The business for the week commencing
I am delighted to announce that the Ivory Bill will have its Second Reading on the first day back after recess. When I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, protecting the world’s much loved elephants was a big priority for me, and I am sure many will share this enthusiasm and welcome the introduction of this Bill.
With regards to important Brexit legislation, I am confident I will be able to update the House on these Bills shortly, in the usual way. I will make sure the House can make swift progress in a matter of weeks, not months, in preparing for our new relationship with our friends and neighbours in the EU.
This week we have heard incredibly moving accounts given by courageous survivors and their families at the Grenfell inquiry. We are committed to getting to the bottom of this tragedy and achieving justice for the victims.
This week has also marked a year since the Manchester Arena terrorist attack. The attack on innocent and vulnerable people was appalling and we stand with them in our determination to never let terrorism succeed.
Finally, may I take this opportunity to wish everyone a restful Whitsun recess?
May I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the forthcoming business and for her statement? I say to her gently, however, that by making a statement she eats into the time for right hon. and hon. Members to ask questions, so perhaps she should provide statements at the end, when she is the last person to speak.
The forthcoming business is very light and no Lords amendments are expected for when the House next sits—[Interruption.] I will take longer if Government Members keep chuntering. Will the Leader of the House confirm what the Government Chief Whip said to the 1922 committee, namely that the European Union (Withdrawal Bill) will be back on
It is unprecedented to treat Parliament in this way, with business being announced in the media, not in the House. Surely Democratic Unionist party Members do not want to prop up a Government who treat Parliament in such a way—short-termist, limping from one week to the next.
Brexit is so important. We need to take time to consider the proposals, in the best interests of the country. However, yesterday’s session of the Treasury Committee heard that the Government still have not worked out the customs arrangements. It is no wonder that the Tory party has to have a loyalty scheme to try to attract young people. This is about the interests of young people and the future of this country.
Where are the hon. Members for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Stone (Sir William Cash)?
They have been calling for parliamentary sovereignty, but why have we not heard in this House when we will debate the Bills? [Interruption.] I will take longer.
What about a debate on the fact that the number of French, Belgian and Dutch companies registered 48%, 38% and 52% fewer businesses respectively in 2016-17 than in the previous year, and that there was a 90% collapse in foreign investment in the UK last year compared with 2016?
If the Government are too afraid to debate any Bill with the letters “EU” in it, how about heeding the words of the Prime Minister:
“to make Britain a country that works for everyone and not just the privileged few”; or, to put it the other way—the way we put it—for the many, not the few? Perhaps, therefore, we could have a debate on the report by Professor Peter Dwyer of the University York, who tracked claimants over five years and said:
“The outcomes from sanctions are almost universally negative.”
Or what about a debate on the social injustice of the growing number of homeless people being fined, given criminal convictions or even being imprisoned? A judge said:
“I will be sending a man to prison for asking for food when he was hungry”.
Or what about a debate on “Still Dying on the Inside”, a report by the charity Inquest? Most women who go to prison—84% of them—do so for non-violent offences, and two thirds of women in prison are mothers of dependent children. Where is the Government’s commitment to social justice?
And what about the head of Motability, whose salary is more than 10 times that of the Prime Minister? He can afford to buy a top of the range car, but I have had to write to him about constituents who have had their cars taken away, and some of them cannot even walk while waiting for their assessments. He has had support from the Government through tax breaks.
We have had the chaotic situation of the Government standing to support the Opposition in the application made by my hon. Friend Afzal Khan for an emergency
I want to raise another House matter, raised last week by Dr Lewis, about the post office counter in Members’ Lobby. Will the Leader of the House use her best offices to talk to the Chair of the Administration Committee to ensure that Members are consulted about the closure of that counter, because they have not been. It is very useful to have it there, particularly if there are queues in Central Lobby.
Finally, will the Leader of the House confirm, following the wonderful wedding last week and the performance by the gospel choir, that the Prime Minister is now singing that Ben E. King classic, “Stand by Me”? I, too, wish everyone a happy Whitsun break.
“Dear Pot… Yours, Kettle” springs to mind. The hon. Lady asked me to be swifter in making the business statement and then said that she would waffle on for ever—and she did.
The hon. Lady asks about the business that was discussed, and I made it very clear that I aim to bring back the very important Brexit legislation within weeks. She will know that in this place discussions take place and the business is announced through very long-standing conventions through the usual channels, and that is indeed the case on this occasion. There has been no announcement to any committee through any private meeting. There has not been any announcement.
Secondly, the hon. Lady asks about the customs arrangements, and she will be aware that the discussions are ongoing. The Government have been very clear that we are seeking the best possible deal for the United Kingdom and for our EU friends and neighbours as we leave the European Union. That we will continue to do. It means that we are constantly considering the best alternatives with the best information that is available at the time. We will continue to do that, because, rather than playing politics with it, trying to score points day in, day out and undermining the will of the people, the Government are determined to ensure that we get the best possible deal that we can.
The hon. Lady asks about the economy, and she suggests that it is struggling, so she might like to welcome the fact that employment is up to another record high, unemployment is down to a 40-year low, real wages are rising, and UK exports rose by nearly 10% in the last year to a new record high. She might like to welcome the fact that the highest growth in investment spending in the G7 last year came to the United Kingdom. She might like to welcome the fact that our day-to-day spending is in surplus for the first time in 16 years, and certainly since her Government were in power in 2001 and 2002. She might also like to welcome the lowest net borrowing in over a decade. I am sure that she will not welcome any of those things, but what we on this side of the House focus on is giving more people the security of a job and a pay packet to give themselves and their families a better life.
Also, the hon. Lady talks about inequality and how unfair life is, and she might like to welcome the national living wage, introduced by this Government. Last month, we increased the national living wage by 4.4%—inflation busting and the equivalent of an annual pay rise of more than £2,000 for a full-time worker since its introduction. She might like to welcome the fact that basic rate taxpayers are £1,000 better off than in 2010 as a direct result of our changes to the personal tax-free allowance. She might also like to welcome the fact that the basic state pension is now more than £1,450 a year higher than it was in 2010. But as I say, I do not expect the hon. Lady to welcome the real improvements in people’s lives under a Conservative Government that balances the need to keep the economy in good shape with the ability to pay for public services.
The hon. Lady asks about the legislative programme. What I can say to her is that 31 Bills have been introduced so far, 17 of which have been sent for Royal Assent. Hundreds of statutory instruments have been passed by each House. Seven draft Bills have been published and there are six Brexit Bills before Parliament at this time. That is not by any means a small legislative programme. Perhaps the hon. Lady simply has not noticed.
As for the post office counter, as I said last week to my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis, I am delighted to take up the issue of the its opening times. I have already asked the chief executive of the House authorities to respond to Members who want to raise the issue and to ensure that when services to Members are under question, consultation takes place with all Members. I hope that I have answered all the hon. Lady’s lengthy questions.
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that Members continue to work very hard cross-party on building an independent complaints procedure that will genuinely change the culture in this place for the better, making sure that everybody, right across the Palace of Westminster—whoever they are and whatever job they do—will be treated with the courtesy, dignity and respect which is their due.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for the next sitting week. I very much endorse and support her comments on Manchester and Grenfell.
This has been the week in which clueless fantasy finally caught up with hard reality, as we have found that the Government’s “unicorn and rainbow” technological solution to the border in Ireland will cost £20 billion— £7 billion more than we paid into the EU in 2016—and the leave guru Dominic Cummings has said that the
“wiring of power in Downing Street is systemically dysfunctional” and that there are no “real preparations” for leaving the EU. May we have a proper, realistic statement on where we are with Brexit, free of any of the delusional fantasy we are usually served up? Can we have a sense of how much this chaotic cluelessness will cost us?
There is nothing in the business statement about the return of the repeal Bill from the House of Lords. When should we expect to see the Bill? Can we have a categorical assurance that the Leader of the House will not simply lump all the Lords amendments together into one package to try to curtail debate and voting? These are important measures that we have to consider probably for the first time. Can we have a categorical assurance that this Government will not revert to type and try to close down debate, scrutiny and votes?
Yesterday was quite encouraging: we had two votes on Opposition motions. We are now seeing a little more Government engagement with Opposition day debates, which is all down to the threat of withdrawing ministerial salaries and releasing Cabinet papers, but can we not just go back to where we were, when the Opposition tabled motions for debate and then the House voted? Why do we have to go through all this rigmarole just to get this Government to vote?
Lastly, Mr Speaker, I wish you and all the staff of the House a very happy and relaxing Whitsun recess. We all look forward to coming back for a proper debate on the Lords amendments to the repeal Bill.
I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman’s passion for these matters, which is extremely welcome. I am sure he will have listened very carefully when I said we will be bringing the withdrawal Bill back to this place within weeks, certainly soon after the short Whitsun recess, and of course we will debate the Bill at length, as we have done all the way through its passage. As a very honourable gentleman, I am sure he would recognise that this House and the other place have debated the Bill, and all Brexit and non-Brexit legislation, at enormous length.
The Government have clearly been listening—there has been a huge amount of change to those Bills—and we will continue to do so. The withdrawal Bill is now in a much better place than it was. We have listened very carefully to all views on both sides of the Chamber, and we will continue to do so. I urge the hon. Gentleman to accept the fact that this business must be carried out in a carefully considered way, but it will be brought back as soon as possible.
The hon. Gentleman asks for more votes, and I encourage all hon. Members to seek controversy wherever possible—that is what leads to votes. It is a great pleasure for the Government when the Opposition choose to support their legislation, as the Opposition have in many Second Reading debates—it supports the narrative that we are all working together to make this country a better place. Voting is not necessarily, of itself, a good thing. It is when there is controversy, when we disagree, that we need to vote. Voting is not the be-all and end-all in this place, and there is a lot to be said for making progress on important business such as the Tenant Fees Bill, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, counter-terrorism legislation and so on, on which we can all agree. That is what people want to see this Parliament doing, and I am proud to say we often do that.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the restoration of the much loved, at least by me, traditional Easter, Whitsun, Summer and Christmas Adjournment debates? If these debates were held in future in Government time, for a full day on the last day before we rise, it would give colleagues the certainty that they would have the opportunity to raise issues of local and national importance.
My hon. Friend is a much loved attendee of the pre-recess Adjournment debate. His interventions on topics such as phone scams, endometriosis and, of course, the city status of Southend are vital. We must always take every opportunity to welcome all of his interventions about Southend and its long-serving elected representatives, and I am sure the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee will give great consideration to my hon. Friend’s representations.
With reference to the earlier exchanges on Marks & Spencer, and to assuage your undoubted curiosity, Mr Speaker: boxer shorts and socks.
You will have noted from the Order Paper that there are two Select Committee statements this afternoon, and this device is becoming increasingly popular. We have had five applications for Select Committee statements today, but we need to limit them because they do impinge on the debates on important issues to be aired in the afternoon. The Great Exhibition of the North, which Members know I witter on about a lot, will begin four weeks tomorrow, on
In response to the hon. Gentleman’s mention of Marks & Spencer and boxer shorts, I am tempted to say “knickers”, but I am not sure whether you would rule it out of order, Mr Speaker. So, moving swiftly on, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on finding the opportunity again to mention the Great Exhibition of the North and I wish him huge success with it. I absolutely share his desire to see many people attend it and make it a great success.
Mindful of today’s urgent question, Members from across the House will be alarmed at the prospect of a merger between giant supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Asda. Such a merger would disadvantage their suppliers—the farmers, growers and food firms in my constituency and elsewhere—and consumers, as choice would be reduced. T. S. Eliot said:
“Footfalls echo in the memory”.
The footfall in our towns and cities will be a distant memory if these corporate giants are allowed to dominate and snuff out the particularity and variety of independent traders, so will the Leader of the House ask my dear friend the Business Secretary to come here to tell us what he and the Competition and Markets Authority intend to do to stop this worst kind of virtual monopoly, crony capitalism? There can be a different kind of Britain, but only if the Government and this Parliament fight for it.
My right hon. Friend is raising a very important point. People have different views on the benefits or otherwise of a merger of this type, but I know we are all keen to see thriving high streets and decent choice, as well as value for money, when it comes to supermarkets. He will be aware that Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions will take place on
I was delighted last year when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs adopted my private Member’s Bill on animal cruelty and announced at his party conference that he would be increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years. The draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill was published in December and the consultation closed in January, but we have had absolutely nothing since. My constituents, who have witnessed some horrific incidents of animal cruelty, and many campaigners all around the country are desperate to know: where on earth is the Bill?
First, may I congratulate the hon. Lady on her work on this issue? It is vital that we do more to protect animals from cruelty. She will be aware that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has made statements about his intention to introduce a Bill in due course. I cannot give her specific information on that, but the next DEFRA questions is on Thursday
I am not sure of the specific context in which my right hon. Friend raises this point, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department certainly made a great point yesterday of appreciating the police for all the amazing work that they do. We all owe them a great debt of gratitude. It was good to see him setting a new tone with the police—one in which we are going to look to work very carefully with them on solving some of the big challenges that we face as a society.
Recent estimates are that every year in the UK more than 15,000 babies are born damaged by alcohol consumed during pregnancy, condemning them to lifelong difficulties. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, for example, has been found to affect more than 50% of those in prison; that is just one tragic manifestation of its scourges. Will the Leader of the House press the case with her Government colleagues for comprehensive legislation to address this appalling blight on the lives of so many thousands of our citizens—both to prevent its occurrence and to provide proper care and support for FASD sufferers?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise what is a harrowing situation for so many babies and their parents. Foetal alcohol syndrome is appalling and absolutely shocking, and the fact that it affects so many babies is really terrible. In the first instance, I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can share his views directly with Ministers.
Speeding cyclists on rural roads in the New Forest are putting residents and other pedestrians at risk, simply because they cannot be bothered to fit a bell on their bikes so that they can warn pedestrians of their approach. When I wrote to a Transport Minister about this issue 18 months ago, he replied:
“Through rule 66 of the Highway code we recommend that a bell is fitted to a bicycle and used as necessary. Under current regulations the cyclist is not compelled to keep the bell fitted after the bicycle has been purchased. We have no plans to make bells compulsory as this would be difficult to enforce.”
May we have a statement from the Government about that rather insipid reply, so that my constituents, such as Margaret Verdon JP, can go about their business without fear of being mown down by silent road cyclists?
I might be tempted to say that this is a bit of a ding-dong, but the issue of cycling and its danger to pedestrians is very real. I have had an appalling case in which the child of constituents of mine was killed by a cyclist who had mounted the pavement. It is a very serious issue and I sincerely encourage my hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate; although there is an amusing element, the issue has had severe consequences in some cases.
I believe the hon. Lady is referring to the proposal for proxy voting while on baby leave. I was pleased to see the Procedure Committee report on the sorts of considerations that it felt, having taken evidence, we would need to bear in mind were the House minded to introduce proxy voting. The shadow Leader of the House and I met just this week and discussed this issue. We agreed that we would both seek views, through the usual channels, on how best to proceed. I absolutely assure all right hon. and hon. Members that I mean to make swift progress on the matter.
My constituents and I value our accident and emergency at Cheltenham General Hospital and we want to see 24/7 services restored, but despite my having put in for Adjournment and Westminster Hall debates for many months to ventilate the issue of recruitment pressures, which is sometimes advanced, no debate has been provided. Does my right hon. Friend have any advice on how I might get this important issue before the House?
My hon. Friend has been assiduous in raising this issue. He has, in fact, raised it with me on a number of occasions and, indeed, in the House. He will be aware that there have been a number of opportunities to debate health matters more generally, including in yesterday’s Opposition day debate, and there is always the possibility of the next Health questions. Nevertheless, he will need to look to you, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate should he wish to put the issues for his constituents more directly to Ministers.
[That this House supports Dementia Awareness Week which runs from 21 to
There is hardly a family in the country that is not touched by this terrible illness. Might we give consideration to having an annual debate on the subject?
The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. He may be aware that this week, in fact, Cabinet Members received training on dementia awareness and how to behave in a more helpful way to those with dementia. He is absolutely right that there are so many people suffering from this awful disease now. As the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society explained to us, what is very important is to help people to live well with dementia.
I encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to seek dementia-awareness training so that we can all contribute. In response to his specific request for a debate, perhaps the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee might look favourably on something cross-party so that we can all share ideas on this subject.
The shadow Leader of the House was a little bit grumpy this morning, which is very unusual for her. To suggest that I have not been banging on about parliamentary sovereignty is a little unfair. The excellent Leader of the House also bangs on for the House with the Government, and she does that very well. The Opposition have asked for time to debate the amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. I wholeheartedly support that. Shall we test the sincerity of the Opposition by removing the moment of interruption from the debate, so that we can talk all through the night if we want to?
I am grateful, of course, to my hon. Friend for his support for careful debate of all matters pertaining to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. I assure him that we will indeed be giving plenty of time to this place to be able to debate the amendments when the Bill comes back to this House, which, as I have said, will be in the next few weeks.
Will the Leader of the House confirm whether there will be an opportunity—before the business announced by Faisal Islam on
I will not bother with most of the assertions of the right hon. Gentleman, which are simply wrong. The one assertion that I will bother with, because it is very important, is that Faisal Islam does not announce the business of this House. The business of the House has not been announced by anyone at all; it is announced by me on a Thursday.
I have given assurances to the House that I will announce the business and that the withdrawal Bill will come back to this place in the next few weeks. Hon. Members who actually care about the scheduling of complex and competing demands for time in this Chamber will realise that, actually, precise scheduling requires great care and attention and that urgent things do crop up from time to time. Nevertheless, I have given an undertaking: the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will be back in this place within weeks. Nobody has announced anything else to anybody else.
There have been many comments about Brexit legislation coming back to this place. May I put in a plea from my constituents who have been asking me, “When are we getting on with this legislation?” They are saying that they want it to come before us as soon as possible. I am pleased that the speculation says that it will be next month, because, as 58% of local voters in my constituency voted for Brexit, they want me to get on with voting down those Lords amendments that came from the unelected place.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend; he is right to mention many of our constituents’ desire to see us getting on with putting the EU withdrawal Bill into a position whereby we can leave the European Union with a good, strong, free and fair relationship with our EU friends and neighbours. That is exactly what the Government are focused on, and I absolutely assure him that we are getting on with it.
Can we have a debate about absolutely anything—it does not matter what—as long as we actually have a proper vote at the end of it that tests the Government’s position? The only votes that we are having at the moment are those proposed by the Opposition, and the Government are running scared of those as well. If the Government are too divided or too frit to push through a legislative programme, do they fancy getting off the pot and letting somebody else have a go?
What a completely extraordinary thing for the hon. Gentleman to say! We had two votes yesterday, and the Government won both. As I explained to the shadow Leader of the House, the Government have put forward a huge number of Bills; 17 have already gone for Royal Assent. If the Opposition choose not to vote on them—or, indeed, if we vote on them and the Government win—these are the normal processes of government. Things are proceeding apace. It is extraordinary for the hon. Gentleman to suggest otherwise.
Please can we have a debate on the positive impact of business on local communities? In addition to the economic benefits, there are social benefits, which I have seen locally given that so many businesses in Harrogate and Knaresborough are putting something back, including Harrogate Water’s work with the Keep Britain Tidy campaign. I have also seen it nationally, as charities such as Business in the Community work with so many companies. If we have a debate, we can discuss how businesses and communities are much stronger together.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that business can have a hugely positive impact on the local community. I am aware that Harrogate Water is doing exactly that with Keep Britain Tidy. I am particularly pleased to hear about the company’s work in cutting plastic waste, which my hon. Friend knows the Government are determined to tackle. The Government have been supporting the creation of community business through the £1.8 million Bright Ideas Fund, which aims to create a national network of 80 or more enterprising, community-led organisations.
The fourth report of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, published at the end of April 2017, gave the Government until the end of last year to engage with Libya to negotiate compensation for UK victims of IRA bombs that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex or to initiate a domestic solution. Can we have a statement from the Foreign Office outlining what progress has been made?
The hon. Gentleman will obviously want to raise that matter at the next Foreign Office questions. If he would like me to pursue something that he had the expectation of having already received, he can write to me after business questions and I will take it up with the Foreign Office on his behalf.
Research recently carried out in Wales has found that the introduction of fines for parents who take their children out of school for a family holiday has had no impact whatever on the level of school truancy, yet this policy continues to damage the tourist industry, is unfair on those who work in tourism, and often damages the relationship between families and schools. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Secretary of State for Education reviewing this policy across England and considering whether it is time to drop this policy?
My hon. Friend is quite right to raise this matter, which I know he cares deeply about. It is a priority to reduce overall school absence as part of the Government’s ambition to create a world-class education system. In 2013 the Government amended legislation so that a leave of absence could be authorised by maintained schools in exceptional circumstances. I encourage my hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate or perhaps a Westminster Hall debate to discuss this issue in more detail, because I am sure that many Members will want to discuss the research that he cited in his question.
New research by the York Health Economics Consortium has found that scrapping prescription charges for people with Parkinson’s and inflammatory bowel disease will save the NHS more than £20 million a year. Can the Leader of the House please ask Health Ministers to meet representatives of the Prescription Charges Coalition to discuss this important information?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. She will be aware that there are a number of exemptions for prescription charges for different diseases. She may well want to raise this at the next oral Health questions or to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can take it up directly with Ministers.
On the back of my weekly surgery last Friday, may we have a debate in Government time on the mindset that leads people to fly-tip and litter? I personally cannot get my head around it, and I think that Members in this House and beyond would appreciate an opportunity to debate it, not least because we waste over £1 billion a year on cleaning this up that could be better spent on our public services.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It is absolutely amazing that people who fly-tip seem to care not at all for the impact of their behaviour. Right across the country, in all opinion polls on what people care about, littering and fly-tipping are right up there among the areas that bother them the most. I certainly share his concern about this, and I encourage him to raise it at DEFRA questions on
I have been contacted by many constituents who have experienced issues when applying for 30 hours’ free childcare, and have experienced problems with this myself. Further, nurseries in my constituency are facing closure due to inadequate funding of the scheme. When can we have a debate about this supposed flagship Government policy, which is clearly not fit for purpose?
I am genuinely surprised that the hon. Lady raises this as a problem. She will be aware that we are spending about £6 billion every year on childcare support by 2020—a record amount of support—and investing £1 billion a year to deliver 30 hours of free childcare to needy children, with over 290,000 children benefiting from that last term. If she wants to raise this at Education questions, that would be very welcome, but no previous Government have done more than this one to help families deal with the cost of childcare.
Rugby is delivering new houses, with work under way on 16 sites, including in Houlton, where 6,200 new homes will be provided. This is all adding to demand for local health services. While a number of new facilities, including orthopaedic services, have recently opened at our local Hospital of St Cross, the majority of patients have to make a journey to University Hospital Coventry. May we have a debate on how health services can be expanded and developed as a local population increases?
My hon. Friend raises a very important matter that affects all of us where we have expanding populations in our areas. He will be aware that clinical commissioning groups are responsible for the planning and commissioning of healthcare services for their local area, including the commissioning of hospitals. Where the local population expands over the course of a year, that is factored into the allocation formula so that the funding is adjusted as a result. The clinical commissioning group should then be providing sufficient services to meet the needs of the local population. If he wants to discuss the specific needs in his area, he should seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise it directly with Health Ministers.
May we have an important debate on regeneration plans for new towns? We could have something similar to a city deal specifically to address the needs of new towns. Since the closure of development corporations, focus on our new towns has diminished. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on new towns, I feel that regeneration funding is needed for my constituency but also for new towns right across the United Kingdom.
I am pleased that the hon. Lady has raised this issue. Of course, we are all supportive across this place of the need for new housing for everybody to be able to have a home of their own. That does mean new building, and, in some cases, new towns. It is therefore absolutely right that we provide the right levels of infrastructure and development to meet the needs of those new communities. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise the specifics of the new town proposed in her area.
The debacle over business rates and who has responsibility for them continues. I have been able to establish that both the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury have responsibility, yet neither seems to have responsibility for the review promised in the 2017 Budget. Can we have a debate about business rates and how they are seriously damaging our high streets at the moment?
I am sympathetic with the hon. Lady. We are all aware of cases in our constituencies of business rates proving extremely difficult for local high street shops, retailers, pubs and so on. It is very challenging. She will be aware that a significant number of measures have been put in place to try to relieve the burden of business rates, but I encourage her to seek a Backbench Business debate so that all Members can share their views and experiences.
Further to the earlier exchanges in Transport questions on disabled access to stations and safety at Lewisham station, I have been contacted by my constituent Caroline Walsh. She is a disabled person who uses a wheelchair, and she wants to invite the Minister of State, Department for Transport, Joseph Johnson to join her on the peak-time journey that she will have to undertake once the new franchise comes in and she is forced to change at Lewisham. Can we have a debate in Government time on disabled access to our railway services?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman took the opportunity to raise that at Transport questions, which preceded this. He raises a significant and important point. We are all used to feeling like sheep when we jump on a commuter train. That can be very difficult for people who have disabilities, and where access is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them, that is unacceptable. I encourage him to seek a debate, perhaps in Westminster Hall, so that he can raise that issue directly with Ministers, who I know are focused on alleviating the problem, and share his views on what more can be done.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the pupils at Chorlton High School in my constituency on their Incorporated Society of Musicians Trust for excellent GCSE results? I am regularly contacted by parents who are worried about the narrowing of the school curriculum, and particularly the squeezing out of creative subjects. Can we have a debate in Government time on creativity in the school curriculum?
I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the school in his constituency. It is always great to hear and so motivating for young people when a school receives an award for the excellence of its results. We should all celebrate that. He is right to talk about the need to promote creativity. The United Kingdom produces extraordinarily creative industries, and it is important that young people are encouraged to take part and to create their own abilities in this area. He might like to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can raise directly with Ministers what more can be done.
The Department for Work and Pensions recently announced the closure of its offices in Merthyr Tydfil, which will have a massively serious impact on the town centre economy. That is also happening in other areas of Wales and the UK. Can we have a debate on the Government policy of removing jobs where more jobs are needed, not fewer, so that the Government can understand the implications of their actions for town centres such as the one in my constituency?
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that many of the Government’s measures to consolidate the delivery of public services are to improve the service by focusing on better advice for people who are claiming benefits, looking for a job and so on. Much of that recasting of physical spaces is to improve the services. Nevertheless, he is right to raise the issue of a potential reduction in jobs. I am aware that the Government seek to redeploy people wherever possible right across the public sector, but he might want to raise the particular case in his constituency at Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions, which are soon after the recess.
Grace Warnock, a young lady in my constituency, is the 897th recipient of the Points of Light award from the Prime Minister. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Grace on her award and facilitate discussions about spreading Grace’s sign around the parliamentary estate and Government buildings?
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Grace on her Points of Light award. It is a fantastic achievement for her, her family and people in her community. I agree with him on the importance of promoting that sign. If he writes to me, I can suggest what more we might be able to do in this place.
The East Durham Trust in my constituency is supporting a homeless man who is sleeping rough, forced to live off the land. He has clear physical and mental health issues, and he is clearly malnourished. The local authority cannot house him because he has no benefits, but he cannot claim universal credit because he has no bank account and he cannot get a bank account because he has no address. Will the Leader of the House give us a debate on the housing crisis and how we may tackle homelessness?
I am genuinely sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. As I have said before in this place, my husband is the vice-chairman of a homeless centre in Northampton that is doing a huge amount to turn around the lives of people who have been or are now homeless. It is absolutely vital that we focus on what more can be done. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are committed to halving homelessness by 2022 and to eliminating it altogether by 2027. Millions of pounds are being invested both in community projects and in other projects such as No Second Night Out to ensure that we do everything we can to get people off the streets, but also, importantly, to help people who are at risk of becoming homeless.
Last week, I met an incredible group of local women who are supported by Breast Cancer Care. They told me that receiving a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer was devastating, but what added to their devastation, difficulty and struggle was having to fill in a personal independence payment application for the Department for Work and Pensions. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the impact of filling in unnecessary PIP applications for women with secondary breast cancer?
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue in relation to which I know many hon. Members will have constituents, and indeed family members, who are in the same situation. I think we all know of women and men who have suffered from breast cancer. He is right: a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer is devastating for anyone. We know that there were problems with the original work capability assessments, which is why the Government have scrapped unnecessary repeat assessments for people with the most severe health conditions. If the hon. Gentleman has a specific issue in relation to a particular constituent, I urge him to write to Ministers directly on that point.
The EU-Japan economic partnership and strategic partnership agreements are due to be agreed at the European Council at the end of next month—at the end of June. May we have an urgent debate about that on the Floor of the House before the Council, given its huge significance for the UK both while we remain a member of the European Union and after Brexit, not least in relation to data protection requirements?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. She will be aware that the Government intend to carry on all free trade agreements to which we have been a party as a member of the EU once we have left the EU. That is our very clear intention. She will also be aware that legislation is currently under way to give effect to those changes. Nevertheless, she raises a very important point, and I encourage her to seek at least an Adjournment debate, or perhaps a Westminster Hall debate, so that she can raise any particular questions she has directly with Ministers from the Department for Exiting the European Union.
My constituent Stephen Benzie was in hospital for two and a half months, including periods of being in and out of a coma, and the DWP’s reaction to that was to stop paying his jobseeker’s allowance, rather than giving him a discretionary 13-week extension. He is now on universal credit, but the DWP is refusing to backdate the payments beyond a period of one month. May we have a statement so that the Government can outline whether they think this is a fair system, and can we get an apology for my constituent and a promise to review the backdated period so that he does not lose the money he is entitled to?
I am sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, and I hope that he is now well on the way to recovery. The hon. Gentleman often raises significant constituency issues, and he is absolutely right to do so. I am sure he will appreciate that the Government always need to balance value for the taxpayer and what is fair to the taxpayer with what is fair for the recipient of benefits. He will be aware that when somebody is in hospital, their payments quite often cease for the period during which they are being looked after in hospital, but if he has concerns about this case, I urge him to take it up directly with Ministers.
With the closure of the Huddersfield employment and support allowance assessment centre, many vulnerable, sick and disabled people from my constituency will face a return journey of more than three hours to the nearest centre, and with the terrible state of the trains at the moment in my constituency, it could be quite a lot longer. It means that Kirklees, home to over half a million people, will be left without its own assessment centre. We have been inundated with calls from people fearful of having to make this journey. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on the Government’s treatment of some of Kirklees’ most vulnerable citizens?
I am sorry to hear about the problems the hon. Lady’s constituents are experiencing in Kirklees, which she is absolutely right to raise, and I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can put their case directly to Ministers.
The Leader of the House may be aware of recent reports by the GMB trade union and the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions demonstrating a clear economic and national security basis for procuring the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary solid support ships within the UK. They determine that there will be a 37% effective discount to the UK through supply chain and wage payments. Will she consider tabling a debate in Government time, with a substantive vote, on this matter, which is of critical national importance, to ensure that we get the best benefit for our national security and economic industrial base?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He will be aware that the Government have a national shipbuilding strategy focused on giving our Royal Navy the ships it needs while increasing economic growth right across the country and investing in a better-skilled workforce. We are committed, however, to competition, as well as growing jobs right across the country and encouraging innovation. It is always a balance, and I would encourage him to raise his concerns at the next Defence questions.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs says that the so-called “max fac” proposal pushed by a few extreme Brexiteers on the Tory Back Benches will cost our country £20 billion a year. This explosive assessment necessitates a Government statement and parliamentary scrutiny so that we get a Brexit that works for our country.
We are in a careful and thorough negotiation process that will ensure we get the best-possible deal for the UK and our EU friends and neighbours. That means evaluating carefully the alternative options open to us for resolving issues around customs and many other areas. Those discussions and investigations are still under way, and the Government, as we have said right from the start, cannot give a blow-by-blow account of every assessment, which might be top level or very detailed, while we are undergoing these careful assessments. As soon as the Government have a clear position, the House will be made aware of it at the first opportunity.
In June 2016, the UN commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed by Eritrean officials against their own people since 1991. This came to the attention of the all-party group on Eritrea yesterday. These crimes include the imprisonment and torture of thousands of followers of various religions, including Christianity and Islam. The mandate of the special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea comes up for renewal at the UN Human Rights Council in June. It is vital that the UK does all it can to support the renewal of this mandate in order to ensure that the crimes of the Eritrean Government do not go unrecorded. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on this pressing issue?
The hon. Gentleman often raises appalling human rights abuses, and is absolutely right do so, and I hear his grave concerns on this subject. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise his concerns directly with Ministers.