What the country needs is a leader of integrity—a man who is not mired in corruption and is not dedicated to seeking office in order to gain insider knowledge that can then be prostituted to the highest bidder upon leaving office. We need a man who is different from what we have had, and that is what the country is looking forward to. When can we investigate the activities between previous Ministers and Electricité de France and Blackstone investments? These are unresolved problems, where we have people leaving this House honoured but then having the consolation of vast salaries of up to £650,000 for a part-time job. This does not honour politics—it drags politics down into the gutter. What we need is a new Prime Minister of probity and integrity.
As always, the hon. Gentleman speaks with passion, and in this case on behalf of the 25% or so of Labour MPs who support the Leader of the Opposition. He may not have meant it in this fashion, but I think he was being extremely unfair to successive Prime Ministers from both the main political parties in this country, and to the people who have served in their Governments, who have, after leaving office and membership of this House, gone on to work in other capacities in our country. Whether Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat, these are men and women who have things to offer and, subject to the various codes and rules that apply, it is right that when they leave office, and particularly when they leave membership of the House of Commons, they should be free to pursue new avenues.
Ms Stuart is wrong: she will be missed by the House.
Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the persecution of Christians throughout the world? Given that we start proceedings each day with Prayers, were we to hold such a debate, it would send out an extremely strong message.
I cannot offer my hon. Friend an immediate debate, but every single Member of the House will have been shocked by the attacks on Coptic churches in Egypt during holy week, which will have reinforced in all our minds the importance of the point he has made. He will know that in her Easter message the Prime Minister spoke up strongly about the need to defend religious freedom around the world, and made particular reference to Christians and other religious minorities who do not enjoy the freedoms we are fortunate enough to cherish here in the UK.
One month ago, I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on female representation in politics. Two weeks from today, the voters of Renfrewshire will elect a new council administration, but although the Scottish National party will offer a 50:50 gender split among its candidates, only 29% of Labour and a shameful 17% of Conservative candidates are women. If the Leader of the House is doubly fortunate to be returned to both the House and his current role, will he endeavour to schedule a general debate on this subject early in the new Parliament?
The Government could not have been clearer about our wish to encourage more women to take part in public life, not only through seeking membership of the House of Commons and local authorities but through many other forms of public service. Successive leaders of my party have worked hard to promote that, not least my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. My party, unlike the hon. Gentleman’s, has a woman leader both in Holyrood and at Westminster.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Prisons and Courts Bill has been abandoned for this Parliament and will have to start its passage through the House again in the next Parliament? Can he tell us which Bills will be going through the rather grubby process of the wash-up, which is a rather unsatisfactory way to pass laws?
The Bills that were introduced to this House quite late in the current parliamentary Session and which received carry-over motions so that they could be debated in what would have been the third Session of this Parliament, including the Prisons and Courts Bill, will fall. I referred in my statement to some of the measures that we will be addressing during the wash-up period next week. As my hon. Friend knows, though, discussions are going on through the usual channels about how to handle particular pieces of legislation; I do not want to prejudice the outcome of those discussions.
Mr Speaker, may I thank you and the Leader of the House for your kind remarks about my neighbour and friend, Jo Cox? Jo will be in all our minds as we fight this election. She was a radical and a reformer. She cared about this House, but she was discontent with it because she thought it was not as accountable as it could be in this modern age. Can we think about that during this election period? When we come back, may we have an early debate on that? I say that to whoever is on the Front Bench over there—I quite fancy the job of Leader of the House myself. [Interruption.] There is no ageism here, Mr Speaker. Seriously, may we have a serious debate about how we make this place more accountable? Many of my constituents find that the call for an early election has got in the way of accountability. People like me who wanted to stay in the European Union accepted the will of the people, but want to fight like mad to make sure we get a good deal. If we can have the money for our public services that was mentioned, surely we should have a good deal. This House is now in a weaker position to make sure that that happens.
I simply do not see the connection between there being a general election and this House being in a weaker position. I would have thought that the fact that we had a House of Commons charged with a new mandate from the people to carry through the referendum outcome meant there was greater strength of purpose in this House and indeed on the part of the Government in going forward to what will be very challenging negotiations. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about the utter determination of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to secure the best possible deal for all the people of every part of the United Kingdom at the end of those negotiations.
Will the Government make time for a statement on North Korea? Although security concerns there are currently uppermost in many people’s minds, will the Government convey the concern of many of us in this House that the policy of the Chinese Government of returning refugees and escapees from North Korea to the North Korean regime to near certain death or lifetime imprisonment, sometimes going on for three generation of their families, is not something that many of us in this House want to be silent about?
My hon. Friend makes a very cogent point. The Government are concerned that China continues to regard North Koreans fleeing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as economic migrants rather than treating them as refugees under the terms of the 1951 UN convention. As we all know, the scale of human rights abuses in North Korea is too severe for the international community, including China, to ignore. We have repeatedly called on the Chinese authorities at the very least to respect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement that is built into the United Nations convention, and we did that most recently at our regular UK-China human rights dialogue.
I recently met the father of toddler, Harry Studley, whom hon. Members may remember was shot in the head with an air rifle in south Bristol last July. Harry’s dad has impressed me not only with his resilience in the face of adversity—he told me that Harry is doing well—but with his determination that, as a nation, we should learn something from this incident. May we have a debate about what measures the Government can put in place to improve air rifle safety—for example, the introduction of compulsory trigger locks on these lethal weapons?
First of all, may I wish Harry a full recovery and express my best wishes to those caring for him and treating his injuries? The Government keep the legislation and misuse of air weapons under review. At present, we have no plans to ban or license them. The vast majority of people using air weapons do so safely and responsibly. High-powered air weapons do require a firearms licence and even low-powered air weapons are subject to a range of controls, including restrictions around their sale. A small minority of people tragically misuse air weapons in England and Wales—sometimes in the way that the hon. Lady describes—but by introducing a further set of controls we would divert police resources from controlling the other higher risk firearms, such as rifles and shotguns, which is an area where the police should give priority
I am sometimes asked by constituents who have watched our proceedings on television whether we really hate one another. They see us shouting across the Dispatch Box and ask, “What are they like after they’ve done battle?” I then explain the reality, which is that sometimes I have more difficulty with Members on my own side than with those sitting opposite.
You know who they are, and they know who they are.
The reality, of course, is that we build lasting and enduring friendships with Members from all parties, and none more so than Ms Stuart, who leaves an enduring legacy in the work she did on Brexit, and to whom I am grateful. Given your end-of-term latitude, Mr Speaker, I hope that you will allow me to say: I will miss you, Gisela, and I wish you well for the future.
As far as future debates are concerned, it would not be business questions if I did not mention that there is an issue with potholes in Ribble Valley—I will spend the next seven weeks looking at them as I drive around visiting towns, villages and hamlets. I hope that as part of our imaginative manifesto for the future, we can consider allowing district authorities to bid for some of the money made available by central Government so that we can fill those potholes.
Mr Speaker, I wish you and all the parliamentary staff well for Dissolution and in all the hard work that will be needed to prepare for the new Parliament.
My hon. Friend makes the point that it is sometimes quite difficult for people outside this House, many of whom see only the moments of high drama on their TV screens, to understand that we all come to this place with an equal electoral mandate, and with passionately held political views about how best to make things better for the people we represent, but actually there is a certain amount of camaraderie that transcends party political differences, and friendships that are built across party lines over many years.
On my hon. Friend’s policy point about Ribble Valley, the idea of having a system for additional bids from local authorities is an interesting one. I will ensure that it is placed in the incoming Transport Minister’s in-tray after the election.
The Leader of the House did not clarify the point about
As an Ulster Unionist, may I associate myself with all the remarks that have been made in thanking all those who have helped us over the period we have been here? It is particularly good to hear that we are remembering Jo Cox. The strength of her husband has been quite fantastic. I wish all the best to those Members who are standing down. I wish to share an Irish blessing—it is such good wording—with all Members for when they are knocking on doors:
“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
I think the whole House warmed to the hon. Gentleman’s concluding comments. I join him in his salute to Brendan Cox, who has shown the most inspiring courage and fortitude over the months since Jo’s murder, but who has also spoken out fearlessly in defence of democracy and human rights and against extremism, at a time when he must have been under the most appalling personal stress.
On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about legal aid, I think that implicit in his question was the fact that these decisions are taken at arm’s length from Ministers, but I will ask the Minister responsible for the legal aid system to make contact with him and other interested colleagues in both Houses. On his point about Tuesday
I was somewhat disappointed and dismayed to hear that Walsall Borough Council has declined to take part in the Government’s pilot scheme on voter identification measures at polling stations. Is the Leader of the House aware of any advice for presiding officers at the forthcoming local and mayoral elections and at the general election to deter personation at polling stations?
The Electoral Commission does provide such guidance to returning officers and their staff, including those running polling stations. The handbooks from the commission specifically include a procedure for dealing with personation and guidance on dealing with other issues. I am disappointed to hear that Walsall Council does not wish to follow best practice, and I hope it might reconsider following my hon. Friend’s representations.
The coalition Government introduced a £173.5 million fund for a modern public mass transit system in Leeds, and I was delighted that this Government stuck to that commitment. With the election, of course, that has been thrown up in the air, so may I ask the Minister what will happen? Can he assure me that when this place is not sitting there will be proper scrutiny of Leeds City Council’s unambitious and poor plans for spending that money?
First, there will be elections in Yorkshire—certainly, in the Greater Leeds area—this year. The processes for the auditing and scrutiny of expenditure within Government will also continue, and Ministers will remain in office. What there will not be until the new Parliament assembles is the opportunity for Members of this House to raise cases where they think money has not been spent to best effect. However, we are talking of a matter of only seven weeks, so it will not be long before Members representing Leeds and every other part of the country can raise such points.
May I echo what my hon. Friend Henry Smith said in welcoming the Government’s increased investment in the NHS? I also acknowledge what the Leader of the House said about the need for local decision making on health service matters. None the less, I seek his reassurance that in the next Parliament we will have the opportunity properly to scrutinise any proposed changes that result from NHS England’s sustainability and transformation plans. As he will know—I have raised this in the House before—there is considerable concern about services at North Devon district hospital in my constituency. The concern is that any proposed changes might be rather hastily imposed by local health service managers. Will he assure me that we will have an opportunity to scrutinise those matters?
Before I sit down—it seems I have the privilege of being the last Conservative Member to ask a business question in this Parliament—may I echo the comments that have been made about our colleague Jo Cox? Mr Speaker, may I also thank you, your staff and the staff of the House for helping to run the business of the House so smoothly? Long may it continue.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can assure him that the next House of Commons—in this Chamber, in Westminster Hall and in the Health Committee when it is re-established—will have the opportunity to consider sustainability and transformation plans as they come forward in all parts of the country. Any such plan has to meet four tests for service change: it must be supported by GP commissioners, be based on clinical evidence, demonstrate public and patient engagement, and consider patient choice. The NHS organisations involved are obliged to consult the local authority’s health overview and scrutiny committees on any proposals for substantial changes to local health services. Those committees can make a formal objection to such a substantial service change and then refer the decision to the Secretary of State for a decision—and the Secretary of State is of course, like all Ministers, accountable to this House.
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, before I ask my question I would like to put on record my sincere thanks to the hon. Members for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) and for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) for assisting me when I was unwell yesterday. I also extend my thanks to the wonderful Commons staff and to the medics for their usual excellent care.
In Culture, Media and Sport questions on
No, I cannot promise that, because once a general election has been announced the normal rules on Government purdah start to apply fairly promptly, and they will certainly apply from the end of this week. This is a matter for the Cabinet Secretary rather than for Ministers. While Ministers will be free in the next 24 hours or so to make a number of statements, as soon as the purdah rules come into play, which I am expecting to happen tomorrow, the Government machine is prohibited from making such announcements because it must maintain impartiality during an election period.
We all know that to ensure that constituents can get better paid, better quality jobs and that our businesses can compete better abroad, we must ensure that our people have the right skills. It is a disgrace, therefore, that in my area we are facing further savage cuts of beyond £20 million per year to our local schools. Before Parliament is dissolved, may we have a statement from the Education Secretary on why this Government are pulling the rug from under our young people and taking us back to mid-1990s levels of Tory underinvestment in our schools? Our young people deserve better.
First, I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the number of pupils attending schools that are rated by Ofsted as “good” or “outstanding” has risen since 2010 to the highest level ever—some 89% of pupils attend such schools—and the number of individual schools that meet those standards is also at a record high. He chose not to mention this Government’s commitment to 3 million good apprenticeship starts. Nor did he mention this Government’s renewed focus on technical and vocational education, which is absolutely essential if we are to give young men and women the opportunities that he, like me, wishes to see them enjoy.
I think that behind the hon. Gentleman’s question was an attack on the proposed new funding formula for schools, but it has long been the case, argued by Members of Parliament on both sides of this House, that it was not tolerable to continue with a situation in which almost identical schools in different geographical areas could find that one school received half the money per pupil that the other, comparable school was receiving. As he knows, the new funding formula is the subject of a public consultation that has just closed. The Secretary of State is considering what her response should be, and she will come forward with proposals in due course.
The Leader of the House referred to Gibraltar. May I remind him that Gibraltar has a Labour Government, and we in Rhondda certainly know that any Labour Government is always better than a Tory Government?
Rather than that, however, I want to ask the Leader of the House why the Government have broken their promise, in that Minister after Minister has said that if the Opposition demand a debate and a vote on secondary legislation, there will be a debate and a vote, but for the past two years successive Leaders of the House have repeatedly refused to allow us a debate and a vote. In particular, dozens of our constituents, many of them with severe mental health problems, are worried about the changes to personal independence payments and concerned that the changes are going to go through without any debate or any vote. They are absolutely furious. Why will the Leader of the House not stand up now and say, “Yes, we’re going to have a debate and a vote next week”?
The hon. Gentleman knows that an election has been called, and that makes a difference to the allocation of time for business, particularly as we have to make provision—I think that this is agreed across the House—for emergency legislation in relation to Northern Ireland, which will take time that might otherwise have been available for other purposes.
On personal independence payments, if the hon. Gentleman looks at what is actually going on, he will see that the number of successful appeals against PIP decisions is only 3% of cases that have reached a decision, and that the number of people with mental health conditions who are getting additional help under PIP is significantly higher compared with the disability living allowance. PIP represents a big improvement on the previous situation.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman is on very dangerous ground in praying in aid the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, because all political parties in Gibraltar detested and resented the previous Labour Government’s proposals for their territory.
May I echo the comments made about our colleague and friend, Jo Cox? Of course, Jo was a huge champion of international development. Although I am pleased that there will be a memorial to her here in the Commons, one of the greatest memorials would be for all parties in the upcoming election to recommit to the cross-party agreement on 0.7% for international development. It would be a great tragedy if that was abandoned.
Jo was also a great champion of the situation of older people in this country. We have a surprise general election, so I wonder whether we could have a surprise Government statement in the next few days on righting the historic injustice facing the WASPI women and so many other pensioners across the country, including Allied Steel and Wire workers in my constituency, who have been led down paths that have resulted in them not receiving what they expected to receive in their retirement.
It will be important, as we leave the European Union, that the United Kingdom is even more outward looking on the world than it is already. I am certainly proud of the way in which we use our very generous aid programme to give humanitarian assistance to people in need in parts of central and eastern Africa, and to people both inside Syria and who have taken refuge in neighbouring countries.
On the state pension age increase for women, transition arrangements are already in place and the previous Government committed more than £1 billion to lessen the impact of those changes. No one will see their pension age change more than 18 months compared with the previous timetable. The problem with what the hon. Gentleman seeks is that to reverse the Pensions Act 2011 would cost more than £30 billion, and neither he nor his party has any plan as to how they would find that money.
Six innocent UK military veterans, including Billy Irving, remain in jail in India. The Foreign Secretary has still not met their families. This Government have been in a tizzy over Brexit and have not been focusing on those men, and now this cynical Tory election means that their perilous situation slips even further down the priority list. These military veterans deserve better, so in the time left what are the Government going to do to get Billy and his colleagues home where they belong with their families?
The hon. Lady has raised that case before, so she knows that the Prime Minister has raised the case of the Chennai six with Prime Minister Modi of India; that Foreign Office Ministers and our high commissioner in New Delhi have raised the issue many times with their Indian counterparts; and that representations continue to be made to the Indian high commissioner here in London. The case is with the judicial system in India, which is a mature democracy, and we will continue to make all representations possible on behalf of those men. We are certainly not giving up and it is wrong for the hon. Lady to suggest in any way that we have done so.
South Tees clinical commissioning group announced a fortnight ago that the Marske medical centre, which serves more than 5,000 people in the village, many of them elderly, will close at the end of June. NHS England has provided emergency GP cover for the last year after Danum Medical Services, the company that previously ran the centre, went into liquidation. Not a single bid has been received—what a damning indictment of this Government’s market approach to healthcare.
I have written to ask the Secretary of State for Health to step in urgently on behalf of patients who rely on the GP service. Will the Leader of the House bring the matter to the urgent attention of the Secretary of State? Otherwise, any mention of protecting the NHS in the Government’s manifesto will be seen around my way for the hollow sham that it is.
I will certainly refer the particular case to the Secretary of State for Health and his team. In respect of the hon. Lady’s strictures about the use of private sector contractors, under the previous Labour Government there was a significant increase to 4.5%, from memory, in the delivery of NHS spending through contracted-out services, and the proportion has grown only very slightly since 2010.
I return once again to the national shipbuilding strategy. We have been told since last summer that it is imminent, most recently on
“It will be published in spring 2017.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 621, c. 174WH.]
Can the Leader of the House confirm today that the shipbuilding strategy will not be published before the end of this Parliament? Does he accept that that will be seen by the shipyard workers on the Clyde and elsewhere as a complete betrayal, and yet another gross dereliction of duty, by this Conservative Government?
We are not going to be shy of publishing the national shipbuilding strategy, but I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave to Natalie McGarry about the impact of purdah rules. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and his party would be the first on their feet to complain if we had announcements coming out of Whitehall during a general election campaign; he would argue that those announcements were designed to help a Government seeking re-election.
The Conservative Government in London spent £7 per person on transport projects in the south-east for every £1 per person spent in the north. Meanwhile, schools in Sefton face a cut of £518 per child and the loss of nearly 500 teachers. Before the election, can we have a statement about whether the people of Sefton Central have been let down by the Government and why they have had such appalling treatment?
If the hon. Gentleman looks back to as recently as the autumn statement he will find that £13 billion of infrastructure investment was reserved for northern England. I could list some of the projects—improved connections to Manchester airport, £317 million for the Tyne and Wear metro and so on—that benefit northern cities and regions directly. In his question to me, he ignored the fact that investment in London can actually bring direct benefit to centres outside London. The Crossrail trains are being built in Derby, providing jobs there, and components for London buses are made in Falkirk and Ballymena. All parts of the United Kingdom are benefiting from that programme of Government investment.
On a point similar to that made by my hon. Friend Brendan O’Hara, can we have a statement before Dissolution on the procurement of Type 26 frigates? The best shipbuilders in the world—the workforce of the Govan shipyard—have waited for two years for work to start on those frigates. As a minimum, if we are not to receive a statement, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Ministry of Defence writes to me with an update?
I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s concern to the attention of Defence Ministers. As I think I have said at this Dispatch Box before, the Government hope that steel cutting can begin on that programme as soon as possible. He will know that two carriers—the two biggest warships ever built for the Royal Navy—are being constructed in Scotland as we speak.
Following the official opening last month of Carrington power station in my constituency, which was attended by the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Jesse Norman, a number of north-west businesses remain unpaid following the liquidation of the project contractor, Duro Felguera UK, by its massive Spanish parent. I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker, that it is disgraceful for our local businesses to lose out on a major infrastructure project that contributes to our national energy security. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement to be made next week on the support that can be made available to those businesses, particularly during Dissolution?
It is clearly important that businesses, particularly small businesses, are paid in full and on time within the terms of their respective contracts. As the hon. Lady knows, if a liquidation is involved, a particular legal regime kicks in. If she would like to let me have some details, I will send them on directly to the Minister with responsibility for energy.
In the remaining days of this Parliament, can we please have a debate about the northern powerhouse? London gets 10 times as much per head of population to spend on transport as do Yorkshire and the Humber; schools in my patch face cuts of up to £400 per pupil; our NHS, under its sustainability and transformation plan, is set to see cuts of £328 million; the council budget has been slashed by 50%; and we have the smallest number of police officers in Humberside since the 1970s. Can we please have a debate on what the Tories have against Yorkshire, and against Hull in particular?
If the hon. Lady looks at the record, she will see that large sums of money—I have already mentioned the £13 billion for transport in the autumn statement—are being allocated to Yorkshire, the Humber and other parts of northern England, and that more than 60% of the increase in private sector employment since the 2010 general election has been in parts of the United Kingdom outside London and the south-east. She will see that Yorkshire and Humberside are benefiting from the sound economic policies that the Government are pursuing.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that in the coming election she would be
“out there campaigning in every part of the United Kingdom”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 624, c. 669.]
Perhaps there will be a statement on that. May I helpfully suggest that she visit the Stirling constituency, where the presence of a hard-Brexit, hard-right, pro-austerity Prime Minister will do the SNP the world of good when it comes to winning the campaign?
I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is looking forward with relish to coming to Scotland and making the positive case for a Conservative Government. She is also looking forward to pointing out that after 10 years of SNP stewardship, there has been a decline in the national health service in Scotland and standards in Scottish schools are being overtaken by those in schools in England, Wales, Poland and Estonia.
I am proud to be part of a final Caledonian flush in this, the last business questions of this Parliament. I hope that on Sunday there will be more of a Caledonian flash: everyone has a sprint to the election, but some of us have a marathon to run. I wish the other 30 Members of the House of Commons who are taking part well in their endeavours. It is one of those occasions on which we put politics aside, and we will stand together and run together for our local charities. First and foremost, as Members of Parliament, we are there to stand up for and represent our local charities and organisations.
I will be representing and raising money for Jak’s Den, in memory of Jak Trueman, a young man who died of a very rare form of cancer around the time of my election in 2015. His mother Allison Barr and his sister Aimie do a huge amount of work in my local community. I will also be raising money for and representing the Michelle Henderson Cervical Cancer Trust. Michelle was in the year below me at high school, and she very sadly died a number of years ago of cervical cancer. Her work is continued by her father Willie Henderson, the famous Scottish footballer. Running the marathon will be a very proud moment for me, and I wish all who are running in it well.
I reiterate the good wishes I expressed earlier to the hon. Lady and others who are competing in the marathon on Sunday and I salute the work of the charities she is supporting.
Many of my constituents will be affected by recent changes to welfare policy brought about by the Government. Given that they will soon be left without a Member of Parliament for over a month due to purdah, will the Leader of the House make provision next week for urgent business to reverse these iniquitous changes until after the general election?
No. The Government’s changes to welfare policies have contributed towards a significant growth in employment, which is at record levels. That includes a big increase in the number of disabled people in work. They are now gaining the dignity and self-respect they want to have through their participation in the labour market. At the same time, we have increased and protected the benefits received by the most disabled people in the United Kingdom.
May I first echo the comments of the convenor of the Backbench Business Committee and ask for clarity on whether there will be debates in Westminster Hall next Thursday? If not, will the business be carried over? The Leader of the House said a few moments ago that we are all elected with an equal mandate. Well, even Margaret Thatcher recognised that the return of a majority of Scottish National party MPs from Scotland would be a mandate to take forward our policies on independence, yet the current Prime Minister does not seem to respect the mandate of the Scottish Parliament to give Scotland a choice. May we have a debate on which Prime Minister was right?
The mandate given by the people of Scotland in 2014 was for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom. I wish the hon. Gentleman and his party would respect that.
Our families sacrifice a lot for all of us to be in this House. Over this Parliament, the family of Jo Cox gave the ultimate sacrifice. Personally, I know that I could not undertake this role without the love and support of my husband John and my family. I am sure every Member in this House would say the same about their spouse and family.
“Because of the work you do…this United Kingdom and the values at its heart is one of the greatest forces for good in the world today.”
Will the Leader of the House intimate whether there will be a debate in the House after the general election to ensure that this and any future Government retain their commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on international development aid and do not push it into the budget headings of other Departments?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the 0.7% target is calculated by reference to the OECD’s definition of overseas development expenditure. That definition is confined not purely to expenditure programmes controlled by the Department for International Development, but to Government spending that meets the OECD criteria. I can assure him that, if the Government are re-elected, there will continue to be a strong United Kingdom commitment to an active and generous policy of international development. It is right that we continue to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. It is also right that we contribute towards the better governance and long-term stability of countries at risk, because that helps us to tackle some of the broader international problems that we in the United Kingdom and our European neighbours face.
It is good to follow our answer to Arthur Scargill, Mr Speaker—with a bit of Glasgow finesse no less.
It has been some two years since I was elected to this Parliament. I have to say that at the start of it I did not think that, two years in, we would have left the European Union and I would be on my second Prime Minister. Hopefully, in a few weeks’ time, I will be on my third Government. They say a week is a long time in politics. Over the time that the right hon. Gentleman has been Leader of the House I have asked him about many issues, but for the past six months I have consistently raised the issue of jobcentre closures in Glasgow. Given what he has said to other colleagues with regard to other Government announcements, would I be right in thinking that he expects Glaswegians to go to the polls not knowing which jobcentres his Government intend to close?
Since the hon. Gentleman is wishing for a change in Government, he is confirming that his party wishes to prop up Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of a putative coalition or minority Government. It is good to have that confirmation on the record.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the provision of jobcentres in Glasgow, as he has heard me say before, Glasgow has a greater concentration of office space for jobcentres than any other major city in Scotland. We have seen proposals from the Department for Work and Pensions to rationalise the estate in Glasgow so that his constituents and others in Glasgow can have a better-quality service. All necessary expert staff will be concentrated in a smaller number of locations, which will be fully accessible to his constituents.