The business for next week is as follows:
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 23, 26 and
I am sure that the whole House will join me in marking national adoption week. The love and support offered by so many in this country to otherwise vulnerable children is to be celebrated.
Finally, the festival of lights, one of the happiest holidays, also begins today, signifying the victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and light over darkness. May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy Diwali?
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business—again, it is just for one week, not two—and also join her in wishing everybody peace and prosperity for Diwali. I also thank her for providing an advance copy, which I got via email on Tuesday, and the Vote Office in Portcullis for having hard copies of it for Members on Monday.
This week, the sky darkened, a hurricane hit our islands, and the Government continued with their game playing both here and in Europe. I want to reiterate what you said after the motion yesterday, Mr Speaker, which was that
“the Leader of the House has to be the House’s representative in the Government.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 629, c. 956.]
I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House, who was in his place yesterday, will have informed the Leader of the House about the outcome. There were seven points of order following the debate. Member after Member—and you, Mr Speaker—wanted to know what the position is when the House votes 299-0. As the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said in her point of order, if the Government have retreated on certain aspects of a policy, the Minister should come to the House and explain.
This is where we make the law. Sir Edward Leigh was right to say that this is not a school debating chamber. You made it very clear, Mr Speaker, that the Government should come to the House, because a motion was passed to pause the roll-out of universal credit. It took a week for them to end the charges on the helpline for universal credit. This is a disorganised Government who are disrespectful to the House. What do we say to the democracies around the world; to the UK Youth Parliament, who are coming here on
Could the Leader of the House please tell us how the Government will honour the result, as the Official Report put it:
“Resolved, That this House
calls on the Government to pause…Universal Credit”—[Official Report,
Vol. 629, c. 955.]?
Is that really it for the business for next week: Monday, robot cars and Tuesday, smart meters? Are those the most pressing things for the House to debate? The shadow Secretary of State for Transport told me that the Government have accepted our amendments, so it is effectively our Bill.
The country is crying out for action—not calls for evidence—on housing, education, health, and the mounting debt caused by stagnant wages and increases in the cost of living, which we want to address in our Opposition days. But the Leader of the House must give the House a commitment today that non-urgent statements will not in future be used to disrupt Opposition days. I know the Government did not want to hear about people in rent arrears struggling to feed their families when they are in work, but that is the reality when Government policy is failing.
Mr Speaker, I want to draw your attention to another alarming situation. The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill—a very serious Bill, to make provisions enabling sanctions to be imposed to comply with UN obligations “or other international obligations”: the EU cannot be mentioned at all on the face of the Bill—had its First Reading in the House of Lords yesterday, but the Bill will be printed today. That must be a first—where a Bill has passed its First Reading and no one has seen its contents until a day later. It should be one for the Foreign Secretary, but perhaps he cannot be trusted with the Bill. Worse still, the House of Commons cannot be trusted with the Bill. So will the Leader of the House please explain why that Bill started in the other place?
When will the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill come before the House for its Committee of the whole House stage? I read in an email yesterday that it will be after the November recess. Is that correct? Should we not be discussing it here? Will the Leader of the House please tell us what is happening?
May we have a statement on the growing scandal of the missing NHS files, as revealed in the Public Accounts Committee? There has been no response to the letter from my hon. Friend Dr Williams on referrals for children with autism; 142 Members across the parties want to know why parents and children in a place like Stockton have waited nearly four years from the point of referral to specialist assessment. NICE guidelines say it takes three months. We are failing those children, some of whom are absolutely brilliant and see life in a different way from us.
Finally, it was great to attend the Women of the Year lunch last Monday with other hon. Members. The winners of the awards are truly deserving. The leadership award went to Dany Cotton, the first female commissioner of the London fire brigade, for her leadership in response to the Grenfell Tower fire. The international award went to the White Helmets, as a favoured charity of our dear colleague Jo Cox. It says:
“To save one life is to save all humanity”.
The main award went to the women of the emergency and medical services following the Manchester bombing—doctors, nurses, paramedics, the deputy chief constable and community police officers. I know the whole House will join me in acknowledging the work that those women have done in difficult times, as we all work towards a more equal society.
May I start by absolutely sharing in the hon. Lady’s praise for all those amazing women who won awards in the Women of the Year award ceremony this week? Our thanks and gratitude go to all those who contributed in the response to the appalling Grenfell Tower tragedy and those who rushed out to help after the Manchester bombing. I completely share her awe at what they have achieved.
The hon. Lady raises a number of issues. I will try to address them all but if she will forgive me; she spoke very fast—[Interruption.] I will try to get to all of them. She raised first the issue of the number of points of order last night in response to the Opposition day debate. She is aware that, as you said, Mr Speaker, the resolution of the House was passed, and that the Government are indeed not bound by that resolution, as you pointed out yourself. However, I assure all Members on both sides of the House that the Government are listening and have been listening. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said yesterday, and as was reiterated by the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s questions, the DWP, as a result of issues raised in the House, has looked again at charges for those using the DWP helpline and has agreed that those charges should be stopped. That is direct action as a result of concerns raised across the House.
It is important—again, the Department for Work and Pensions has been listening carefully—that more is done to ensure that those claiming universal credit are aware that they can get up to 50% of the first month’s payments in the form of an emergency payment within seven days or even earlier. It is also important that many different efforts are being made by the DWP to work with landlords to ensure that those on universal credit do not get into difficult rent arrears. As colleagues will know, it is possible for rent to be paid directly to landlords, and that is now the case for many universal credit recipients.
So I assure colleagues that the House is absolutely being listened to, and the concerns being raised are acted on. I can also assure colleagues that DWP Ministers will come back to the House, as they have several times, to update it on progress in addressing the concerns raised by Members across the House. [Hon. Members: “When?”] As soon as there is more to tell the House about the achievements that have been put in place. It is very important that the Government show that we are listening and taking action. If hon. Members wished to be fair about it, they would accept that a great deal of progress has been made, and it is important that we continue with that.
The debate yesterday specifically called for a pause in the roll-out of universal credit. I can reassure hon. Members that the roll-out schedule already includes a number of pauses. There has recently been one; the next is scheduled for January. The roll-out of universal credit is being done over a lengthy period.
However, it is important that we go back to the origins of universal credit. Even Debbie Abrahams on the Opposition Front Bench agrees that universal credit is a good move for those trying to get back into work. It consolidates six benefits into one. It provides more support for those trying to get into work. Three separate studies show that universal credit recipients get into work faster than jobseeker’s allowance recipients. Because of the simple taper rate, there are no hours rules and cliff edges, as there are with tax credits. And, of course, universal credit covers up to 85% of childcare costs, versus 70% with tax credits. All of those things are really important to support recipients to get into work, which is good for them and good for their families.
The hon. Member for Walsall South also raises the question of when the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will come to the House for its next stage, which will be Committee of the whole House. I want to reassure hon. Members that, as has been widely reported and as is well known, 300 amendments and 54 new clauses have been put forward. It should be reassuring to the House to know that the Government are looking carefully at those amendments and new clauses to ensure that, when the Bill does come back to this Chamber for a response and for the debate—we have eight days of debate, with eight protected hours on each day—the responses will be well thought through.
However, I would like to point out to Members on both sides of the House, who may not be aware of this, that there is nothing odd at all about a pause between Second Reading and Committee of the whole House. Specifically, with a constitutional measure such as the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, there were six sitting weeks between Second Reading and Committee of the whole House. With the Human Rights Act 1998, there were 10 sitting weeks between Second Reading and Committee of the whole House. With the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Act 2004, there were eight sitting weeks between Second Reading and Committee of the whole House. I hope that that reassures hon. Members that there is nothing odd or anything to fear from this slight pause. It is our clear, stated intent to show respect to the House by coming back to it with clear, considered responses to all the proposals made by hon. Members on both sides.
The hon. Lady asked why the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill has started in the other place. She will be aware that through discussion among the parties it is important that we schedule legislation appropriately between starting in the Lords or in the Commons. There is nothing odd about a Bill starting in the other place. This Bill was considered suitable for their lordships to consider with the level of expertise that they have. She will be aware that this week we have had the Second Reading of a Brexit Bill on nuclear safeguards, and further Brexit Bills will be introduced in this House and in the other House, as is perfectly normal parliamentary procedure.
The hon. Lady raised the length of time that it has taken for referrals of children and young people with autism. I share her concern about that issue, and I am happy to raise it specifically with the Secretary of State for Health—I know that he is concerned about it himself. I urge Members to seek appropriate methods, either through Health questions or through a debate, to raise this very serious issue further.
May I put to my good friend the Leader of the House a Conservative long-term point of view about the events of last night? It may be that in future we have a minority Labour Government. They may produce a policy that we think is deeply contrary to our personal liberties. We may muster a majority in Parliament against it. What happens if that future Labour Government then say, “We’re sorry—you’ve set the precedent, this is only an expression of opinion, and we’re going to ignore Parliament”? Frankly, the road to tyranny is paved with Executives ignoring Parliament. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to listen to Parliament. I believe that the Secretary of State should come and make a statement, and it should be a statement full of meat. Parliament does matter. If we, as Conservatives, live by the sword now, our Conservative values might die by the sword in future.
Can I assure my hon. Friend that there is no precedent being set here? The Government, like different parties and different Members, will look on a case-by-case basis at whether they will vote on specific motions or not. There is no precedent being set. I have just explained at some length that this Government are very clearly listening to Parliament and have very clearly taken action as a result of concerns raised in the House. I have also given an assurance that DWP Ministers will come back to this Chamber to update Members on progress with rolling out universal credit.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.
Well, last night went well, didn’t it? What an anti-democratic shambles—an utter embarrassment for this House. Just when we thought this Government could not demonstrate more contempt for the democratic arrangements of the House, they have got into the lift and taken us down another couple of levels. I do not know what will be next. Maybe they will refuse to answer questions from the Dispatch Box. Maybe they will even try to abolish all these inconvenient voting Opposition parties. They might even do the country a favour and abolish themselves. The Leader of the House has to get a grip and the vacuous nonsense has to stop. She is the Leader of all of the House and she has to take that responsibility seriously. The first thing she needs to say is that she takes the view of the House seriously. We voted last night to pause the roll-out of universal credit, the Government have to accept it, and we have to hear that from a DWP Minister at the Dispatch Box.
What about the EU repeal Bill? The delay is not because of all the amendments the Leader of the House talks about—it is because the fractious Conservative party cannot agree a solid line on all this, and they are terrified of any possible defeat. That is why we are not seeing the repeal Bill. There is talk now that we might not even see it much before Christmas. We have to see it soon.
We are getting all this talk about a no-deal hard Brexit, and these guys are actually serious about putting forward this flavour of disaster. We need to have a debate to see how much it will cost. We know that Scotland and the north-east of England will be impacted the hardest by a no-deal hard Brexit, so can we have a debate on all this?
Lastly, can we have a statement on Catalonia, which is perhaps the biggest crisis we have seen in mainland Europe? There is talk today of suspending the national Parliament and of repression on the streets. When will we get a statement on that?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I could repeat all the points I have already made: I absolutely take my responsibilities seriously; I am, absolutely, Parliament’s representative in Government as well as Government’s representative in Parliament; and I am listening very carefully. As I have assured hon. Members, the Department for Work and Pensions has taken action as a direct result of points raised in this House by Members from across parties, and it will come back to this House to provide further updates on progress made as a direct result of points raised in this House.
The hon. Gentleman talks again about the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I think I have made the point very clearly that out of respect for this House, the Government are doing justice to the very significant concerns that have been raised about procedures and policy in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and it will come back to the House just as soon as the Government are prepared to do justice to the new clauses and amendments that have been tabled by Members. In addition, it is absolutely normal practice in this House to have a pause between Second Reading and Committee of the whole House, particularly on large constitutional Bills, to make sure that we are able properly to consider all the points raised.
The hon. Gentleman also raises the significant and very concerning matter of the Catalonian situation. He is right to do so, and I say again that we have all been very concerned and dismayed to see the violence on the streets in Spain. However, Spain is a very key ally of the UK, and we do urge all parties to ensure that any actions taken are constitutional and legally justifiable.
On rare occasions, I have been in trouble with the Whips for not voting for Government policy. Yesterday would have been the first time that had I voted for Government policy, I would have been in trouble. We cannot ignore the will of the House. This is about not just Opposition days, but Back-Bench business days—and what if a motion put forward by the Government is lost, because the Government ignore it?
The fact is that we have to have a mechanism whereby the Government formally come back and explain what action they are going to take as a result of a vote in this House. May I suggest to the Leader of the House that she considers that proposal this week, and that she comes back next week and says that that is exactly what is going to happen? Will she tell us that within 12 weeks of a vote, a Minister—perhaps even the Leader of the House—will come back and explain what action has been taken? [Interruption.] I said within 12 weeks. [Interruption.] Oh, tsk—stop! That could perhaps be called the Leadsom convention.
My hon. Friend has raised that perfectly reasonable suggestion on a number of occasions. As I have made clear, it is the intention of DWP Ministers to come back to this place to update the House on progress frequently and, I am sure, certainly within the timeframe that he mentions. I think it is very important to be clear on this: this is not some new precedent. On the universal credit issue yesterday, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions came to this House and responded very fully to points and concerns raised by this House. It is perfectly right that the House continues to raise issues and that Departments continue to respond to them.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business announcement for next week, and for confirming the two Back-Bench business debates on Thursday
I am very privileged to say that I was re-elected as chair of the all-party group on housing in the north last night, when we received representations from a number of chief executives of housing companies in the north of England. I am afraid to say that the message from them is that housing arrears are building in universal credit roll-out areas. In the discussion earlier, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government told us that local authorities have a responsibility to retrofit sprinklers and undertake safety work, but if they have major problems with their housing revenue accounts and are at the borrowing cap, it is very difficult for them to do so. Some reality needs to kick in here.
I have one last point. I do not know if it is just me, but my mobile phone does not seem to be working as well in this building as it has done in the past. I am wondering whether the scaffolding now cladding many parts of the building is acting as a Faraday cage for mobile phone signals. If that is the case, we need to do something about it so that Members can communicate with one another and with their constituents.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his points. On Back-Bench days, as I said last week, we will always seek to give him as much notice as we possibly can. He will appreciate that there is a lot of new legislation—we are still in the early days of this new parliamentary term—and we need to get started with a number of competing priorities. He will appreciate that we will give him as much notice as we possibly can, and I was delighted that we were able to protect time last week for some of his important debates. We will continue always to listen and to seek to address any specific concerns he has.
On social landlords, as I mentioned earlier, it is possible to have direct payments to landlords from universal credit recipients: 34% of social sector tenants on universal credit now have such an arrangement. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to make sure that landlords are aware of that facility. I know that Ministers have taken away that point from yesterday’s debate and will look at it carefully again.
On the hon. Gentleman’s third point, I had not previously heard about mobile phone problems. I am pleased to say that my mobile phone still seems to be working, but I certainly understand that there may be some problems relating to the scaffolding and I will look into the matter.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on encouraging people with learning difficulties to get involved with the performing arts? On Sunday, at the London Palladium, the Countess of Wessex, the chairman of the Royal Mencap Society, Mr Derek Lewis, and many parliamentarians witnessed an absolutely inspiring performance by the Music Man Project.
I regret, in that case, that I was not invited. The Government aim to ensure that Britain is one of the world’s most creative and exciting places to live. As part of this, we are absolutely committed to ensuring access and equality within the performing arts, and of course to making sure that creative professions are accessible to talented individuals irrespective of their background. I thoroughly welcome my hon. Friend’s question, and I will look to find time for such a debate.
Has the Leader of the House seen the very worrying series of openDemocracy reports this week on the role of dark money in the EU referendum, including revelations of illegal donations to the Democratic Unionist party and new questions today over the real wealth of Arron Banks, the main financial backer of Leave.EU? Given the widespread public concern about foreign, particularly Russian, interference in western democracies, will she assure the House that the Government and the Electoral Commission will examine these reports very carefully, and reassure our country that all the resources spent during the referendum were from permissible sources?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. Of course, any specific information should always be raised with the Electoral Commission to ensure that any wrongdoing is caught. I absolutely share his concern that we need to make sure that all donations are indeed permissible and legal.
Last week, I was delighted to host an event in Parliament to highlight the issues of familial hypercholesterolemia, or FH—a genetic disorder. I also ran the marathon this year in support of Cardiac Risk in the Young, which promotes heart screening. Some 1,300 young people in Eastleigh have been screened in memory of Claire Reed. Ensuring that those young people with risks are screened saves countless lives. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in this Chamber on heart screenings?
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on that marathon; I remember her absolute exhaustion the following day, and we were all in awe of her achievement. She raises an incredibly important point about how screening, particularly for heart issues, can save lives. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate on that very important matter.
I am enormously grateful to the Leader of the House for her personal support for my private Member’s Bill, which we will be debating tomorrow. I wonder whether she could do something else to help. As things stand, if Second Reading goes through tomorrow, as I hope it will—many Members had their photograph taken yesterday in support of the Bill—and even if we get it through Committee in a couple of weeks, it will not reach remaining stages until the end of April. That is a long time. If the Government wanted to—if it had a gap in the legislative programme, perhaps—it could decide to adopt the Bill and give it Government time on the Floor of the House before Christmas, so that we could get it on the statute book.
As the hon. Gentleman is being so charming and persuasive, I absolutely assure him that the Government are behind his Bill. It is entirely right that we should protect emergency workers from abuse and violence and completely wrong that they should be attacked by people whom they seek to help. I assure him that we will make our best efforts to bring forward his Bill as soon as we can.
On yesterday’s debate and debates more generally, my observation is that there is often very little time for Ministers to respond to the many points raised by Members. Many Members spoke yesterday, but the Minister had only 10 minutes to respond. Will the Leader of the House consider making more time available for Ministers to respond?
I wanted to ask the Leader of the House for a debate on strategies for increasing participation rates in sport. There was an announcement yesterday by the sport that started in my constituency about Project Rugby, an initiative encouraging the disabled and those from the BAME community to play rugby. I was interested in the remarks made by my hon. Friend Sir David Amess about those with learning disabilities taking part in theatre. They can also play rugby. Can we encourage such initiatives?
I share my hon. Friend’s love of rugby—both the sport and the town; I am thinking in particular of my own home team, Northampton Saints. He is right to highlight Project Rugby, an excellent initiative to try to get more people with disabilities, and BAME people, to participate in the sport. It is a fantastic game and I encourage all Members to promote it as far as they are able.
I gently say to the Leader of the House that if she is worried about the number of amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, she might consider giving it more time when it finally turns up in this House to be debated.
I wanted to ask the Leader of the House a specific question, Mr Speaker; I know that you recognise the important work done by the Intelligence and Security Committee. Given the serious terrorist incidents that we have seen this year and the fact that the Committee, as I understand it, has not met since April, will the right hon. Lady explain when she expects it to be established and when it will start its important work?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue. The Committee will be established just as soon as it can be. It requires that names be put forward from both sides of the House, and there are particular screening procedures and so on. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be re-established as soon as possible.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital for Members to able to raise their concerns, both local and national, about the ongoing defence review? Will she agree to hold a debate on the issue, which could have huge implications for my constituency if the future of RM Condor and 45 Commando is not clarified?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point not just for her constituency, but the country. I can tell her that in July the Government initiated a national security capability review—the NSCR—which will ensure that the UK’s investment in national security capabilities is joined up, effective and efficient. It is being led by the National Security Adviser. The Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and our security services will make a full contribution to that review. She may like to know that there is a Westminster Hall debate this afternoon. She may wish to take part in it.
Will the Leader of the House go back to Department for Work and Pensions Ministers and tell them it is no good them coming to the House at some point in the future? They should be here on Monday and they should be saying to people what they are going to do about the will of Parliament, as expressed in yesterday’s vote. We already have universal credit in my constituency. The latest figures from Gedling Homes show that 92% of its tenants on universal credit are in arrears. That is not an accident, but a direct consequence of Government policy. It is a new Poor Law and we need to do something about it now.
As I have said to a number of hon. Members, the Department for Work and Pensions has heard the concerns of this House. The Minister has specifically said that he will look more closely at the issue of rent arrears. A number of those rent arrears are rolled over from the previous system, and are not as a direct result of universal credit. Let us be clear: universal credit is designed to help people to get back into work. It consolidates six complex benefits into one. It provides more support, more encouragement, more ability for people to increase their hours and not lose their benefits, and more support for childcare. It is designed to help people into work and it is succeeding.
I just received a letter this morning from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Jesse Norman stating that the A12 upgrade is to be delayed. This is an extremely significant piece of infrastructure in East Anglia. For my constituents, it is probably their most important road. I am obviously very concerned to hear this news, but I received the letter 17 minutes after Transport questions. Given that I did not have the chance to raise the issue then, will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on road infrastructure? I am sure that many other colleagues would like to consider the significance of such issues.
I am very sorry that my hon. Friend just missed Transport questions and I can quite understand his frustration. He will be aware that billions of pounds of new road programmes are being introduced, including £2.3 billion on a new housing infrastructure fund to ensure we can provide more roads that facilitate housing development. I would be very happy to take up his specific point with the Department for Transport. I am also sure that Transport Ministers will be keen to hear from him.
While I am sure the answer was given in good faith, the answer the Leader of the House gave to my right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw is untrue. The Electoral Commission has confessed that it has no mechanisms to find out whether there has been interference by cyber-techniques from Russia, by botnets and by artificial intelligence. These methods of distorting and buying elections have come in since the rules for the Electoral Commission were laid down. We must look seriously at this issue. I recommend the Leader of the House reads the journalism of Carole Cadwalladr, who has named precisely the organisations that may well have rigged the result of the referendum, because we know it is in Russia’s interests to destabilise Europe.
Just to be very clear to the hon. Gentleman, I was not suggesting that the Electoral Commission should investigate; I was merely saying that information should be reported to the Electoral Commission, as indeed it has been in all areas of fraud, misuse of voting and so on. The Electoral Commission should then be in a position to bring in the legal and police services, should it decide there is a case to answer. It is very important that as much evidence as possible is brought forward and not just left as rumours and accusations. These things need to be investigated properly to make sure our electoral system remains as free and fair as we all hope it is today.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that although winter is coming, one freeze that millions of hard-working people want maintained is the fuel duty freeze? Is she aware of the campaign by FairFuelUK and many MPs not just to keep the freeze, but to stop taxes on diesel car owners? Will she make a statement on what the Government are doing to help hard-pressed motorists?
My hon. Friend has been a real champion for drivers and has been extremely successful in his bid, in that over seven long years this Government have rejected the fuel duty increases that the last Labour Government proposed should occur automatically each year. Car drivers are now significantly better off as a result of lower fuel taxes. I suggest, however, that he makes his submission to the Chancellor in time for the Budget.
As several Members have pointed out, there is rather a large gap in the Government’s legislative programme. I am sure that the Leader of the House would like to fill it, for instance with a debate on the £400 million needed for St Helier hospital or on the funding that Sutton’s schools lack. However, I would like to support the bid by Pete Wishart for a debate on no deal and its impact. Such a debate would enable Brexit supporters on the Conservative Benches to talk in advance to the businesses that would be crippled by no deal, to the communities on the border in Northern Ireland that are worried about the security considerations, and to EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU for whom no deal would be a disaster. Who knows, perhaps some of those Brexit supporters might even change their minds by the end of the debate.
The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that the Government’s clear position is of seeking an all-encompassing agreement on free trade and other matters of co-operation with our EU friends and neighbours that will be to their benefit and certainly to the UK’s benefit. Unfortunately, his position is that we should seek to subvert the will of the people as expressed in last year’s referendum. As I understand it, the position of the official Opposition and the SNP is that we should accept whatever the EU offers, which clearly would not be to the advantage of the UK people. Britain’s interests are best served by sticking with the Government in their determination to seek a sound and comprehensive agreement with our EU friends and neighbours.
The Government have done much work on, and given great support to, our cities and city regions, but our provincial towns, and particularly coastal communities, do not get the benefit of a trickle down from the economies of a nearby city. Will the Government find time for a debate on the support that they can give to our provincial towns?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency. I have had the pleasure of visiting him there twice, including to open an offshore wind farm, which I know has brought growth to his area. He is absolutely right to raise the importance of focusing on specific issues facing coastal towns, and I am sure he will be keen to seek a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate specifically to discuss the interests of his constituency.
May we have an urgent debate on the role of the voluntary sector? I received a report today of a lady in my constituency who has had to sell her child’s pushchair so that she can pay her electricity bill. Organisations such as the East Durham Trust in my constituency are a vital safety net for the most vulnerable, but they are running low on food bank donations. The trust is crowdfunding online through its website, www.eastdurhamtrust.org.uk, for a “people’s takeaway” so that children in my constituency do not go cold and hungry owing to the roll-out of universal credit. What will the Leader of the House do to support organisations such as the East Durham Trust that are struggling to meet the growing demand of services caused by the Government’s failures, such as the roll-out of universal credit?
The valuable work done by charities and the voluntary sector that the hon. Gentleman talks about is appreciated throughout the House—it is certainly appreciated by many of our constituents. He may well wish to seek an Adjournment debate. Let me point out, however, that under this Government the number of children living in workless families has dropped by almost 1 million households, which is absolutely vital. Progress is being made. Employment is the highest that it has ever been, and universal credit is designed to help people to get into work. It is incredibly important for us to continue to pursue policies that help people to enjoy the security of a pay packet that benefits them and their families.
My hon. Friend will know that statements are announced on the day by the usual methods. It is a convention that the Prime Minister comes to the Chamber to make a statement on European Councils and I am sure that she plans to do so as normal.
I congratulate the Members who secured the Back-Bench debate on global LGBT rights that will take place next week. The Government have an appalling record on the detention and deportation of LGBT asylum seekers. Will the Leader of the House confirm that a Home Office Minister will respond to that debate?
I think that all Members recognise that the Government have done an enormous amount to promote LGBT rights, including by introducing same-sex marriage. The hon. and learned Lady may well wish to raise her specific point during Home Office questions, but I think we can all celebrate the huge achievements that have been made in this country in addressing discrimination against LGBT people, and doing as much as possible to ensure that they have equal access to every aspect of our daily life.
May I join my right hon. Friend in wishing Shubh Deepavali to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists not only in this country, but throughout the world? I apologise in advance to Chris Bryant as I will not be able to support his excellent Bill tomorrow. That is not because I do not agree with it—I do—but because I shall be visiting no fewer than nine temples in my constituency and others to celebrate the Hindu new year.
May I invite Members who were not able to attend the Diwali reception that we held on the Terrace yesterday to join us at our seminar on Monday night? It will provide an excellent opportunity for Members in all parts of the House to understand the true meaning of this great festival.
I join my hon. Friend in celebrating this wonderful festival. I agree that it is important for us all to understand its purpose and origin, and, again, I wish all Members a very happy Diwali.
Following this week’s announcement on sentencing for dangerous driving, will the Leader of the House consider providing time for a debate on enforcement? My constituency is experiencing serious problems with dangerous and erratic driving, and it is only a matter of time before that leads to serious injury or even death. The West Yorkshire police force has lost nearly 40% of its traffic officers in the last five years. What use are new laws if they cannot be enforced?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue that matters a great deal to Members on both sides of the House, which is why we have decided to address concerns about dangerous driving. Enforcement is, of course, absolutely key. I commend the amazing work of our police forces in enforcing all our laws, and this law will be no different in that respect.
Will the Leader of the House draw the attention of all relevant Ministers a very important ten-minute rule Bill that will be introduced on Wednesday week by my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon? It proposes the introduction of a statute of limitations to prevent the persecution, through legal process and the courts, of veterans for events that occurred in Northern Ireland up to 40 years ago.
My right hon. Friend is very consistent in supporting the protection of those who were involved in events that happened long ago and are still under investigation today. I absolutely assure him that the Government are unstinting in our admiration for the role our armed forces played in ensuring that Northern Ireland’s future would only ever be decided by democracy and consent.
This week I attended a Government roundtable on ending gang violence and exploitation. The necessity that Government Departments develop a joined-up approach and share data to tackle the root causes was absolutely evident, so may we have a debate in Government time on how Departments can work together to tackle this important issue?
The hon. Lady raises an important matter, and I encourage her to find a way to ensure that a debate on it is held in this place, perhaps through the Backbench Business Committee. The Government take this matter incredibly seriously, and she will be aware that the Home Office is taking steps both on prevention and education, as well as on stamping out this kind of violence.
May we have a statement from the Leader of the House on modern democracy? Our constituents send us here to represent them and to hold the Government to account by voting in this place. What message does it send to our constituents when the Government feel that they can ignore the will of this House?
I say again that the Government are by no means doing as the hon. Lady suggests. We are listening. I have been absolutely clear since coming into this role that the Government are determined to listen to views from right across the House. That is evidenced by the work of the Department for Work and Pensions and yesterday’s statement, and, following yesterday’s debate, by our doing more to help those applying for universal credit, which Members across the House agree is there to help and support people, and which is succeeding in getting more people into work.
The Government guarantee the mineworkers pension scheme, but 50% of the surplus goes back into Government pockets. They have had a £3 billion windfall. Mineworkers and their families want a better deal for their years of toil at the coalface. May we have a Treasury statement so that my uncle Desi, my uncle Jackie and their comrades get their fair share?
We all agree that the work done by coalminers over so many years to keep the lights on did a huge service to this country. The hon. Gentleman might well wish to raise this issue at Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions, or through an Adjournment debate.
Earlier this month I had the honour of accompanying my local police force on a Friday evening shift. I was appalled by the lack of respect for our officers, so I applaud, as I am sure the whole House does, the efforts of my hon. Friends the Members for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) in this area, and support the Bill that we will consider tomorrow. However, important though that is—it is truly vital—I was horrified to learn that a third fewer warranted officers are now on shift on Friday nights than was the case 10 years ago, so they are completely overstretched. May we have a debate in Government time about the number of warranted officers serving in our forces? We have lost 501 in the past eight years.
I understand that the hon. Lady’s police force is achieving significant progress in the fight against crime. It is performing exceedingly well, for which I congratulate it. However, as she will no doubt be aware, the proportion of officers in frontline roles has increased to over 93% from an estimated 91% in 2010, and police budgets are being protected.
More than 900 of my constituents are being placed on universal credit from
I can absolutely give the hon. Lady an assurance. As I have said several times today, universal credit is designed to help those looking for work. According to three independent studies, it has resulted in many more people finding work than was the case under jobseeker’s allowance. It is improving opportunities to get jobs, it enables people to keep more of the benefit as they increase their hours, and it helps much more with childcare costs.
In accordance with the DWP’s statement to the House yesterday, the scheme is also being improved so that the costs of calls to the helpline will be waived, and more instruction will be given to jobcentre officials to ensure that people know that they can get up-front emergency payments. The Department has taken away a list to consider and Ministers have assured me that they will come back with further updates as soon as they have more to tell the House about progress on addressing those issues.
The House called for a pause and the Department has been clear that it has just had one to ensure that it can update and upgrade systems. It plans another in January. Members should therefore be reassured that the Government are listening carefully and acting on the points that Members raised.
I am gravely concerned about the chaos in Walton prison in my constituency. It had a snap inspection, and received one out of five, the worst possible score. The governor was removed last week and the NHS trust that provided healthcare at the site has today pulled out of its contract. The mayor of Liverpool and I have learned all that through the media, with no contact from Ministers or the Prison Service. I wrote to the Minister for Prisons and Probation on Monday and I am waiting for a reply. Will the Leader of the House advise me on the breakdown in communication between the Government, the Prison Service and local representatives? Can we at least have a debate or statement on health, safety and welfare across our prisons network? What more can I do to get answers about Walton prison?
That sounds like a very concerning issue and the hon. Gentleman is right to be worried about it. I understand that the Secretary of State for Justice will meet the chief inspector of prisons today to discuss the specific issue and I am certainly happy to raise the matter with the Secretary of State after business questions.
However, the hon. Gentleman will know that we are putting an extra £100 million a year into the frontline to recruit 2,500 more prison officers by the end of 2018 and investing £1.3 billion in a modern, fit-for-purpose prison estate, with up to 10,000 new modern prison places during this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue and I will happily take up the specifics with the Secretary of State.
It was not just Opposition Members voting against universal credit yesterday who defeated the Government, but the will of the people at the general election, which decreed that the Conservative party does not have an overall majority in the House. The Government have bunged some money to the Democratic Unionist party and they think that that gives them the right to behave as if they have an overall majority, but they do not. We need from the Leader of the House—our representative in the Cabinet—a statement about what she will do to ensure that the minority Government respect and act upon the House’s decisions.
The hon. Gentleman needs to ask himself why, if the Conservative party has no right to govern, we are sitting on this side of the House. The Conservatives won 56 seats more than the nearest party to us, and we are governing under well-established rules through a confidence and supply agreement.
The hon. Gentleman again raises the issue of money going to the Democratic Unionist party, but that is not the case. There is further investment for the restored Northern Ireland Executive, but to be clear, according to the latest figures, only £232 per person has been spent in recent years in Northern Ireland on transport, compared with £504 in Scotland. It is right to provide the money that goes to Northern Ireland for city deals and to promote health and infrastructure. The Government have provided many billions of pounds for city deals in other parts of the United Kingdom, so there is nothing strange about that.
As I have said time and again, the Government are determined to listen to colleagues from all parties. We continually revert to the fact that the Opposition are determined to talk about process rather than the serious policy challenges that face our country on which the Government are determined to make progress.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your wise words last night about the huge number of points of order that were made. Unfortunately they have fallen on deaf ears. The Government showed disrespect not only to Parliament but to my constituents, who continue to suffer day in, day out, under the ill-thought-out universal credit scheme. Instead of trying to answer the questions herself, will the Leader of the House get a Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions here on Monday so that the Department can be held accountable for its actions and show respect for Parliament’s vote yesterday?
I say again that the universal credit programme has received approval across the House because it is helping more people into work. It enables people to keep more of their benefits as they increase their hours and it helps with childcare costs. It is intended to help people. The Department has made it clear that it has listened to points from hon. Members of all parties about implementation, and it is taking action, such as getting rid of call charges to the universal credit helpline and ensuring that people know that they can get emergency payments up front. Evidence shows that the scheme helps people to get into work and gives them the security of a pay packet that benefits them and their families.
There is no pause in Scunthorpe, where universal credit is being rolled out this week. Local partners, whether Ongo, the social housing provider, private landlords or the citizens advice bureau are genuinely concerned that what my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker described—an increase in rent arrears and evictions—will happen locally. What would the Leader of the House say to my constituents, who hear that the House has said so clearly that there should be a pause, when nothing then happens?
I would say to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents that the Department for Work and Pensions has listened to the House and acted straight away. There has just been a pause, and that is why the Department could take action quickly to improve the roll-out of universal credit. A further pause is planned for January, and DWP Ministers will come back to the House to provide further updates in due course. The hon. Gentleman’s constituents should therefore be reassured that this benefit, which is designed to help them get back into work, will be improved as much as possible.
It is not just universal credit that causes people untold misery. I have a constituent, Mr McMaster, who, when he transferred to a personal independence payment from a lifetime’s enhanced disability living allowance award, was given only four points and lost his benefits. The stress that that caused meant that his marriage suffered, he tried to commit suicide and he nearly lost his house and car. Out of sheer desperation, he reapplied for PIP, using the same evidence that had been presented previously. Luckily, the right decision was made and he was given an enhanced award in both categories. Will the Leader of the House make a statement outlining what the Government will do to review that iniquitous system, and will she apologise to my constituent?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that case. As constituency MPs, we all have examples of where we are not happy with interpretation or with the assessment of individuals, and it is right to raise such cases. I am pleased to hear that his constituent has had a good result, and I commend him for taking up that case. However, it is important from a policy point of view that proper systems are in place to assess those who receive disability benefits, that that is fair and is seen to be fair and that there is an appropriate appeal process, in addition to support from MPs, when we feel that the outcome is in doubt.
The trade unions from BAE Systems at Brough are visiting Parliament this week to talk to MPs about potential job losses, and 140 MPs from both sides of the House have signed a letter asking the Government to think again about the out-of-service date of the Red Arrows’ Hawks, many of which were built in the 1970s. Is it therefore not time for a statement about securing those jobs and, more importantly, our sovereign capability?
I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for the Red Arrows, which are beloved in this country and do a fantastic job. To be clear, there is no requirement to replace the Red Arrows’ Hawk T1. We have a large fleet of around 75 aircraft from which the Red Arrows display team can draw. There has been no reduction in Red Arrows flying hours, and it is incorrect to suggest, as some have, that numbers have been reduced at displays. The Government have helped to secure orders for Hawk aircraft from Qatar, securing production for next year, and we are pressing hard for further export deals. There is no need for an early replacement for the Red Arrows as a decision is not needed until at least the end of this Parliament.
May we have a statement detailing the Government’s expectations for lifeboat provision? There is considerable concern in Ceredigion that proposals under the recent coastal review of Cardigan bay would leave the entire Ceredigion coastline without sufficient all-weather lifeboat provision.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I encourage him to go direct to the Department for Transport. If it is aware of the situation, it will be equally concerned. If he would like to write to me, I am happy to raise the matter on his behalf.
Over the past three months, I have attended the opening of four pensioner lunch clubs. The common theme coming from the groups, which are mainly run by volunteers, is that pensioners are lonely and are struggling to feed and cook for themselves. The clubs are trying to help to build community cohesion. Will the Leader of the House find space in Government time for a debate on loneliness and its impact? It would allow colleagues on both sides of the House to highlight the excellent work of the commission on loneliness set up in the name of our former colleague Jo Cox.
I commend the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness for its excellent work. I have taken part in some of its presentations in the Speaker’s apartments, and I congratulate you on raising awareness, Mr Speaker. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that loneliness among the elderly is a serious concern, and I have initiatives in my constituency to try to bring people together more frequently so that communities can work together to try to alleviate loneliness. I am happy to support any proposal that he wants to make to highlight that issue further. I would add, however, that I am proud of this Government’s efforts to ensure that pensioners are now much better off than they were when we came into government in 2010 and to protect pensions and the pensioners’ uplift, which has been incredibly important for those on low fixed incomes.
My constituent Mrs Withers has been caring for her diabetic grandson since
I am sorry to hear about what is obviously a difficult situation, which the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise. I encourage him to speak directly to the Department for Work and Pensions, which I urge to take up this specific issue.
The Leader of the House says that the Government are listening, but the only thing they did yesterday was scrap helpline charges. It frankly beggars belief that it takes an Opposition day debate for the Government to decide that 55p a minute is too much to charge cash-strapped people to call the very Department that is making them cash-strapped. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions kept recommending yesterday that claimants visit their local jobcentre, but at the same time the Department is shutting nearly 70 jobcentres across the country. Sheffield’s Eastern Avenue jobcentre is due to close on
I gently say to the hon. Lady that she cannot have it both ways. She cannot complain that the Government are not listening to the House and then say that it is not right that the Government should act on the views of this House, rather than independently. That seems a little back to front. On universal credit, the key point is that the Department for Work and Pensions is responding both to its own pauses and its experiences of the roll-out of universal credit to date and to the representations of Members from right across the House. The Government are determined to make universal credit a huge success and to deal with implementation issues as they arise. I assure Members that that is the case.
As for jobcentre closures specifically, the hon. Lady will be aware that we still have a significant fiscal challenge as a result of the state of the economy that we were left with in 2010. We continue to try to take steps to live within our means. I know that Opposition Members do not understand this, but the reality is that every day we continue to spend more than we receive in taxes means another day of debt for which our children and grandchildren will be forced to pay, so we need to live within our means. The reduction in jobcentres is actually being offset by an increase in the number of work coaches, who will provide more support to people who need it. We are merging a number of smaller offices into bigger sites, so that we can save the taxpayer money, but we are not changing the service we offer. Wherever possible, we are improving that service for those who are looking for work.
On Tuesday, Muhammad Safdar made several discriminatory comments in the National Assembly of Pakistan against the Ahmadiyya Muslim community of Pakistan. He accused the faith group of being untrustworthy and a threat to Pakistan, arguing that it should be banned from the armed forces. Coming from the son-in-law of a former Prime Minister, such comments are dangerous and will surely fuel prejudice towards the already persecuted Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on that pressing issue?
The hon. Gentleman raises a separate issue about support for women who are suffering from domestic violence, and I assure him that—[Interruption.] Am I misunderstanding his question?
Then I think I did understand the hon. Gentleman correctly. He raises an incredibly important point about protection for women who are experiencing domestic violence, and DWP Ministers took away some action points from yesterday’s debate to look more at ensuring that women who need protection from abusive partners are receiving it. More broadly, the hon. Gentleman should welcome, as we all do, the Government’s bringing forward of new measures to try to protect people from domestic violence and other domestic abuse, which is so appalling and unacceptable in this country.
Will the Leader of the House join me in celebrating the British citizen youth awards? The awards are being granted today to celebrate young people from across the country, including my constituent Grace Warnock.
Will the Leader of the House also provide a statement on how her discussions are going on topical questions on devolved matters?
I am delighted to congratulate Grace. The hon. Gentleman did not say what she is receiving her award for, but the House congratulates her.
The question about the time allotted for topical questions on devolved matters comes up from time to time, and we regularly review it. Obviously there is sometimes a challenge that questions on UK issues would be appropriate for other Departments, rather than just the territorial offices. There is always a balance to be struck in ensuring that questions go to the Departments that are best able to give the appropriate answer.
On Monday we had the incredibly disappointing news of 400 redundancies at Vauxhall, and I was grateful for the opportunity to raise it on the Floor of the House that day through an urgent question. I will return to the issue of the plant’s future in the coming weeks and months, but there was also other news on jobs that day in the form of a constituency-by-constituency report on the effects of automation. The report predicted that around 30% of jobs in my constituency will be lost to automation in the next 10 to 15 years, and the figure is higher in other constituencies. I just do not think the Government have a strategy or plan to deal with that impending challenge, so can we please have a debate?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the very concerning issue of job losses at Vauxhall, and he has done so again today. He will be aware that the Government are doing everything possible to ensure that those who lose their job are helped into work elsewhere. I am sure he would join all Members of the House in celebrating the fact that there are over 3 million more people in work than in 2010, that there are more than 3 million apprenticeships for young people and that there are almost 1 million fewer workless households with children than in 2010. Those are all things to celebrate and, as it kicks in, automation should enable us to transform jobs into the skilled jobs of the future, which is why I am delighted that the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill has its Second Reading next week. The Bill will create more high-technology, skilled work in this country.
When I arrived in the House a few months ago I knew that democracy was not necessarily the most efficient process, but last night I realised just how dysfunctional it is at present. It was the fourth time that the Government have been defeated on a substantive issue. We are obviously spending a significant amount of valuable time on such issues, so we should be heard. We should have received a statement from the Government last night. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Government hear our views?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the House’s views are being heard by the Government. As I have said throughout today’s business questions, the Department for Work and Pensions has heard not just the issues raised in yesterday’s debate on universal credit but what Members on both sides of the House have said in recent weeks. The DWP has not just heard but has taken action. The business discussed in this House is always heard by the Government, who take careful action on it. I assure him that that will continue.