Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 10:33 am on 25th January 2018.

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Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The business for the week commencing 29 January 2018 will include:

Monday 29 January—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill [Lords], followed by remaining stages of the Automated and Electrical Vehicles Bill.

Tuesday 30 JanuarySecond Reading of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill, followed by motions relating to the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill.

Wednesday 31 JanuaryOpposition day (un-allotted half day). Subject to be announced, followed by debate on motions relating to the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster.

Thursday 1 February—Debate on a motion on baby leave for Members of Parliament, followed by debate on a motion on hospital car parking charges. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 2 February—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 5 February will include:

Monday 29 January—Motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2018 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2018, followed by remaining stages of the Smart Meters Bill.

We all remember those who suffered such terrible atrocities during the holocaust as we mark Holocaust Memorial Day this weekend, and I think we are all united in our desire to eradicate such evil acts from our world.

Next week, the House will have the opportunity to discuss the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. This must be a decision made by Parliament itself; it is not one for the Government. I urge all colleagues to take a basement tour, if they have not done so already, and to speak to the engineers ahead of the debate and see the challenges that lie ahead. Members may also wish to read the reports from the Joint Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Select Committee, and the financial memorandums to the motions, to acquaint themselves with the issues raised in them. They are all available online on the Parliament website, and of course my door is always open to any Member who wants to discuss this in advance of the debate.

Finally, I would like to wish everyone a very happy Burns night celebration tonight, particularly our Scottish colleagues on both sides of the House.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business. I also thank her for her letter about the new list of ministerial responsibilities, which states that this is scheduled for March and that the new list might be available soon. I do not know whether the Government are waiting for changes—perhaps the Foreign Secretary is now going to become the Health Secretary, although he was reminded by the Chancellor that he is the Foreign Secretary. Ministers must know their responsibilities by now—otherwise, the Government would be in a shambles—so may we have the update sooner rather than later?

May we also have the date on which Parliament will rise in July? We only have the date when we return on 4 June, and I have been summoned for jury service and would like to know the date when I will be available.

I thank the Leader of the House for tabling the motions on restoration and renewal and for the debate on the subject. Having two motions will rather complicate the three-hour debate, however. At last week’s business questions, she said:

“Because of the seriousness of the decision before the House, the two motions will not be amendable;
it will be a case of either the first motion or, if that falls, the second motion.”—[Official Report, 18 January 2018;
Vol. 634, c. 1062.]

I hope that she is not trying to bind Parliament. I checked “Erskine May”, and it states that

“if the amended notice does not exceed the scope of the original notice and the Speaker decides that it is proper for the motion to be moved in the altered form”, it can be tabled. I say hoorah for democracy and hoorah for you, Mr Speaker, because we know that an amendment has now been tabled. This is an important matter— I concur with the Leader of the House on this—and I have been down to the basement. It is important for Members to know that costs are being incurred every day that a decision is not being made.

My hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi made a point of order yesterday on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, a matter that I have raised many times in business questions. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Prime Minister responds to the letter that the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, sent seven weeks ago offering financial help for the project? This Government should be working with the Welsh Government on a project that would be a world first. The First Minister is not Owain Glyndŵr; he is a very clever, democratically elected First Minister.

We know that the Government are committed to the environment, because they said so in their 151-page document “A Green Future”, but amazingly, that document made no mention of fracking. I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to a new study, “Sustainability of UK shale gas in comparison with other electricity options”, which examines the environmental, economic and social sustainability of fracking. May we have a statement on why exploratory drilling is going ahead in Lancashire when the study ranked shale gas seventh out of nine different energy sources?

May we have a statement on the UCAS data showing that the number of people applying to become teachers has fallen by a third in the past year, with 6,510 fewer applicants for teacher training in this academic year compared with 2015-16? Sadly, we need a statement from the Secretary of State for Education on why the number of teachers asking for financial support from the charity Education Support Partnership is up 40% on last year.

We want our teachers to teach our children personal, social and health and economic education. The Leader of the House will have heard about the events at the Presidents Club in yesterday’s urgent question from my hon. Friend Jess Phillips, in which Layla Moran and my hon. Friend Lucy Powell called for the expedition of PSHE. Will the Leader of the House please tell us when that will happen? We need that sooner, rather than later, in our schools. Will she also tell us whether the visit by a Minister to the Presidents Club was an official visit or a private one? Whether it is the Presidents Club or “All the President’s Men”, it is an abuse of power either way.

It is important to have Opposition days. In yesterday’s debate on Carillion, I and others asked a number of questions. The Minister—not the Secretary of State—came to the House to answer the questions, and he is following up on the taskforce that the TUC has asked for. The Opposition look forward to the delivery of the documents to the Public Accounts Committee. Will the Leader of the House say when they will be delivered?

Yesterday, we also had a debate on human rights, in this, the week of Holocaust Memorial Day, which is on Saturday. The Leader of the Opposition reminded us all to sign the book of commitment, which is still available to be signed between 2 pm and 4 pm outside the Members’ Cloakroom. That is a reminder that every one of the rights in the European convention on human rights, which was enacted in UK law under the Human Rights Act 1998, was systematically violated in the second world war. As the Opposition Day debate reminded us, human rights and dignity should be at the core of our society.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. As she mentions, I have written to her on the subject of the ministerial list to say that it will be available as soon as possible.

On the rise of the House in July, now that I am apprised of the fact that the hon. Lady needs time for her jury service—I would not dream of delaying that unduly—I will absolutely seek to ensure that we give the matter consideration and inform the House as soon as we possibly can.

The hon. Lady asks about the motions concerning the restoration and renewal of the Palace. As I said last week—I think she agrees—we want the House to be able to take a decision. I wanted to see what sort of amendments were tabled. I think that I made it clear last week that we needed some sensible alternatives for the House to discuss, and some very sensible amendments have been tabled. I commit to undertaking to ensure that they are included in the options available to the House. Nevertheless, the important point is that the House can make an informed decision next week.

The hon. Lady asks about the Swansea Bay lagoon. As we have discussed several times in the Chamber, the project is extremely expensive compared with other forms of renewable energy. It requires a careful decision, and I know that it is still under consideration. On the subject of fracking, it is clear that natural gas provided by fracking, with some of the world’s strongest and most careful regulation, is a way forward for the United Kingdom as we move towards zero-carbon targets for our electricity generation. From where we are today, we cannot simply get rid of coal from the system—we hope to do that by 2025—and move straight to lower carbon forms of energy generation. Gas will continue to be an important part of our transition towards a low-carbon future, and natural gas from fracking is one option that is open to the United Kingdom.

The hon. Lady raises the issue of teacher applications. There are 15,500 more teachers in our classrooms than there were in 2010. The number of teachers returning to the classroom has increased by 8% since 2010, which is good news. Experienced teachers who have taken career breaks are coming back into the classroom, and, vitally, there are more teachers with first-class degrees—highly qualified teachers who can impart information to our young people.

I share the hon. Lady’s disgust at what happened at the Presidents Club. There is absolutely no place for that type of activity. A men-only club effectively abusing young women, as reported in this story, is absolutely unacceptable. As she will be aware from the urgent question rightly asked yesterday, the question when we will introduce sex and relationship education in schools is still subject to consultation with young people themselves. It is vital that we do not guess what they want to learn about but ask them themselves, which is why we need to take the time to consult.

On Carillion, I can assure the House that its request will absolutely be upheld and the documents made available, but as the hon. Lady will know, the Public Accounts Commission already has the means to ask to be provided with such documents.

Finally, I completely share the hon. Lady’s desire to reflect the importance of human rights in everything we do—in remembering not just the appalling actions during the holocaust but the appalling civil wars and problems in our own lifetimes. Human rights must be upheld.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. As per usual, a great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye in these exchanges. I simply remind the House that there is a statement by the Secretary of State for Defence to follow, in which I imagine there will be substantial interest and that that will be followed by two well-subscribed debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. There is, therefore, a premium on brevity from Back and Front Benches alike.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray

May we have a statement on the excellent employment figures released this week?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

That was a perfect example of brevity, was it not, Mr Speaker?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this news, which should be a great pleasure for the entire House. There are 32.21 million people in work—415,000 more than a year ago—while the number of people in employment has increased by over 3.1 million since 2010, which is more than the entire population of Wales. Over 70% of this rise in employment has been in higher-skilled jobs, and unemployment has not been lower since 1971. It is great news for our economy.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. I am reminded also that there is a Select Committee statement, which will not absorb a great deal of time but which is important. All that adds to the pressure on time.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

On this Burns day, may I thank the great Chieftain o’ the Hoose for announcing the business for next week? I join her and Valerie Vaz in acknowledging the huge significance and importance of Holocaust Memorial Day on Saturday.

Today we celebrate the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet. Just maybe we should have listened to him when he warned

“the best laid schemes o’ mice and men, aft go agley” before we started with this chaotic Brexit scheme a few months ago.

Now is not the time for “timorous beasties”. We need the Leader of the House to be braver on restoration and renewal. We cannot have a curtailment of debate and the closing down of options on these critical issues. With the huge costs involved, our constituents expect us to have sufficient time to debate them. We must make sure we have that. We must ensure that all options are fully considered. We must also hear today that there will be no attempt to curtail debate by the rejection of the amendments.

Any motion about renewal must also consider modernisation. I hope that the whole House will join my and the SNP’s campaign to reclaim our time and end the ridiculous farce of wasting days of the parliamentary year standing in packed Lobbies simply to vote.

The fallout from the Presidents Club dinner continues to develop and appal. Can we have a debate about these clubs to see what more can be done to challenge the laws that sustain them and the culture that still thinks them acceptable? We are in a new era of zero tolerance for this pathetic behaviour, and now is the time to make real and substantial progress in tackling it.

Lastly, as our devolution settlement is passed to the great and the good in the House of Lords, let us remember what Burns said about the petty pomposity and sense of entitlement of those who consider themselves our betters:

“Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,

Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;

The man o’ independent mind

He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.”

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I cannot possibly hope to emulate that brilliant portrayal of Robbie Burns, and we heard some of his finest words. What I can say to the hon. Gentleman, in the context of his urging me to be brave, is that, when I was growing up, my wonderful step-dad, who is himself a Scot, would always say, if we were sitting around, “This’ll no get the bairn a jeely piece.” I hope that is adequate as a slight rejoinder. I will not be sitting around, because we obviously want the jeely pieces.

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of restoration and renewal. We do need to make a decision, and I sincerely look forward, as I know he does, to the debate next week.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise again the issue of the Presidents Club. It is utterly unacceptable that this kind of thing still goes on—it is actually beyond belief. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, who answered the urgent question, said yesterday that she was astonished to hear that this kind of thing is still happening. How ridiculous is it that anyone thinks that this is appropriate? I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s excellent efforts on the working group that I chair on behalf of the Prime Minister, which is looking into bullying and harassment in this place. He really has been a stalwart champion of getting this work done, as have other members of the SNP, and I am very grateful to them for that.

Finally, we will just have to agree to disagree about the other place. In my view, as you know, Mr Speaker, its Members play a very important revising role, for which we are grateful, and they have expertise that we in this House benefit from.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch

What more can the Leader of the House do to help millions of consumers who are being ripped off through rip-off energy prices?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend raises a point that is incredibly important to so many people. The issue of energy prices, for some people, comes down to whether they can afford to heat or eat. The Prime Minister has expressed the fundamental desire to sort out the rip-off prices that some energy companies charge their most loyal customers—in other words, “If you stick with us, you’ll get ripped off.” The Bill that we will be bringing forward will therefore seek to put a cap on standard variable tariffs to ensure that rip-off energy prices are a thing of the past.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. The Backbench Business Committee is open for business, and I would just ask Members to think ahead in terms of memorial and celebration days. I am anticipating applications from Members about International Women’s Day and St David’s Day—a Welsh debate—so if Members can think ahead to those important dates in the diary and bring forward their applications in a timely way, we will be able to plan well ahead.

I am glad to say that the haggis is not yet an endangered species. Even the clockwise ones, with longer legs on one side, still run round the hills very happily in all of the highlands. On Burns day, we should all be thinking about the sage words of Robert Burns, who said:

“Oh wad some Power the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us!”

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

As ever, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we do take into account the needs of the Backbench Business Committee. I know it is holding some very important and popular debates, and we will continue to provide dates as early as we can.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the endangered nature of the haggis, although according to today’s press, it could be possible to clone haggis in the future. However, he is right to raise the importance of getting timely notification of available days, and we will make sure that that happens.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

The Government have made great strides in recent months in bearing down on unnecessary plastic waste. At airports such as Gatwick, in my constituency, as people go through security, a lot of plastic bottles are discarded. Could we have a statement from my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary on ensuring that there are water refilling points in many places, such as airports, so that we can reduce plastic waste, which is so unnecessary?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

All Members on both sides of the House will be delighted to see initiatives to ensure that water fountains and drinking water taps are made available at all key points across the United Kingdom. We have seen some progress towards that, and I think that that will be very welcome, not least because it will save consumers money, as well as reducing the enormous amount of plastic that finds its way into our marine areas.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Government figures released today show that levels of rough sleeping are now the highest on record, so can we expect a statement next week about this serious issue that affects all parts of our country?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady is right to raise the appalling issue of homelessness, which no one in this Parliament finds acceptable as a way forward. The Government have signed up to the important Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 of my hon. Friend Bob Blackman to ensure that we do everything possible to eradicate homelessness by 2027 and to halve it by 2022, and several homelessness reduction taskforces are going ahead to consider what more can be done. The reasons for homelessness can be complicated. It is not necessarily just about housing as it can relate to mental health, addiction and other issues.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

May we have a statement on the boundary review recommendations for constituencies, so that they can come before the House for us to ratify? Some of us are very much in favour of the proposals in order to reduce the cost of running this Parliament.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend raises a contentious point, but he may well want to seek a debate, perhaps through the Backbench Business Committee, so that colleagues can discuss the matter.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

With £3 billion set aside for Brexit contingency planning, £200 million lost to the UK economy each week as a result of slower growth, according to Mark Carney, and £300 million being spent on new civil servants, will the Leader of the House make time available for the Foreign Secretary to come to the House to explain from where he is going to get the £350 million a week for the NHS?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I do not accept any of the numbers that the right hon. Gentleman is bandying about. The fact is that he should be as delighted as we are on the Government Benches at the employment numbers that belie all the claims of those who sought to keep the UK in the EU, who said that our economy would be in disastrous straits, that unemployment would rise and that we would be in recession. None of those things has happened. The economy is growing and, importantly, more people than ever before have the security of a pay packet and the ability to feed themselves and their families.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

May we have a debate about the provision of top-class sporting facilities? In my constituency, football supporters are concerned that Coventry City are just nine games away from homelessness—its agreement to play at the Ricoh Arena is coming to an end—and speedway fans can no longer watch their sport at Brandon because the stadium has been allowed to get into a state of disrepair.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am sorry to hear that, and I understand the frustration of Coventry City supporters. Football clubs are valuable community assets, and every care should be taken to protect their long-term financial future. As my hon. Friend will know, it is not the place of Government to intervene in the fortunes of any particular club. It is for the footballing authorities to administer their sport, and this case is a matter for the English Football League.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

Mr Speaker, I am sure that you will be as appalled as I was to learn that half of all the tableware bought by the House last year was not made in England—never mind that it was not made in Stoke-on-Trent. May we have a debate in Government time on public procurement and purchasing post-Brexit so that we can ensure that we actually buy British?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for buying British wherever possible. When we leave the European Union, we will be able to look at our procurement rules. Wherever possible, where British goods are equal—in many cases, they are the best—we will be able to purchase them for ourselves.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling

On the day that we rightly celebrate the life and works of Rabbie Burns, the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum, one of Scotland’s iconic cultural centres, is threatened with closure by the SNP council in Stirling. May we have a statement from a Treasury Minister to confirm that the Scottish Government’s budget for the coming year is protected in real terms and that it is therefore a political choice, not a necessity, for the Scottish Government to impose spending cuts on local authorities, which threatens institutions such as the Stirling Smith?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend is working with the friends of the museum to save this valuable community asset, and I understand that the world’s oldest football is one of its exhibits. My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that the Budget allocated a further £2 billion to the settlement for Scotland and that the Scottish Government can take the decision to save this asset should they choose.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

With no proper consultation, North Lincolnshire Council is reducing the number of unpaid councillors on Kirton in Lindsey Town Council and Bottesford Town Council, meaning those councils will have fewer voluntary councillors than smaller neighbouring parish councils. Can we have a debate on the relationship between district councils and town councils?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about local democracy. We would all like to see much greater decision making at local level, with good people coming forward to take up those posts. An Adjournment debate would be a good candidate to raise these specific issues with a Minister.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

Mr Speaker, you may or may not be aware that today is rural vulnerability day. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming this important new date in the parliamentary calendar that helps to shine a light on the challenges facing rural areas such as Taunton Deane? Will she find time for a debate on that issue? I would welcome her, and indeed Mr Speaker, to the event in the Palace today.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am happy to share in my hon. Friend’s pleasure at this new focus on rural vulnerability. Access to transport and other services can be difficult for many people living in rural areas, and of course the issue of loneliness can be more acute. It is right that we look specifically at these issues, and I am happy to support her in her campaign.

Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Labour, Dudley North

We need an urgent debate on homelessness and rough sleeping because the issue has exploded over the past few years not just in major cities but even in towns such as Dudley, and it has been made much worse by benefit cuts and by reductions to social care, help and support services. That is why we need an urgent debate on this issue.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Homelessness is an appalling situation for anyone to find themselves in, and the Government are dedicating more than £1 billion up to 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. As well as supporting the Homelessness Reduction Act, we are looking at what more councils can do to avoid people becoming homeless in the first place. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government are now investing more than £9 billion in our affordable homes programme to ensure that we provide homes for people who are vulnerable.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cities), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Carole Shields of the Poverty Truth Commission in Glasgow has highlighted to me the difficulties in the transition between young people’s benefits and adult benefits in the social security system. Can we have a debate on that important issue? People should not have to wait 12 weeks to transition on to employment and support allowance, as her son did.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady raises an important constituency issue. If she wants to write to me about it, I will happily take up that specific case with the relevant Minister on her behalf. This is the sort of issue she should raise at the next Question Time opportunity.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

I am still waiting for an answer to my question on what caused the Grenfell Tower fire, which I was told was imminent last autumn. Not for the first time, the question has outlasted the Minister to whom it was asked. Can we hear from Ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about fire safety, especially that of domestic appliances? Last Sunday they announced a new Office for Product Safety and Standards, which appears to be just a new name for business as usual.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I say again that we continue to be appalled by what happened at Grenfell. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have been working since then to make sure that people living in high-rise buildings are safe by carrying out a series of checking and testing, which includes identifying ACM—aluminium composite material—cladding and larger-scale tests to establish how different combinations of cladding and insulation materials behave in a fire. The rules on fire safety are being reviewed, and he is right to raise the importance of this issue.

Photo of Stephen Lloyd Stephen Lloyd Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

As the roll-out of universal credit accelerates, Ministers will soon be confronted with the task of transitioning people on tax credits to universal credit. They must tell us soon how people will be informed of the changes and of when the draft statutory instruments will be laid. May we have a debate on how the Government will ensure that no one loses out as a result of the transition?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

In statements and in response to urgent questions, Ministers have come to the House to explain the changes to universal credit. We need to learn all lessons so that we improve the system. Universal credit is designed to ensure that work always pays, and there is evidence that it is working. People on universal credit spend more time seeking work and are more successful in finding work.

We have also ensured that people who make the transition to universal credit can receive a transitional payment for housing, that their housing benefit can be paid directly to the landlord when necessary, and that people can receive their payments on day one of their claim, should they need that, so we have listened and made changes to the system. The transition to universal credit is now significantly improved.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

When can we take advantage of the pragmatic and progressive views of the new prisons Minister, who has acknowledged that the crises of overcrowding and self-harm in our prisons are the result of 50 years of error by all parties? May we compare the crisis here with the situation in the Netherlands, where there is a shortage of prisoners and 19 prisons have had to be closed? Is that not the kind of problem we would like to have here?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is the kind of problem that we want to have. He is right to mention the commitment of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry for Justice, to clean and safe prisons that are places of discipline and rehabilitation, not harm and violence. This Government gave greater powers last year to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons through the urgent notification system, by which specific issues in prisons can be raised immediately. We have also invested £100 million in recruiting 2,500 new prison officers, and we should be at full complement by the end of 2018. There is more to do, but progress has been made.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

I still have not had a reply to my question about the anti-corruption tsar. Between 2015 and 2017, the then Member for Brentwood and Ongar, Eric Pickles, was the anti-corruption tsar. Who is the current tsar, or has one not yet been appointed?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am happy to write to the hon. Lady with a response.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

Unlike your good self, Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House has never had the advantage of visiting the Textile Centre of Excellence in Huddersfield. It is the centre of training for the whole textile industry. Will she consider an early debate on the crisis in skills and productivity in our country?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to note that the productivity rise was greater in the last quarter than it has been since the financial crisis. There is a long way to go. Productivity has lagged since that financial crisis, and it is essential that the Government focus—we are doing so—on everything that we can do to invest in greater productivity. We have the national productivity plan, which is worth £31 billion, to ensure that we improve productivity right across the UK.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Flooding and Coastal Communities)

I am sure that everyone agrees that police dogs are an incredibly useful element of effective policing, especially in relation to firearms and drugs operations, yet following years of cuts to policing budgets across England and Wales, forces have reduced the number of police dogs by between 50% and 80% in the past six years. Will the Leader of the House outline her support for the “Don’t Ditch the Dogs” campaign, and may we have time in the Chamber in which parliamentarians can outline their support for the amazing work of police dogs and their handlers?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Police dogs do a fantastic job—there is no doubt about that—and I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for them. She may well wish to seek a debate to enable colleagues to give their experiences and to discuss what more can be done to improve the resources available to the police, such as police dogs, that help us to tackle crime.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

I am sure that the Leader of the House knows that this week the Institute for Public Policy Research North published a full analysis of transport investment in the next four years. It shows that London will receive five times per head more than what Yorkshire and Humber will receive. With Crossrail 2 already so far advanced, there is nothing that can be done by Transport for the North, in its advisory capacity, to change that underfunding over the next few years. May we have a statement from the Transport Secretary about exactly what he has got against the north? Rather than denying the underfunding, he should address it.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The Government are absolutely committed to the northern powerhouse and to giving the great towns and cities of the north of England much more say over transport investment through Transport for the North. We are spending more than £13 billion to transform transport across the north, which is the biggest transport investment in the region for a generation.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

Will the Leader of the House confirm whether there will be an opportunity for votes on the amendments to the R and R motions? I am thinking particularly of the one I have tabled with my hon. Friend Pete Wishart on finally introducing electronic voting to this House and any temporary Chamber. Surely, in the words of Burns:

“Now’s the day, and now’s the hour”.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for a certain decision to be taken by the House. As I think I have made clear, we are determined to ensure that there are some clear decisions to be taken. The selection of amendments is a matter for the Chair, not for me, but we are looking at this carefully to make sure that proper proposals are put forward on which the House can make a decision.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North

This month, Nottingham City Councillor David Mellen is reading to 2,018 Nottingham children to raise funds for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library scheme in Nottingham. Given the Leader of the House’s enthusiasm for early intervention programmes, will she join me in congratulating Councillor Mellen?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am of course very happy to congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s local councillor who is working on that important programme. It is vital that we do anything we can to prepare young people for adulthood, and for a successful and emotionally secure life. For my own part, I strongly favour even earlier intervention—in the perinatal period; I just have to make that clear.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I am absolutely delighted that the Leader of the House thinks that a “very sensible”—her words—amendment has been tabled to the restoration and renewal motion. I take that to mean the one that I have signed, along with the Chairs of 11 Select Committees, including several Conservatives. I hope that that means that she will be able to vote for it, because we will have a completely free vote and therefore Ministers will be free to do exactly what they want so that we make the right decision for the future of this country. Will she tell us at what time the votes will be next Wednesday?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting thoughts into my mind about how I might vote. I will look at what amendments are tabled and make my decision, as will all Members, so that we reach the best solution that suits the desires of most Members. We cannot say categorically what the timing next week will be—we can never do that—but this will be the second debate on Wednesday 31 January.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

May we have a statement on the sale of high-caffeine energy drinks, which can be harmful to under-16s?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the fact that those drinks can be harmful to young people. I urge him to seek an Adjournment debate, which would be appropriate for that sort of subject, or to question Ministers in the next Health questions.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

This week, Cardiff airport announced its 2017 results, which show nearly 50% growth since it was taken into public ownership by our Welsh Labour Government. May we have a debate in Government time on the reform of air passenger duty, which would enable our publicly owned airport to continue to thrive?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I congratulate Cardiff airport on its increasing passenger numbers—that is great news. The Treasury is always looking at ways to improve economic growth in the four nations of this great country of ours. I encourage the hon. Lady to ask about air passenger duty in the next Treasury questions.

Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care)

Official figures released this week reveal that there are now nearly 22,000 fewer police officers in England and Wales than there were in 2010. My Dewsbury constituency is currently suffering a plague of car crime and antisocial behaviour that the police simply do not have the resources to manage. May we have an urgent debate on police numbers?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady will be aware that overall police funding has remained steady in real terms and that there are opportunities for police funding to increase next year, if police and crime commissioners use the precept levy that will enable them to do that. The way in which policing is managed needs to reflect new threats from cyber-crime and other types of criminal activity, yet frontline policing throughout the country as a whole has not changed—it has, in fact, slightly increased since 2010.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

May we have a statement on today’s Office for National Statistics figures showing a 21% increase in knife crime last year. Does the Leader of the House support my call for an immediate cross-party, cross-departmental inquiry into the root causes of youth violence, not just the symptoms?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady often raises issues around youth violence, and she is absolutely right to do so. Tackling knife crime is absolutely a priority of this Government. It has devastating consequences on victims’ families and, of course, our communities. Under Operation Sceptre, the Government continue to encourage police forces to undertake a series of co-ordinated national weeks of action to tackle knife crime. We hosted an all-force briefing event on Operation Sceptre on 23 January, and a record 38 police forces have signed up to take part in the next week of action, which is planned for February. The operation includes targeting habitual knife carriers, weapons sweeps, test purchases of knives from identified retailers and the use of surrender bins. The Government launched a consultation on 14 October 2017, which has now closed, and we are looking at what more can be done to get rid of this appalling crime.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

Two years ago today—on 25 January 2016—University of Cambridge PhD researcher Giulio Regeni went missing in Cairo. His brutally battered body was recovered a week later; he had been tortured and murdered. The crime sparked international outrage and has called into question very basic academic freedoms. May we have a statement from a Minister on what the Government are doing to mark the event, and on what pressure is being exerted on the Egyptian Government to find the truth about what happened to Giulio?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I think that that appalling case horrified everybody who read about it in the press, and the hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise it. May I suggest that he takes it up at Foreign Office questions, when he can get a proper answer to his question?

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

Mostyn House in Parkgate is a fine example of how an old building has been brought back to life. Even though some of my constituents have been living there for more than four years now, planning permission has not been granted. Despite the best efforts of the local authorities, the builder, PJ Livesey, will not do the work that is required. May we please have a debate on what more can be done to bring irresponsible developers to task?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman is clearly raising something that is very important in his constituency. I urge him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can get a reply from a Minister.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Non-governmental organisations working with Iraqi refugees from religious minorities report that those refugees have not had the same access to humanitarian assistance and resettlement support in the middle east as the majority of religious groups and people of other nationalities. Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey need to do more to ensure that Iraqi and religious minority refugees have equal access to humanitarian assistance and resettlement opportunities. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement, or indeed a debate, on this matter?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The UK Government’s approach is to look at need rather than religious faith, but this is an important issue, and he might want to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can get a clear answer from a Minister.